Magazine article The Christian Century

Cradled by God

Magazine article The Christian Century

Cradled by God

Article excerpt

Jesus' Abba: The God Who Has Not Failed

By John Cobb

Fortress, 182 pp., $22.99


The word Abba could be imagined as a baby's first syllables. In Matthew 18, Jesus tells his disciples that to be oriented to the kingdom of heaven they must turn from their disagreements and become like trusting children. In the following chapter Jesus receives little children into his arms as if they were peers or family members. He notices them, blesses them, and declares that their innocence makes them heirs of the kingdom. Abba's spirit at work in the world, John Cobb believes, is like the relationship of love and trust between a young child and a parent. Convinced that these commitments were central to Jesus' faith, Cobb culminates some 60 years of writing with a personal testimony to his own awareness of Abba.

This book is like a casual evening conversation that treats theology seriously as a matter of importance for Christians and the wider world. Cobb revisits topics that will be familiar to his students and loyal readers--including faith and science, interfaith dialogue, and the environmental crisis. A sympathetic friend of feminist experiments in crafting gender-free language for Christian worship, Cobb acknowledges the lessons of equality taken from these projects over the years. Accordingly, he emphasizes as Abba's essential characteristic the loving attention and care that a mother or father might give to an infant.

Cobb's aim is to direct liberal Christians toward devotion to the biblical God, whom Jesus knew as Abba. He reads the Bible as a book of history and life (including the 90-plus years of his own life), as a sequence of events that might be charted through historical analysis and reflection. Cobb believes that Abba, the God Jesus introduced to the world, still works for good in personal biographies such as his own, in cooperative communities such as the retirement community where he lives, and more broadly in society and in creation.

Throughout the book Cobb promotes the Jesus of scripture as a model for living worship of Abba. He cites such passages as Jesus' cry in Mark 14 that he will stay true to Abba's will even as agony unfolds before him in Jerusalem. At the same time, Cobb wishes to demote the Christ of the ancient creeds, a figure drawn by councils as an answer to questions and frozen in time as a rule or ordering principle. To Cobb, learning to love the God of the Bible might lead to the development of a historical consciousness that is sensitive to the spirit of that same love at work in the world.

Loving God as Jesus did means working with God over the course of a lifetime. The goal of this cooperative work--which might otherwise be called the life of faith--is the flourishing of all life, which Cobb defines as freedom of expression. The spirit of love and relationship is the principal power of Abba that fills living things with life and forms human beings into communities dedicated to the common good. This spirit allows people, creatures, communities, and societies to express themselves freely. Jesus' disciples and the Christian congregations gathered by Paul model advocacy for this type of creative freedom.

After illustrating Jesus' understanding of God as Abba, Cobb discusses what became of Abba over the course of history. …

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