Encountering Jesus Christ: Rethinking Christological Faith and Commitment

Encountering Jesus Christ: Rethinking Christological Faith and Commitment

Encountering Jesus Christ: Rethinking Christological Faith and Commitment

Encountering Jesus Christ: Rethinking Christological Faith and Commitment


In this book I argue, in agreement with the great American philosopher of religion Josiah Royce, that Christianity exemplifies a religion in search of a metaphysics, i.e., of an integrated, rational way of talking about God, self, other people, and the world—in other words, about any reality whatever. I also argue that in the past theologians have tried to interpret Christian religious experience with seriously flawed philosophical categories which lead to theological dead ends. In my judgment, dualistic patterns of philosophical thinking have in the past caused the greatest theological havoc and have brought Christian faith into needless disrepute. Dualistic patterns of thinking conceive two interrelated realities in such a way as to make their relationship to one another subsequently unintelligible. Dualism roots itself in another philosophical fallacy: namely, essentialism. Essentialism fallaciously transforms human cognitive modes of perception into realities which exist apart from thought.


The student sitting opposite me in my office at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley screwed up his face in anxiety. He was having a crisis of faith. He said, “Unless Jesus is like me in every way, I cannot believe in him.” I gazed on him with a mixture of compassion and amusement. I thought but did not say lest I wound already bruised and tattered feelings, “My young friend, if Jesus resembles you in every way, then I cannot believe in Him.”

I had that conversation years ago shortly after joining the faculty of the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley; but I have since come to suspect that my young, narcissistic doubting Thomas may have been speaking for a generation of Christians. Certainly, I have heard similar sentiments from the lips of students less anguished than he; and I encounter their equivalent with greater and greater frequency in the writings of professional theologians who should know better. The frequency makes me wonder whether, like people who become psychologists instead of dealing directly with their own neuroses, a significant number of theologians take up the profession as an alternative to dealing with their own unbelief.

I wrote The Firstborn of Many: A Christology for Converting Christians in response to what seems to me a contemporary theological drift back into Arianism. In the fourth century the heresiarch Arius portrayed Jesus as a super-creature through whom God had created the world but not as a divine person. In its popular form, the contemporary drift into a kind of Arianism often lacks the philosophical sophistication of its fourth-century counterpart. Like the doubts of my doubting, anguished student, popular neo-Arianism apparently flows more from the shallow narcissism engendered by a decadent capitalistic culture. The neo-Arianism of professional theologians takes a somewhat more sophisticated form than popular Arianism, and it springs from a variety of speculative motives which this book ponders. To speak candidly, I would have more hope for human creativity if people could think up new heresies instead of tediously repeating past ones.

This volume seeks to summarize and to popularize the argument I made in The Firstborn of Many. In writing that three-volume work, I realized that the sheer heft of the three volumes I had written . . .

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