Saturday, January 24, 2015

Christology: A Global Introduction, A Review (PART I)

This review (though modified) was written for ST502, and I commend it to you.

Taking two thousand years of Christian theology and surveying it in fewer than three hundred pages is no small feat, especially when one includes the complexities of world religions. Dr. Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen—Professor of Systematic Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary—has engaged these diverse theological strands and offers students of theology an inclusive and largely successful survey on the person and work of Jesus Christ. He does this in four distinct parts.

Part one includes a survey of the New Testament witness to Christ, beginning with the various Christological titles employed to describe Jesus. Titles such as κύριος and Χριστός—among many others—are expounded upon, thanks to the previous scholarship of James D.G. Dunn, yielding a unity and diversity of Christological viewpoints within the New Testament. Kärkkäinen’s presentation is helpful and succinct because he draws upon current scholarship and is quick to inform the student about the complex theological titles for Jesus. He then turns to Jesus and the Gospels, where the great themes are briefly elucidated: for Mark, suffering and servanthood; for Matthew, kingship and Jewish identity; for Luke, inclusion; for John, the word as life. However, one can always press for more detail: for example, the Lukan theme of ‘eschatological reversal’ is not mentioned, and would have strengthened Kärkkäinen’s contention for inclusion, as Mary’s Magnificat praises YHWH for “bringing down the powerful” and as the one who has “lifted up the lowly” (Luke 1:46-55). The inclusion of women, gentiles and the poor in Luke’s rendering of Christ’s ministry would have helped flesh out this vital contention, as it is a dominant Luke motif. With all that said, Kärkkäinen does not force a synthesis between the divergent accounts but prefers to see each account as illuminating, “various aspects of the life, death, and resurrection of the One who was and is confessed as Lord and Savior” (43). The gospels are a tapestry to be experienced, not contained or diluted.

Rounding out part one is Paul and Kärkkäinen approaches the apostle in the same manner he approached the Gospels: the various titles appropriated by Paul for Christ are discussed, and a survey of the various Pauline epistles save for the Pastoral Epistles. The unfortunate exclusion of 1-2 Timothy and Titus, although understandable as they are certainly disputed texts, is a problematic omission when considered against the inclusion of Ephesians. Certainly the Pastoral Epistles contain some Christological content that merits consideration, and could even aid in the diversification of early “Catholicism,” assuming Paul is not their author. For example, Titus 2:13 may be the second instance where Paul affirms explicitly that Jesus is God, with the other being Romans 9:5. Notably, Jesus is called a ‘mediator’ in 1 Tim. 2:5, a text that begs for further integration with the biblical tradition, especially since it may contain a theological strand also seen in Hebrews of Jesus as ‘high priest.’ The notion of ‘received text’ must be contended with if theologians are to exclude three epistles of the most prominent first century interpreter of the life of Jesus.

Finally, Kärkkäinen contends that Paul believed in, among many things, the preexistence of Christ and particularly the death and resurrection of the only Son of God (58). The strength of this section is that the breadth of the Pauline writings are mined and each epistle is permitted to stand as sole witness to the truth of Christ with the lone exception being the Pastoral Epistles.[1]


[1] The issue about the authorship of the Pastoral Epistles is long and vexatious. Suffice to say, the slim majority of Pauline scholars reject Pauline authorship (I. Howard Marshall, Jouette Bassler, Raymond Collins) while others affirm them (Ben Witherington, Luke Timothy Johnson). Personally, I'm on the fence until I've had enough chance to research the specific topic on my own time. The only other text I've delved into is Ephesians and I'm leaning against Pauline authorship though its not a settled case at all.

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