One of the most central issues I see within modern Christology lies with the problem of bringing Jesus to rest with the modern minds. 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 Him 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. For Pannenberg, the notion of utmost importance within Christology is the presentation of “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. Pannenbergs’ emphasis throughout is on the resurrection and its connotations as 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.
Taking the Logos to be the foundation of Christology is something which Balthasar contributes- this is not necessarily a common view but I believe that a more common opinion may indeed come from expanding the principles to include love also. It is around these three features that Balthasar would claim the possibility to create an understanding of both who Christ is in Himself and who Christ is for us in the modern setting of todays’ climate.
The combination of the finite and infinite Christ has 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, the Christology is viewed by Rahner somewhat as both the path to, and the downfall of, such an anthropology. Pannenberg believes the rise in coherence between the anthropological and Christological disciplines is “fundamental” when considering religion and whether we can apply this to what we deem as the modernities of today.
Christology as a “theological interpretation”, as stated by O’ Collins, is the ultimate passage to defining Jesus’ true nature. I believe that soteriology does affiliate with this view but also leaves space for some more personal and perhaps relevant questions which could be used in the modern context such as; Who am I in relation to Christ? Pannenberg falls in line with a common criticism concerning the placing of soteriology but ascertains that despite this, developments in Christology have been “appropriated by particular soteriological interests”
The Resurrection of Jesus
Moltmann would say that eschatology constitutes “the consummation” of Christology and Pannenberg also brings to light issues in the way he views the resurrection as the embodiment of the end of history. Salvation, for him constitutes when man is “united” through the bringing together of the past, present and future. ‘Beginning at the end’, as Pannenberg does here, causes the adoption of an a-historical position and I believe, coupled with his ‘from ahead’ method 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 renewed focus on the lives of the present have sparked a “political theology of the Cross”. Moltmanns’ focus on the cross and soteriological implications of such, have aimed to make Jesus more approachable for the modern minds of today.
Bultmann’s programme of demythologisation- taken here to mean reinterpreting the myth- regards the death of Christ as 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. Rahner’s’ work can also be seen to coincide with this purpose as he attempts to reinterpret the content in a more historically and scientifically plausible manner for the humanity of today to affiliate with.
The Search for Continuity
The discontinuity between the finite and the infinite Christ show aspects of concern here. Due to the notion of the Scandal of the Cross, Bultmann stated that Christ “of the Kerygma” stands over and against the personage of Jesus who remains the pivotal point for the faith, however, in the modern climate, we better understand this in regards to the personage of Christ- through looking at his actions and teachings 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 would be to ascertain the nature of Jesus’ actions and it should not be forgotten that such a continuity being sought here with regards to the “apostolic kerygma” would serve as a means of revelation as Christ as the Messiah. 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
From the 20th Century a shift to coordinate the persons of Christ with our modern minds has been prevalent, not only for those of the geographical modern world, so to speak, but also to serve as the pinpoint for historical discussions. Thompson stated that it has been indicated that the gospels are rather works of fiction and so by seeking the coordinated nature of Christ we, today, are continuing to learn from and preach the “good news of Jesus Christ”.
Perhaps the most appropriate way of seeking this new direction is to apply the historical approaches of Christology to the unity of the persons of Christ. 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. There have, however, been scholarly objections to this idea- Bultmann for one and also Rahner have been vague in their contributions. I do believe, however, that what is clear for the believers today is that accepting the resultant Easter faith means to accept also that the events of Christs’ death and resurrection were indeed miraculous. St Paul would support this with the statement that if Christians disregard the resurrection merely with regards to modern day phenomena such as science then “our faith is in vain”.
As previously mentioned, the concepts of being and time are problematic for combining the persons of Christ with the modern reality as such concepts have not been adequately thought out. This leads to an inevitable oversight when considering Jesus’ earthly life, despite attempts of scholars such as Moltmann or Pannenberg to avoid this. Despite claims from Bultmann that humanity today can know very little regarding the “life and personality” of Christ, he did come to admit that a new direction could produce results. Bultmann can be criticised for neglecting the past, but Pannenberg likewise for his exaggeration of the future as O’ Collins would say, to the extent that he “ignored” actions and deeds conducted throughout the life of Jesus. I think that this focus on Christology, therefore, ultimately show shows that it is possible to communicate Christ to the modern minds as, despite criticisms, there is much to be gained from exploring this direction.
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 equity and confrontations which can be seen to go back to the very beginning of Christianity’s foundations.