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Let me first thank Fortress Press for their gracious offering to me  of Don Schweitzer’s Contemporary Christologies, for review.

I always feel a bit of a fraud, daring to review a book, the subject of which is either theology or biblical studies. I have no degrees in either and am at best a lay student. Yet, on the other hand, Fortress realizes the value of people such as myself in widening the appeal of books usually reserved for the university and formal student. 

Which is all to say, that knowing my audience is not by and large the college campus, I’ll make no attempt to be too technical here.

Professor Schweitzer starts off with the question, “Who do you say that I am?” from Mark 8:29, and indeed that is exactly what Christology is all about. Our human attempts to define Christ for us, and for the larger community in which we engage.

In this introductory look at the subject, Schweitzer gives us three models of atonement (ways of looking at Jesus saving grace). He then shows us how fifteen modern theologians approach this issue, and how they vision the Christ as impacting our world today.

Indeed, perhaps in each generation or century, there are times when we ask: Is Christ still relevant to our current problems?  All of these theologians, albeit by different means, would argue a resounding “Yes!”

The first model is that of Christus Victor, an objective classical model which sees the world in terms of good and evil, with Jesus being a transformative figure who brings hope and promise into the world, that in the end,will see good prevail.

The second model is the moral theory. In following this model, Jesus transforms people by the power of his example. He models perfect love, and we, his followers emulate him, thus turning aside from evil to good. It seeks to transform our faulty understanding of God, replacing it with a correct one.

In the third model we find salvation theory via substitutionary satisfaction. Jesus in his full humanity offered himself as sacrifice for our sins which we could never repay. We thus are reconciled again with God.

Schweitzer, then turns to fleshing out these models by reference to various theologians today. I would admit that I was aware, and had read something of seven of the fifteen. Some of them are dear favorites of mine, namely Jon Sobrino, and Elizabeth Johnson.

Each theologian’s Christology is explained and placed against the model it most closely follows. Strengths and weaknesses are explored. Always, attention is paid to the main issue before us: how Christologies impact and can be relevant to the world today. Each sees Jesus as providing a framework for addressing our most pressing problems, a blueprint, if you will, for assessing whether we are indeed “putting on the mind of Christ.”

As such, this book is extraordinarily relevant. It is easy today for many to reduce Jesus to prophet, healer, and consciousness of humanity. It is convenient and easy to simply read the Gospels in order to get a “good idea” of how to treat others and our world. It is easy to dismiss the great work done by those who have gone before.

But it is not profitable I would argue, and I think that this book argues the same. There is a much deeper and more compelling depth of belief that awaits the one who seeks Jesus in a traditional theological methodology. While some may argue that we must bow to secular repugnance at “mystical” explanations of the resurrection and offer Jesus as fully human prophet,  I think the answer is more complicated.

We indeed may need to relate Jesus to a world today that is inclined to pooh-pooh anything mystical or God-like in Jesus. But that need not mean, and should not mean that we discard that way of looking completely. What I believe Schweitzer shows, is that, while we need not focus on the resurrection as actual divine event, we can use it to enter into God more fully, and the wonder of right relationship with the divine.

No doubt, I don’t express this at all adequately, but I can only relate that after reading, and, sometimes for the first time actually understanding in some poor way the well framed theologies of various deeply thoughtful people herein, I come away with a much more awe-inspiring belief than that which I started with.

As a bonus, to anyone who reads this introduction, comes a beginning for where you want to move next in your travels into theology. Are you compelled by a Elizabeth Johnson and her feminist vision? Or are you intrigued with Douglas John Hall’s contention that modern America’s pursuit of optimism actually hampers our growth as human beings and our increasing need to empathize with all in our world?

What Professor Schweitzer does so well, in my estimation, is to “turn” you on to new voices you may have been totally unaware of. He might as well, turn you off to others. At the very least he helps each of us lay persons to begin, or continue as the case may be, toward a personal theology that is well-informed. In the end, it is what each of us should do, if we are to be truly Christian.

If you admit yourself to be, as I do, fairly ignorant when it comes to anything more than the generalities of theology, then this book is a great starting point to a more informed and mature theology. I recommend it.

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