Altizer Notes

Thomas Altizer is a death of God theologian because for him atheism is Christian, in the biblical drama of a God that becomes negated in Christ. God intended to be present in Christ that would realise itself in such a way to cancel the otherness of God. So this God became grounded in Christ without remainder, and God is wholly immanent with transcendence impossible after the incarnation and death of God in Christ. There is no Trinity, certainly, but God did enter into history to achieve this purpose.
The history is the disappearance of God as a consequence of God dying into Christ in the incarnation and Christ dying upon the cross. This Western cultural and intellectual history of absence happened over a long period of subversions, reversals and negations, finding its way into contemporary consciousness.
Tne problem with this approach is whether he is talking consistently historically or by allegory and myth.
If historically, then God has decided to actually self-destruct via temporary abode in Christ and then altogether. The result has been centuries of delusion until a large part of culture operates by secular understanding. In essence God becomes a memory. The God of all other religions is also a delusion: this is hardline Christocentrism. It is at risk too of regarding secularity as a final stage of realisation, which is surely risky at best, even if it is a powerful expression of how things reliably came about and work.
If by allegory and myth, as a way of talking, then history gives way to forms of expression. It is the Christianisation of the secular, but no more than giving explanation of cultural connection and dynamic of causality. This leads to an open ended plurality of explanations. So which is it? A clue is his appearance at the Sea of faith Conference in 1997.
He said that "...the Sea of Faith is doomed to play a minor sectarian role if it cannot claim to embody genuine Christianity", and that he traces genuine Christiniaty back to "a revolutionary modernity which was originally a Christian modernity" in the seventeenth century, a time when people were "most religious", and of radical politics and poetry. (Second plenary) He adds the French revolution.
...a revolution which innumerable thinkers at that time, and above all Hegel himself, could know as the ending of an old world and the inauguration of a truly new and universal world (Altizer, 1997)
This is the apocalyptic Jesus of the immediate Kingdom of God (for example Mark 1:15) and the crucificion (Altizer, 1997), a Jesus who is theologically at the centre of English radical Christianity, and other radical events, and is the very reversal of the Christ of orthodox Christianity. Orthodox Christianity here is an absolute reversal of the true Jesus, and thereby an absolute reversal of energy and life...
Yes, ours is an apocalyptic time, but genuine apocalypse embodies an absolute Yes as well as an absolute No, and if radical Christianity has always been an apocalyptic Christianity, never has it been so essential and necessary as it is today. (Second plenary)
So it is as if Althizer himself is in need of some secularising, because this Christianity retains its realist christological historical base, a secularising as arguably carried through by Lloyd Geering in Christianity without God. (Grimshaw, 2002)
Altizer is apocalyptic in outlook. Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche were apocalyptic thinkers and some of the most important for modernity. Modernity was new and its own apocalyptic - because the old supernatural world had ended and a new one of the interior self-consciousness had begun.
Just as we can now know that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet who proclaimed and enacted the actual dawning of the Kingdom of God, a comparable dawning occurs in the advent of a uniquely modern thinking, each promises a finally total transformation, and each calls for a total break from an old aeon or old world. (Altizer, 1997)
Thus Altizer has praise for Nietzsche and his inversions of Christianity and the New Creation (Eternal Recurrence) of Zarathustra
Altizer read in this way seems to pursue foundational reality, just one opposed to orthodox Christianity. The postmodern project opposes foundational reality. Death of God theology has become deconstruction of God-talk along with other deconstructions, yet Althizer is interested in the truth and that transcendence did empty into a theologically nihilistic immanence.

Some Materials and References

Grimshaw, M. (2002), Christianity Without God: A Review by Mike Grimshaw, [Online], Available World Wide Web, URL: [Accessed 12 January 2003, 13:35].

Lloyd Geering (2002), Christianity Without God, Wellington: Bridget Williams Books, USA: Santa Rosa, Calif: Polebridge press ISBN 1-877242-24-1

Thomas J. J. Altizer (1997), 'Apocalypticism and Modern Thinking', Journal for Christian Theological Research, 2:2, [Online], Available World Wide Web, URL: [Accessed 11 January 2003, 15:05].


Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful