Christology: A Global Introduction. By Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2003. 300 pp. $21.99 (paper).
What Sort of Human Nature? Medieval Philosophy and the Systematics of Christology. By Marilyn McCord Adams. Milwaukee, Wis.: Marquette University Press, 1999. 120 pp. $15.00 (paper).
As long as theology continues to be in a state of thorough flux-and that will be for a long time-there will be a need for books written in the whatare-they-saying-about genre. Kärkkäinen has already published surveys of pneumatology and ecclesiology. Here the theological subdivision he introduces is Christology, construed broadly enough to include discourse that bears in almost any way on Jesus. At times, in fact, it seems that Kärkkäinen s real subject matter is not Christology so much as the whole of Christian theology, viewed from a Christological (or Jesuological) vantage point. But that is perhaps to be expected. Otherwise, why speak of Christian theology?
The book gets better as it goes along. Part 1, "Christ in the Bible," is too short-and does not try-to do more than remind readers of what, presumably, they already know. Then comes "Christ in History," an equally compressed overview of disputes and developments from the rise of the Ebionites to the fall of the historical-Jesus questers. Part 3 considers ten twentieth-century Christologists, half of them Germans, not counting Tillich. The final part takes up "contextual Christologies," first in four thematic chapters (process, feminist, black, and postmodern), then in three pairs, each of which presents an overview of contemporary work done in a two-thirds-world context, followed by a more detailed examination of one author: Latin America (Jon Sobrino), Africa (Benezet Bujo), and Asia (Stanley Samartha).
This is explicitly and unabashedly a textbook, which it would not be just to criticize for failing to do what Kärkkäinen never intended. Inevitably he has written pages of précis in which sentences, perfectly accurate in themselves, are strung together without the connective logic they would have in their original settings. Inevitably his treatment of Christologists and contexts is selective. What was not inevitable is the thousand-year gap in the middle of page 80, between the third council of Constantinople and Martin Luther. Kärkkäinen seems to be following a somewhat old-fashioned Heilsgeschichte, which would have it that, even if not all was darkness between the fathers and the reformers, still nothing very interesting came to light.
But theologians in the Middle Ages were not just marking time. What they were up to, where Christology is concerned, can be glimpsed in Adams's little book, which ought to be better known. …