The Identity of Jesus Christ // Hans W. Frei.


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.

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