Saturday, March 01, 2008

The Way of Jesus Christ - A Review

Moltmann, Jürgen. The Way of Jesus Christ: Christology in Messianic Dimensions. Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 1993. 388 pgs.

The Way of Jesus Christ is a highly creative theological work by German scholar and theologian Jürgen Moltmann. In this work Moltmann seeks to present a messianic Christology that reflects a messianic faith. Additionally, he seeks to highlight the links between Judaism and Christianity from that perspective. At the same time, Moltmann blends in perspectives taken from Liberation and Feminists theologies with a few twists of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox thought. All this blended together creates what Moltmann believes is an effective interpretation of the person and work of Jesus Christ.

There are many issues to consider in Moltmann's book. Early in the work, Moltmann expresses concerns regarding the nature of such creeds as Nicaea and Chalcedon. It seems that he respects the decisions of these councils but wants to somehow move beyond them. The title chosen for the work `The Way of Jesus Christ' elicits how he wants to portray Christ; "This shows that I am trying to think of Christ no longer statically, as one person in two natures or as a historical personality. I am trying to grasp him dynamically, in the forward movement of God's history with the world. What I wanted was not an eternal Christology for heaven, but a Christology for men and women who are on the way in the conflicts of history" (xii).

For the traditionalist, this may seem at first a bit threatening but the reader should be careful not to miss the broader issues Moltmann is discussing. In essence, he is seeking "a new interpretation of Christ which will be relevant for the present day" (xv). For Moltmann, this new interpretation seems to lie in an "eschatological framework of messianic hope and apocalyptic expectations" (xv). Because the subject can be complex he breaks it up by presenting what he sees as "the historical mission of Christ in the framework of the messianic hope in history; the sufferings of Christ against the horizon of apocalyptic expectation; and the resurrection of Christ in the light of eschatological vision of the new creation of all things" (xv).

In the first chapter, Moltmann discusses messianic perspectives from Jewish and Christian points of view. In discussing Jesus as the Messiah he notes Judaism's inability to accept Jesus as messiah due to its understanding of redemption. Quoting Martin Buber, "We know more deeply, more truly, that world history has not been turned upside down to its very foundations; that the world has not yet been redeemed. We sense its unredeemedness" (28). The Jewish people see redemption as the perfecting of creation and the ultimate fulfillment of the kingdom of God. Thus, for the Jews, when Messiah comes the world will be redeemed (29). Yet, Christians believe redemption is taking place in the spiritual realm and in what is invisible; that is, in the hearts of people. In an attempt to bring the two faiths together, Moltmann wants to recapture Jesus as messiah in an "eschatologically anticipatory and provisional way" (32-33) that reflects the whole of God's salvation both visibly and invisibly.

In discussing `the messianic mission of Christ,' (73) Moltmann presents some challenging views on the person of Jesus Christ. To understand these views it helps to keep in mind that Moltmann sees Christology as being found not in theological reflection per se, but rather in what he calls "Christo-praxis" (41). "Christo-praxis" is type of Christian ethic that involves a life of discipleship in which people learn who Jesus is through living with and among the poor, sick and oppressed (43). For Moltmann, the mission of Christ is a social mission (100). Jesus came "to bring good news to the poor; to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor" (Isa. 61:1-2). A life of discipleship according to Moltmann will reflect the life of Christ.

It seems then in light of Christo-praxis, Moltmann is not seeking to deal with issues surrounding the two natures of Christ, but rather issues surrounding why Christ came and what he set out to accomplish as Israel's Messiah. Whereas the traditionalist sees importance in the historicity of the major events of Christ's life such his virgin birth and resurrection from the dead, Moltmann seems more interested in seeking the higher meaning of these events in the light of the Jesus' messianic mission.

In considering the virgin birth Moltmann does not see it "as one of the pillars that sustains the New Testament faith in Christ" (79). Instead, Moltmann believes the importance of the virgin birth narratives lie not in the biological facts but in the confession of Jesus as messianic Son of God and "to point at the very beginning of his life to the divine origin of his person" (82). Thus, the overall purpose of the accounts of the virgin birth of Christ is not the historicity of the event but rather to show that Jesus is the divine Son of God and that in Jesus' becoming human the whole of humanity will be healed (85).

In considering the resurrection, Moltmann is less concerned with the historicity of the event and more concerned with its theological implications. Moltmann asserts the event of Christ's resurrection from the tomb is not historically ascertainable because there are no witnesses of him leaving the tomb (243). Moltmann interprets the resurrection as an eschatological event that represents the "creative act of God" (241) in restoring the creation to its original state. In placing hope in the resurrection one is placing hope in the future act of God in overcoming the problem of death in the world and the hope of a new creation in which death and mortality will be vanquished (214), and in the perspective of Judaism all things will be made new and the world will finally be redeemed.

There are many strong points in Moltmann's work `The Way of Jesus Christ.' However, there are weak points as well. For the traditionalist, the weak points lie in the unwillingness of Moltmann to anchor his theology in the historicity of the major events of Christ's life, e.g. the virgin birth, healings and miracles, and the resurrection. Moltmann's theology could be more readily welcomed, if from the start, he noted the presuppositions and intentions of his work. If one pays attention, it seems he is not concerned with historicity but with relevancy. But the danger with relevancy is that without historicity there is no solid ground on which to base one's theology, particularly Christology.

The strengths of Motlmann's theology lie in his highly creative blending of various theological viewpoints to come up with an effective and relevant theology on the person and work of Christ. By choosing not to begin with the framework the Nicaean or Chalcedonian creeds, but moving forward from them, he is forcing the traditionalist and liberal Christian alike to "think outside the box" in terms of what it means to be a Christian in today's post-modern, post-Christian world. His emphasis on the need for Christology to be reflected in "praxis" and discipleship highlights the need for Christians to come down from their intellectual platforms and get their hands dirty by making the gospel relevant and practical in the modern world. While controversial in many respects, Moltmann's work provides many challenges to the Church and will remain relevant for years to come.



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