by Elizabeth A. Johnson
Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.
Elizabeth Johnson provides us with a beautiful understanding of the humanity of Jesus. During this pandemic, this is challenging us to know Christ as truly human and truly divine and to know He has not abandoned us. The first purpose of the book is to present the fundamental rethinking taking place in Christology to persons who are actively involved in ministries in the church or who are seeking greater understanding of their faith. In continuing to write this review with the death of George, I write in regard to the words of Elizabeth Johnson to keep Christ as our unshakeable rock. The substance of this book is taken largely through Catholic authors. The vast body of material comes from the Catholic community but Protestant scholarship has been outstanding. The first wave of this body of work in the 1950’s consisted in remembering the genuine humanity of Jesus Christ. A decade later biblical scholarship began to flourish, triggering critical discovery of the history of Jesus. “Both of these waves overlapped as they arrived in a church that was incorporating concern for justice into its sense of mission”. Issues of the theology of the poor so that Jesus Christ is liberator, issues of feminine theology which included members that haven’t been heard, and issues of ecological disaster which leads to incorporating the view that not only human beings but all creatures of the earth and the universe itself are destined for final blessing in Christ. These issues certainly change the shape of the landscape.
“The last half-century of development in Christology brings into clear view the fact that the Christian community is borne by a living tradition. As a vital, creative movement in time, this tradition hands on its inherited truth enriched through living response to new experiences. Christ needs to be passed on to the next generation in a truly living state.” Since 1951 significant developments both within and without the church have made the Question: “Who do you say that I am?” alive once again. The second Vatican Council, while not focusing to any extent on Christology, encouraged the church to dialogue with the joys and sorrows, the hopes and fears of the modern world. Three shifts in the modern intellectual history of Europe stand out as having particular influence on Catholic theology: there is real interest in Jesus as a genuine human subject, a real historical person with his own personal traits and life story; there is a turn to the negativity of so much human experience, a new sensitivity both to the irrational and to human pathology both individual and social which affect thinking; there is a turn to the whole globe as one small and interconnected world, all living things are affected by the actions of one another.
In Christology, this shift of consciousness is giving rise to a whole new slate of questions. What does the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as Savior of the world mean in the encounter with the world religions? Is it possible to believe that God has acted decisively in Jesus Christ to save the whole world, and simultaneously to believe that hews, Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists and persons of other religious persuasions are warranted in remaining who they are, pursuing the paths of salvation on which they find themselves? This brilliant author is far ahead of herself, one would consider her a prophetess. In the last half of the book she explores the response which theology is making to these great shifts in human experience and consciousness. The intersection of contemporary experience whth the heritage of faith is not without difficulty. The controversies are signs of a living tradition in a church which has moved with its faith out of a self-imposed ghetto into genuine dialogue with contemporary problems. The author investigates these issues because, guided by scripture and tradition which carry the faith of our ancestors, we are responsible for answering the great Christological question in own time and place: “But who do you say that I am?” As Church we are called to tell the story of Jesus, recall his dangerous memory, and walk in his footsteps and, in the power of the Spirit, struggle against the forces of death. These actions will shape a practical, living Christology in our own time. Our Pope has called us like the author to a concern for ecological justice separated from the desire for justice and peace among human beings. This is definitely a book you will want on your shelf to read again and again.