Saturday, January 31, 2015

Christology: A Global Introduction (Parts III and IV)

Part three (109-188) is by far the most substantial part of Kärkkäinen’s work, dealing with theological luminaries such as Pannenberg, Barth, Tillich, Moltmann and Bultmann. His treatments of each theologian are incisive and his ability to summarize their key points of emphasis is respectable. He rightly emphasizes the ‘dialectic’ that captivated Barth and even includes lesser-known theologians such as evangelical Stanley Grenz. The only complaint one could offer in this section is that the more interesting writings from Grenz were published posthumously (c.f. Rediscovering the Triune God) and only one main text (Theology for the Community of God). from Grenz appears to be consulted at the time of Kärkkäinen’s publication. Throughout, Kärkkäinen is charitable and displays the views of in question with grace. All theological discussion ought to be conducted in such a manner and our author models this well. However, Kärkkäinen does not shy away from difficult questions that result from a theologian’s construction of theology. For instance, he questions Tillich’s contribution to modern theology and asks, “if the Fall was a necessary event?” (131-132), and calls his approach “idiosyncratic” (132). As regards Rudolph Bultmann, Kärkkäinen notes the ‘missionary’ aspect of why one would be interested in the ‘mytholgical nature’ of the New Testament (123). This reveals two key truthes in modern theology: first, we are products of our times, and second, that we ought to consider how to best offer the gospel to an increasingly pluralistic world. Though Bultmann denied the literal resurrection, nonetheless it held him emotionally captive, exemplifying the power of the Gospel to cause both one to see and yet another to stumble. For better or worse Kärkkäinen has wet the appetite of evangelicals and offered us a strong reason to now read Bultmann!

The final part of Kärkkäinen’s work in part four concerns various Christological ideas that include black and feminist theology—among many others. For readers—and this reviewer—this section is the final bite of a rather fast-paced sweet. Kärkkäinen’s summation of black Christology is especially powerful in light of modern events (Ferguson), presenting his students with the problem of ‘otherness’ and the necessity for reconciliation ‘in Christ.’ The emphasis of James Cone on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ offers evangelicals a firm starting point of identification. This creedal affirmation, found in 1 Cor. 15:1-8, is a strong primer for black Christology, and it’s a parallel belief that all evangelicals can embrace. “Liberation and reconciliation,” [Cone] said, “presuppose one another” (211).

The chapter on feminist Christology is both a painful and necessary reminder for all who profess the liberating message of Christ: the use of Holy Scripture to subordinate women. This injustice must be acknowledged and rectified. A helpful comment by Stanley Grenz of the previous section is this: “Jesus [is] not only essential deity but also essential humanity” (174). A point that could have been noted by Kärkkäinen concerns the continual use of “ἄνθρωπος” (generic: person, human) in the Gospels, and also by Paul in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15: since Christ is commonly referred as a ‘ἄνθρωπος’ instead of ‘ἀνήρ’ (specific, male/man) this has some intriguing assumptions that may already press against the mistaken belief that “Jesus’ maleness has often been used as an argument against the full humanity of women” (198). Christ’s humanity is most often in view, not his maleness. Christ, as savior of women and men, is identified as the one who became σάρξ in John’s prologue. The humanness of the person, as complete in the image of God, is what matters in Christ; of note is Galatians 3:28 which directly quotes Gen. 1:27, indicating that the flesh of the Son of God who died and reconciled us of Paul’s primary concern. Thus, there is sufficient biblical warrant to elevate that status of Christ’s humanity and not overplay his gender in a manner that would disregard women, especially when both genders are active in ministry (Rom. 16; Phil. 4:2-3) and mutually yield to one another (Eph. 5:21). A helpful addition to this section would be the succinct and classic defense by the late T.F. Torrance who argues persuasively that the Christological excuse to exclude women “conflicts with the orthodox understanding of the incarnation as the saving assumption of the whole human being, male and female, and as the healing of our complete human nature.”[1] These additional considerations would have helped present some of the biblical witness that has been pressing back against patriarchy from the very incarnation.

There is much to commend about Kärkkäinen’s work. It is fast-paced and yet not without considerable substance, passionate without being pedantic. The diverse offerings are a breath of genuinely ecumenical air. Kärkkäinen offers us a wide feast of Christian history and theology that pushes all beyond the limits of the evangelical scholastic subculture. While there are some weaknesses—mostly due to the aforementioned brevity of the textbook–nearly every major portion of Church history is discussed, most major modern theologians are represented, and the major biblical difficulties are examined with a creedal and critical eye. Kärkkäinen’s theological distillation can only inspire further study and he is to be thanked for his work.


[1] Torrance, T.F. "The Ministry of Women." Touchstone Archives:. January 1, 1992. Accessed January 22, 2015.

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