Christology in Culture Perspective: Marking Out the Horizons

Christology in Culture Perspective: Marking Out the Horizons

by Colin J. D. Greene



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Christology in Culture Perspective: Marking Out the Horizons by Colin J. D. Greene

Christology defines the very heart of the Christian faith. Traditionally the study of the person and work of Christ has been understood largely as an exercise in biblical exegesis or historical and doctrinal analysis. Rarely, if ever, has Christology focused on the changing cultural paradigms that have deeply influenced the development of human knowledge and self-understanding. This unique volume by Colin Greene reverses that trend and, in line with developments in modern cultural theory, explores the interfaces between successive cultural contexts and the story of Jesus to which the Scriptures bear witness. Starting with an examination of the three main christological trajectories that have dominated the history of Christology -- cosmological Christology, political Christology, and anthropological Christology -- Greene proceeds to concentrate on the subtle and complex linkages between Christology and the sociopolitical paradigms that have bolstered the epistemological assumptions of modernity. Greene's wide-ranging study closes with a creative exploration into how Christology might once again provide us with a Christ-centered vision of reality.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802827920
Publisher: Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
Publication date: 06/24/2004
Pages: 452
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.22(h) x 0.94(d)

Read an Excerpt

Christology in Cultural Perspective

By Colin J. D. Greene

William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

Copyright © 2003 Colin J. D. Greene
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8028-2792-6

Chapter One

Christology - The Nature of the Task

At the centre of Christianity stands not a timeless truth, nor a principle, not even a cause, but an event and a person - Jesus of Nazareth experienced and confessed as the Christ. Through the diverse genres, titles, confessions of the New Testament there is the constancy of a confession, constituted by the community's present experience of its Crucified and Risen Lord to this person Jesus of Nazareth.


Alex Wright asks, what for many of us today, both inside and outside the academy, is an obvious question, why bother with theology? Another question, which has direct bearing on the subject matter of this book, could be added, why bother with Christology, which is, after all, merely a subset of the theological task? Why bother indeed when increasingly the marginalisation of the Christian church, and theological and christological exploration from the wider realities of culture, society and the rampant consumerism of modern life in general is all but complete?

It could be argued that this statement applies only to the fate of the Christian church in Western Europe and some parts of North America, where, according to a recent statement, Christianity has 'almost been vanquished' as a force for spiritual, moral and cultural renewal in the public life of society. Elsewhere, in the Two-Thirds World, the church continues to grow and expand at an astonishing rate. Furthermore it may be that this fact is an expression of the internal dynamic of the Christian faith itself. A faith that is in essence a diaspora movement, a centrifugal force that always moves away from its heartland and flourishes again on the margins.

In response to this observation two comments should be made. First, the rapid numerical growth of the Christian church, for instance the spread of Pentecostalism in Latin America, is not necessarily synonymous with the emergence of a Christian vision of human flourishing which leads to a renewal of public life and social imagination. Secondly, although we might welcome the growth of Christianity elsewhere in the world this still leaves us with a lacuna in terms of how we understand the decline of the public significance of Christianity in its historic heartlands of Europe and North America. In recent years, attempts have been made to explain this startling decline in terms of a collective case of religious amnesia or a preference for a vicarious form of religious practice or the loss of the discursive power of the Christian story.

Wright adds to this the fact that theology in the West at least, is too far removed from the real world of human relationships, popular culture and the public life of society to be able to offer a counter cultural vision of human life and destiny. This state of affairs, however, was not always the case. Arguably, for at least seventeen hundred years of its existence, Christianity offered to society in general a broader practice of religion that was based largely on a christological vision of reality that assured the Christian faith a central role in the cultural heritage of its native Europe and beyond.

In this book we seek to trace the development of this christological vision, and define and examine its constituent elements. We do so because Christology adumbrates a conviction that there was and is more significance to the man Jesus of Nazareth than just a first-century Palestinian itinerant rabbi, peasant or religious leader who met an untimely death at the hands of the Roman authorities. On the contrary, both the NT and the later creeds of the church claim that Jesus stands in a unique relationship to the God whose coming kingdom he proclaimed, the history of Israel and, indeed, the whole history of humanity, the very existence and destiny of which he is believed to have rescued and redeemed:

The assertion 'Jesus is the Christ' is the basic statement of Christian belief, and Christology is no more than the conscientious elucidation of that proposition. When we say that Jesus is the Christ, we maintain that this unique, irreplaceable Jesus of Nazareth is at one and the same time the Christ sent by God: that is, the Messiah anointed of the Spirit, the salvation of the world, and the eschatological fulfilment of history.

It is such theological claims and convictions that Christology sets out to explain and to test, because such momentous statements amount to a particular truth claim that warrants universal significance and relevance.

In the light of this analysis we then offer our own interpretation of why that vision ceased to grasp the public imagination and attention of European and North American society in general. Moving beyond mere diagnosis we offer particular suggestions of how to re-ignite that vision in the context of postmodern deconstructionalism which, like all cultural episodes in human history, is both a threat and an opportunity to the continued credibility of Christian faith and belief to society in general. In our account we combine theological, philosophical, historical, sociological and cultural analysis in recognition of the fact that the Christian faith always receives its distinctive ecclesial existence downstream from broader cultural and historical affiliations and concerns. To begin with, however, we must briefly examine the story (or stories) that underpinned that christological account of how things are in the created order.

The Gospel Story - A Pre-critical Look at the Evidence

Before the advent of historical critical scholarship in the eighteenth century, which largely borrowed its methodology from the natural sciences, scholars, preachers, evangelists and ordinary believers alike viewed the Gospels as history like narratives. A pre-critical reading of the NT attended to the plain literary sense of the Gospels and epistles, and concluded that here was a real story, involving real historical occurrences based on a number of accounts of the life of a real historical person. For Martin Luther and John Calvin, the biblical world and the world of their own experience were one and the same reality. There was little concern about an apparent critical distance or dislocation between the world of the NT and that of seventeenth-century Europe. Indeed, the latter was judged and appraised in the light of the former, because it was the biblical world that attested to the coming of the Saviour into our midst. Consequently, it would have been of no surprise to the reformers that the question of the true significance or identity of Jesus is raised in the Gospel records themselves and not just by the christological controversies that beset the early church in the fourth and fifth centuries.

The uncertainty and curiosity over Jesus' identity originates in the encounter between Jesus and those to whom he speaks and ministers. For instance, John the Baptist's question, 'Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?' (Mt. 11:3), expresses the conundrum that Jesus' person and ministry posed to his contemporaries. Was this the promised Messiah or was Jesus merely another itinerant cynic, charismatic rabbi or prophet, or, indeed, as some postulated, was he the agent of Beelzebub, the prince of the devils? The same enigmatic quality occurs during Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem: 'the whole city was stirred and asked, "Who is this?" ' (Mt. 21:10). Even Satan seemed unsure of Jesus' identity, hence the repeated interrogation 'if you are the Son of God' before the equally determined attempt to test out Jesus' credentials (Mt. 4:1-11; Lk. 4:1-13).

If the Gospels are not simply the carefully edited credo of the early church, but contain some genuine evidence of the enigma Jesus presented to his contemporaries then part of the difficulty was no doubt due to the fact that he did not seem to fit with previous patterns and expectations of what constituted a messenger of God, a prophet, or teacher of religion. He was not a priest; unlike his cousin John the Baptist, he did not come from a priestly family. Neither was he a bona fide prophet in the OT sense of the word, because his preaching was not couched in the idiom of a reiteration of the word of God. Nor was he simply an apocalyptic seer or visionary whose main concern was to interpret the signs of the times and proclaim God's judgement upon society in general. He was most definitely not a teacher of the law in the Pharisaical sense of the word; indeed, he was opposed to the casuistry that typified their profession. Nor was he merely a teacher of wisdom, although he did speak in parables, aphorisms and proverbs. He was not a politically motivated Zealot, nor was he simply another itinerant magician, wonder worker or charismatic miracle worker. In all respects, Jesus broke apart previous categories and expectations. As Eduard Schweizer commented, Jesus was 'the man who fits no one formula'.

To a certain extent this was also the case in terms of his intimate address of God as Abba, his message that the future rule of God had already broken through in his own person and ministry, his predictions concerning his own suffering and fate, and his table fellowship with women, the poor and those who were considered to be the social outcasts of contemporary society. There can be no doubt therefore that, 'the question of Jesus' identity, role, or relationship to the divine forced itself on those who came in contact with him - either he was a blasphemer, a fool, or one who spoke with divine authority', indeed, all three possibilities are entertained in the Gospels (Mk. 1:22, 27; 2:7; 3:21).

Such uncertainty and speculation concerning the true identity and status of Jesus reflects 'the encounter quality of the first christological reflections' (i.e. the issue of Jesus' identity did not arise first and foremost as a theoretical problem). It was not the problem of how this person can be said to both express and unite the essence of humanity and divinity in a way that is unique or unparalleled in the history of religion. In fact, this is an issue with which the Gospels are not concerned. Rather, it was in the actual, concrete, everyday interaction of Jesus with individuals and the multitudes - his compassion for the poor, the sick and the marginalised members of society; his proclamation of the coming kingdom of God and his demonstration of the saving and healing reality of that kingdom in individual lives - which produced the first examples of christological reflection and confession.

The Gospels affirm both the mysterious and enigmatic quality of Jesus' life and ministry, as well as an apparent witness to his unique status as the promised Messiah. Peter's famous confession at Caesarea Philippi is understandably a turning point in the Gospels. Here Jesus raises the question of his own identity in the face of public speculation and uncertainty. The answer he received constitutes 'the first example of a dogma understood as a public confession': 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God' (Mt. 16:16). However, this form of confession was not confined to those of the house of Israel or to those who knew Jesus intimately. The centurion who witnessed the terrible and tumultuous events of the crucifixion exclaimed, 'Surely he was the [or a] Son of God!' (Mt. 27:54).

As we have intimated previously, however, the Gospels also tell us that Jesus came under suspicion as either a messianic impostor, a political revolutionary, or a blasphemer because he appeared to put himself above the authority of the Mosaic Law; or indeed a combination of all three because his own subversive re-telling and re-enactment of the central narrative of his native Judaism afforded to him a crucial role as the personal representative of YHWH, i.e. the Messiah. Consequently, it was also the case that, 'he came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him' (Jn. 1:11). The issue of who Jesus was and is still stands at the heart of Jewish-Christian relationships. Much of the anti-Semitism that has bedevilled the history of Christianity stems from the unequivocal testimony of the Gospels that Jesus was rejected by his own people and suffered an ignominious fate. The explanation and interpretation of Jesus' suffering and death later promulgated by the nascent Christian Church reflects those Jewish origins, namely that this was an atonement for the sins of the people. Although nowhere does the NT provide a complete theological explanation of what that atonement actually involves or means.

How much such affirmations reflect the faith of the early Church and how much they can be attributed to the immediate response of Jesus' contemporaries is a central and pressing issue. The one incontrovertible fact that modern scholarship has forced us to accept is that the Gospels do not present us with the biographical account of the life of Jesus. Rather, they introduce us, to a certain extent, to the variegated strands of the credo of the early Church and it is to this issue that we must now turn.

The Critics' Story - Searching for the Historical Jesus

It would not be a gross generalisation to claim that since the eighteenth century the Jesus story has tended to be supplanted and indeed, at times all but obliterated, by the critics' story, particularly as that concern has manifested itself in the seemingly endless search for the so-called 'historical Jesus'. So called because it is this elusive figure, it is contented, that lies behind the different and diverse christological titles we find scattered around the NT. Rarely, therefore, does any scholar nowadays commence christological investigation with a simple lexicographical method that seeks to delineate the implicit meaning of the various christological titles. Rather, it is assumed that the christological titles (such as Logos, Wisdom, Messiah, Son of God, Son of Man and the new Adam) actually amount to post-resurrection, public professions of faith that tell us as much about the social, cultural and religious context of the early Christian communities as they do about the person of Jesus. The more favoured route, particularly by many now involved in the latest episode of Jesus research, is to draw a firm line between the historical and the theological, and contend that what the NT scholar can legitimately concern him or herself with is the former and not the latter.

N.T. Wright argues for a fourfold classification of the main stages of this movement. The first quest, he asserts, began with Reimarus and ended with Albert Schweitzer; the new quest began with Ernst Kasemann and ended with Eduard Schillebeeckx; the third quest was dominated by E.P. Sanders and Geza Vermes; and the 'renewed new quest', as Wright labels it, is probably best represented by J. Dominic Crossan and the Jesus Seminar.


Excerpted from Christology in Cultural Perspective by Colin J. D. Greene Copyright © 2003 by Colin J. D. Greene. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

1.Christology--The Nature of the Task
The Gospel Story--A Pre-critical Look at the Evidence3
The Critics' Story--Searching for the Historical Jesus6
Jesus the cynic7
Jesus the Spirit-filled mystic or Spirit-possessed healer8
Jesus the Jew: prophet or reformer9
Jesus the sage10
Jesus: Personified Wisdom11
Jesus the Messiah11
Jesus the eschatological prophet13
The Biblical Story--Discerning the Logic of the Christological Narrative15
The Church's Story--The Continuity of the Incarnational Narrative19
Therapeutic Christology20
Theoretical Christology22
The Cultural Story--Discerning Another Important Lens of Interpretation23
Common culture23
High culture24
Popular culture24
Christ and culture25
The perennial problem: cultural accommodation or isolation?27
2.Three Christological Trajectories
Part 1Cosmological Christology: Jesus the Eternal Logos
The Cosmological Worldview31
The Logos as the Divine Word33
The Word active in revelation33
The Word active in creation34
The Logos as the divine reason37
The Logos incarnate, Saviour and Lord38
Logos-sarx Christology39
Logos-anthropos Christology40
Chalcedon and beyond42
Part 2Political Christology
Jesus Lord of Lords and King of Kings44
The Early Church46
Christ and Christendom47
Christ and the Church50
Part 3Anthropological Christology--Jesus Lover Of My Soul
Jesus the Representative of the New Humanity52
Christ the new Adam53
Religious Experience54
Christ mysticism55
Cosmological and political christologies60
Antropological Christology63
The Engagement with Modernity the Search for Cultural Paradigms
3.Christology and the Enlightenment
The Causes of the Enlightenment75
The rise of the natural sciences76
Socio-political evaluation78
Historical evaluations80
Philosophical evaluation: religion within the bounds of reason81
Theological evaluations85
4.Christology and Religious Experience
Paradigm 1What Place for Religion in the Modern World?96
Part 1Friedrich Schleiermacher
The Search for a Paradigm97
What About Religion?98
The Essence of Religion99
Religion, Metaphysics and Reality100
Religion and the Religions101
The Phenomenology of Religion102
Schleiermacher's Christocentrism104
The Historical Jesus105
Schleiermacher's Christology107
The Divinity of Jesus108
Part 2Paul Tillich
In Search of a New Paradigm111
A fractured idealism112
The Kahler connection113
War experiences115
Religion and Culture116
Towards a theology of culture117
The essence of religion119
The Phenomenology of Religion120
Christology Reconsidered121
The new being123
5.Christology and History
Paradigm 2The Myth of Progress133
The Secularisation of History135
The Dogma of Human Progress137
The Quest for the Historical Jesus139
Lessing and the ugly broad ditch139
The bridge under construction141
The bridge collapses146
The bridge abandoned150
The bridge revisited153
The bridge reinstated155
Christological Considerations157
The making of history163
History as a cultural construct165
Implications for the New Quest167
6.Christology and Self-transcendence
Paradigm 3The Myth of Transcendentalism170
Christology and metaphysics171
Karl Rahner and Roman Catholic Theology172
Transcendental Thomism173
God the absolute mystery175
Transcendental anthropology or ascending Christology176
The absolute Saviour178
Descending Christology180
Jesus of Nazareth182
The death and resurrection of Jesus185
7.Christology and Human Liberation
Paradigm 4The Myth of Emancipation196
Two Stages of the Enlightenment198
Stage 1198
Stage 2199
Orthopraxis Over Orthodoxy200
Christological Factors: Where to Begin?202
The Priority of the Historical Jesus204
Jesus and the poor205
Jesus and the kingdom207
Jesus and the cross209
Jesus and the resurrection210
Jesus the liberator211
8.Christology and Gender
Paradigm 4The Myth of Emancipation (Continued)218
The Origins and Rise of Feminist Theology220
Feminism and the Christian Tradition222
Feminism and kyriarchy224
Woman's experience, a theological norm225
Feminist Christology and the Historical Jesus226
Jesus' proclamation of the kingdom226
Addressing God as Abba227
Jesus' relationships with women228
The preferential position of woman in the Gospels228
The cross of Christ229
Wisdom Christology231
Jesus the liberator233
The Representative Function of Christ's Humanity234
Relational Christologies: Truly God and Truly Female236
The Engagement with Postmodernity: Deconstructing the Cultural Paradigms
9.Christology and the End of the Enlightenment
Modernity Versus Postmodernity--The Rise of Cultural Theory250
The new cultural phase: the collapse of modernity251
The temporary demise of modernity253
A dialectic of discontinuity and continuity254
The Causes of the Collapse of the Enlightenment255
Socio-political evaluations255
Historical evaluations259
Philosophical evaluations260
The abiding legacy of Nietzsche261
Heidegger's via media267
The linguistic turn272
Theological evaluations273
The critique of idealism274
The shaking of the foundations275
The deconstruction of the transcendental subject and the nature of power277
Reconstruction of the human subject280
Incredulity toward metanarratives and the end of history282
10.Jesus Christ the True Paradigm
Barth and his Interpreters289
Barth and Postmodernity292
The theological task and the mystery of God292
The human subject295
Theology and ethics296
Detachment from history297
Barth and Schleiermacher297
A Christology of Diastasis (Separation)298
Christ the True Paradigm301
Christology From Above307
Jesus Christ the electing God and elected person307
Foundationalism revisited313
11.The Engagement with Postmodernity--Christology on the Way
Moltmann and Barth318
Messianic Christology321
The Search for a New Paradigm323
Critique of cosmological and anthropological Christologies323
Who is Jesus Christ for us today?327
Spirit or Logos Christology329
A metaphysical or a social Christology335
The centrality of the cross and resurrection to Christology337
The cosmic Christ339
12.And Where to Now?
The first way--cosmological Christology346
The second way--anthropological Christology348
The third way349
Christology Reconstructed351
Apocalyptic and the metaphor of the kingdom of God352
The meaning of apocalyptic and eschatology within recent biblical scholarship354
Jesus, apocalyptic and the kingdom of God357
Mysticism revisited360
The early Christian communities, apocalyptic and the kingdom of God361
Metaphysics revisited365
History Reconstructed368
Language Reconstructed374
Religion Reconstructed378
Religion and human identity382
Scripture Index413
Names Index415
Subject Index422

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