Who and what is Christ in a world that finds past formulations of belief unintelligible or irrelevant? What does salvation mean today? Where does Jesus fit in our pluralistic society? How should Christianity deal with other religions? Roger Haight suggests some answers in this insightful work.
In order for Christianity to remain meaningful, it has to adapt to differing times and circumstances, Haight argues. This book is therefore a modern apologetic; that is, it explains the faith in terms of the dominant culture. It focuses on christology, the study of Christ's relationship to God and man. For Haight, a christology must follow certain criteria, including fidelity to Christian tradition, ability to speak to the modern world, and how it empowers the Christian life.
Haight uses most of the book to construct the foundations for the "constructive christology" of the final part. The first part contains introductory chapters on what christology is and how to go about the task. The next two parts are concerned with analyzing the New Testament and historical approaches to Christology. In his analysis of these sources, Haight makes some things clear about the way christology should be done.
The most important is the sources need to be analyzed critically. Merely citing a biblical text, creed, or a theologian simply will not do. A text is never self-evident; using it always implies a method of interpretation. Citing a text without divulging the hermeneutical method will render a theology unintelligible to anyone outside a small circle. Such usage also implies a uniformity throughout history that is not there. Traditional sources are a result of historical processes, and originally spoke to a given time and audience. Simply bringing those sources forward without considering these factors distorts the text, notably by failing to recognize the pluralism that characterizes christology through the ages.
Next, any christology needs to be grounded in the historical Jesus of Nazareth. It was this human being in whom his disciples experienced God, and it is to this human being we must turn to find out why. Appropriately, Haight surveys several models of the historical Jesus put forward today by historians. From this, he abstracts common themes from this research which appear to have some consensus.
Finally, christology cannot be separated soteriology (theology of salvation). Haight believes soteriology has always determined the christology of any given biblical writer or theologian. This is the assertion I found most enlightening. In retrospect, this should have been obvious, but for me it was a revelation. What does Christ save us from and why? Answer those questions, and the nature of Christ in relation to God and man becomes almost self-evident.
The analysis of the sources, especially historical Jesus research, serves other purposes besides laying the foundation for his christology. Historically, christology has been done "from above," using the Logos concept of John 1 as its starting point. Essentially, christology started with a consideration of God as Trinity and worked its way "down" to Jesus. Such christologies have its basis in Christ's divinity. Haight argues such christologies are unintelligible in the postmodern era.
Haight argues that to speak to this generation, we must approach christology "from below." Essentially, we start with a consideration of Jesus as a human being and work our way "up" to God as Trinity. Such christologies will have its basis in Jesus' humanity. Though Logos christology may be so appropriated, Haight opts for what he identifies as "Spirit christology" as better able to answer modern needs in christological consideration. Stated succinctly, Jesus embodies God as Spirit in that "God is, as it were, let loose in a final, climactic, and saving way through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and is vividly experienced in the communities of the Jesus movement that became `Christian'" (449).
The experience empowers both the Christian individual and the community to work in the world. Christians are expected to bring salvation in Christ to the world. Haight appropriates liberation theology to show how the empowered Christian should live in the world. Spirit christology also enables Christians to take a normative non-constitutive position to religious pluralism, while avoiding relativism. If a given religious tradition is a channel for God's Spirit, it is valid (i.e., a follower will find salvation in it).
Overall, Haight has given us a well conceived and thoughtful Christology. He has not intended it to be the final answer. Theologians of all denominations can and should engage in unfettered debate of the individual issues he raises. In this, Haight does well in keeping ecumenical considerations in mind. Traditions that must bypass consideration of the councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon may find this work less useful, but still worth considering its insights.
This is also a book that must be read carefully and digested slowly. It can get quite technical; I recommend some familiarity with christological issues before reading this book. Though it does survey many different christologies, its purpose is not to serve as an introduction for the general reader. This consideration aside, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.