One of the most central issues I see within modern Christology lies with the problem of making Jesus more understandable and relevant to the minds of today. Can we, therefore speak about Jesus from a Western mind-set in a meaningful way? Through advances and enhancements that come with a modern age, I believe that we are in a more balanced position now to question whether the Christ of history necessarily ‘fits’ our current reality. Therefore, this poses the need to rethink the nature of Jesus and what we can ascertain from the Christ of faith for our current humanity and those yet to come.
To ensure a pluralistic nature of modern Christology, I view the input of areas such as history, philosophy and science necessary in order to construct a coherent picture of Christ. Pannenberg stated that “the most important task of Christology is… to present the reasons for the confessions of Jesus’ divinity”- we can see this portrayed through interpreting the personage of Christ which can be intelligible for the world today by making the knowledge accessible to both non-Christians and Christians alike.
Approaches to Christology
Methodologically speaking, two fundamental concepts arise from 20th Century Christology and these are being and time. Pannenberg works from the basis of abstract theological concepts which he uses to search for the meaning of Jesus’ personal history- he uses the phrase “intrinsic intelligibility” here to discern what he means by the ‘facts’ of this process. Pannenbergs’ emphasis throughout is on the resurrection and its connotations of an eschatological event. Pannenberg is criticised for focusing too much on the ‘time’ and not enough on the ‘being’ aspects of Christology and instead, for the modern mind, we should aim to find a more focused Christology, more relational to dogmatics and experience for example.
Balthasar has a strong sense that the Logos is the fundamental beginning of Christology- one may not affiliate themselves with this view but perhaps a more universal understanding would come from his reservation of the centre of Christology surrounding the mystery of being, time and love- He deems these three features to be those around which we can build up our own understanding of who and what Jesus is for us in this modern setting and how we, as followers of the Lord, are in coherence with Him.
Both the Christ of history and the Christ of faith have revelatory undertones to highlight the way for appropriate Christian conduct and through adhering to this, shows the way for them to become the ultimate humanity. In this way, Rahner would say that “Christology is the beginning and the end of anthropology”. Pannenberg believes the rise in coherence between the anthropological and Christological disciplines means we recognise the “fundamental importance of anthropology” when considering religion and whether we can apply this to what we deem as the modernities of today.
O’ Collins states that Christology is the “theological interpretation of Jesus Christ, clarifying systematically who and what he is in himself”- also emphasising the ontological concerns behind the conjecture of Christology. I believe that soteriology does affiliate with this view but also leaves space for some more personal questions which could be used in the modern context such as; Who am I in relation to Christ? Designating a proper place for the soteriological approach is one of the problems with modern Christology, although in this view, it would be impossible to draw a complete distinction between the two. Pannenberg supports this with the recognition that throughout the history of Christology we can see the developments having “been determined by particular soteriological interests”.
The Resurrection of Jesus
Moltmann would say that Christology is “no more than the beginning of eschatology” and eschatology “is always the consummation of Christology”. Pannenberg also brings to light issues in the way he views the resurrection as the embodiment of the end of history. Salvation, for him “is obtained when the destiny of man becomes identical with his present existence, where man is united in his present with his past and his future”. It is clear, of course, that there are other meanings and implications of the resurrection of Christ which Pannenberg overlooks. For example, the notion that love transcends all and can triumph even over death, giving humanity hope, a concept integral to life as whole, not merely for eternal life with God.
‘Beginning at the end’, as Pannenberg does here, causes the adoption of an a-historical position and Pannenbergs’ ‘from ahead’ method- his concern for upholding soteriology- have led to a somewhat exclusionary focus towards the Cross. This is something which, to some extent, has been over-compensated for by Moltmann who focuses his Christology on the crucified Christ encompassing humanity’s suffering through the entirety of history. For Moltmann, “the shift from hope in the future to a present concern with praxis and justice leads to a political theology of the Cross”. Moltmanns’ focus on the cross and soteriological implications of such, have aimed to make Jesus more relevant and intelligible for the minds of today.
Philosophically speaking, Bultmann’s programme of demythologisation- taken here to mean reinterpreting the myth- regards the resurrection as a useful myth that expresses the significance of the Cross providing abilities for atonement and self-revelation. In order to bring the Jesus of history into the modern times, we are required to find the centrality of the kerygmatic message. The Kerygma serves somewhat as a mediator for the process of atonement and self-revelation which ultimately challenges humanity to live their best lives. Bultmann’s work, therefore, can be seen to provide a bridge between disciplines and from this grows a coherence between Christology and the individual believer.
Few scholars are actually willing to commit to the somewhat reductionist notion of Jesus as the Kerygmatic Christ. This causes, for example, Bultmann’s heirs to reject the Incarnation on the basis that for Jesus to be fully human, we need to remove the concept of divinity. The weakness of this, however, is that it effectively removes all elements of mystery, power and glory, making it difficult to emphasise the individuality of Christ over other such individuals of the same stature.
Rahner would seek to overcome this criticism by interpreting the two-fold involvement of God with the world and human beings- this would ultimately retain the essence of mystery, yet presents the interpretation in an understandable way for the modern mind. His Christology incorporates an evolutionary structure along with dynamism to highlight the nature and goal of human life, also showing that Jesus’ role is to distribute grace through his orientation towards God. Thus, through avoiding the direct use of terms such as ‘Incarnation’ he is able to reinterpret the content in a more historically and scientifically plausible manner for the humanity of today to affiliate with.
The Search for Continuity
Through these debates, there is a resultant lack of continuity regarding the person of Jesus. I would like to address this briefly here with consideration to possible ways of regaining continuity between the human and divine.
The discontinuity between the Jesus of History and the Christ of Faith is one of the fundamental concerns of modern Christology. Due to the notion of the Scandal of the Cross, which we know of from Pre-Easter faith, there seems to be a divide presented between the Christ of history and the Christ of faith For example, Bultmann stated that “it is the Christ of the Kerygma and not the person of the historical Jesus who is the object of faith”, however, in the modern climate, we better understand the Christ of history and the Christ of faith in regards to the personage of Christ- what he did and what he taught for example.
Through seeking continuity, we must be careful not to denigrate Christology to a lesser position. To simply reduce Jesus to a ‘mere man’ is something which inevitably aids our modern conception of Christ, but also by doing so, we are guilty of adhering to the very denigration we wish to avoid. Pannenberg would respond by saying that perhaps the most effective way to establish continuity between the Jesus of History and the Christ of Faith is to emphasise the Christology behind Jesus’ words and deeds, and it should not be forgotten that “the continuity between Jesus and the apostolic kerygma consists in the fact that Jesus’ community designated and brought to expression the claim of Jesus in the only way possible at that time by its confession of him as Messiah and Son of God”. To bring this into today’s context, however, it is necessary to recognise the leverage that terms such as ‘incarnate Logos’ have and that these events remain not just rooted in history but are carried forward into the worship we see today- this highlights that the revelatory undertones of the Incarnation cannot merely be ignored.
Implications for our Modern Context
The 20th Century saw a shift for the historical Jesus to be made more intelligible for the modern mind, not only for those of the geographical modern world, so to speak, but also for the discussions pertaining to historical accuracies. Thompson stated that “historical studies indicate that the gospels are not historical biographies and seem to be a mixture of fact and fiction. This state of affairs raises questions for many thoughtful people, and the Jesus quest is a way of addressing these issues”- thus, by seeking the intelligible nature of Christ we, today, are continuing to learn from and preach the “good news of Jesus Christ”.
Perhaps the most appropriate way of following this ‘new quest’ is to apply the historical approaches of Christology to the unity between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. There is a carried link between Jesus’ death and resurrection through to the disciples’ post Easter faith and again into the modern minds of today.
This affirmation, however, relies on the understanding that the resurrection, as previously stated by Pannenberg, is a historical event and not a fantasy. Bultmann rejects this idea with Rahner also being vague in his engagement but from what is known about the events surrounding the resultant Easter faith, believers attest that something miraculous did indeed occur. St Paul would support this with the statement that “if Christians jettison the resurrection in the name of reason, or science, or what not, then our faith is in vain”
As previously mentioned, the concepts of being and time also highlight problems for the modern Christological search for the intelligible Jesus as they have been inadequately devised. It is also worth noting that despite the enlightened outlook of scholars such as Moltmann or Pannenberg, there still remains an oversight concerning the life of Jesus. Bultmann, for example, would justify this oversight by claiming that it is not this simple as “we can know almost nothing concerning the life and personality of Jesus”. However, even Bultmann did come to admit that such a ‘new quest’ could produce results, he remained fixed with his emphasis on the kerygma. Where Bultmann neglects the past, Pannenberg overemphasises the future, and Jesus’ proleptic nature, as O’ Collins would say, to the extent that he “ignored the miracles and other prominent themes of Jesus’ life”. Our Christological synthesis of the modern mind therefore, shows support for this new quest and has proven here to contribute much aside from mere criticism.
In summary, modern minds today tend to accept that Gods’ revelation is found in Christ Himself- an epitome of divine love. Through this, we are aiming for a balanced approach, using all disciplines, to highlight not just the ‘norm’ but also the views of ‘the other’. Continuing into the future we aspire to achieve a realist Christology, drawing on justice but also experience and history which we gain in the very beginning from the early Greek churches.