“On the contrary, it is the evolutionist notion of progress which is inherently teleological, since it conceives of the higher stages as the result of the deployment of the inner potential of the lower stages. In contrast to such an evolutionist notion of progress, one should stick to the notion that the New emerges in order to resolve an unbearable tension in the Old, and was as such already ‘present’ in the Old in a negative mode, in the guise of an infinite sadness and longing.”
– Zizek, The Fragile Absolute, pg. 89.
These comments by Zizek got me to thinking of how they might apply to how we view the transition from the Old to the New Covenant. Do we do harm to the authenticity of the New Covenant when we view it as ‘fulfillment’ of the Old? My initial thought is that our answer must be varied according to how we understand transformative potential of the New Covenant.
For example, Dispensationalism seems to perfectly fit the bill of what Zizek labels ‘evolutionist’. In Dispensationalism, the inner potential of the lower stages of the Old Covenant (Messianic prophecy, Dueteronomic pre-figuring of Christ, other typologies, etc.) are seen as directly referencing the divinely determined future event, thereby destroying any notion of the New in the event.
In contrast to this, we should, as good Barthians, understand the Old Covenant through the lens of Christology. When we witness the event of Christ through conversion, and respond to it through faith, the Old Covenant is then reconfigured as that which enveloped the potentiality of the New, yet only through the negated guise of longing. I love this choice of terminology by Zizek because it fits perfectly with Brueggemann’s notion of the prophetic imagination. The dominant territorialization of the Law in ancient Israel still contained a small bit of the Real, an untotalizable excess represented by the outcast prophets. This ‘potential of the New’ via negation is the pathos of Jeremiah, the anger of Job, and the doubt of Habakkuk. What is most amazing about the Old Testament, however, is that all of these differing ideological strands (the prophets, the priests, the kings, etc.) are left fully intact, contradictions galore. Somehow, Christ is the ‘fulfillment’ of the Aaronic tradition, the monarchial heresy, and the prophetic Imagination all at once – he is the universal singularity. In this way, Christ synthesizes the antagonisms of the Old in bringing about the New.