Christ and Reconciliation is the first of a (most ambitious) five-volume set–A Constructive Christian Theology for the Pluralistic World (CCTPW). Here, Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen’s fourfold focus (coherence, inclusive, dialogical, and hospitable) in light of Christian tradition (biblical and historical) is put to the test, and the results are impressive. This is truly an inclusive, dialogical, and hospitable work of systematic/constructive theology–probably one of the most without significant compromise–in recent decades. Kärkkäinen, professor of systematic theology (Fuller) and docent of ecumenics (Helsinki), displays his near-breadth-less vault of information–it is just absolutely staggering. However, this might be the set-back for such an impressive work: it reads more as a theological survey than a constructive (‘building up’) work of theology. So, as a resource, the CCTPW is absolutely invaluable for our ‘post- everything’ world (just see the endless bibliography at the end of each volume).
Christ and Reconciliation, arguably the heart of Christian theology, limits itself to the life and works of Jesus. Though both are inseparably linked, each is considered separably for heuristic purposes. Kärkkäinen is readable, though, at times, dry due to his expansive treatment.
Being the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, I thought it fitting to read at least one thing Luther-related–and I’m very glad I did.
The Heidelberg Disputations (1518) is arguably Martin Luther’s most seminal contribution (more than the 95 Theses!) to the Reformation and to the broader Christian theological tradition. However, his dialectical imagination can be quite perplexing! Therefore, Gerhard O. Forde, a Lutheran professor of Lutheran theology at a Lutheran seminary (he must be the right guy for the job!), sets out to unpack these 28 theses (tongue-twister!) as one coherent stream of argumentation for being a theologian of the cross, contra theologian of glory.
“Justification by faith alone” makes (fuller) sense when considered as the result of being a theologian of the cross. Unlike theologians of glory, theologians of the cross “say what a thing is” and are constantly beset and established by the cross–they cannot say less or more than God’s cross before man.
Forde, in his introduction, confesses that it is very difficult to explain how to be or what is a theologian of the cross. And perhaps this is where Luther would say, “One becomes a theologian by living, by dying, and by being damned, not by understanding, reading, and speculation.”
This is my second time reading it all the way through.
And I still cannot stress this enough: this is a theological masterpiece.
What fresh insights can be poured over when Christ is the key to theology? What happens to tired theological debates and topics when Christ is the key? These are the challenges Kathryn Tanner uptakes throughout the book. Carefully balancing heated arguments, on the one hand, and meticulous, painstaking articulation of the Christian tradition, on the other, Tanner puts forth convincingly (I think), time and time again, Christ-centered solutions. Each chapter, save the first, seem to have clear dialogue partners: (chs. 2-3) Catholics and Protestants, (ch. 4) East and West, (ch. 5) social trinitarianists, (ch. 6) various atonement theories and their critics, and (ch. 7) those claim unmediated religious authority. At the end of each chapter, Tanner seems to suggest (though she does not explicitly): “Why wouldn’t you want to believe this?” Tanner wants to stake that Christian theology revolves around the claim that “God wants to give us the fullness of God’s own life through the closest possible relationship with us as that comes to completion in Christ” (vii). In other words, God wants us to be with him. And, yes. I do want to believe this — but, oh God, help me in my unbelief.
Christ and Horrors, a sequel to her previous Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God, is an audacious and much needed endeavor for the coherence of Christology in our horror-stricken world. Horrors are, in short, what prevent positive meaning making in human beings. Horrors are, then, broader than sin or evil. Therefore, for Adams, horrors are the true problem and inhibitor towards God’s ultimate ends for creation: assimilative (make creation as much as God-like as possible) and unitive (union between God and creation).
Dissatisfied with many modern conceptualizations of Christology, Adams proposes a medieval metaphysics retrieval with slight tweaks. As a result, Adams has a metaphysically high and materially low Christology. On the one hand, Jesus is God incarnate. On the other hand, Jesus is really human beset with horrors. Adams stages that Chalcedonian Christology has the most coherence and fruitfulness with dealing with our horror-stricken problems. Adams’ Christ is, thus, a three stage horror-defeater. Stage-I: God, the incommensurate good, horror-participates with the horror-participant in Jesus. Stage-II: God restores the horror-participant’s positive meaning making capabilities. Stage-III: God will rid of all horror-inducing forces completely. The first stage is completed in the incarnation. The second is worked in the indwelling of Jesus in the hearts of all believers. The third is the eschatological hope we endure for.
Christ and Horrors is a definite read for any students of theology or serious Christians willing to wrestle with horrors with Christ, our horror-defeater. There are some moves that she makes that I find unnecessary and, at times, wrong. Nevertheless, she and her work is monumental.
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)