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“The inability to articulate just how God was present in Christ and how that reality shapes the character of our life together destroys the very integrity of the church.”  So wrote my friend, and Fellow in Theology & Science at the University of Edinburgh, Tripp Fuller in his wonderful book Divine Self-Investment: An Open and Relational Constructive Christology.

Back in the summer I taught a three-part First Forum Adult Education Series on contemporary images of Christ.  That series arose because of some comments and questions that had surfaced in an earlier First Forum discussion last Spring on the Christology of the late Marcus Borg.  I felt we needed a better acquaintance with contemporary Christology, which is why I then taught that three-part class.  Now, with Christmas fast approaching, I thought it would be fun to revisit that topic and write up summaries for this column, especially for those who might not have participated in the class.

So I intend to write three columns summarizing those classes.  The first a survey of a variety of Christs offered to us in contemporary thought, with some key takeaways.  The second will focus on Christ as the power to transform humanity and creation.  And the third will focus on the work of theologian J. Kameron Carter who argues that being able to articulate our view of Christ is essential to defeating white supremacy and, thereby, setting us free.  It’s from Carter that I get the jazz image “riffing on Christ.”

At the dawn of the twentieth century the great Albert Schweitzer articulated that every generation encounters the Christ that speaks to them.  And any study of the history of Christian thought will reveal a great variety of views.  For this particular class I focused on three sets of contemporary perspectives–feminist, queer, and Asian.

The English theologian Lisa Isherwood has a marvelous book simply entitled Introducing Feminist Christologies in which she summarizes the key ideas from a variety of thinkers.  She writes that anymore we can’t rest with only one picture of Christ, but need to have multiple perspectives in play.  Feminists also argue that methodologically our starting point for understanding the Christ must be lived reality.  She writes, “The broken, bleeding and oppressed bodies of people demand that reality is changed and that they are made whole again.”  The power of Christ must, then, not be limited solely to Jesus of Nazareth but be available for all.  She declares, “It is the embodied power in all creation that makes the Christ a transforming reality.”

The Yale professor and queer scholar Dale B. Martin focuses on what we can interpret about Jesus from the Bible and he contends that historical criticism alone cannot answer the questions we pose, that we need to explore other ways of reading scripture and understanding Jesus.  For Patrick Cheng, “Jesus Christ is like the address or final destination that we enter into a GPS system that helps us find our way back to God after we have lost our way.”  The Christ event is God’s renewal of creation, open to all of us.  Gerard Loughlin develops a similar idea in his teaching that Jesus’ resurrected body is “deterritorialized” with the outcome that “He has become the flesh of every foreign body, the touch of every stranger; the glory of an alien encounter . . . then every other body is set free, since Christ has become our common humanity.”

Asian scholars, overall, help us to decolonize our views of Jesus.  I’ve read a few books by R. S. Sugirtharajah, including the monumental Jesus in Asia, in which he surveys a variety of different scholars.  For example, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, who claims that there is danger in believing that Jesus of Nazareth was unique.  He contends that incarnation still occurs and that the potential available to Jesus is available to all of us.  Or the Korean theologian Ahn Byung Mu who teaches that we should focus not just on Jesus but whom he spent time with, for the Christ event is more than just Jesus; it is a collective event.

Sugirtharajah himself reminds us that Christianity is an Eastern, not European, religion, having arisen in Asia.  He rejects the various quests for the historical Jesus, particularly because this quest is so tied to the periods of European colonialism and all its damaging effects on people and cultures around the globe.  Here’s a great summary of his survey of recent Asian theologies:

Asian interpreters were not interested in finding a single Jesus . . . What they were looking for were the sanctifying and illuminating qualities in Jesus that would carry humankind heavenward.  He is portrayed as representing perfect humanity and showing what a human being should be in this life.  Their vision was that Jesus was aligning with God to enable humankind to realize our divine potential–God in every human being.

All of these thinkers join together in decrying one perspective dominating theological thought and imagination, especially when that perspective, even if it is the liberal one of modern historical criticism, is arrived at primarily by the limited views of white, straight, European men.

Another thing I find so fascinating is how often these diverse contemporary voices draw upon and resonate with some of the most ancient notions of Jesus, which we will explore in next week’s column as those ideas are drawn into contemporary discourse.


Want to read further?  Here are some resources, including those cited above:

  • Marcus Borg, Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary
  • Rita Nakashima Brock, Journeys by Heart: A Christology of Erotic Power
  • Patrick S. Cheng, From Sin to Amazing Grace: Discovering the Queer Christ
  • John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant
  • Tripp Fuller, Divine Self-Investment: An Open and Relational Constructive Christology
  • Lisa Isherwood, Introducing Feminist Christologies
  • Grace Ji-Sun Kim, The Grace of Sophia: A Korean North American Women’s Christology
  • Gerard Loughlin, Alien Sex: The Body and Desire in Cinema and Theology
  • Dale B. Martin, Sex and the Single Savior: Gender and Sexuality in Biblical Interpretation
  • Sally McFague, The Body of God: An Ecological Theology
  • Robin R. Meyers, Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshipping Christ and Start Following Jesus
  • Mercy Amba Oduyoye, Introducing African Women’s Theology
  • Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus
  • Choan-Seng Song, Third-Eye Theology
  • R. S. Sugirtharajah, Postcolonial Reconfigurations: An Alternative Way of Reading the Bible and Doing Theology
  • R. S. Sugirtharajah, Jesus in Asia


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