Cyril of Alexandria (c. 376 – 444) is arguably one of the most important theologians on the development and clarification on Christology in the Church Tradition. Following on the heels of Athanasius and the Cappadocian Fathers, Cyril was the integral figure in hammering out the heresy of Nestorianism (a rough outline of Nestorianism: the belief that Jesus Christ is composed of two persons or, using Nestorians’ terminology, ‘two sons’–one divine and the other human. This strong dichotomy jeopardizes core tenants of Christianity: the uniqueness of Jesus, salvation brought up by God, the role of the Spirit in believers, etc).
On the Unity of Christ is penned by the mature Cyril amassing and curtly arranging his thoughts in dialectical conversation. Here, Cyril is battling all kinds of heresies: Nestorianism, Arianism, adoptionism, Apollinarianism, and Eutychianism. It is a testament of his superior rhetoric to say so much against so many with such few words. This work, therefore, is an absolute essential reading for Christology.
Years prior, John Hick stirred the Anglican Church by editing a volume called The Myth of God Incarnate, where a host of Anglican priests and theologians staked their opinions about the (un)historicity of certain gospel stories–incarnation included. John Hick, a preeminent philosophical theologian (and a fundamentalist-turned-pluralist), presents here, in The Metaphor of God Incarnate, a way to conceive of downplaying the uniqueness and exclusivity of Christianity that would invite the plurality of world religions. His argument, roughly, follows like accordingly: (1) in the gospels, Jesus never claims to be God incarnate, (2) the divinization of Christ was the works of his followers, (3) the doctrine of incarnation was a hellenistic product centuries after Jesus’ death, therefore, (4) Jesus being God incarnate is not a metaphysical reality but a metaphorical description. In other words, incarnation is not a historical event of God entering time and creation but rather a human act that shows the “Real” through Selfless Love.
Hick’s project, as one described it to me, is the culmination of the Enlightenment Project. However, with the rise of postmodernism, Hick’s suggestions are not too helpful. He has answers that postmodernists are not asking. Personally, I found Hick, at times, interesting but, most of the time, a bore. Nonetheless, I would recommend this to anyone remotely interested in theology, especially if one wants to learn a good summation of higher biblical criticism with a bend towards Protestant Liberalism. Fundamentally, I disagree with Hick, but I got to, at least, know who and what I am disagreeing with and about.
In this extremely short work, Gregory of Nyssa, one of the great Greek Cappadocian Fathers, commends his readers Moses, the servant and man of God, as the par excellence of spiritual maturity and perfection. This is a spiritual exegesis (if such things exist nowadays). Meaning, Nyssa makes many interpretative moves that seems really foreign. I frequently found myself saying, “Is that even appropriate to say? Does the text allow that?” However, after accepting his Greek (Neo-Platonic) quarks, there is deep wealth in this book. I quote one of my favorites at length below:
If, then, one should withdraw from those who seduce him to evil and by the use of his reason turn to the better, putting evil behind him, it is as if he places his own soul, like a mirror, face-to-face with the hope of good things, with the result that the images and impressions of virtue, as it is shown to him by God are imprinted on the purity of his soul. (44)
In this (awfully) short work, Kwok Pui-lan, one of the most prominent Asian feminist theologians of our time, surveys various Asian feminist theologies. Asia is probably the most ethnically, culturally, and religiously diverse continent. To introduce the various strands in less than 130 pages forces the author to place limitations on sources and depth. Nonetheless, Kwok has done a superb job, despite the egregious limitations. Therefore, Introducing Asian Feminist Theology should be seen as a launchpad to delve deeper other Asian feminists and their works. Personally, I have found her chapter on Christology the most fascinating.
Hans W. Frei, one of the most important yet oft-forgotten theologians from his time, was a pioneer of a “postliberal theology” (or the Yale school of theology) along with George A. Lindbeck. Frei was not, comparably, prolific–many of his works are being published posthumously due to his untimely death in 1988. And though Frei would not consider himself a theologian, he understood very well how theology operated (cf. Types of Christian Theology). He is most well known for his narrative theology and hermeneutics, most rigorously argued for in The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative. His Identity of Jesus Christ, on the other hand, can be read as the product of his methodology explicated in Eclipse.
Frei was very frustrated with his contemporaries’ theological enterprises. He believed that most started with fundamentally wrong questions and starting points. The who of Jesus Christ should come prior to the how of Jesus’ nearness to us. This swapping of priorities is granted because, for Frei, Christians already assumed Jesus’ presence is accessible. Why argue for something that is a given? We should rather be concerned with who Jesus is. And, according to Frei, one can only know from reading the gospel narratives.
His overzealousness for narratives, however, chokes out the necessity of historicity (he infrequently and passingly says “whether fiction or real” about the gospels). If Jesus’ presence is a given, why go into the convoluted debates about Jesus behind the text or the various historical reconstructions. “Just read the stories and know him!” Perhaps there’s something to Frei’s zeal. Then again, perhaps there’s also a real danger to it.
Waterbuffalo Theology is a hilarious, lucid, and insightful read. Yet, let not the ‘silly’ title nor even some of the silly drawings fool you of this work’s gravitas. This was a landmark work of its time (1971)–when the modern West had an even firmer grip on theology.
Kosuke Koyama, one of the foremost and productive theologians from Japan, was trained at Princeton and ministered in northern Thailand–near the waterbuffalos. In his introduction, he asks himself whether Aquinas, Luther, or Barth will prove to be a more valuable resource to communicate Biblical truth to Thais than waterbuffalos, cock fighting, rainy season, or sticky-rice. Koyama opts for the latter. The end product, therefore, is original. He asks questions that are not typically asked. He uses illustrations that are not normally alluded to. And, he writes for readers that are often ignored–northern Thais (note, I’m sure he is not writing to northern Thais since it is in English, but he certainly advocates for them by writing like them). He stakes his theology in northern Thailand–he makes his landmark there. Theology, for Koyama, is not ‘pie in the sky’: abstract. It is in erets (Hebrew for ‘land’) from erets: from the ground up.
The Late Wolfhart Pannenberg (1928-2014), one of the theological giants of the 20th century, was a formative maker of (Western) modern theology. Pannenberg, though not the first to do so but certainly one of the most recent and prominent exemplars, procured a theology ‘from below,’ contra ‘from above.’ This is evident in his Jesus-God and Man, which is a misleading title (translators have noted). Though it is a Christological work, it is more of a Christological methodology, specifically an example of Christology ‘from below.’ Pannenberg, at first, studied under the preeminent Karl Barth; however, after being turned off from Barth’s unrelenting protological, ‘from above’ approach, he transferred to under Otto Weber’s tutelage. Pannenberg is also known for his theological epistemology: Truth is and comes from the Eschaton (the end). His catchphrase, prolepsis (‘sign from the future’), succinctly encapsulates this idea. The foremost prolepsis being the (undeniable) historic event of Jesus’ resurrection: It is from here–and only from here–where one can understand the whole of ‘universal truth’ (how Pannenberg defines theology) and that Jesus is God and Man (Christology).
Throughout Jesus-God and Man, Pannenberg is relentless towards ‘from above,’ calling it unstable, problematic, and naive. In his later and masterful three volume Systematic Theology, however, Pannenberg tones down his rhetoric. This move was not only more inviting but also inevitable: Even in Jesus-God and Man, one can sense some ‘from above’ presuppositions underlying the pages (as a fellow student once said, “He [Pannenberg] can’t help but smuggle some ‘from above’ convictions”).
Jesus-God and Man was a product of its time. To appreciate this theologian’s first major book, we must come to grips with his context–the 1960s German theological guild–and they spoke very differently than us, today.