Upon surveying the contemporary theological landscape, I can’t shake the feeling that Graham Ward is right. Although there is plenty of talk of St. Paul’s radical theology and politics, there still “remains a reticence in both New Testament cultural historians and interpreters about examining the major model organizing Pauline ecclesiology – the body” (The Politics of Discipleship, 245). Maybe this “reticence” has to do with our inability to think of actual existing substantial relations among persons. After all, it’s extremely difficult for us to imagine social relations as anything other than united by contract or as mediated by money, despite the common language we use, (e.g. “in Christ,” “we are members of one another,” and so on). I think we could do worse than begin to think of ways to recover the Pauline world of philosophical realism.

All this is to say that it was with great joy that I found a $5 copy of John A.T. Robinson’s The Body: A Study in Pauline Theology. This also happens to be one of the studies that Ward makes us of in his chapter on “The Metaphysics of the Body.”

Robinson makes the astounding claim that “one could say without exaggeration that the concept of the body forms the keystone of Paul’s theology” (9). This may or may not be the case, but Robison has made a very convincing argument that the major loci of Paul’s thought – the cross, sin, redemption, circumcision, the powers, etc., all circle around the body of Christ and Paul’s assumption that “Christians have died in, with and through the crucified body of the Lord…because, and only because, they are now in and of His body in the ‘life that he liveth unto God’, viz., the body of the Church.” Robinson goes on to say that “the Christian, because he is in the Church and united with Him in the sacraments, is part of Christ’s body so literally that all that happened in and through that body in the flesh can be repeated in and through him now” (47).

Robinson’s book is also helpful in dispelling the myth that Paul’s terminology of “the body of Christ” was a mere metaphor. According to Robinson, Paul is groping with language, often times violently, to make clear the substantive reality of his conviction; namely, that Christians “are in literal fact the risen organism of Christ’s person in all it’s concrete reality.” “It is almost impossible,” says Robinson, “to exaggerate the materialism and crudity of Paul’s doctrine of the Church as literally now the resurrection body of Christ… [the Church] is in fact no other than the glorified body of the risen and ascended Christ” (51-2).

The urgency of Robinson’s book is just as grave as it was when first published in 1952. From the introduction he writes the following: “Christians should be the last people to be found clinging to the wrecks of an atomistic individualism, which has no foundation in the Bible. For their hope does not like in escape from collectivism: it lies in the resurrection of the body – that is to say, in the redemption, transfiguration, and ultimate supersession of one solidarity by another” (9).