Marx’s Call for a World-Changing Philosophy: Christian Faith in Dialogue with Herbert Marcuse

Marcuse draws attention to the tension between the truth and its practice.
Discussing the relationship between the theoretical truth of the critical theory of society and the practice for which the theory calls, he writes, “the facts and the alternatives are … like fragments which do not connect … Dialectical theory is not refuted, but it cannot offer the remedy … the dialectical concept, in comprehending the given facts, transcends the given facts. This is the very token of its truth. It defines the historical possibilities, even necessities; but their realization can only be in the practice which responds to the theory, and, at present, the practice gives no such response” (One-Dimensional Man (ODM), p. 253, emphasis mine).
In a way that echoes Marx’s call for a world-changing philosophy which refuses to remain content with interpreting the world, Marcuse emphasizes the unbreakable connection between theory and practice.
He does not assert that the theory will ever find the practice which responds to it. Rather, he maintains that, if the theory and the practice should meet, this would produce a thoroughgoing transformation of society.
The New Testament ethical imperative is quite different from that of Marcuse. The New Testament calls for obedience to Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.
Berkouwer, acutely aware of the danger of separating Christian theology from Christian living, seeks to maintain faithfully the Biblical call call for the practice of the truth. Since faith is not an abstraction which can be isolated from Christian living, the Biblical summons to action must be viewed as enclosed within faith and not as a secondary accent, artificially attached to faith (G C Berkouwer, “Orthodoxy and Orthopraxis” in C Oberleke and L Smedes (editors), God and the Good, pp. 13-21). This accent on the unbreakable unity of faith and practice is emphasized by Berkouwer in the closing words of both Faith and Justification (FJ) and Faith and Sanctification (FS).
“As sola fide-sola gratia has established the relationship between ‘faith and justification’, it must guide us through ‘faith and sanctification.’ All of which is to paraphrase the words of Paul: ‘What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. We who died to sin, how shall we any longer live therein?’ (Romans 6:1,2)” (FJ, p. 201, emphasis original).
“In the bond between faith and sanctification we perceive, no less than in the bond between faith and justification, the pulsebeat of the Gospel. If faith will but lift its blossoms to catch the sunlight of God’s grace, the fruit will be a life imbued with holiness” (FS, p. 193).
The practice of the truth is the present calling of the Christian as he lives “within the ‘time between’” (Berkouwer, Sin, p. 546). The practice of the truth is grounded in “the salvation already obtained for us” yet remains thoroughly imperfect “till after this life we arrive at the goal of perfection” (Sin, citing The Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day, 12 and 44, Questions 31, 115, emphasis Berkouwer’s).
The Christian proclamation is that the presence of the future has appeared in history in the deed-word revelation of God in Christ (G E Ladd, The Presence of the Future and A Theology of the New Testament, p. 31). A theology of liberation, properly understood, is not a plea for human activity which is quite unrelated to this proclamation. It is an attempt to understand “(t)he church’s mandate … to live on its way to the future out of this salvation and the constant consciousness of it” as “Christ’s presence … a communion that keeps and preserves” (Berkouwer, The Return of Christ, pp. 150, 143).
A privileged people must live as a responsible people, showing by deeds and words that Christ is present in this world and not absent from it. This demonstration of Christ’s presence in the world must carefully avoid the dangers of both the ‘words only’ approach of ‘other-worldly’ religion and the ‘deeds only’ approach of a social activism which rejects the religious foundation of social ethics. (I am using ‘ideal types’ here - “‘ideal types’ … select certain key characteristics for the purpose of making the distinctions clear. In actual life, most persons and groups do not fall purely and completely into either category’, D O Moberg, The Great Reversal: Evangelism versus Social Concern, pp. 19-20).
The Christian life demands both a continuing awareness of being “sustained by God” and a continuing concern with being “helpful to men” (H Kung, On Being a Christian, p. 602).
Berkouwer’s writings may not deal quite so directly with issues which concern the theologians of liberation. His theology does, however, point in the direction of a practice which seeks earnestly to avoid the dangers which arise from the separation of the ‘this-worldly’ and ‘other-worldly’ aspects of Christian hope (A Half Century of Theology, Chapter 7 - “The Earthly Horizon”, pp. 179-214).