Foundations. 1

Foundations. 3

The Apostolic Witness and Sacred Tradition. 3

Triune God. 16

Majesty and Mystery. 18

Relational transcendence, substance, Being, and essence. 21

Divine action, intelligence, and will 22

Attributes. 26

Unifying attribute of love. 28

Trinity. 32

The Father 37

The Son. 38

The Spirit 41

Creator 44

Theodicy. 53

Christology and Incarnation. 59

Cross. 79

Alienation. 80

The healing work of the cross in New Testament teaching. 81

Present salvation and the future judgment by God. 83

Expiation. 85

Representation. 86

Vicarious. 88

Forgiveness. 88

Liberation. 91

Provisional nature of the cross. 92


Christianity directs attention away from itself and toward God as Christians understand and experience God in Jesus of Nazareth. Christianity recognizes Jesus as Lord, Christ, Son, Word, and Wisdom, because of the apostolic witness contained in the New Testament. The church is not left to itself.  The church has a responsibility to its past, as well as to its present and to its future. Most Christians recognize that the first four to seven church councils attempted to explain and interpret the New Testament in terms of the new view or understanding of God that Christianity brought. This turn away from any contemporary setting or experience and toward Christ, the apostolic witness, and the early creeds, encourages humility in contemporary Christianity. The church needs to take contemporary questions seriously. However, the church has a responsibility first to Christ and to the apostolic witness to take them seriously.

We cannot reflect upon Christian teaching from nowhere. None of us can stand outside of the human situation and give our objective pronouncements. Each of us has a context from which we live and reflect.

            Theology needs to orient adequately human life in the world. We need to assess any theology in light of the kinds of activity and forms of experience they make possible. The picture theology presents must unify and order the tradition and contemporary experience in a way that makes sense of the world and the humane move toward the best human life. Although I like the image of theology as a work of art, the difference is that the theologian declares a willingness to live within the meaning and form of life stated in theology. The theologian must also willingly submit these reflections to the Christian community as a possible way of relating to the world and to the tradition.

            Christian debate arises out of a desire to see itself increasingly clearly. We can avoid disagreement by setting up a hierarchy of interpretive experts and consolidating their power to transmit a preferred theology. A more fruitful way of avoiding divisiveness is to encourage genuine community of argument as a way of life within the Christian community. Investigation into shared concerns provides the basis for Christian identity, such as the bible, the creeds, the liturgy, sacramental life, ethical life. The expectation is that a purer witness and discipleship will come of such efforts to work through disagreements. However, participants must show willingness to listen to others and to have others correct them if necessary in order to make advances in our grasp of Christian discipleship. Christians share common concerns, even if they do not share common opinions, beliefs, and values about them. One’s own view is inadequate, so it makes sense to keep in touch wit those who have formed other conclusions. One might conceivably have one’s own inadequacy corrected by the interaction. Such debate could take place within the context of a common witness to God and to Christian discipleship, a unity that remains a possibility rather than actuality. Christians will never have agreement on such matters, but Christians can unite in a shared sense of the importance of figuring out such matters.

The temptation is to break the bonds of Christian fellowship with people into the segment that favors a more flexible practice or that hold tightened account of Christian social practice. Diversity is a positive good. Human judgment is fallible, and the chance for correction by others is valuable. True discipleship is more likely to come out of a wrangling with others than out of one’s own mind and heart. Diversity is a happy reminder that Christians cannot control the movements of the God they serve and worship.

            I use the language of persons and personality in this essay. I am quite comfortable in doing this. All of our images of God are analogies to something that our words cannot contain. Personal metaphors reflect a view of the activity of God in the world as relational, immanent, interdependent, and non-interventionist. We understand ourselves in relation to other selves, and therefore personal images toward God help us to understand that relationship. Human beings are the most complex, unified creatures we know. God is not a person like us. However, the use of personal metaphors to speak of God in an analogous way suggests that God has complexity that transcends us. I grant that personal language in reference to God is symbolic. I would consider, however, that all personal language, even that about ourselves, has a symbolic quality to it. God is not less than personal, but rather is more complex than human personality has become. Humanity cannot worship anything less than personal. As we reflect upon personality, we can think of the distinction between who we are as persons and how to present ourselves to others. We can reflect upon the balance between integrity of the self and openness to others. We can reflect upon the relationship in community between dependence and independence, and the balance in community between unity and diversity. We need some sense of common purpose and aim, some common values and shared experience. Harmful diversity is simply fragmentation. Something mysterious surrounds personality. We need to think of personal relations in a truly participatory way. Personal language for God remains an analogy. However, it has the capacity to be a language of participation, pointing to engagement in God and drawing us into such involvement. Talk about personal relations in God is the language of participation. God is the ground of everything personal. The life-giving Spirit of God carries the power of personality. Divine life participates in that which it creates. The closest analogy between the triune God and human existence created in the image of this God is not in persons but in the personal relationships themselves. Relationships between a mother and the baby in the womb, between children and parents, between wife and husband, and between members of the church community, are the best analogies to relations in God. Everything participates in God as a sharing in interweaving movements of relational love.

            To describe the divine life with metaphors of feeling, intention, and action carries the risk of being nothing more than anthropomorphism. The bible has God walking in the Garden of Eden, and that God has a mouth, eyes, nose, arms, and so on. We would not take the physical descriptions of God seriously, so why would we take the feeling, intention, and action of God seriously as metaphors describing the divine life? The issue is that if we cannot do this, we would completely disengage God from human life. We could not talk about God at all.

            Aquinas deals with whether theologians can use personal terms since the word “person” is not in the bible. He suggests that what the word “person” signifies, such as intelligence, the bible frequently applies to God. Furthermore, to limit speech about God to the bible would mean limiting our speech to Hebrew and Greek. Further, we need to open ourselves to novelty in order to share the message of the good news with others. So long as our words signify the freeing, healing, and fulfilling movement God in the world, we can use new terms with confidence. After all, words or concepts do not fully contain the transcendent and immanent fullness of God. God has created all persons equally in the image and likeness of God, equally sanctified by the Holy Spirit, equally involved in sin and grace, equally called to serve the purpose of God in the world, and equally destined for life with God.




The Apostolic Witness and Sacred Tradition

            If God is, and if God matters to humanity, and if humanity matters to God, then God needs to disclose to humanity the character and the intention God has for humanity. We need to know that God has addressed humanity in a sufficiently clear way that humanity can understand and can follow. I grant that it is risky to suggest that God speaks in contingent, specific, historically conditioned moments. I will also grant that I know of no other way that God could address humanity.

            Although based upon God coming toward humanity in love and grace in Jesus Christ, Christian reflection has a profound connection with the hopes and aspirations of humanity, and indeed its history has helped shape those them. Christianity has a contribution to make precisely because its intent is to address the longings of individuals and societies. This also means that Christianity does not have a special alien to what people experience in their daily life. Further, when it comes to Christian action, it will not look different from what other people of good will do.

            What I want to oppose is any use of the bible that suggests that the bible is self-authenticating. The theologian can speak of the primacy of God in religious experience only in an indirect way, through the mediation of reasoning. Barth is right that the deity of God stands or falls with the primacy of the reality of God and the revelation of God over religion. Yet, in the modern situation, we cannot advance this primacy directly. If we try to do so, our attempt has come from the outset the character of a mere assertion. The absoluteness of the assertion is hard to distinguish from a materially different fanaticism. To present the primacy of the deity of God in the form of a cogent argument, direct assertion is not enough. If we take up religion into revelation, we cannot do this in the form of mere assertion and sharp opposition. Political theology and the Theology of Hope arose from a dialectical theology that denied any credibility to reason and nature, of experience and reason, as it was, and therefore any degree of peace and justice that a society achieved in order to confront it with the demands of eschatology. It also called for a form of transformation of society that only with difficulty one can relate to actual social problems, largely because of its indebtedness to Marxism. It failed to recognize the temptation toward idolatry of an ideology or social system.

            The power of God through the bible to address human hopes and dreams is the primary test of the truth of the text. The God to whom the bible points the reader must continue to persuade minds, hearts, and communities.

            The word “God” is a matter of human language and conceptualization. The bible uses the word elohim for God, a word best understood in English with the word “divine” or “divinity.” Many human beings have some awareness of divine presence, even if they have difficulty defining that presence. The history of religions is testimony to this divine presence at the source of religion. Yet, these religions have conflicting visions of the universe and human reality. The question is whether we might find it possible to offer some way in which any religion is verifiable or falsifiable.

            Now, the loftiness of the divine presence makes it inaccessible to us. If we understand the knowledge of God in such a way that we can arrive at that knowledge entirely on our own, deity is lacking from the beginning. If God is God, we can know God only if God speaks and acts in the contingency of human history. We can know the divine only if the divine makes itself known.

            The significance of any revelation depends upon what it reveals and what it broadly confirms in human experience. Human life verifies signs, or not. Dreams come true. The originally unintelligible and hidden becomes clear in the course of events. The Christian proclamation is at stake in the course of history. Only when Christians have some assurance that their proclamation has the authorization of God can it make its statements responsibly. Without some sense of divine authority, Christian witness is nothing more than human subjectivity and presumptuous. The question is whether Christians can coherently make this claim. The question is whether some systematic presentation of this witness helps to test the claim. This is the role of systematic theology.

            The knowledge of God received in revelation is always provisional and directed toward the future, when the power of God will find fulfillment in events which people come to believe express the power of God and witness to the name of God. The truth depends upon the future self-demonstration of the truth of God. Such a future encompasses all occurrences of history that one can see as whole only in light of the end of history. Christians make this acknowledgment in the light of manifestation of the end in Jesus, and find verification only on the condition that in him the end of history is provisionally present. The anticipation of this end also resolves the traditional distinction between revelation as manifestation and a supplementary inspiration.

The sources for theological conversation begin with the biblical text. This suggests exegesis of biblical texts and biblical theology are sources for systematic theology. Since the church existed before the canonical text, the church itself, in its life, proclamation, teaching, and mission, is a source for theological reflection. The history of the church and the history of doctrine also remain sources. The decisions of ecumenical councils have a special place as a theological source. Denominational tradition, with an eye toward their ecumenical value, is another source. The history of religion and culture also becomes a source.

            We discern truth today as an anticipation of the wholeness of truth.  This observation holds true for history as well.  One generation may grasp quite well one part of biblical truth, while being blind to another.  The same is true of the variety of religious traditions.  This means that, while the bible has the place of honor and authority as the primary witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ, it also stands as a witness to the diversity of the Christian faith.  Therefore, the acceptance of the authority and inspiration of the bible does not resolve doctrinal differences.  Such an affirmation does not bring unity to the church of Jesus Christ. Individual believers approach the text in the context of a religious community and a religious tradition, even if it does not have the political weight that the teaching office of the Roman Catholic Church presently possesses. Believers remain responsible for discerning their willingness to abide by the church, to disobey openly or secretly, and to move on to another Christian body. We do not have a fixed perspective upon what the bible teaches in terms of our faith and life.  In the same way, throughout history, we expand our perspective upon the Bible. 

            The reality is that we can decide about the truth of dreams, trances, prophetic sayings, or oracles only based on their relation to our normal experience of the world and the self. The content of the Word of God is rarely God, but something else. I can agree that we find hints of this direct communication of God in two passages.


John 1:1-2 (NRSV)

 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God.

Hebrews 1:1-2 (NRSV)

 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.


However, it is far more typical to view the communication by God as about humanity and our world. Normally, a revelatory communication deals with that which is hidden in the future. It also has the character of revealing what brings health and wholeness into the human situation. This means that God is at issue in terms of whether history becomes what the revelation declared. The fulfillment of revelation is the knowledge of God. Such knowledge can come only at the end of a sequence of revelatory events. The promise of God becomes a condition of the making known of this God in the fulfillment, just as the deity of God of promise is shown in fulfillment of the promise. History becomes a demonstration of God only at the end of history. Such anticipation in any revelation also has the power to shape that future.

            The word has the character of making what is now hidden present. In particular, it makes the past and future present. The word thus frees us from the bondage of what is there. Talk about God has the totality of the world as its theme. Thus, what is always at issue in theology is God. The temporal structure of the presentation of hidden things in language by moving beyond what is there to the meaning that words indicate, is to be understood as an anticipation of the totality of truth that will be complete only in the future. Mediation by word and speech is an essential element in the anticipation of the future of God in the coming of Jesus. The revelatory meaning of his person and work needed the Word as the medium of its articulation. The word of human speech can point to reality as a whole, to the universal nexus of meaning, to the coherence of truth, and therefore to God. The thought of the historical plan of God in wisdom and prophecy takes center stage.  The claim to reveal the one God who is the creator, reconciler, and redeemer is open to future verification in history, which is still incomplete, and which is still exposed to the question of its truth. This question is given an ongoing answer in the life of the believers by the power of revelation to shed light on their life experiences. Theology can only test such statements in a systematic reconstruction of Christian teaching.

            Theology becomes a practical discipline in helping people to live and act in the world, rather than a discipline that seeks to describe the world as it is. Theology needs to orient adequately human life in the world. We need to assess any theology in light of the kinds of activity and forms of experience they make possible. The picture theology presents must unify and order the tradition and contemporary experience in a way that makes sense of the world and the humane move toward the best human life. Although I like the image of theology as a work of art, the difference is that the theologian declares a willingness to live within the meaning and form of life stated in theology. The theologian must also willingly submit these reflections to the Christian community as a possible way of relating to the world and to the tradition.

            The Hebrew Scriptures represent the foundation of the Jewish faith, but to that document needs to be added rabbinic tradition as contained in the Mishnah and Talmud. Such documents have been thoroughly analyzed with an eye to modernity and its need for historical accuracy. The Muslim has the Koran, a document that it believes Allah physically wrote and gave to Mohammed. Islamic scholars do not approach their text with a modern eye to historical criticism. It is a pronouncement from Allah, and to be obeyed. The traditions are quite different at this point. Both Jewish and Christian tradition incorporate questions regarding the text. With Islam, and such doubts and questions are dealt with severely.

            We must not forget that the historical approach to biblical literature is one of the great events in the history of Christianity, religion, and human culture. In particular, Protestants, except for fundamentalism, had the courage to re-examine its historical foundations. No other religion in human history exercised such boldness and took upon itself the same risk. Islam, Orthodox Judaism, and Roman Catholicism did not do so. Most religions seem content with a form of dishonesty, wherein they reject the results of historical research because of dogmatic prejudice. Theology gained the ability to distinguish between history, legend, and myth in its religious sources. Theology recognizes that the commitment implied in faith does not imply certainty concerning historical research, for history is always contingent.

The acceptance of the historical method for dealing with the source documents of the Christian faith introduces insecurity and uncertainty precisely where one would like the opposite. The legitimate fear of the destruction of the foundation of Christian faith is real, and a risk the church needs to take. I also suggest that all religions need to take the risk. In fact, until all religions join Christianity in exposing themselves to the risk of historical investigation of its sources, I doubt that much genuine dialogue and understanding can occur. A wrong faith can destroy the meaning of one’s life; a wrong historical judgment cannot.

            The church normally trusts the apostolic documents represent sufficiently the historical Jesus. It trusts the New Testament witness for the sake of the Christ it presents. Even where legends and teachings of the church have their place in the story of Jesus, we discover the influence of Jesus of Nazareth upon those who placed their trust in him. In that sense, the church could legitimately ask the skeptic to submit sufficient reason why the church should distrust its sources. Yet, Christian theology needs to submit itself to continually re-examining the historical foundation of its faith. This fact makes theology quite uncomfortable for most Christians. Once we make the separation between apostolic testimony and life Jesus lived, a separation the modern theologian needs to make, the task becomes incredibly difficult. I grant that such a separation has the value of reminding the church that Christianity will always be more than the accuracy of its official teaching. However, the reality is that persons who have the agenda of discrediting the church and Christianity often use their version of the historical Jesus to do so.

            The bible serves the church.  It is a witness.  Therefore, it demands attention, respect, and obedience.  The bible looks in the direction of Jesus.  It desires that readers do the same. As part of history, the biblical record is part of the on-going historical revelation of God.  It addresses particular and unique circumstances. Yet, once the church identified the present collection of writings as a norm for the church, these documents gained a character for the church that moves beyond these particular circumstances and addresses the church of every age. In one sense, all we have is a hypothesis that the witness of scripture is true.  We cannot know.  The church willingly connects itself to this hypothesis.  It places its trust in this witness.  There is an on-going dialogue with past documents of the community of faith, with the traditions of the community, as well as with culture, and as validated in experience.  Revelation is always open to the future, for no one can determine the true meaning of things and events in our world as long as history continues.

      Christians know Jesus through the witness of the biblical material, which is also the witness of the church. The Jesus we know and the Jesus to whom we respond is the Jesus remembered in the apostolic witness. Our response to Jesus is at once highly personal and highly communal. This suggests that Christianity remains wherever a community takes seriously the history of Jesus, the basic proclamation (kerygma) of the church, and calls for a response to understand intellectually and to open oneself to the transformation of life toward becoming as Christ implied the texts.

      As classic person, event, and text converge, I am suggesting that Christianity rests upon intense particularity of what God has done in Jesus of Nazareth on the one hand with the promise of the universal significance of Jesus on the other. Christianity cannot have abiding significance without people continuing to believe this and live their lives individually and corporately according to it. In this sense, the biblical record for Christians is heavily theological, doctrinal, and dogmatic. It calls for nothing less than a reformation of our view of the one God. Both Judaism and Islam consider the Christian conception of God as involving idolatry because of the significance granted to Jesus. For Christians, who Jesus is as the Son brought God close to humanity and gave humanity a new vision of the character of God. God became a fellowship of persons within the Trinity into which God invited humanity to share in that fellowship.

            Some Christian denominations place much emphasis upon the biblical text itself. I want to offer a few reflections upon why this is not helpful either to the Christian community or to the Christian witness in the world.

            I do not find it helpful to focus upon a specific teaching concerning inspiration, infallibility, or authority of the text. Much of this discussion focuses upon the text being without error and infallible. Others who think this important will pursue it. As for me, I recognize that anything involving humanity is provisional. I do not expect any text to bring heaven into a human world. That for which I can hope is that a text point me to God, rather than to itself. In other words, Christians need to admit that any theory of inspiration presupposes the acceptance of the universal significance of Jesus.  Any acceptance of inspiration of scripture is based on the prior decision about Jesus, that is, one's faith.  The acceptance of the authority and inspiration of the bible does not resolve doctrinal differences.  Such an affirmation does not bring unity to the church of Jesus Christ. Individual believers approach the text in the context of a religious community and a religious tradition, even if it does not have the political weight that the teaching office of the Roman Catholic Church presently possesses. Believers remain responsible for discerning their willingness to abide by the church, to disobey openly or secretly, and to move on to another Christian body.

            Is our craving for authority in terms of some sure and unassailable truth a sin? As an analogy, Adam and Eve in the garden experienced the temptation to know like God. Is our lust for some fixed, final, unchanging, absolutely certain “word of God” the old temptation revisited? Perhaps craving for certainty as an infallible authority will always lead us to the death of our life with the living God. We have made the dangerous error of making an analogy between the nature of God on the one hand and the nature of scripture on the other. Many well-meaning Christians defend the infallibility of scripture, contending against any who seem to question the intrinsic authority of the bible. How can such a fixed, sovereign, unassailable wisdom from on high, come along with the living of our lives? As an analogy, let us remember that contemporaries of Jesus asked Jesus about from whence he derived his authority, only to have Jesus focus on the truth of his speaking rather than signs or scripture. He refused to demonstrate his authority through word or deed. We might also reflect upon the question of the authority of Paul in I Corinthians 1. Paul points to the crucified (not triumphant in heavenly splendor) Christ as authority, who, rated on our wisdom, is weak and foolish, while on the scale of God is power and wisdom. The authority of God locates us before the cross as both judged and forgiven people. Preaching locates us in that place. This reflection at least calls upon us re-consider our understanding of authority. In fact, we may be able to do without the concept at all. The scripture is a gift of grace to the church. As the church searches for identity in the world, the church turns gratefully to scripture. The scriptures are normative for Christian community because they contain an original remembering of the gospel within the new reality of being saved, and thus enable us to recover and reformulate our identity in every new era. We have this grateful attitude toward both the Hebrew and Christian scripture. To be a Christian means to be someone who learns to lay one’s life alongside the biblical text, allowing the text to serve as canon or rule for how one gets on in the world. We learn to take ourselves a little less seriously and the bible a little more seriously. We have this grateful attitude toward tradition, liturgy, and the sacramental life of the church. That tradition shapes our pre-understanding of the gospel message. In this sense, we can describe preaching as a mediation of the crucified Christ, and dispense with the notion of authority in preaching.

            Whether one considers the Bible infallible or not, it contains multiple theological approaches.  History shows that tradition within the church is a response to the culture in which the church is seeking to carry out its ministry.  Therefore, the perspectives of the past, meaningful in their time, and good for us to reflect upon, do not need to be taken to be binding upon the church today.  The church of today is developing its own patterns of ministry to and with the culture of today, which will become the tradition of future generations of Christians.  Few today would want what is decided now to become binding upon others.  The church is an open church, open to God, open to humanity, and open to the future.  That is precisely the tension in which the church always finds itself. 

            One way to see the connection between believers and the bible is that of the testimony of the Spirit. To see oneself and Jesus Christ in the way the text suggests is a gift. The witness of the bible becomes truth to us as far as it directs us to God and to Christ. The text directs the reader away from itself and toward God. Christ comes alongside us in the journey of life and becomes our companion. Faith in the gospel carries with in faith in the written witness to Christ. We can trust the bible because we come to trust God and Christ. In one sense, Christ carries the book into our lives and carries on a dialogue with us. We may disagree over how accurate the bible has to be concerning historical or scientific matters. We do not need to disagree over whether the bible faithfully directs us to God and to Christ.

Among the many mistakes the reformers made was to state that the bible is clear in what it teaches about faith and morals. If the bible were so clear, I find it difficult to understand why people interpret it so differently. The lack of clarity in the bible leads to the need for interpretation for both what it teaches and how the contemporary church and contemporary Christians can live out that teaching. The messy biblical books will always be a problem. They relate questionable ethical practices by its heroes. They have conflicting versions of the same events. They even differ over basic matters like the death and resurrection of Jesus. The drive for consistency and agreement would have to gloss over the genuine diversity of the biblical text. Such desire for agreement in our understanding of the biblical text arises out of the modern enchantment for the kind of agreement that math, logic, and science often bring to their disciplines. If the bible is more like a wisdom text than a legal document, we could move toward respect for our differences in understanding of matters about which we share mutual concern.

Modern persons have great control over their past, in the sense that they have refined historical studies that gain clarity as to events of the past. We can investigate the historical documentation of Christianity with great thoroughness.  We can present a trustworthy account of Christian teaching.  However, as with any historical account, we can only have an approximate account of the event.  For example, we can give an historical account of the formation of the bible, as well as the history contained within it.  We can use the best of biblical study tools to accomplish this.  We can get as close as we can to the historical Abraham, Moses, and David, the formation of the tribal federation, and the existence of Israel.  We can dissect the prophets and the Psalms.  We can study the historical Jesus, defining the Jesus of history versus the Christ of faith.  We can research Paul and his authentic letters.  Yet, we never gain more than approximate account of those origins of Christianity.

When the Protestant Reformation made the bible the court of last resort for the determination of genuine Christian doctrine, it became necessary to make sure of the bible historically.  However, the nature of modern historical research will always leave questions as to reliability open to future study. Modern persons can no longer expect such certainty.  This is why we have such a division within Christianity, in particular, the “battle for the bible.”  Whether one is “liberal” or “conservative,” Protestants appeal to the bible for everything.  I think of the great labors that conservative, evangelical, and fundamental scholars in particular have placed in their research in matters related to giving the bible a firm historical foundation.  It has been like digging a tunnel across the ocean.  Yet, a little accident can disrupt the whole enterprise.  In the same way, people have constructed great systems to preserve the bible from errors in history, science, morals, and theology. Yet, one mistake or error will destroy the enterprise.

Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that everything fundamentalists say about the bible is true.  The canon is sure.  The texts are authentic.  Their authors are trustworthy.  Every letter of the bible is inspired.  We have all apparent contradictions solved, for if we could demonstrate contradiction, it would bring down the entire carefully contrived system.  Now, I ask, what happens next?  Has anyone who previously did not have faith been brought a single step nearer to it?  I think not. Faith does not result simply from such a scientific inquiry.  Has anyone whom previously had faith gained anything with respect to its power?  I think not.  We are quite fortunate, then, that our wishful hypothesis, a dream come true for some, is impossible, because even the perfect realization of their vision of the bible would still lead only to approximation. 

Let us make the opposite assumption.  The skeptic has definite proof that everything they have doubted about the bible is true.  What happens then?  Have the opponents abolished Christianity?  Have the opponents harmed believers?  Has the opponent gotten rid of the responsibility he or she bears for becoming a believer?  The answer to all this is: No.  The reason is that, even if the bible is not complete in every detail, it could still be true in its essentials. 

I have a simple question for the person who seeks historical and theological certainty.  For whose sake is it that you seek such certainty?  Faith does not need it.  Most of us recognize that this type of proof arises out of a scientific and mathematical model that does not matters of belief and value. Seeking such proof is the enemy of truth and religion. In fact, when faith loses its passion, when faith ceases to be faith, then a proof becomes necessary to command respect from the side of unbelief.  When we turn Christianity into an objective study, we make impossible for us as inquirers to face the decision we need to make with passion, least of all with an infinitely interested passion.  The more objective we become, the less we base our faith upon our relationship to what we study, namely, to Christ.  We hold ourselves aloof from Christ, and people applaud us for our objectivity. The biblical text does not direct attention to itself or to religious experience. It directs attention to Christ.

Now, I want to offer what I consider a suggestion for the positive place the bible and tradition have in the lives of Christians and in the life of the churches.

            The bible is an ambiguous document because it is not the end of the story.  It begins discussions in a variety of places that needed to continue in later generations. The apostolic witness began discussion on who Jesus was and on the nature of God as Father, Son, and Spirit that needed to continue. It started discussions on the nature of Christian community that needed to continue. Through its lists of virtue and vice and the Ten Commandments, it started a discussion of what constitutes a Christian form of life that needs to continue.

            The bible is like the first chapter of a novel, or the first act of a play.  Far from ending discussions, the bible is the framework within which Christians continue its discussions. It requires that we read it with wisdom and discernment. It also requires some accountability to a community of people that take the biblical text seriously and struggle with what it means for today.

The bible has real diversity within it, a diversity that should be clear to any reader of the text. The diversity of the biblical witness enriches the biblical conversation. Yet, those who collected the canon, as we know it today recognized unity of witness as well. The bible could be a model for genuine diversity within the church as well, and the ways in which diversity could enrich contemporary Christian communal life. The text encourages new experiences, expressions, and events. They provoke, challenge, elicit, demand, and transform later answers and questions of Christians as they experience in their situation that same event in fidelity to the original apostolic witness to Jesus.

            The confessions, creeds, and catechisms testify that the human community called church needs something that defines the teaching of the bible and especially the apostolic witness with a sufficient degree of clarity for members and for outsiders. Such definitions help to establish proper boundaries. In psychological circles, a person who does not know proper boundaries in relationships is open to sickness in relationships. The same is true in human communities.

            The Book of Confessions among Presbyterian denominations and the Book of Concord among Lutheran denominations need to be taken seriously as the generally Protestant view of what distinguishes Protestant from Roman Catholic. The Roman Catholic definition arises out of the history of the councils. The Orthodox Tradition has its definition in what it considers Sacred Tradition, which it considers as a whole the bible and the first seven ecumenical councils, as well as the Divine Liturgy.

            Some denominations avoid this process entirely. The Anglican tradition finds unity and boundary in its Book of Common Prayer, which prescribes a form of worship for every congregation. The Methodist tradition, arising out of John Wesley, first found its unity and boundary in its Book of Discipline and in the 52 standard sermons of Wesley. When the denomination started publishing these sermons separately from the discipline, then discipline became that which defined, unified, and shaped the denominations that make up the United Methodist Church.

            To participate in the fellowship of the Christian community is to participate in this hermeneutical trajectory and to embrace the joint responsibilities of maintaining continuity with the past and addressing the context in which the community is situated. Tradition is a defense in the church against individualism. Yet, it is not a final authority because of the ongoing life of the church as it moves toward its destiny. The work of the Spirit unites text and tradition, a proposition that appears to need personal faith. The Christian tradition is comprised of the historical attempts by the Christian community to explicate and translate faithfully the first-order language, symbols, and practices of the Christian faith, arising from the interaction among community, text, and culture, into the various social and cultural contexts in which that community has been situated. Christian community entered into debate and developed orthodoxy out of that debate. We need an open confessional tradition, for it would be strange indeed to affirm the contingency and future orientation of truth and maintain a closed confession.

            I approach such classic texts as reflections on what is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, and therefore the excellent in human life, as Paul encouraged in Philippians 4:8. Such classic texts are open to whether future readers will enter into dialogue with them and find themselves disrupted by the dialogue. I grant that this is a generous reading of the text. I also hope that anyone who might read this text will read generously. This view separates my approach from those who think the texts of bible and tradition represent the reflections of those in power. We need some suspicion with any text, but if we end there, we will never take what the author says as a serious expression of the author’s struggle with truth, beauty, and goodness.

Classical Christian theology continues to be a powerful means of shaping Christian teaching. We might think of it as theology shaped most closely by Augustine and Aquinas, which Greek philosophy shaped. Such theology was a partner in the oppression of women, the subjection of races, the use of war and crusades to oppose those who disagreed with their vision of God, subjected the masses to a rigid hierarchical structure, became a partner with kings in the subjection of the masses, and inhibited the growth of science and technology. Yet, it has also sustained the lives of women, serfs, slaves, and improved the lives of millions through its worship and communal life. We need to discern whatever is true and holy in classical theology, so that Christian community today may reflect the divine light that they share. The classical themes suggesting that no symbols, metaphors, or words we use can contain what we mean by God, the analogical nature of all talk about God, and the necessity of many names and metaphors for God are parts of the heritage quite relevant to us today.

            The sources for Christian thought are classic texts on the one hand and human individual and corporate life on the other hand. A large element of the theological task is to correlate classic texts with individual and corporate life. We investigate common human experience and language as we explore the limits of science, technology, and moral life. We find openings in human life toward God as we experience the boundary situations of life that are beyond the methods of science and math. We explore Christian tradition primarily by exploring classic Christian texts, becoming an historical and hermeneutical investigation. What we seek in theological reflection in this way are the ways God is present.

            I want to distance myself from the approach of deconstruction of classic texts. This approach uncovers what it perceives as the hidden oppression contained in the texts. Classic Christian texts become tools and expressions of male or racial dominance. Such Christians are in search of classic Christian texts, in that their primary sources are Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche. Such an approach is a convenient way to eliminate thousands of years of human thought. Instead, I approach classic texts as reflections on what is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, and therefore the excellent in human life, as Paul encouraged in Philippians 4:8. Such classic texts are open to whether future readers will enter into dialogue with it and find themselves disrupted by the dialogue.

            If we reflect theologically upon the biblical text, we need to measure scriptural statements by the content of the gospel to which they bear witness.  The gospel is accessible through these statements, yet differs from them.  This suggests that no view of scripture can absolve individuals from their responsibility in discerning the content and truth of the bible. In fact, our view of the role of the bible in the church and in the lives of individuals must leave room for this individuality. Individuals must freely recognize in the biblical witness and personally acknowledge that God seeks reconciliation with humanity through Jesus. Nothing can absolve individuals from the responsibility for arriving at that conclusion or rejecting that conclusion.

            I do not want to leave this section without considering the limits of the biblical text or the classic texts of the tradition. The church is rarely honest about this. The biblical witness has limits as to the arenas of life to which it addresses itself with guidance and clarity. The bible and the Christian tradition are the wisdom of our heritage to which we direct our attention as we seek to discern directions we take today in our beliefs and values. This means that neither the bible nor the Christian tradition is adequate prescriptive texts for psychology, economic ideology, or political ideology. Although we may find helpful clues for the social influence of Christianity, we do not find a specific cultural, political, or economic program contained in the texts. Neither the scripture nor the tradition of the church arose in times when people had yet discovered an imperfect but adequate way to organize society. However, the fact that we can identify the difference in historical and cultural setting between the modern social world and the social world of the bible and the rise of Christian tradition reminds us of the underlying commonality of the human experience. Even with all the influence our social world in shaping us as individuals, we are still human beings with hope, fear, dread, capacity to deceive ourselves, anxiety, love, weakness, evil, and so on, as possibilities for our lives.

The bible and the various traditions of the churches become important as metaphors and narratives that relate stories of meaning to which we can connect. Christian source texts do not present a coherent philosophy or view of the world, which is why Christian missionaries have shaped Christians in many historical epochs and many cultures. I further suggest that no religion has the capacity in its source texts to provide for the transformation of culture in a way modern people could accept. Classic religious texts arose in pre-modern cultures. As such, they do not have the tools to guide modern culture in the way they guided pre-modern culture. Religions must rely upon other forms of life that they take with them into their religious communities. Religions are not totalistic visions of individual or cultural life.

Theological reflection also involves reflection upon culture. Religion may legitimate culture. It seems like it will also defend the individual against culture, refusing to allow culture swallow the individual, and becomes a hint of eternity. A theology free of culture does not exist. We need to hear, scrutinize, and respond to culture. The cultural context can lead us to reconsider our understanding of the Christian faith. Christian community becomes a unit of culture. A groups orients itself toward one another, who share unit awareness, and between whom interaction or communication in the form of observable behavior. It seeks to perpetuate itself institutionally as well as propagate a particular vision of meaning making and world construction. They share a set of values, beliefs, and loyalties that arise out of a fundamental commitment to the God revealed in Christ. Christians are co-participants with people around them in an ongoing conversation about what it means to be human.

It appears that God has given us minds and experiences, both personally and as a human race, to figure out matters related to helping us to live reasonably well and happily on this planet.  This includes political, economic, and cultural relationships, as well as matters of personal ethics, business, family, and relationships. 

In this sense, we do not need to seek theological foundations for our judgments in matters related to economics and politics in a modern society. We do not have to use the bible to support previously developed agendas.  To do so is to suggest some divine sanction for what we believe that may or may not exist. I suspect we seek guidance from the bible in these areas because they are so important to our personal and corporate lives.  Yet, if my contention is accurate, we will be disappointed.  I suspect we also seek confirmation in the bible of beliefs we have come to with our use of reason and sound judgment to increase our advantage over another individual or group, or even to manipulate others.  Such darker motives reflect our capacity in the church and as Christians for expressing the depth of our sinfulness. We need to stop.  In reality, the bible asks uncomfortable questions of us.  The bible is concerned about matters that many of us left behind long ago.

A coherent philosophy of culture includes an analysis of political and economic freedom in a society. A coherent philosophy would have to reflect upon the role of science in improving everyday life of ordinary people, as well as what we mean by improvement. A coherent philosophy would have to deal with human psychological development. However, we make these connections in a way similar to that of an artist painting a picture, trying to arrive at a combination of form and color that presents the aesthetic experience the artist desires. We make the connections in a way similar to that of musician arrives at the right combinations of notes and words to arrive at the desire musical sound or song. We make the connections in a way similar to that of novelist developing a plot that communicates the desire story. Making such connections has a particularity and individuality that scientific and mathematical equations do not have. The bible and the traditions of the churches become important narratives that establish common identity as Christians and as Christian communities.

Christianity does not present an alternative social world apart from the social world in which Christians find themselves. Christianity does not have a self-contained and self-originating social world from which we can identify clear boundaries from the rest of culture. People living within a culture carry a great deal of what they learned there into the Christian community. In fact, Christian social practice always incorporates material from other ways of life if Christians are to constitute a whole way of life for themselves. Christian social practice does not constitute a full complement of cultural claims, such as economic, political, or metaphysical matters. A Christian way of life establishes relations with other ways of life. It must take from other ways of life in order to be a way of life itself. It is not totalistic. Such dependence is not just on the surface; it goes to the depths of Christian social practice. Christian identity is relational at the deepest levels, and thus attempts to separate it from those relationships arrive too late. Christians have already crossed the boundary of social worlds to the extent that Christians believe anything at all. The church is never against culture, for culture, or transforming culture, but a mixture of Christian social practice and culture.

As wisdom texts, the bible and tradition provide insights and clues for discerning the ways of God today and for charting a course for the future. However, the process is more like an artistic one, as over against a legal or scientific process.  Modern people, embedded so profoundly with scientific and technological expectations of the world, often must make a shift in perspective or awareness I might liken to a Gestalt experience or a leap to another vantage point from which to live our lives.

            I would like to close this section with a reflection upon how we as human beings can verify or falsify the biblical testimony. Clearly, I cannot present logic, math, or science. They have their place in the spectrum of human knowledge and life. As with any area of human knowledge, we have the ability to test its veracity. We begin with the data of theological discourse in its classic texts, in its heritage, in the present institutional life of the church, in the Christian experience of believers as individuals and as communities, in sacramental acts, in acts of caring for each other, and in acts of service in the world. Theology shares in this corporate life of a fragmented modern church. Theology becomes reflective and attentive to such data of the life of the church and the lives of individual Christians. We never hold or possess truth fully in our minds and hearts.  None of us does this as individuals.  Christians make this acknowledgment in the light of manifestation of the end in Jesus, and find verification only on the condition that in him the end of history is provisionally present.

            Anyone seeking logical, mathematical, or scientific demonstration of truth in religion will find only disappointment. The significance of any claim that God speaks to humanity in a specific way needs to find confirmation in human experience, broadly considered. Human life verifies signs and fulfills dreams, makes the unintelligible and hidden clear, or else it falsifies them. Religion is always a matter of belief, rather than knowledge.

            The capacity for language shapes individuality and community. The word has the character of making what is now hidden present. In particular, it makes the past and future present. The temporal structure of the presentation of hidden things in language by moving beyond what is there to the meaning that words indicate, is to be understood as an anticipation of the totality of truth that will be complete only in the future. The word frees us from the bondage of what is there.

            Mediation by word and speech is an essential element in the anticipation of the future of God in the coming of Jesus. The revelatory meaning of his person and work needed the Word as the medium of its articulation. The word of human speech can point to reality as a whole, to the universal nexus of meaning, to the coherence of truth, and therefore to God.

            Further, a communication that discloses the character and intent God has for humanity deals with that which the future hides from human view. It also has the character of revealing what brings health and wholeness into the human situation. The question in terms of the God shown in the bible is whether history becomes what this disclosure declares. Revelation reaches its fulfillment in the knowledge of God. Such knowledge from a human perspective is never complete. The promise contained in an historically contingent revelation rests upon its fulfillment in the future. The end of history will bring clarity to the promise of God in revelation throughout the course of history. As believers and churches act upon the promise today, and anticipate the future fulfillment of the promise in history, we discover that such anticipation also has the power to shape that future. The knowledge of God received is always provisional and directed toward the future, when the power of God will find fulfillment in events which people come to believe express the power of God and witness to the name of God. The truth depends upon the future self-demonstration of the truth of God. Such a future encompasses all occurrences of history that one can see as whole only in light of the end of history.

            This turn away from oneself and toward the promise of God made in Christ of the apostolic witness gives individual Christians and the church any confidence that it can have in a human world. The claim to reveal the one God who is the creator, reconciler, and redeemer is open to future verification in history, which is still incomplete, and which is still exposed to the question of its truth. This question is given an ongoing answer in the life of the believers by the power of revelation to shed light on their life experiences. Theology can only test such statements in a systematic reconstruction of Christian teaching.          

Triune God

            Religion has dimensions of belief, organizational structure, ethics, purity codes, and ritual. The early struggles in the New Testament and the first centuries of the church emphasize the Christian understanding of who God is. I want to begin with some attributes of God that Christianity would share with Judaism and Islam. However, I will do with an eye to the need we have to revise classical concepts of God.

            Who is God? Judaism would answer from its core testimony in the Old Testament. Psalm 136 refers to steadfast love or fidelity of Yahweh. Exodus 34:6-7 uses positive adjectives: merciful, gracious, slow to anger, steadfast love, faithful, forgives; but Yahweh takes affront seriously to the point where it will disrupt the relationship for four generations. One can also summarize the core testimony of Israel in nouns. However, the nouns are metaphors that do not fully capture Yahweh, for if they did, it would be reification and idolatry. Yahweh is judge, king, warrior (governance and power). Yahweh is father, artist (potter), healer, gardener, mother, shepherd (sustenance, feeding). Islam would answer from its typical dedication in the Koran: In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds, the Beneficent, the Merciful, master of the day of Requital. For Christianity, “God is love” is the only description of the essence of God in the apostolic witness.

            The idea of God is at once the most important and yet the most questionable of all religious teachings in the West. This idea points to the central object of Christian, Jewish and Muslim faith, the sole “subject” of their revelation, and the final principle of both reality and meaning throughout human existence. Nevertheless, of all concepts in modern cultural life, the idea of God remains the most elusive, the most frequently challenged, the most persistently criticized and negated of all important convictions.

            The question in modern society is the possibility of the existence of God in a seemingly naturalistic world, the possibility of valid knowledge of God and meaningful discourse about God, and the possibility of any sort of religious way of life. Christian theology needs to justify its talk in the presence of apparently less questionable forms of modern experience like science, philosophy, economics, and psychology. Further, Christian theology needs to face the challenge of reformulating its understanding of God so that it is meaningful and relevant to the modern world.

            Modern culture has sharply raised the question of the reality of God. A powerful naturalistic viewpoint has arisen, which finds belief in God anachronistic and incredible and thus either offensive or irrelevant. Nature in the sense of modern culture is source of all that is real. Men and women are the source of values, and their needs and wishes are the sole criterion of values. Thus, this world and its history represent the sole locus of hope. This naturalistic humanism has dominated the cultural scene. Consequently, its powerful presence has posed the central intellectual issues for theologians concerned with the defense and reformulation of the concept of God. However, whether or not naturalistic humanism, a nonreligious understanding of reality generally and of human history and existence, is a lasting possibility has also become problematic in the modern period. Recent history suggests that as traditional religion wanes as the symbolic center of a community’s life, ideology with important religious dimensions tends to take its place. Thus, competing political and social worlds, structured ideologically, still receive their inspiration from competing forms of religiosity.

            Our concept of God matters. We need to distinguish the true God from an idol of our construction. Our concept of God can make God seem credible or incredible, plausible or improbable, distant or near, absent or present.

            The first step I want to take is that the emergence of a belief in one God allows for an understanding of God that embraces all of humanity into an underlying and common humanity that provides a foundation for liberty, peace, and justice in relationships. Monotheism opens the possibility of moving beyond family, clan, nation, and ideology, and move toward an appreciation of the unity and diversity of human life. I mention this historical reality because of the importance modernity places upon the dignity of individuals. The intellectual source for this belief is the belief in one God.

            I would like to make another suggestion. In modern civilization, we need to develop a concept of God united as close as possible to the sense or calling we experience to lead the best life we can lead as individuals and to the best life together we can lead. This means our language about God will have narrative features rather than logical and scientific features. I cannot move along in life without God as the central theme of my life. We can discern this experience as we listen. I do not mean some isolated mystical experience. Rather, this requires finding places of silence individually and corporately in the midst of the busyness and complexity of modern life. If we are not careful, we live our lives consistent with parental dictates, communal values, popular culture, and the dictates of others. Human life is in community, and whatever degree of living out the unique gifts and passions we have as individuals and as communities, given for this unique time and place we will live in that context. Yet, each of us as individuals, as communities, and as a nation has the responsibility to discern, out of the possible futures before us, that which will bring us toward what is best. This discernment occurs in the context of our heritage or tradition, including family, religious, local community, and nation. No one in the past or future will live the unique life each of us has to live. No matter how old the institutions in which we participate might be, no institution can escape the responsibility to live out its unique capacities, passions, and gifts in the present time and place. This concept of God at work through all human experience suggests a focus upon relationships that are true and life giving.

            I do not pretend that the view I present here is any more “biblical” than the classical view. The myth of a return to origins will not help us deal honestly about our theological sources. However, the view I present does incorporate biblical material that the classical view has trouble incorporating. Modernity provides important texts for Christian reflection upon God: individuality, authenticity, the social self, an evolutionary view of history, an optimistic view of the future, an optimistic view of change, and freedom. These texts within modernity make it easier to accept a dynamic and personal model of God. In fact, modernity appears to become bored and impatient with anything that lasts very long.

Majesty and Mystery

            Any acknowledgement of God begins with majesty, suggesting that we will never express the fullness of who God is. Much that God is we cannot express. God is infinite, eternal, present to all things at the point of their existence, and powerful in being the source of life and granting life independent existence alongside God. God is the origin of the universe, the one who preserves it, and the one who guides it to its end. Each of these attributes deserves some special attention.

            We must begin with the inconceivable majesty of God that transcends any ideas we develop about God. Anything we say about whom God is points beyond the words to something far greater than our words can describe. The danger is that any positive attributes we ascribe to God may become God to us. In that sense, we can actually lose our personal connection to God. We may even wonder how any human being could formulate any teaching about God, since God contains so much majesty. Yet, to have this awareness of God is already to begin to know God and to teach oneself and others about God. God is incomparable and beyond definition. The better we know God, the more we sense the majesty and mystery of God.

            Our language about God is still important. The apparent humility of saying that human beings can say nothing about God because God is so majestic actually turns human beings into the highest beings about which we can speak. That which appears as humility becomes arrogance and pride. Our recognition that our language can express positive characteristics of God places human beings in proper relationship to the God who transcends all human experience. God is majestic as well as nearer to us than we are to ourselves. Further, if we reflect upon world literature, I would suggest that there is too much to think about, rather than too little. Our inability to place our thinking about God into words suggest stages on a way whose end we cannot foresee, while at the same time God is near to those who seek. The many differences in human conceptions about God are the confusion of our limited ideas about God.

            One way to think about the limits of human language in our talk about God is to recall that the core religious experience is that of the undefined infinite, an experience that religion calls God. We might think of the existence of God at this stage as the unlimited field of the non-thematic presence of God in creation. Descartes is right to suggest that any knowledge of self presupposes the idea of the infinite, even if one disagrees that the infinite equals God. God is present in all human life. God is there for our world and us even though people do not acknowledge God as God. God is there as the undefined infinite that is formed by the intuition of our awareness of reality, as the horizon within which we comprehend all else by limitation. Descartes suggested that the infinite is the condition of grasping all finite objects, an indefinite awareness of something that with an increasing consciousness of finite objects is known to transcend them all. Something is present to our life and world that transcends all finite objects. Something is in the world that comprehends and transcends all finite objects. However, this something is in all the objects and at work in our lives. We can and do call this something God in the process of revelation, religious experience, and interpretation of the world. This something shows itself in the history of the conflict between the gods of the religions, the definition of the undefined mystery that is present and active in our lives progresses. This mystery embraces all things and never ends with the march of time. Only as a being alongside others can we think of God in this way. Such talk runs the risk of carelessly imagining God as a finite thing. The way to meet this challenge is to understand properly whom we think God to be. We can meet this danger with the help of the concept of the infinity of God. We can think of this existence as an active presence in the world. The essence we seek shows itself in existence. Essence shows itself in a series of existing moments that can only anticipate the completed series.

            Eternity is vastly different from what we experience. We experience a flurry of activity from past to future. We try to hold it, and rest a little. Our attempt at rest is an attempt to do something comparable to the experience of eternity. Yet, even if we rest a long time, it is because of a series of motions that pass by. In the eternal, nothing passes away. The whole is present in eternity. Yet, in space and time, no time is whole. The future pushes the past forward. The future follows from the past. The present creates and issues forth both past and future.

            The question of what God was doing before creation is one that assumes that whatever it was, it was not a time made by God. The reality is that if there was a succession of time before human space and time were created, then God made those times as well. What was God doing then, before creation? Our mistake is in assuming that a moment indicated by “then” actually occurs. Without time, “then” does not occur. God cannot precede time by time, for then God could not precede all times. Contemplation upon eternity stimulates this important section. Eternity is not like human time, only going on endless. Some consider such a conception of eternity as hell. In fact, Eternity is qualitatively different, in that past, present, and future do not exist in eternity. The succession of moments as we experience them does not exist. What God was doing before the creation of the universe makes little sense in the context of what eternity means, where no before and after exists.

            We make a mistake when we think that God created at a particular time. Given that God is eternal, we recognize that time is not co-eternal with God. God made time. Time is a puzzle. If no one asks me about it, I know what time is. If I wish to explain time to someone who asks about it, then I do not know. I can say one thing with some confidence. If nothing passed away, the past would not exist. If nothing was arriving, the future would not exist. If nothing was now, the present would not exist. The past and future present a special puzzle. The past is not. The future is not yet. If the present were always present, we would not have time, but eternity. We cannot even say that the present “is,” for it passes into the past. The present trends toward not being.

            I puzzle about some of our common language and time. For example, we say that time is either long or short. I grant that we can speak of what has been a long or short time ago, and a long or short time yet to come. Yet, is time ever long or short? The puzzle is that the present as we experience it is always passing away. The present is never long or short. Such a conception of time suggests that we can divide time into segments. What would present become in such a conception of time? Is the present this year, this month, this week, this day, this hour, this minute, this second? I do not see how we can conceive of time in this way. The real puzzle is that time flies from the future to the past, as if the present was not even there. We can divide time into the minutest segment, and it still would not be present. If we try to extend time at all, we divide into past, present, and future. Yet, we cannot extend the present in order to make it exist, for time is always coming or passing away.

            Of course, our perception of time is that we do in fact compare periods with each other, and we measure time as short or long. This perception is accurate, for the past exists into the present through duration of time and space. The future also exists as that which is coming and which the past and present anticipate. The future influences the present through anticipation of what is not yet. Of course, we cannot think of the future residing in some secret place, awaiting emergence into the present. Further, the present receives the past into its life, even as it quickly moves into the future. We could not talk about past, present, or future if they did not exist in some way.

            The past and future have any degree of existence only as they are present, either as memory or as anticipation. When it comes to the past, I cannot relate it as past, but only as I hold the images of the past in my memory and then express that past in words. The past has made footprints in my mind, and I seek to give expression to those images through words, sentences, and stories. We also use our imagination for future action. The future does not exist yet either, but it becomes reality as we anticipate a future reality. Yet, we do not behold the future as future, but only as present, in our imagination.

            Now, I am not arrogant to think that I can reform our language at this point. We will continue to think in terms of past, present, and future. However, technically, we have a present of things past, a present of things present, and a present of things future. From a common sense perspective, we measure time, and we do not measure things that do not exist. We measure the present as it comes from the future, which is not yet, and passes into the past.

            We typically measure time by the motion of physical bodies of the heavens. Thus, revolving of the earth around the sun seems to mark days, seasons, and years. Yet, this chronological image of time is not the puzzle of which I write.

            It would seem, then, that time is only a measurement of the human mind. Time is a uniquely human experience. My mind is that which anticipates the future, considers the present, and remembers the past. We can think of a long or short expectation of the future or memory of the past, but we cannot think of either past or future as actually existing for us to measure.


Relational transcendence, substance, Being, and essence

            God is substance, essence, and Being. God does not change in this sense, for that would assume that something future is greater than God, a concept that would be strange indeed, since normally we think of God as that greater than we can think or imagine. If God today changes into something greater tomorrow, then God today is not truly God, as we normally understand the term God. We think of God as unchangeable in terms of essence. People experience change when they enter into new relationships. Yet, we cannot think of such change occurring in God. We have to think of what such changes would mean to God.

            The idea of transcendence expresses a relation. Theological thinking faces the task of revising traditional ideas of God. It cannot escape this challenge if it is to remain in intellectual dialogue with modernity. The most dramatic change is that modernity introduces relation into the concept of substance. God does not exist, isolated and alone. The Christian view of the Trinity connects rather nicely with this modern view of transcendence and substance as relation. God lives in relation as Father, Son, and Spirit, and God lives in relation to the world God has made. Many classical philosophical definitions of God tend to obscure and weaken the notion of God as relational, involved, and loving. If we define the concept of essence relationally, we can link it more closely to the relations between the people than had seemed possible previously. The relational dimension of God is the starting point of theological reflection, including the relation of God to the world, to events in history, and to time. The previous ages of theological reflection in isolating God from the contingency of the world and history has receded into the background.

            The relational structure of the concept of God includes the relations of God with the world. The nature of God is the will to share the essence of God with others. God wills to be for what God has created. God does not keep this reality within God.

            The difficulty we have in speaking of relationship in God is that Father and Son do not have a relationship in the same way that we do with a neighbor. I grant that traditional language fails here. For example, we often speak of one God (essence or substance) and three persons. I recognize that human language fails at this point to communicate what Christians mean. The Christian experience of God, or the way Christians have received their revelation of God, suggests that our language cannot completely express what we mean, while at the same time we cannot leave it unspoken. In fact, I would remind other monotheistic faiths that Christians do not speak of three gods, three essences, or three substances. We do not speak of three greatnesses. We speak of one God, who is worthy of worship and praise. We simply understand the one God, acting as unity, while yet distinctively, as Father, Son, and Spirit.

            We justly wonder how one substance can be one and many. However, if we think broadly, we see that this is the natural state of affairs. No matter how much science improves its precision in dividing matter, can we even imagine coming down to one substance that is the foundation for all matter? For example, the atom itself is a community of smaller particles. Science divides the atom into several smaller particles, and suspects another layer of particles smaller than what it has discovered so far. My point is that the notion of a solitary, isolated piece of matter, not existing in relation, may not exist. The same may be true of divinity. When we think of God in eternity as an isolated being without relation, we may be thinking of a form of divinity that never existed. Divinity may be one and three, and therefore in relation from eternity, as the Christian tradition has suggested. We might even look into our human experience for that same sense of one and many. Our sense of self arises out of interaction with others and out of our experience of duration. As much as we change over time, we recognize the continuity of self. Thus, when something occurs to the psyche, stored in the electrical impulses of the brain, it can also have profound impact upon the cells in other parts of the body. The same is true in reverse.

            Christians speak of God as one in essence or substance, suggesting that we understand wisdom, power, infinity, omniscience, and other attributes of God, describe the one God. Yet, we can also think of each person of the Trinity as having distinct contributions to make to who God is. Thus, we can think of the Father as the origin, the Son as the one who communicates (Word or Logos), and the Spirit as the one who gives life. This is the Christian way of acknowledging that God is one and that God exists in community or relation from eternity. Christians do not gain this knowledge of God through speculation. Rather, Christians acknowledge their view of God arises out of what they believe God has communicated to humanity through Christ and in the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Christian understanding of God has its historical basis in a particular person, Jesus of Nazareth, and arises out of reflection upon who he is for God and for humanity. If one suggests that this form of communication from God is odd, Christians can only wonder in what other way God could communicate to humanity the character of God and the destiny of humanity. God cannot speak to humanity in a universal way for all cultures and all time and still respect the human condition. As a result, God communicates through a particular person, place, and time, while also communicating that which is universal in terms of God and of humanity.

Divine action, intelligence, and will

            The God who acts, who sets and achieves goals, can no more be without qualities than can the action of God. Purposeful action expresses qualities that one must ascribe to the one who acts. By choosing an end, the one who acts identifies himself or herself with the chosen end by accepting it as his or her own. The one who makes the choice is still open and still oriented to the future, and still anticipates the future. We can characterize the one who makes the choice by the selection and fulfillment of the goal, displaying essential qualities by action. The central content of the divine action according to the New Testament witness is the love God as shown in Jesus Christ. God fully commits to actually being for us and in fellowship with us. The qualities of the loving action of God are in fact qualities of the essence of God. If the love of God is the embodiment of the essence of God, it follows that all of the qualities of God show themselves in the revelation of love, for God is fully present for us in this love, and God keeps nothing back. 

            The doctrine of creation begins with the concept of divine action.  The divine life includes action. The concept of an act involves change. An action makes a difference. It brings about something that would not otherwise exist. In the case of specific acts, it brings about something that did not previously exist. The world is the product of an act of God.  It might not have existed.  The world is contingent for that reason. However, creation cannot be an act in time.  God is creative because God is God. Divine creativity and divine life are not distinct from each other. To say that God acts means that it makes sense to use the words before and after when we talk about God. God makes decisions and then God acts. God decides before God acts, God acts after God decides. Not only does God bring about change, but also in a significant sense, God experiences change, even if that change does not involve the nature of God as goodness and love. After God acts, the universe is different and the experience God has of the universe is different.

            Divine action produces finite beings that are subject to temporal relations, and produces finite events and beings in temporal sequence in such a way that their present life finds fulfillment in the future. Means and ends are way in which finite events beings relate to each other and to God. In this sense, we can affirm that God has a plan for the wholeness and fulfillment of creation, even if we do not have the perspective God has and thus cannot know fully that plan. The concept of divine action involves divine temporality. Time is real for God. Some things God wants, and so God does them. At other times, God interacts with finite agents in pursuing the goals of God. God works in and through situations where people are variously receptive and resistant to the influence of God. People can resist the will of God. The will of God does not determine everything. God is not the only actor on the stage of history. Other agents play a role. People make decisions and act, and God takes their decisions and actions into account in determining a course of action. The actions of God are reactions, different ways God responds to what other do as God pursues an ultimate purpose. The fulfillment of the will of God represents a genuine achievement rather than a foregone conclusion.

            If the destiny of all individuals is fellowship with God, then the concept of creation takes on the conceptual form of a plan of health, healing, fulfillment, and wholeness.  The doctrine of creation is not a story about something that took place once upon a time. It describes the relation between God and world. Human beings are the ones who ask the question of their finitude, even while the answer cannot come from within the course of human life. The answer can only come from beyond it. Rather than pointing to an event, it points to the human situation of dependence and finitude.

            Yet, in terms of the relation of God to the world, many aspects of the experience God has of the world undergo change. One way to view it is this way. In line with the decision to make this kind of world, the independence of creation from God means that God accepts a future open to unpredictability, even for God. People have real choices and alternatives. God is open to the contingency of history. The choices of human beings shape the future, for choices are real and freedom is significant. God cares about human beings and allows the choices of human beings to have an impact upon God. The lives of human beings make a difference to God. God delegates power to individuals, creating vulnerability in God. God shares power with people. This includes a paradox of strength and vulnerability in God. God is vulnerable because God chose to make a world like this. God chose to share power instead of keep it. God shows willingness to take risks and to work with a history whose outcome God chose to share power with human beings. God influences through love expressed in wooing, persuading, and transforming. In the process, God condescends to human weakness, refusing to overpower. God works with human hesitation and uncertainty. Evil arises from the misuse of the power and freedom God granted human beings. The full display of what God wants for humanity and for the world awaits the end of human history.

            God creates room for others to exist and maintains a relationship with them. God becomes humble. God risks suffering and change because God is so stable and secure. God risked suffering when God chose openness to the world, so that the world would have an impact on God. God risked suffering when God decided to love and be loved. Therefore, God interacts with the world. Human decisions and actions make an important to the divine plan for the world. History is the combined result of what God and people decide to do.

            The idea of God setting and realizing goals is quite anthropomorphic. The idea of God who acts purposefully presupposes that God has intellect and will and that God works out ideas of intellect in relation to the goals of the action of God as in the case of human persons.

            The manner in which God is at work in the world is quite different from that of human action. Human beings are not identical with themselves. People are on the way to the definition that we know to constitute the self. We are on the way to our identity. We do not possess it, though we know that we are related to it as in the self-consciousness we are aware of the identity of the I and the self in spite of the distinction between them. As regards the mutual relations of the Trinity, we must agree that God has complete self-identity.

            The incarnation suggests that God defines the reality of God. The incarnation reveals the nature of God. It suggests that the experience God has of the world has something in common with aspects of human experience. The distinctive features of human experience are most reminiscent of the divine reality. God is personal existence. God enjoys relationships, has feelings, and makes decisions, formulates plans, and acts to fulfill them. We learn about God in the distinctive qualities we see in Jesus. Service to and suffering with characterized the life of Jesus.

            The cross demonstrates that God takes an active role in salvation. The cross is a divine experience as well as a divine action. Humanity and divinity unite in the suffering of Calvary. The cross is an assertion of the passionate God, the God in whose heart there is pain, the crucified God.

            Therefore, God interacts with the world. Human decisions and actions make an important to the divine plan for the world. History is the combined result of what God and people decide to do.

            When we speak of the knowledge of God, we mean that nothing in all creation escapes God. All things are present to God and God keeps them in this presence. The knowledge of God is dynamic. The prophecies in the bible hint at this, for most prophecies are conditional in that the prophet lays out alternatives of “if” certain things happen, “then” God will act in certain ways. If God had set the future already in place, such conditions would hardly be necessary. God comes to know events as they take place. God learns something from what transpires. God is receptive to new experiences. God is flexible in the way God works toward the objectives God has for the world. God is dependent upon the world in certain respects.

            As to the will of God, the concept of a goal presupposes that there is a difference between the object of the will and its fulfillment. Creating the right conditions must bridge the gulf between the selection of a goal and its attainment. Another way to think of will is in the experience of a reality that presses in upon us with power. This dynamism wants something of us, or seems to do so, even though what it wants is not very precise. The religious experience of the will of a known or unknown deity that impresses itself upon us, or of the will of a demonic force, is independent of any ideas of the interaction of will and intellect in the deity. The bible brings together the will of God and intellect in the dynamic of the Spirit. This Spirit is creative and life giving. This unique understanding of the Spirit of God leads on to what Psalm 139 says about the all-embracing knowledge of God, which rests on the presence of God with everything God has made.

            The problem with applying action to God is three-fold. It implies a need on the part of the one who acts. It implies difference in time between the selection and achievement of the goal, a gap that action bridges. It also implies that one cannot think of the one God as a different subject of God’s action from the Father, Son, and Spirit. However, such problems point to a reasonable solution in the self-actualization of God in the relationship God has with the world. We seem to have the facts of evolution and of history that suggest the effects of divine power as moving toward a goal. We live in one cosmos, suggesting an ordering Spirit as the origin of the cosmos. We might also wonder if the same applies to the course of history. The plan of history will not be open for all to see until we reach the end. Yet, the bible speaks quite clearly about the divine plan of salvation. The fulfillment of the plan in Jesus Christ awaits future action. The end will show the God who acts in history to be the truth about the world and humanity. The end will disclose the true character and nature of people and things. The goal or purpose structures the course of action. Each part of an action receives its meaning from the intended result. This teleological view of nature and history suggest that everything has a place and meaning, even if we cannot narrate it now because we are not at the end. Some views of divine predestination and providence lead to a perverted concept of the rule of God over the world occurrence as a tyranny because they see God after the pattern of a finite subject. The world rule of a finite subject would always be tyranny because it would involve total control over the course of events. The problem with viewing God as acting is that it traces back to God the connections that appear in the world of occurrence. Only the light of the end of history will disclose these connections fully. The contingency of the sequence of events hides these connections from us on our way to this end.

            The goal of this action of God in the world is two-fold. First, God wants genuine individuality, a reality genuinely different from God, and not simply an echo of God, while at the same time in fellowship with God. Second, God wants to show that God is the life-giving source of all that is. This action incorporates those to whom Good has given life into the eternal fellowship of the Son with the Father through the Spirit. In a sense, the action of God is a repetition of this eternal deity in the relation of God to the world. The goal of the universe and its history is nearer to God than its beginning. For the Christian, the future has broken into history in Jesus. For human beings, our action arises out of our identity as acting subjects. Yet, this acting subject is not fully identifiable with the result of the action, for the self is always on the way to fulfillment. God, however, self-actualizes through action precisely because of the full identity of the essence of God with the result of the action. The essence of God as life-giving Spirit of love does not need completion by coming into the world. Based on this divine action we receive an insight into the attributes of the divine essence and the attributes of the Trinity in creation, reconciliation, and redemption.


            I would now like to shift our focus to some attributes of God we appear to presuppose and contain in the very concept of God. If theology is to have dialogue with modernity and between various religions, it must meet this minimal requirement.

            God enjoys unending life. God is reliable. God is love. Human beings need a stable source in their lives and world, and our belief in God provides a portion of that stability. The relationships that God has do not change God in these ways. To put the matter in one way, even if we assume that God is all-powerful, God could create a world in which God would not be in total control of everything. This world is one like that.

            The first attribute of God that meets this minimal requirement is that of infinity. At its basic level, the infinite is opposed to the finite. We define the finite as that which one defines by something else. The connection with infinity is that if we remain content with the infinite defined as opposed to the finite, we have already made the infinite defined by something else. The infinite is truly infinite when it embraces the finite. Theologically, we can say that a vital movement that causes God to invade what is different from God and to give it a share in the life of God characterizes God. We can see this in the way the holy God embraces the profane world, bringing it into fellowship with God. The holy invades the human world in order to incorporate it into the sphere of the holy.

            The second attribute of God that meets this minimal requirement is the eternity of God. In this attribute, the Spirit of God opposes the frailty of all things earthly, for the Spirit is the source of all life and thus has unrestricted life. Plotinus suggested that eternity is the totality of life, the fullness of which one seeks in the future. The future became constitutive of the nature of time because only in terms of the future could the totality be given to time which makes unity and continuity of the process of time. Boethius suggested that eternity is the perfect possession of limitless life. Eternity involves full engagement with all the joys and sorrows of temporal life open to love and all its missed chances. It also brings time into a stable and coherent whole such that the love of one who is eternal can be trusted unconditionally, because existing in eternity means the ambiguity of time we experience does not shake God.  Christian theology in its early formation never brought together the view of time by Plotinus and the eschatology of the New Testament. Augustine also discovered that duration is the time-bridging present, a view that influenced Bergson and Heidegger. The point is that God does not have a future different from the present. God is eternal because God has no future outside of God. The future of God is that of God and of all that is distinct from God. To be one’s own future is perfect freedom. In terms of the relation of God to the world, many aspects of the experience God has of the world undergo change. Such change or becoming occurs within the context of the eternity and stability of God. God takes time into the essence of God, thus allowing time to be the occasion of the self-actualizing presence of God, increasingly unfolding the resources of God as life-giving Spirit. One way to view it is this way. In line with the decision to make this kind of world, the independence of creation from God means that God accepts a future open to unpredictability, even for God. People have real choices and alternatives. God is open to the contingency of history. The choices of human beings shape the future, for choices are real and freedom is significant. God cares about human beings and allows the choices of human beings to have an impact upon God. The lives of human beings make a difference to God. God delegates power to individuals, creating vulnerability in God. God shares power with people. This includes a paradox of strength and vulnerability in God. God is vulnerable because God chose to make a world like this. God chose to share power instead of keep it. God shows willingness to take risks and to work with a history whose outcome God chose to share power with human beings. God influences through love expressed in wooing, persuading, and transforming. In the process, God condescends to human weakness, refusing to overpower. God works with human hesitation and uncertainty. Evil arises from the misuse of the power and freedom God granted human beings. The full display of what God wants for humanity and for the world awaits the end of human history. God creates room for others to exist and maintains a relationship with them. God becomes humble. God risks suffering and change because God is so stable and secure. God risked suffering when God chose openness to the world, so that the world would have an impact on God. God risked suffering when God decided to love and allow other independent beings to enter into a loving relationship with God.

            The third attribute of God that meets this minimal requirement is the omnipresence of God as present to all things at the place of their existence. The presence of God permeates and comprehends all things. No actual situation ties God to it. The biblical sayings concerning the dwelling of God in heaven suggest the distinction of heaven from earth, and therefore give the individuals God created room to live their own lives in their present and alongside God. The distinction between heaven and earth suggests different between God and creation. This presence of God is a creative presence. It shows the inescapability of the presence of God through the Spirit.

            The fourth attribute of God that meets this minimal requirement is the omnipotence of God. The omnipresence of God is a condition of omnipotence. It means that the power of God knows no limits. Unfortunately, this often suggests tyranny in the minds of many. Some theologians so emphasize divine sovereignty as to make God look something like a capricious despot. Such power to do anything would hardly inspire worship. This misunderstanding arises when we set the power of God in antithesis to others who have power. In reality, God wills the existence of individuals genuinely independent of God. God limits God, in order that the things God creates may have room alongside of God and to whom God grants independence. God can then freely enter into relationship with the world that God created. Even when God acts in judgment, such acts point beyond destruction to the life of those whom God has created. The freedom of God, who acts in history, finds expression in the contingency of historical events. Creation has the goal of independent existence of that which God created. Yet, that which God has created do not escape the presence and power of God. Individuals can turn aside from the sources of their lives. Individuals risk nothingness in doing so. However, the omnipresence of God finds expression in the fact that God can save such individuals from the nothingness to which individuals may choose through their conduct to go. Modern civilization is a complex social world in which one can feel like their lives are out of control. We still need to know that our relationship to God gives us the power and strength we need to live. The past and the present of both individuals and communities do not constitute a prison from which we have no escape. The fact that we have awareness that we can be different from what we are now suggests the importance possibility has for both individuals and human communities. Even though our past and present provide many limits and might feel like fate, the reality is that the present is the actualization of the possibilities of the past. The importance of the present lies in individuals and communities accepting responsibility for the possible future that we are in the process of creating. The future impinges upon the present through the possibilities with which it confronts us. God is the source of the hopes and dreams for a better self and a better world.

            I want to press what we might consider anthropomorphic ideas a bit further.

            Divine life in the bible includes feelings: joy, grief, anger, love, jealousy, and regret. God is deeply involved and can receive wounds. God actually suffers because of the prior decision God made to love. God is open to the world and shares in its suffering because of love. The metaphor of the relation between God and Israel in this view is that of the family. It is the relationship between parent and child, husband and wife. Human emotions reflect the inner experience of God. Hosea saw that the anguish his troubled marriage brought him was a mirror of the divine sorrow. The sorrow of Hosea found an echo in the sorrow of God. God is involved in and stirred by the conduct and fate of human beings. The parable of the prodigal son is another case in point. Although the father pardons the son, the point is that the father receives him back into the family with the full rights of sonship. His sins are forgiven. However, most prominent is the embrace of the father. Although the son does not receive punishment, the point is that he receives a warm welcome from a loving parent. Although he no longer has charges hanging over his head, the point is that he becomes part of a loving family again. God becomes a passionate lover of humanity. The cross is the revelation of the compassion of God.

            When the bible uses the symbol of husband for God, it brings into focus the frustrated desires and suffering of God. Through the symbol, Israel feels the agony of God. One might note the image described in Hosea. Another human relationship compares the feelings of God for Israel as that between parent and child.

            The divine life includes intentions. We must note the dimension of divine repentance. Texts suggest that God underwent change at the time of the Exodus and even in the story of Abraham. Human intercession appears to influence the action of God. The intentions of God are not absolute in every circumstance. God evidently takes a variety of considerations into account, including human attitudes and responses. In the bible, even if God formulates a plan, it remains open to revision. When God relents from punishment, it appears something consistent with the character of God to do so.

Unifying attribute of love

            The attributes are aspects of the reality of divine love. This love provides the unity of all the attributes. God is love, and thus the source of our drive toward wholeness in relationships. The affirmation that God becomes involved with the world through love shows the power, strength, and risk God willing undertakes for the sake of those God loves.

            The love of God suggests suffering love. Truly personal love will involve the suffering of the one who loves. The world being what it is; love must be costly and sacrificial. God risks rejection. Love takes such risks recklessly. No risk is too great for God. The love of God does not know limits. We can never sink so low as to be beyond the reach of God. True love stays the same by adapting to the changing situation of the one loved. This suggests that human purpose consists in becoming extravagant in our love. Jesus is the full reflection of the love God would bring into the world. I grant that this affirmation of God is not fully congruent with the experience of misery in life and the slaughter-bench of human history. I suggest this possibility because at least one way to read the bible is to suggest that love is the most important quality of God. The phrase “God is love,” is as close as the bible comes to a definition of divine reality, a fact that has given it the pride of place among the many descriptions of God. The context in I John suggests that God completed this love in the sending by the Father of the Son. We might also note the fullest expression of the love God is in the life and death of Jesus. Love is central to the nature of God. Love is the one divine activity that most fully and vividly discloses the inner reality of God. Love is the essence of the divine nature. Love is what it means to be God. One way in which we can picture the centrality of love in God is to compare it to the wrath or anger of God.

            Divine love expresses itself in goodness and mercy. The goodness of the Father displays itself in the fact that the Father not only gives good things to individuals when they ask God, but also does so without regard to merit. Its perfection is that the heavenly Father causes the sun to shine on both the good and the bad. God cares for all individuals. Mercy is a matter of God turning to the needy, the suffering, and the helpless and therefore a specific expression of goodness and its practice.

            Divine love expresses itself in faithfulness. God is the foundation of all that exists. Everyone needs a place to stand. The bible uses the image of God as a rock. Such firmness suggests God as the source of whatever firmness upon which we can rely. It also suggests the human purpose of discovering the best human life we can lead and making it real in our lives. Jesus has accomplished that best human life.

            God remains trustworthy in the love God shows toward humanity and toward the world. God is faithful and constant. The bible speaks to the matter of the covenant righteousness of God by way of the people. Its content is not a norm but an action, the demonstration of salvation. The identity and consistency of the eternal God is in turning in love toward that which God has created. The starting point of the message of Jesus was the goodness of God and the imminence of the kingdom, whose coming, though it carries a threat of judgment on human unrighteousness, bears the features of the Father God and his goodness. Paul goes back to the Jewish concern for righteousness of the covenant of God. Paul extends to the Gentiles the thought of the covenant righteousness that God demonstrates by the saving action. For Jesus, the only basis for turning to the poor and the suffering is participating in the turn of God toward the world in love and compassion. The task is not just a political one. Individual human life and corporate life is more than politics, and thus the turning of the church toward the world in compassion must include far more than politics. In that sense, the New Testament may have more realism than to make political pronouncements in the midst of so much complexity.

            The faithfulness of God includes historicity and contingency of world occurrence. Eternity and time coincide in the consummation of history, leaving room for us to say that God became something that God previously was not when God became a man in Jesus. The creative love of God finds fulfillment with the faithfulness of God on the way of the historical action of God and with the revelation of the righteousness of God. Only through faithfulness does something lasting arise. If God wills the independence of that which God created, the success of this creative act depends decisively upon the faithfulness of this creative love, upon the expression of the eternity of God in the process of time.

            Patience is a reflection of faithfulness, in that it also has to do with the persistence in time, with the identity of God in the flux of time. God is patient with them because of the saving purpose of God. Patience allows freedom to respond. Patience leaves to others space for their existence and time for the unfolding of their being. The patience of the powerful that can intervene in what happens but refrains from doing so is a form of the love that lets individuals have their existence. The patience of God is not indifferent tolerance or impotence. Rather, this patience is brave endurance of circumstances. This patience is an element of the creative love that wills the existence of creatures. It waits for the response of creatures in which they fulfill their destiny.

            Most religions have expressions of the anger of God or the gods. Wrath is not an attribute of God, for the mercy of God can interrupt, halt, or turn it aside. Any anger God expresses has our conversion as its goal. It aims at the demonstration of the covenant faithfulness of God in the atoning death of Christ by which God sets aside the destructive effects of wrath. The anger of God lasts for a moment, love forever. The original pathos of God is love. Anger is temporary. If one doubts this, try to say, “God is love,” and then, “God is anger.” It does not work. God is love above all else. Love is not one of the divine attributes, but the chief attribute of God. The goodness, grace, righteousness, faithfulness, wisdom and patience of God describe different aspects of divine love. Love unifies all of the attributes of god. All of the characteristics of God derive from love.

            Divine love expresses itself in wisdom. Divine wisdom finds expression in the focus upon the saving will and way of God and the means of moving toward that objective. The march of world occurrence hides this divine wisdom. We might use the image of an architect in the process of constructing a building. Many accidental and frustrating events occur in the course of history. The same is true of individual life. The process of corporate and personal history includes apparently meaningless things. Good and evil, the beautiful and the ugly, life and death, the significant and the insignificant, God guides by wisdom hidden to us. God weaves these various threads, so different in kind and in origin, into a beautiful tapestry. At the end of history, the divine counsel that underlies what takes place be knowable. Even two thousand years after the birth of Jesus, does not humanity offer the picture of an unreconciled world? Has not the church inserted itself into worldly conflicts? Has it not even multiplied and sharpened these conflicts by its impatience and divisions? Has not the Christian God of love proved to be powerless against the march of events in the world, powerless even in the lives of Christians and the fellowship of the church that by its unity ought to bear witness to Christ in the world? All of this brings the truth of the biblical revelation into question.

            The Trinitarian life of God is something of a model at this point. The Son and the Spirit submit to the monarchy of the Father, maintaining unity and community, as well as the individuality of the persons of the Trinity. Individuals can achieve independent existence that is distinct from God and yet stay related to the origin of their life. I suggest that the omnipotence of God finds expression in love through the sending of the Son by the Father. This love finds fulfillment through the Spirit as the source of life. We can think of the omnipotence of God as the power of divine love. We cannot think of it as the assertion of a particular authority against all opposition. One could argue that power is truly almighty when it affirms what is opposite to it in its particularity, affirms the limits, so that it gives individuals the opportunity by accepting their limits to transcend them and in this way participate in infinity, holiness, eternity, omnipresence, and omnipotence of God.

            I recognize that most religions have dimensions of divine love. However, I would also suggest that no religion places the attribute of divine love as the defining essence of God in the way that Christianity has done. The specific revelation of God in Jesus Christ is the source of this emphasis. We find that attribute in the love of God. John 3:16 and Romans 5:5, 8:31-39, finds the essential content of the history of Jesus in the fact that the love of God for the world, or for believers, found expression in it. Jesus regarded the loving and saving address of God to us, and particularly to the needy and the lost among us, as the purpose of his sending. He believed that by his own sending the Father himself was addressing the lost. The parables portray God as the one who seeks what is lost and who in so doing displays the self-attesting love of the Father. They identify the mission and work of Jesus as the event of the merciful love of God. We need to view the self-understanding of Jesus in the context of the electing love of God for the people. The lost sheep that the shepherd goes seeking is a member of the flock. Alone, it is lost precisely because it belongs to a totality. It needs the shepherd for the same reason.

            The distinctive feature of the self-understanding of Jesus in his mission as an expression of the merciful love of God lies in its relation to the definitive future that marks his whole message inasmuch as the lordship of God that Jesus proclaims already breaks in with him. The heavenly Father whom Jesus proclaims is the subject of the loving address.

            The saying that God is love describes the essence or nature of God as love. The confession of the church has placed the obedient man Jesus in the very being of God as the eternal Son. Love is the unity of the divine being of Father, Son and Spirit. They are love in the unity of free persons that one could never separate. Love is a power that shows itself in those who love and in their turning to each other, glowing through them like fire. It shows itself through the reciprocal relation of those who are bound together in love. Each receives his or her self afresh from the other, and since the self-giving is mutual there is no one-sided dependence in the sense of belonging to another. Love is the power that shows itself in the mutual relations of the Trinitarian persons is identical with the divine essence. The Spirit is the power of love that lets others be. If we go back to the image of the Spirit as a dynamic field, we can see the Spirit as the power and fire of love glowing through the divine persons, uniting them, and radiating from them as the light of the glory of God.

            As the only essence of God, love has its existence in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The coming forth of the Son from the Father is the fulfillment of divine love. The Spirit is the love by which the Father and the Son are mutually related even if as a hypostasis he stands over against both as the Spirit of love who unites them as their distinction. The divine persons are individual aspects of the dynamic field of the eternal Godhead. This means that they exist in ec-static relation to the overarching field of deity that manifests itself in each of them and in their interrelations. From the human perspective, the social context constitutes the I. Of course, the difference with Trinitarian relationships is that many more than one or two others constitute the self. Further, human development of self does not find total definition in a social context, for the I and the self are different. Divine love constitutes the unity of the divine life in the distinction of its personal relations.



            I have included the Triune God at various points. I now want to focus specifically on why Christians want to speak in this way about God.

            The Trinity forms the heart of Christian theology.  This teaching brings offense to both Muslims and to Jews. The oneness of God is the first requirement of their creed. The question Christian theology raises the nature of that oneness. The difference Christianity introduces is whether the oneness of God allows inner relationships. This difference explains why Christian theology historically spent so much time defining what it believed about God. Christian theology struggles to re-define who God is. For example, the single atom has an inner complexity. The model for an atom of helium is a society of entities, such as proton, neutron, and electron held together by atomic force. The oneness of a simple cell involves a large number of interrelationships. The quarrel between Muslims and Jews on the one hand and Christians on the other is the kind of oneness God has. With the Christian view, the unity of God is a unity of persons bound by love and involved in conversation.

            The argument for an essential distinction of Father, Son, and Spirit begins with the inner relations of the Son to the Father and the Spirit. In this sense, Athanasius rightly argued that Father is a relational term, even if Father could relate to many children rather than one Son. Human beings learn of these inner relations through the revelation of the Son. The distinctions and relations among the Father, Son and Spirit make the matter one of harmonizing them with the monotheistic character of biblical belief in God and philosophical theology.

            However, to find a basis for the teaching of the Trinity, we begin with the way in which Father, Son, and Spirit come on the scene and relate to each other in the event of revelation. God moves toward humanity and wants humanity to know God and come into a relationship with God. The essence of God moves in relation to each person of the Trinity and toward humanity. God endures becoming a subject of history as a free decision within God and out of love toward humanity. The way God becomes a subject of history is through the sending of the Son. God did not appear in history as God, but rather becomes one of us, and thus has a hidden presence in history. Our knowledge of God is not full, for such knowledge awaits the future consummation of history. However, the knowledge of God as Father, in the sending of the Son, and in the life-giving power of the Spirit, is sufficient knowledge, even if partial. We cannot equate God with our human reality, even if the human perspective is the only perspective we can have. The revealing of who God is can take place because it occurs in human history.

            Christian reflection upon the Trinity is a development of New Testament statements in which Jesus shared the experience of God as Father with his disciples, while at the same time had an experience of being the Son sent by the Father, and the Christian community experiencing the life-giving power of the Spirit. However, the New Testament does not offer a clear presentation of how Father, Son, and Spirit relate to each other. Father, Son, and Spirit are one in substance or essence, while enjoying the diversity of relationship within divinity. Christianity came to view the Father as the origin or source of the universe. Further, the Father is the source of the Trinity. In one sense, for the Father to be Father, a Son necessarily must be, and if we think of divinity, then this Father and Son relationship must be from eternity. Further, the Spirit proceeds from the Father, becoming the source of life. In relation to humanity, the Son is savior and incarnate. This leads to the possibility that humanity was in the mind and heart of God from eternity. These persons of the Trinity suggest that God was in relationship from the beginning.

            Several objections to the Trinity revolve around statements in the New Testament that suggest Jesus came to do the will of his Father, that he submits to the Father, and the Son does nothing without the Father.

            Many New Testament texts reflect the early Christian experience of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. However, the New Testament period did not resolve the relationship between them in a way that proved intellectually satisfying. In fact, many statements caused questions rather than gave answers. Consequently, we need to reflect with the church of the first few centuries the way in which Christians affirm the unity of God will also experiencing this unity in terms of Father, Son, and Spirit. The reason early Christianity spent so much time on this doctrine is that they struggled to come to a new understanding of God. In terms of discussions today, we can understand the accusation from both Jews and Muslims that Christians have a version of tri-theism or have made an idol out of Jesus. However, Christians need to explain their view of God in such a way that maintains unity and diversity in God. God was never lonely, for God already lived in the relation of Trinity from eternity.

            The early witness of Christians remained close to God known as the Father of Jesus as the Son and as known in the life giving power of the Spirit. This leads to a natural reserve in speculation. It also moves Christian theology away from mythological approaches to God. Further, I doubt of the intent of the early creeds was to place an intellectual puzzle before later generations and then invite people to worship this mystery. Christians can never know the Trinity separately from its historical manifestation in Jesus. As the Reformation stressed, this is the sense in which the Trinity has its foundation in the biblical witness to the revelation of God in Christ and to the history of salvation. As I hope to show, when one separates the Trinity from history it loses its basis in biblical revelation. Medieval theology stressed that the teaching of the church on the Trinity had its foundation in the way God reveals who God is. Theologians indebted to Schleiermacher in the 1800’s rightly derived the Trinity from the norm in the biblical witness to divine revelation. The question for Christian theology is simple. Who is the God Jesus shows to humanity? I want to move toward expressing the unity of Father, Son, and Spirit in a new way. We discover the unity of Father, Son, and Spirit in the historical event that implies the teaching of the church on the Trinity.

            In this approach, one can relevantly deal with the essence and attributes of God in the context of the Trinitarian revelation of God as Father, Son, and Spirit. Christian talk of God as Father, Son, and Spirit presupposes a prior understanding of God. This presupposition does not come from philosophy but from religion in general and the religion of Israel in particular. This view is the result of a process of struggle, for the relation of Jesus to the Father modified the view in Israel, and that modification found expression in the teaching of the Trinity.

            Early Christian theology expounded certain Old Testament passages as implicitly Trinitarian. One might note the pre-existence of wisdom in Proverbs, providing the background for the reflections of the Gospel of John and the doctrine of the Logos in the early apologists. In Jewish tradition, the Torah also pre-existed. The Name of Yahweh and the glory of God become distinct entities separate from God while closely connected to God. The terms distinguish from God the forms of the manifestations of God in the world. This tendency has a link to divine transcendence. Increasing emphasis on the transcendence of God in the Old Testament and Judaism resulted in reflection on the modes of the presence of God in the world becoming independent embodiments of the essential nature of God. Thus, Christian statements about the Son and the Spirit take up questions already occupying Jewish thought concerning the essential transcendent reality of the one God and the modes of the manifestation of God in the world. The forms of the presence of God in the world are one with the transcendent God, so that God is both transcendent and immanent in the world. The theme finds development in the concept of Logos.

            However, Christian theology needs to deal honestly with the reality that one cannot find the developed teaching of the Trinity within either the message of Jesus or the rest of the New Testament witness. The Bible is not a clear witness to the Trinity. The New Testament refers to the deity of the Son and the Spirit, but it does not relate that thought to the Father. One needs to understand the deity of Son and Spirit in light of what the bible says about the Father. One result of this observation is that the church in every age tests and examines this teaching, confirming or denying elements of the teaching in light of further experience and the power of this teaching to enliven the church and Christian living.

            I would like to set the biblical discussion in the context of the way God shows humanity what God is like in the bible. The revelation of God is rarely a matter of God showing up and saying, “Here I am.” In most biblical texts, God acts while people infer what the action says about God. Rarely is God the content of revelation. The story in Exodus 3 is a significant exception. My point is that in the bible, it is not strange at all that Jesus did not enunciate a whole teaching of the Trinity, but rather allowed his followers to work through the significance of what they saw about God through him. I will grant that this revealing of who God is in Jesus has a hidden quality to it. However, God is not alienated from this revelation.

            One starting point of Christology and the doctrine of the Trinity is in the message of Jesus as the nearness of the rule of the Father, the subjection of Jesus to the will of the Father, and especially the function of the sending of Jesus as a revelation of the love of God. In the light of Easter, Jesus appears as the Son of the Father whom he proclaimed. He is also the Son and Messiah for whom the Christian community waits and recognizes that only the future consummation of history will reveal its truth. This sending of Jesus presupposes the pre-existence of Jesus, and thus Christian teaching perceives the involvement of the Son in creation. God takes the risk of entering history as a human being, rather than as God.

            Another starting point for Christological and Trinitarian reflection is the early use of the title Kyrios for the exalted Jesus. The LXX use of the word is unequivocally a term for God, and the early church applied it to the risen Christ. The title implies the full deity of the Son in honor of the Father. Far from detracting from the Father, all things proceed from the one Father, but the Father mediates all things through the one Lord.

            The message of Jesus focused upon divine rule, the coming kingdom of God. The New Testament grounds divine Sonship in the relation of Jesus to the Father. Further, in Christianity, the Spirit became a specific figure, distinct from the Father. The Trinity is an exposition of the relation of Jesus to the Father and the Spirit. The task of Christian theology is to demonstrate the implied relation of Jesus to the Father. The historical relation of Father, Son, and Spirit as shown in Jesus also characterizes the divine essence. The historical relation of Jesus to the Father is the starting point for Trinitarian reflection.

            The reciprocal self-distinction of Father, Son, and Spirit is the historical form of Trinitarian relations. God is beyond all human reflection. Human beings can know God only as God shows humanity what God is like. Christian theology seeks to show how God has turned toward humanity and shown humanity what God is like through the Son. One might understand the New Testament in this way.

Matthew 11:27 (NRSV)

27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

John 8:19 (NRSV)

19 Then they said to him, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”

John 14:6 (NRSV)

6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

1 Corinthians 15:24, 28 (NRSV)

24 Then comes the end, when he (Christ) hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power.

28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all.


The Father sent the Son to bring glory to the Father and declare the lordship of the Father. The Son serves the will of the Father. Jesus distinguishes himself from the Father as one who bears witness to the Father. Jesus distinguishes himself from God and humbles himself before God, just as he asks his hearers to do in his message of the nearness of the rule of God. Jesus shows himself to be the Son in his self-distinction from the Father. In glorifying his Father in this way, he shows himself one with the Father who sent him. He obeys the first commandment and honors God on behalf of all others. For these reasons, Christians do not properly speak of Jesus as God, for Jesus consistently differentiated the Father from himself. God is Father from eternity only in relation to Jesus. This fact distinguishes Jesus from all other human beings and from all those who follow him. Therefore, Christian teaching does not suggest that all persons are sons and daughters of God in the way Jesus is the Son. Through the Son, all others can have fellowship with the Father. Through the Son, all others have access to the Father. Therefore, the Son shares his deity as the eternal counterpart of the Father.

            The deity of the Father depends upon the relation to the Son. After all, the one who distinguishes oneself from another defines oneself as also dependent on that other. Jesus in a hidden way exercises the lordship of the Father in his ministry by preparing the way for it. The Father hands over rule to the Son. The Son hands the rule back to the Father in the future consummation of the work of God in the world, indicating the reciprocal relationship between Father and Son. The hidden rule by the Son finds fulfillment in this handing of the rule back to the Father, a future moment when all creation honors the Father as the one God.

            On this basis, we find the significance of the cross for the life of the Trinity. In the death of Jesus, the deity of the Father is at issue. In his humiliation, in his acceptance of death, Jesus took upon himself the ultimate consequence of his self-distinction from the Father and precisely in so doing showed himself to be the Son of the Father. The Father shares in the suffering of the Son and in suffering with the Son. Further, the cross puts the life-giving work of the Spirit in doubt. For this reason, many texts refer to the Spirit as the one who raised Jesus to life. All three persons of the Trinity are at work in the Son suffering death and receiving life.

            The Spirit is the love that unites Father and Son. The Spirit is the condition and medium of their fellowship. The Spirit is the bond of union between Father and Son. The Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son receives the Spirit. In this way, the imparting of the Spirit to believers incorporates them into the fellowship of the Son with the Father.

            Father, Son, and Spirit are living realizations of separate centers of action. The persons of the Trinity simply are what they are in their relations to each other, distinguishing themselves from each other and bringing themselves into communion with each other. Each is a catalyst of many relations. The nexus of the relations between them is more complex than most expositions of the Trinity acknowledge. By their work, the Son and Spirit serve the monarchy of the Father. The monarchy of the Father is through Son and Spirit. Based on the historical relation of Jesus to the Father, we receive insight into the inner life of the Trinity. The monarchy of the Father is the result of the common operations of the three persons. The Trinitarian relations mediate the monarchy of the Father. The Trinitarian God is none other than the Father whom Jesus proclaimed, whose reign is near, and in fact dawning already in the ministry of Jesus.

            I would agree with those who identify the immanent and the economic Trinity.  The way God is present in history as Trinity reflects the way God is. The essence of God is one with the God shown in the history of salvation. This view constantly links the Trinity in the eternal essence of God to historical revelation. This does open the possibility of a divine becoming in history, as though the Trinity were the result of history.  We need to take this risk.  This view recognizes that the Trinity achieves reality with the future consummation of history.  After all, to divorce the eternal Trinity from history leaves us with a God untouched by the course of history and inaccessible to human beings.  Athanasius tried to distance the Son and the Trinity from all becoming and change.  However, differentiating the eternal Trinity from all temporal change makes the Trinity one-sided and detaches it from its biblical base. 

            Viewing the immanent Trinity and the economic Trinity as one presupposes the development of a concept God that can grasp the transcendence and immanence of God, the dynamic and stable dimensions of the life of God, the diversity that is within the unity of God.  Christian theology rejects stark monotheism in which God is transcendent and sovereign. Christian theology can accept an entirely immanent conception of God. Christian theology cannot imagine a view of the world in which God swallows up everything in such a way that no individuality exists. Christian theology does not accept the pluralism of many gods. One way of reflecting on this matter is to consider that the Father acts in creation and in the world through the Son and the Spirit. The Father remains transcendent even while standing in relation to the history of salvation. As the Father acts in history through Son and Spirit, the Father becomes dependent upon the course that history takes. The persons of the Trinity depend upon each other and depend upon the action of the persons of the Trinity in creation and history through Son and Spirit. The deity of the Father depends upon the course of events in the world. As one important moment in the history of salvation, the cross and the death of the Son put the deity of the Father into question.

            This description of the risk the Trinity took suggests that the persons of the Trinity depend on each other in respect to their deity as well as their personal being. The progress of events in history decides the deity of the Trinity. The deity of the Trinitarian God is at issue in the events of history. This view also comprehends the eternal God and the question of the truth of God in the process of history. The consummation of history is the locus of the decision that the Trinitarian God has been the true God from the beginning. Easter decides the eternal deity of the Son. This future consummation of history decides the matter between atheism and faith. Even Easter finds the declaration of its truth in this future consummation. The anticipation of this future of the world by the proclamation of the future rule of the Father in the message of Jesus and the future life-giving power of the Spirit is the basis of all that Christians affirm regarding God as Father, Son, and Spirit. Even Christian revelation rests on anticipation of the consummation of history in Christ. The deity of the Trinitarian God moves in history toward final confirmation. The truth of the revelation of the Trinitarian God in the New Testament also awaits final confirmation in the consummation of history.

            The Christian understanding of God consists of God in relationship. God did not have to create to be in relation. In order for God to be Father, God eternally needed the relation of Son. If we in some sense think of the Spirit as the love that unites the Trinity in relationship, we can see that the Christian understanding of essence is a dynamic and relational one.

            When someone enters into a relationship with God, profound changes occur in the person. Does such a change occur in God? I would suggest that the essential relationship God had with that person does not change, for the essential relationship was one in which God loved the person fully and unconditionally. In that sense, we cannot think of any change in God occurring because of this relationship with any particular person.

The Father

            At the heart of the message of Jesus was the announcement of the nearness of the reign of God.  Yet, he also called this God "Father."  This God is none other than the God Jewish faith.  The basis of the image is the divine election and the covenant of God with Israel. God takes on responsibilities that are similar to the duty of a family head to care for the members. The experience of God in election and covenant already presupposes singling out particular features in patriarchal forms of life that illustrate the relation of God to David, other kings, or the people of Israel. The Father means the one to whom Jesus bears witness and to whom he prays. Father refers to the Father of this Son. Since he proclaimed that the kingdom of his Father is not only imminent but also dawning in his own work, we cannot envision future talk about God will replace his own speech about God.  In the light of Easter, Jesus had to appear as the Son of the Father whom he proclaimed. 

            Every symbol we use of God arises from a limited segment of reality, while at the same time directing us toward the infinite and eternal. As such, the use of a symbol elevates the symbol, no matter how mundane and misused it becomes in reality. The description of God as Father in Israel has its source in the patriarchal form of the family. The father was the head of the clan and cared for clan members. The fatherly care for the clan becomes an image for the fatherly concern of God for Israel. “Father” as used in the bible is largely a nurturing image, and therefore we do not gain anything my calling God “mother,” as if the image of “father” needs to be that of domination, aggression, competition, desire for power and control, and the demand for obedience. Therefore, human fathers can fall far short of the divine, and can diminish the human family. Yet, when we think of the fatherhood of God, it encourages us to think of the best image of human fathers. The image remains powerful even as the role of father loses distinctive qualities. The image of God as father becomes representative of the comprehensive care of God, the type of care that human fathers cannot offer. The symbol becomes sacramental in this respect.

            In Israel, God as Father had no female sexual partner. Bringing sexual difference into the divine would also bring polytheism. Israel could also refer the care of God in terms of the love of a mother shows that sexual distinction is not the source of the image of God as father. Only certain features of this image could apply to the relation between God and the people of the covenant.

            Human beings have not so soiled and mutilated any image, even that of “father,” that Christian theology cannot elevate it to an image of divinity. One could even argue that God became “son” in order to show a new way to be a man in his humility and in his freedom for others. In fact, the things done by human beings in the name of God have soiled the word “God.” Yet, for that reason, we may not abandon it.

            For Jesus, “Father” became a proper name for God, ceasing to be simply one designation among others. The name embraces every feature in the understanding of God that the message of Jesus makes known. Jesus also brought the creative activity of God into the picture of the fatherly goodness of God.

            Jesus also realized that his work had a close link to the Father. Jesus claimed authority that surpasses human authority. God is the Father whom Jesus claimed God to be. The kingdom of the Father dawns in the work of Jesus.

The Son

            We can only explain the Trinity on the basis that Jesus of Nazareth uniquely and universally reveals God.  If this is true, then some concept like the Trinity was inevitable.  Without it, Jesus was only an inspired man and the church is a fellowship of persons who were impressed with his personality.

            Some persons, including some Christians, think that Jesus needs a demotion. As Ralph Waldo Emerson suggested, Christianity dwells with an exaggerated sense of the person of Jesus. For some, the particularity of God in Jesus is an embarrassment, and for some it is the glory of the church. However, we also need to remember that, if God is going to turn toward humanity, it can only be a particular turning. It can only happen at a particular time and place. Christian theology acknowledges that God has left many witnesses in all cultures. It also affirms that God has special dealing with humanity through the faith of Israel. Further, God has provided and unique and universal window into the nature of God through Jesus. Jesus has become the first and foundational means of grace for human beings. From my perspective, any church embarrassed by taking its stand in any social world with Jesus justly dies. Jesus becomes a “classic person” for Christians, in that it continues to draw itself close to him, and continues to have Jesus interrupt individual and corporate life. The particular life of Jesus continues to move toward universality and intelligibility. We keep coming back to Jesus because we keep finding new dimensions of him that we find meaningful and relate his life to our lives.

            Trinitarian reflections begin with the affirmation that God became a human being.  What can it mean that God became anything? The idea itself contains a contradiction, for it would appear that our natural understanding of God suggests that God already is whatever God needs to be. Yet, the Incarnation suggests that God does become something. God becomes finite by dispossessing the self of God, by giving the self of God away. It also suggests the offer of the self of God in history, and does so truly and faithfully. Yet, the Incarnation already has its seed in human nature itself, in that the incarnation testifies to the possibility of what humanity can be, if only we lived in closeness to God. The end of humanity is the unity with God to which the Incarnation testifies. The Incarnation testifies to the possibility of fulfillment. We can understand the Incarnation as we connect the grace in all humanity with the union Jesus had with God. The universal communication of God toward humanity reaches its fulfillment in a universally significant way in the Incarnation. The Incarnation is the unique and highest instance of the actualization of humanity. Humanity is the abbreviation of God. Humanity is the expression of the movement of God that participates in the ground and end of all humanity. God is where human beings are. The finite receives infinite depths.

            The first Christians began with God at work in the healing of human life. They encountered God in the actions and words of a human Son, Jesus. They found God revealed and active in this Son who welcomed outcasts into the kingdom of God the Father and spoke the word of forgiveness on the behalf of God. They found God in a new energy and guidance they experienced within their community, opening up relationships beyond the accepted social boundaries and opening up a hope for a future new creation. They could only speak of this in terms of the Holy Spirit of God, and they associated this Spirit in some way with the ongoing presence of Jesus, whom people crucified. The early followers of Jesus had to rethink their understanding of the being of God because of their experience of the acts of God among them. They took a new and revolutionary path of thought, believing that the being of God must correspond to their experience of God as Father, Son, and Spirit. This experience of God is of persons in relation, always interweaving each other. The story of healing and wholeness tells us that God always goes out from God’s self in love, sharing the divine being in a communion of life.

            God became a human being because of a lack in humanity.  We recognize that lack in the reality of our continually striving, never experiencing satisfaction in the things of the world.  God became a human being out of love.   Humanity was so much in the heart of God that the lack and misery of humanity went to the heart of God.  The Incarnation was a tear of the divine compassion. This expression of God arises because of the self-emptying of God, disclosing the self of God as love. God conceals the excellence of this love in an ordinary human life. When we love God, therefore, we indirectly also love humanity.  Since love for humanity is at the heart of God, then surely for us to love God is also for us to love humanity.  That which we genuinely love expresses our inner most being.  Love requires losing oneself in the object of love.  Humanity is at the heart of God.  If God is love, the essential content of this love is humanity. 

            At the risk of using mythological language, the descent of God to humanity is necessarily preceded by the exaltation of humanity to God. Humanity was already in God before God became a human being.  In no other way could God have become a human being. As Irenaeus commented, God became human so that humanity becomes divine. 

            This love of God to humanity is the basis and central point of Christianity.  God, for the sake of humanity, becomes empty of divinity and lays aside divine power.  The highest, the perfect being humiliates and lowers God’s own self for the sake of humanity. In God, we learn to value all humanity and ourselves.  We see in the incarnation the worth of humanity.  The love of God to us is an essential condition of the Divine Being.  God is a God who loves us.  This reality lies behind the foundational feeling or striving of religion.  The love of God makes us loving; the love of God to us is the cause of our love to God; the divine love causes, awakens human love. “We love God because he first loved us.” When we love God, therefore, we indirectly also love humanity.  Since love for humanity is at the heart of God, then surely for us to love God is also for us to love humanity.  That which we genuinely love expresses our inner most being.  Love requires losing oneself in the object of love.  Humanity is at the heart of God.  If God is love, the essential content of this love is humanity. 

            Christians have confidence that in Jesus God healed a broken relationship and reconciled humanity to God. In our history, the church slowly developed an understanding of the nature of the relationship between Jesus and God that eventually developed into the doctrine of the Trinity. If Jesus and God have the intimate relation the church suggests, then Jesus needs to be the foundation, the center, and the future of the church. The human story consisted of the effect of the disobedience of Adam upon the human race. Jesus redefines what it means to be human by retelling the story of humanity, only this time as a narrative of obedience to God. This narrative engages life and fulfills human life.

            To have that effect he must have a relationship with God like no other human being and he must affect the entire human race. The intense particularity of his relationship with God opens up the universality of that relationship to humanity. In Colossians 1:15-17, Paul said that Jesus is the image of the invisible God and that God created everything through him in such a way that everything holds together through him. Such claims require much from us. For the first Christians, Jesus was not just a good man, a good teacher or a good philosopher. He reconciled God and humanity in his life, death, and resurrection. The story of the birth of Jesus through a virgin clearly has the purpose of showing that Jesus had this unique relationship to God from the beginning of his life.

The Spirit

            The involvement of the Spirit in the presence of God in the work of Jesus and the fellowship of the Father and Son is the basis of the Christian understanding of God as Trinity, and not bi-unity. The source of the mode of the presence of the Spirit in the church is the function of the Spirit of mediating the fellowship of the Son with the Father.

            God is present in a creative and life-giving way in the Spirit. The early church found God in a new energy and guidance they experienced within their community, opening up relationships beyond the accepted social boundaries and opening up a hope for a future new creation. They could only speak of this in terms of the Holy Spirit of God, and they associated this Spirit in some way with the ongoing presence of Jesus who had been crucified.

            The early followers of Jesus had to rethink their understanding of the being of God because of their experience of the acts of God among them. They took a new and revolutionary path of thought, believing that the being of God must correspond to their experience of God as Father, Son, and Spirit. This experience of God is of persons in relation, always interweaving each other. The story of healing and wholeness tells us that God always goes out from God’s self in love, sharing the divine being in a communion of life. The Spirit fulfills the work of Jesus in the world. The Spirit gives the hope of new life for humanity, so that death does not have the final word. Among the positive insights of 20th century, biblical exegesis has been this connection between the giving of the Spirit and eschatology. The Spirit is the awakening power by which the risen Lord created the church as a provisional representation of the whole world of humanity that God justifies in Christ. However, we must also make the future saving work of the Spirit related to the creative work of God. The New Testament closely relates the work of the Spirit with that of the Son, in creation, in the creation of the church, and in consummating human history and creation. The risen Lord imparts the Spirit to believers. The Spirit continues the work of Jesus by recalling what Jesus said by bearing to witness to Jesus, whom the Spirit glorifies. In this way, the sending of the Spirit by the Son relates to the special nature of his work in connection with the revelation of salvation. We cannot limit the work of the Spirit to continuing the ministry of Jesus, however. Rather, both the Son and the Spirit have their life grounded in the Father. Paul stresses the relation between the Spirit and the resurrection life of Jesus. John depicts the hypostatic power that is distinct from Jesus but that glorifies Jesus after his parting from the disciples. Both supplement the eschatological function of the Spirit. Christ gives the Spirit as a gift to the church as an anticipation of the eschatological outpouring of the Spirit because that end has appeared in the ministry of Jesus.

            The New Testament, through its emphasis upon the role of the Spirit in the resurrection of Jesus, brings the work of the Spirit into a vision of the end of the human history. The Spirit is the gift in which the fellowship of the Father and Son find fulfillment in mutual love, finding fulfillment in Trinitarian life. The Spirit becomes a lasting possession of believers. Yet, this imparting of the Spirit as gift is a transitional stage in the work of salvation. The form of the gift does not mean that the Spirit comes under our control, but that the Spirit comes to us and makes possible our independent and spontaneous entry into the action of God in reconciling the world. We participate in the movement of the reconciling love of God toward the world.

            The bible gives a whole series of impressionistic images like a wind blowing, breath stirring, oil trickling, wings beating, water flowing and fire burning, evoking an activity that disturbs, opens, deepens and provokes.  They appear impersonal. However, such impressionistic images evoke dimensions of personal relationships of which we are normally not aware. They awaken sensitivity to deep and hidden areas of personal being that one can only describe through such metaphors. They are archetypal symbols that cause us to go underground, deep beneath the surface of life. They awaken an awareness of areas that we sometimes call intuitive, at the level of mood or sympathy rather than logical argument. They allow us to notice the way that the Spirit moves in human community, moving between people and building bridges of awareness and empathy. The traditional formulation that the Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son points to movement that renews all relations from and to the other. We need an epistemology of participation and develop a participatory doctrine of God. We cannot think of the triune God without participation.

            Spirit in the bible refers to making vital, calling into being, to free, to make whole, and to establish community based on life. For God to bring liberation or deliverance is to suggest that God brings us from our tendency to lose the unique gift each of is in inauthentic living and to move us toward actualizing the person God intends us to be. To liberate is to give full and abundant life. The bible orients us toward life rather than inviting us to escape from it. Life reveals God. If we want to find God, we need to turn toward life and move toward an unknown future. The capacity to enter life, to confront the unknown, to venture forward, to find affirmation of the uniqueness of one’s life, is to have faith. The capacity to trust, the courage to act, the willingness to commit, and the courageous openness to life enables us to discern the presence of God in the midst of human life. An important dimension of this affirmation is that in granting life, God granted independence to the inanimate and animate elements of the universe. In giving life to others, God did not maintain strict control over the details of the future. In terms of human life, God even granted the possibility that such forms of life would deny the reality of God. As humanity has taken this path, it has asserted its autonomy and separation from God. Further, if God is the source of life, it suggests that human purpose consists in discovering abundant life. To be spiritual means to be alive. To be filled with the spirit means to be free to live fully. Jesus reflects the life that God desires to bring into the world.

            The Spirit is the source of the life of the church. Only by the work of the Spirit is Jesus the foundation of the church, for the Spirit glorifies the Son. Western theology often did not perceive this connection.  It isolated the illumination of the Spirit by faith from the work of the Spirit in creation and even in one's own life.  Instead, we need to view the church as the creation of the Spirit and the Son.  This occurs through the word of the gospel.  

The fellowship of the church mediates the gift of the Spirit, even while the fellowship of the church, far from controlling the Spirit, has its foundation from outside itself in the gift of the Spirit. The church has the responsibility of reminding itself of this foundation that comes from outside of it. The church becomes an anticipation of the future fellowship of humanity renewed in the reign of God.  The Spirit enables us to perceive the grounding of the church, not only in Jesus, but also in the end time consummation of creation. Our understanding of the church has to take this provisional nature of a sign, the horizon of the future of the reign of God.

            The presence of the Spirit in the life of the church and believers relates to the phenomenon of life in all its breadth in the world, from creation, to sustaining life, and to the consummation and fulfillment of life in the end. Individual entities in the world have life in themselves, even though its source is in the Spirit. The word “spirited” comes closest to expressing the meaning of Spirit here. Spirit is the principle of life and vitality in the universe. We see evidence of this spirit in psychological and sociological factors. We cannot explain humanity solely by reference to the social world or to physics and biology. We come face to face with ourselves, thereby liberating ourselves from captivity to biological drives or from the shaping by the social world. As a result, we ask questions and receive answers and commands. We do not receive clarity in either answers or commands, whether in general form or specific application. The Spirit of God is active in creation, breathing life into the world that God has made. This presence in creation helps us to understand the role of the Spirit in bringing life to human beings. The Spirit of life gained victory over death in Jesus. The Spirit teaches us to know Jesus of Nazareth and moves our hearts to praise God through faith, love, and hope. Yet, the work of the Spirit does limit itself to making intelligible what would otherwise be unintelligible. The same Spirit who gives life to all creation also gives new life to believers now by dwelling in them.

            The gift of the Spirit aims at the building up of the fellowship of believers. By faith in the one Lord, we have unity with all other believers. The Spirit respects our individuality while at the same time bringing us into fellowship of the community of the church. The work of the Spirit toward salvation unites individuality and community. The historical separation of the risen Lord and the gift of the Spirit that Luke suggests is an important theological statement about the relation of the church to the Spirit. The church has a firm connection to the end time gift of the Spirit, and is thus a provisional community, a sign of the future action of God. At Pentecost, Luke portrays the gift of the Spirit with five elements. He portrays the foundation of the church as a unity of ecstasy and structure. The ecstatic experience of the disciples created a faith in the disciples that the crucifixion almost destroyed. Pentecost also initiated an experience of love that expresses itself in mutual service. Pentecost provided a unity while maintaining the individuality of those who experienced the gift of the Spirit. Pentecost provided the missionary impulse, a universality that drove the church beyond itself to new cultures and peoples.

            The Holy Spirit appears as the anonymous face of God. The Spirit is anonymous because the Spirit glorifies the Father and Son. It indicates how very close the Spirit is to us, as close as the breath in our bodies. While the Spirit of God is not exactly the same as our spirit, the bible uses the same words for the two realities. The anonymity of the Holy Spirit reflects the fact that the fullness of God that God shall reveal in the future is not yet our experience in the present. The anonymity of the Holy Spirit also gives us the possibility of having a relationship with God in the present. The third Person in the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is the love with which God loves both God’s own self and humanity.  The Holy Spirit is also the love with which humanity loves God and humanity. The Holy Spirit represents the subjective aspect of God.  The spirit is properly the representation of the religious sentiment to itself, the representation of religious emotion and of religious enthusiasm.  The Holy Spirit is therefore the sighing individual, the yearning of the individual after God. The heart comprehends only what springs from the heart.

            The Spirit can work in us with a soft but insistent voice, telling us that our lives are empty and meaningless, but that there are chances of a new life waiting if we only open the door to the Spirit, fill the void, and conquer its dullness. The Spirit can work in us, awakening the desire to strive towards the inspiring against the dullness of the average day.  The Spirit can give us the courage that says “Yes” to life in spite of the destructiveness we have experienced around us and within us.  The Spirit can reveal to us that we have hurt somebody deeply, but it can also give us the right word that reunites the other with us.  The Spirit can make us love, with the divine love, someone we profoundly dislike or in whom we have no interest.  The Spirit can conquer our sloth towards what we know is the aim of our lives, and it can transform our moods of aggression and depression into stability and serenity.  The Spirit can liberate us from hidden enmity against those whom we love and from open vengefulness against those by whom we feel violated.  The Spirit can give us the strength to throw off false anxieties and to take upon ourselves the anxiety that belongs to life itself.  The Spirit can awaken us to sudden insight into the way we must take your world, and it can open our eyes to a view of it that makes everything new.  The Spirit can give us joy in the midst of ordinary routine as well as in the depth of sorrow.  The Spirit can create warmth in the coldness we feel within us and around us, and it can give us wisdom and strength where our human love towards a loved one has failed.  The Spirit can throw us into a hell of despair about ourselves and then give us the certainty that life has accepted us even when we felt rejected by others and even rejected ourselves.



            My experience in a modern social world that values scientific discover conditions this essay. My experience as a Christian struggles toward understanding the way in which God is the origin, sustainer, and director of the universe that science describes. Here is a place where I am not aware of significant input from religions other Judaism and Christianity, for most of the other religions of the world have only recently engaged science and technology seriously.

            The crucial question for Christians is whether the universe as portrayed by science can reflect the work of the Trinitarian God. If God as known in Christ and through the Spirit have no connection with the universe as we come to know it through science, then we can no longer in a credible way speak of the universe as consisting in the things God has made. Theology cannot withdraw from this task, doing so in dialogue with science. From a theological perspective, if science does not describe the world God has made, then theology has little ground upon which to stand. Theology cannot take lightly the challenge that science presents at this point. Theology must reflect upon creation from the standpoint of current knowledge of the world for a description of the divine work of creation, using the scientific resources at hand. The attempt to preserve the biblical account of creation is a denial that the biblical text appropriated its contemporary knowledge of the world for its theological construction. I will attempt to appropriate some of the elements of modern science for theological reflection, suggesting that modernity becomes a proper text for theological reflection. I do so with the knowledge that the scientist will not see what I see their description of nature as it is. In particular, the presence of God is hidden in nature. The contribution theology makes to human understanding of the world concerns the meaning, purpose, and direction of the universe and of humanity. As such, theological reflection upon the universe becomes a story or novel involving moral choices. The verification of this account lays in the future, at the completion of space and time, as well as in the present power of its ability to persuade minds and hearts. The question is whether modern people will believe and live in a way that the doctrine of creation is true for them.

            One of my tasks is to do justice to the biblical witness concerning the constancy of the order that God established in creation with the concept of ongoing creative activity. The theory of evolution has given theology an opportunity to see the ongoing creative activity of God in the preservation of an order and in the constant bringing forth of things that are new. With good reason, Christians can suggest that the universe as it is offers itself to human experience and knowledge is the creation of God. I trust that by the end of this essay we can agree that the world is the handiwork of God. Christians can speak of God in an intellectually responsible way. 

            In creation, wherever we turn we meet the work of God. We need to reflect upon God’s intent and design in creating it. Contemplation on the fact that God has provided humanity with everything necessary for a meaningful, happy life leads us to consider the architect and our confidence and thanksgiving toward God. We cannot adequately know God without also knowing ourselves.

            The doctrine of creation suggests that the world finds its completion beyond itself. It suggests that human beings can speak intelligibly about that “beyond” because God is involved in the world in some way. This analogy of being suggests that human beings can begin with what they experience of the world and arrive at some conception of the divine, even if that understanding is somewhat vague. The history of religions suggests the truth of this movement of humanity toward the fulfillment of itself and of the world beyond itself. Any doctrine of sin that obliterates this possibility in humanity has gone too far.

            I hope that by the end of this essay we can credibly believe that God is the source of life. The affirmation of life has biblical roots in the account of Christian sources that God is the creator of heaven and earth. Modern Christians do not take that as a scientific statement, interpreting it as suggesting that God is the source of life. The use of spirit, soul, which in Hebrew and Greek refers to the wind or breath, suggest the image of life as well. We see this in Genesis 2, Ezekiel 37, and Acts 2. The world God created is good. The bible calls those who believe to love the world God created.



God is the origin of the world in the sense that nothing outside of God determines what God will do and when God will do it. The act of creation constitutes time itself along with finite reality and the range of their existence. God had only one reason to create the world.  God graciously conferred existence on individuals.  God gave others existence alongside God's own divine being.  The very existence of the world is an expression of the goodness of God.  God is free in this act of love.  Creation can only be the work of the love and goodness of God.  God loves this creation perfectly.  This means that we do not need to win independence from God.  God has graciously granted humanity an independent existence.  That is the goal of the creative work of God. 

            The concept of cosmic evolution waited the 20th century, when we have affirmed that the products of evolution are largely unpredictable. The passage of chronological time does not unwind a pre-determined scroll, but the novel coming to be of unpredictable events in the movement of nature. With the explosion that began the universe, space and time came into existence. Our difficulty is that we cannot imagine a reality without space and time. However, with this theory, science has concluded that space and time came into being 15 billion years ago. The universe is immense. Here are some figures simply to get a vision of that immensity. We know that the speed of light is about 186,000 miles per second in a vacuum. To travel from the sun, 93,000,000 miles away, light takes about eight minutes. In one year, that light will travel 5.8 trillion miles.  It would take light one thousand years to travel through the Milky Way galaxy at its thickest point. The Milky Way has 100 billion stars. It is shaped like a flattened and luminous pinwheel bulging at the center. The diameter of the Milky Way is about 100,000 light years. The universe is two billion light years across.

            Scientists now identify five levels to the universe.  The galaxy is the first level, of which most of us are familiar.  The second level is groups of galaxies.  Groups are a few million light years wide and consist of three to six conspicuous galaxies and a dozen or so smaller and dimmer ones.  The third level is the cluster, measuring 10 million to 20 million light-years in diameter and containing hundreds to thousands of galaxies.  Rather than allowing the general expansion of the universe to pull them apart, gravity holds the galaxies together.  The fourth level is the cloud, measuring 30 million light-years in diameter, often linked by filaments and spurs.  The fifth level is that of the supercluster, typically measuring 100 million light-years or more in diameter, containing something like ten thousand galaxies.  We have also begun mapping great walls and giant voids that may form the largest structure of the observable universe.  Our own galaxy revolves around a center of gravity that holds our group together.  In about two billion years, the Milky Way and Andromeda will perform a dance, and then move away from each other.  Once again, even our galaxy is on the fringe of our group.  Such concentrations of mass exert gravitational force upon surrounding bodies.  We can attribute the structure of the universe to quantum flux, a condition demanded by quantum physics.  This would mean random occurrence of high-density regions here and there in the primordial material. 

            The creation of a reality distinct from God, one that is not an echo of God, and a reality that God affirms and with whom God desires fellowship, requires a universe of things God has made. A single thing would be too tiny to exist in the presence of God. A finite entity has its limit defined by other finite entities. It discovers its distinctiveness through interaction with other finite entities. Modern science relates this plurality to a big bang and the plurality of the universe with the expansion of the universe. This expansion of space and time suggest that one needs both space that separates finite entities and time as a sequence of events involving finite entities. This temporal expansion of space is a basic condition for the developing of enduring forms. These entities possess identity in their relation to other entities. Science discovers the order of the universe through laws of physics, biology, and chemistry. Science discovers these laws through hypotheses and reproducible experiments. Each specific event is unique, even if we discover obvious uniformities wit other events. Each entity and each event is important because of its place and function in the sequence of the unique process. This order allows for the emergence of phenomena in the process in time. The regularity of nature could be an argument against the Christian teaching on creation. One would see the contingency of events in quantum physics and thermodynamics as an exception to the normal regulation of events in nature, as gaps in the scientific description of nature, which science will one-day close. The destiny of individual entities to reach their fulfillment in God does not find direct fulfillment in their specific existence. Theology needs to identify another history that overcomes the trend toward independence form God and the resultant conflicts with other entities. The uniformity of events in conformity to natural laws and the enduring entities in the world guarantee genuine independence of the entities in the world. In this way, the regulated order of the world is consistent with the teaching on creation. Natural laws are an expression of the faithfulness of God as both creator and sustainer, while also being the basis of the emergence of new and more complex forms of life. The universe is not a closed system, for the emergence of new entities and events has an influence upon the totality of the things in existence. Laws of nature describe the constancy of persistence and perishing in the universe. This stability of the system is a condition of survival and, for human beings, a basis for increasing mastery over nature.

            Evolution is something other than a series of adaptations to accidental circumstances. Evolution is a process of keeping those features of an entity that work, while also providing innovation through mutation. Evolution is the process by which some genes become more numerous and others less numerous in the gene pool. Natural selection concerns itself with the survival of the gene, not with the survival of a species. Natural selection is a theory of the survival of the stable, a collection of atoms that is permanent enough or common enough to deserve a name. Certain collections of atoms form molecules, which may be more or less stable. If a group of atoms in the presence of energy falls into a stable pattern, it will tend to stay that way. Natural selection explains the survival of stable forms and a rejection of unstable ones. If within a species, there is variation among individuals in their hereditary traits, and some traits are more conducive to survival and reproduction than others are, then those traits will (obviously) become more widespread within the population. The result (obviously) is that the species’ aggregate pool of hereditary traits changes. The amount of suffering and death staggers us as we ponder natural selection and the price for a single, slight advance in organic design. The purpose of this advance is often to make other animals suffer or die more surely. Organic design thrives on pain, and pain thrives on organic design.

            Consciousness is an emergent form of gesture; interacting with others is a pre-condition for consciousness. With consciousness comes intentionality, the capacity of the organism to represent objects and states of affairs in the world to itself. The mind is a set of higher-level features of the brain. This fact explains how animate beings can come out of inanimate matter. The theory of mind answers the question: how does a mental reality, a world of consciousness, intentionality, and other mental phenomena, fit into a world consisting entirely of physical particles in fields of force? What is a self? How can a self come out of stuff that is as selfless as a stone or puddle? What is an “I?” Why do we find such experiences only in human beings? The “I” comes about by a kind of vortex whereby patterns in a brain mirror the brain’s mirroring of the world, and eventually mirror themselves, whereupon the vortex of “I” becomes a real, causal entity. The more self-referentially rich this looping is the more conscious is the self to which it gives rise. The self is dynamic activities at various levels of organization and functioning.

            Certain big collections of nerve cells (brains) cause and sustain conscious states and processes. It contains about 100,000,000,000 nerve cells or neurons, each a few millionths of a meter wide and connecting to other nerve cells by thousands of endings. A single neuron can respond only by way of firing or not firing. We still do not know what the electric patterns mean. We still do not know how the circuits were put together and for what purpose. It has 3,195 distinctive genes, 50% more than any other organ or tissue, with the total of the entire human genome being 50-100,000. The brain grew tour times between the first human fossils three million years BC and when the first Homo sapiens emerged around 200,000 BC. In evolutionary terms, this is rapid growth. Much of the growth occurred in the area of the brain that involves language and its symbol-based product, culture. In fact, every human being has a brain that has a similar organization of material for creativity, speech, memory, speaking, seeing, body sensory area, and so on. Further, every human brain has the same neural wiring. Each neuron stores a symbol, either of class or of an instance. The firing of the neuron gives rise to the high-level traffic of symbolization that we recognize as consciousness. The question is whether the high level of symbolization is embedded in the brain, or whether it is a software matter that could be lifted out from the hardware of the brain and utilized in a different context. Note that the collective behavior of the neurons is what produces what we know as intelligence and consciousness, a “whole” that is truly greater than the individual parts. This means that we store knowledge spread about throughout the neural system, rather than in a local packet.

            The key to consciousness is the patterns that can come to exist inside the stuff of our brains. The brain stores bytes of information in the nerve cells as electrical impulses. The only decision the cell has to make is whether or not to fire, thereby releasing or withholding its information. Each nerve cell becomes part of a cluster of cells that form various levels of thinking and interacting with the world. These bytes of information translate upward in parallel architectural structures in symbols triggered by experience in the world. The various languages of the brain become increasingly complex, until it develops symbols that we can understand. The cooperation and competition of these cells provide us with a sense of self. Brains are media that support complex patterns that mirror the world, of which our brains are denizens.

            Self-consciousness arises when the brain’s simulation of the world becomes so complete that it must include a model of itself. Self-consciousness liberates the body from the genes. Genes become largely passive in the body of human beings, allowing the predictive capacity of the brain to ensure their survival, even to the point of going against the message of the genes. In a sense, the brain may have modified the biological process of natural selection. We do not know how far down the evolutionary scale consciousness extends. Some of these living systems have evolved consciousness. Conscious states always have content. When we are conscious, we are conscious of something, though not always with intentionality. Our possession of a rich system of consciousness, intelligence, capacity for language, capacity for extremely fine perceptual discriminations, capacity for rational thought, are all biological phenomena like another other biological phenomena. It gives us greater powers of discrimination than other living organisms; it gives us greater flexibility, sensitivity, and creativity. These features are phenotypes.

            The sense of self is a new level of the hierarchy of the brain called a subsystem, a constellation of symbols, each of which can be separately activated under the control of the subsystem itself. It has its own repertoire of symbols that can trigger each other internally. It actually functions like a large symbol. It communicates with the rest of the subsystems and symbols, keeping track of what symbols are active. Awareness is the monitoring of brain activity by a subsystem of the brain. It would be a glaring hole in the symbolic structure of the brain not to have a symbol for the physical object that houses it. The only way one could make sense of the world surrounding a localized animate object is to understand the role of that object in relation to the other objects around it. This necessitates the existence of a self-symbol. The step from symbol to subsystem is a reflection of the importance of the self-symbol. This is what we call consciousness.

Humans are the most highly developed of living creatures. The history of the universe is a prehistory to the coming of humanity. The anthropic principle suggests that the universe necessarily produced intelligent beings. Biology and physics consider humanity the most complex entity in the universe. It seems impossible to deny that there has been an evolutionary advance in the sense of increasing complexity of order over the past several billion years. In theory, one need not anthropocentrically imagine the evolutionary process to culminate in humanity, for it is quite conceivable that in time, it might bypass humanity and the entire class of mammals to favor some very different species capable of a greater complexity than humanity can achieve. Yet, no empirical evidence supports this possibility. The existence of humanity simply tells us that earlier forms of life created the conditions for humanity to emerge and gives an essential feature of the universe as it is. At this point in the history of the universe, we can say that living entities, animals, and humanity, achieve a greater degree of independence than atoms, molecules, stars, rivers, seas, or mountains. The vastness of the universe is a means for the development of organic life. This suggests that intelligent life has the possibility of gaining dominion. The emergence of human life is constitutive for the development of the universe, and is not simply ephemeral. This dimension of the anthropic principle suggests that the basic structure of the universe orients too the end and the completion of the intellection dominion over the universe that first took shape in humanity and will achieve some other form determinative for the universe in its total range. From a theological perspective, the emergence of humanity brought to light for the first time the meaning of the entities in the world. We discover that meaning as we discover the will and purpose of God. We can at least say that the will of God is that entities should be independent, having an existence distinguished from the one who made them and from other entities. Entities do not have to win independence, for that is the goal of the creative active activity of God. The origin of humanity in the evolution of life is a condition of the independence of our lives as individuals. While all life has a relation to God, humanity is the only living thing in whom our relation is a theme of the condition of life and our survival. The present reality of human life does not accord with the destiny of genuine independence, fellowship with God, and fellowship with each other. From a Christian perspective, the Incarnation suggests that humanity is the goal of the world God made. This view also affects the notion of intelligent life on other planets. The notion of God becoming incarnate on all of those planets does not destroy the Christian story, but it does present a challenge.

Theologically, we might suggest that this complexity arises from the increasing intensity of the participation of individuals and the human community in particular in the divine Spirit of life. One cannot account for this increasing complexity in terms of the chance juxtaposition of component elements. It calls for a transcendent directing power constantly introducing richer possibilities of order for the world to actualize. The individual may or may not embody the divine urge toward greater complexity, but insofar as that ideal is actualized, an evolutionary advance has been achieved. One can properly call persuasive any divine power which so influences the world without violating its integrity, while the necessary self-activity of the creature insures the spontaneity of response. This spontaneity may be minimal for protons and electrons, but in the course of the evolutionary advance, sustained until now, it has manifested itself in ever-richer forms as the vitality of living cells, the conscious activity of the higher animals, and the self-conscious freedom of humanity. Spontaneity has matured as freedom. On this level, it becomes possible for the increasing complexity of order to be directed toward the achievement of civilization, and for the means of divine persuasion to become ethical aspiration. The believer will affirm that in the ideals we envision God is persuading us, but this self-conscious awareness is not necessary for its effectiveness. Not only we ourselves, but also the entire created order, whether consciously or unconsciously, is open to this divine persuasion, each in its own way.

            One might see in the history of the earth suggests that the development of organized life and continued higher structuring of its forms as a chain of events that were at first exceptions, but that gradually changed the face of the earth. As suggested by Paul in I Corinthians 1:27, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. Evolution suggests that God has chosen the same path for creation as God has chosen to bring wholeness to humanity. The emergence of life is a counter-trend to the increase of entropy in natural processes. Entropy suggests the movement downward in destructuring and dissolution of entities. Yet, the evolution of life suggests an upward movement toward increasingly higher and more complex forms of organization. The co-existence of entities and events involves conflict, destruction and reconstruction. Humans live off lower entities and for them. Further, the possibility that God continues to work in the history of nature by bringing forth newness at different stages of natural history has a parallel in the history of the dealing of God with humanity in new ways. Events are part of the field of possibility and thus arise out of the creative energy of the Spirit. Theology can help scientists remember that the smaller parts they study belong to a larger context out of which larger forms that are more complex emerge and that science cannot reduce entities to their parts. The emergence of living entities depends on the total situation of the universe and its expansion. The emergence of humans is not simply a matter of chance, but part of the laws of nature. Living entities emerge in abundance and compete with each other for use of the energy in their environment. The wealth of new forms contains new possibilities of utilizing the conditions of life. The bible testifies to the richness of life in its variety, as in Psalm 104. God has given living entities the power to be fruitful. In particular, sexual unions of individuals within a species acquire a historical dimension and creatively open up space within which life can expand. This sharing in the creative force that comes from God does not rule out the possibility of a bad use of the gift. Creative participation in the creative working of God does not mean fellowship with God alignment with the purpose of God.

            To put the matter in one way, even if we assume that God is all-powerful, God could create a world in which God would not be in total control of everything. This world is one like that.   

            Human beings themselves at one time did not exist, and slowly came into existence. Individual human life has an origin and an end, both of which are beyond it.

            The theology of creation suggests two important dimensions of the relation between God and the world. The first is that the tragic character of human life does not define human life, for creativity and life is the essential nature of things. The second is the natural necessity of death and the potentiality of the tragic, for not existing is a real possibility. The question with which this teaching confronts us is what it means to be a finite person, and what it means for us to have some sense of accountability of our lives to God. To know ourselves in this way is to know ourselves as interdependent individuals, answerable to the call toward the fullness of human life. Humanity itself, as created in the image of God, has potential for this fullness of life. Even though humanity has its origin in God, just as the rest of the universe, humanity does not find satisfaction of desire in the things in the world. The heart seems restless until it finds rest in something beyond humanity. Frustration and illusion arise if people try to find satisfaction and happiness in the natural and social world.



God sustains the world through love and goodness. The faith in this sustaining creativity is the faith in the continuity of the structure of reality as the basis for living and acting. Nature is a measurable and calculable set of laws human beings can place into mathematical equations. Sustaining refers to that which continues within the change one observes. Without the static element, finite being would not be able to identify itself with itself or anything with anything. Neither expectation, nor action for the future, nor a place to stand upon would be possible. The concept of self-preservation presupposes the noting of preservation by another. The preserving work of God makes possible the independence of the things God has made. God reaches the goal of the original creative action with producing creatures that persist and that exist independently from each other and from God. God sustains the world through relations of the parts to each other, and not just in isolation from each other.

      The freedom and independence of the world suggests genuine social existence of the world, whether in the community of atoms and cells, or in the interdependence of human beings. God enters into dialogue with rebellious and free human beings. God is the gardener in the vineyard of the world, fostering and nurturing its continuous evolutionary growth throughout all ages. God is the companion and friend who inspires us to achieve the very best that is within us. God creates by persuading the world to move toward the best individual and corporate life possible. I might add that coercive power is not a good in itself. Motivating people through persuasion is the way God has chosen to work in the world. This view of the action of God in the world is consistent with the traits of the patience and kindness of God in dealing with human beings as related in the bible. God suffers with those who have gone astray. Divine persuasive power maximizes individual freedom, respecting the integrity of each individual in the very act of guiding the development of that individual toward greater freedom. Having called individuality into existence, God respects their independence through persuasion rather than force. Such action is divine because have their source in the love of God, who willed free and independent persons.

Human awareness of finitude, as relation to other finite creatures while remaining oneself, does not mean that humanity accepts this finite condition. Humanity often seeks unlimited expansion of existence. Jesus humbly accepted his distinction from the Father by honoring God and placing his life at the service of God. In the Trinity, the principle of otherness is already contained within God, even though in the case of the Son, the distinction is heightened, while at the same time the unity of God finds its greatest expression. Human beings seem unaware of the source of all things in the world as found in God. Their everyday dealings with the world, their routine, and their utilitarian approach to reality, trend toward dullness concerning the divine foundation of all things in God. We seem dull to the genuinely astounding fact of the order of nature, its regularities and its enduring constructs.

            The concept of preservation implies that what is to be preserved does not owe its existence to itself.  Augustine taught that God created the world along with time.  The advantage of this view is that it avoids the appearance that the world's origin rests on an arbitrary resolve of God.  Second, it opposes any restriction of the divine action in creation to the beginning of the world.  Does this mean that preservation as continued creation calls into question the independence of creatures and their actions?  Alternatively, does this mean they lose their identity and continuity?  This act of God embraces the whole cosmic process and permeates all phases of the divine action in its history.  However, the destiny of individuals for fellowship with God does not find direct fulfillment in their concrete existence.  For this purpose, we need a history that overcomes the trend toward independence from God and the conflicts that result within life together.

Human reflection upon history often suggests little evidence that a God of love and goodness directs history. The extent and absurdity of what from a human perspective appears to be meaningless suffering and the triumph and good fortune of the ungodly and wicked are among the trials of believers. The tension between present concealment and future consummation of the rule of God over the world raises the question of the direction of the direction of the will of God and the nature of the action of God in the world. The creative action of God is the activation and expression of love wholly toward that which God has made. The uniqueness of each finite thing is both the object and goal of creation. This brings glory to the one who created. The reign of God has the purpose of redeeming and fulfilling that which God has made.

The future is an open risk. God is continuously directing the creation toward the good, but this persuasive power is effective only insofar as the individuals themselves affirm that good end. Individual evil is an ever-present contingency, unless Origen is correct that we cannot resist the grace of God forever. On the other hand, the absence of any final guarantee now makes it genuinely possible for the expectation of the good to become a matter of faith. By faith, I do not mean its rationalistic counterfeit: a belief based upon insufficient evidence. Rather, I mean what Kierkegaard meant by truth for the existing individual. Faith is belief in spite of doubt, sustained by trust, loyalty, and devotion. The future is now doubtful, risky, and uncertain. Yet the theist is sustained by confident expectation that if we as individuals all have faith in God, that is, if all rely upon guidance from God, trusting God sufficiently to actualize the good that God proposes as novel possibility, then the good will triumph. The continued persistence of evil, both in humanity and in the natural order, testifies to the fragmentary realization of individual faith in God. Nonetheless, we may hope that we may receive the grace of God and grace permeates all beings, and in that hope do our part in the great task. Such hope prohibits other worldly withdrawal, but calls upon us to redouble our efforts to achieve the good in this world with all its ambiguities for good and evil. Faith in this sense is reciprocal. Just as the world must trust God to provide the aim for its efforts, so God must trust the world for the achievement of that aim.

To the extent that God exercises coercive power, God would restrict the freedom of individuals and diminish the reality of the world and impoverish the divine experience. God abandoned angelic marionettes who merely the thought of God because they are extensions of the being of God. God has elected to enter into dialogue with sinful, yet free, humanity. God has seen value in a world that is not a mere echo of the being of God. The freedom of the divine origin of the world and the holding fast to creation belongs together.     



The creative action of God directs the world toward fulfillment. We can only anticipate in this life the happiness that God intends for eternity. The love of God holds on to what God has created even beyond their end suggested in their finitude. Individuality finds fulfillment in their independent existence. Since God is the only one who endures, finite beings can have fulfillment only in fellowship with God. Traditionally, this means providence, although I cannot accept the traditional view that God is a divine observer of the future or the planner of all future events. Rather, the directing creativity of God is through the freedom of humanity and through the spontaneity and structural wholeness of all creatures. It works through individual and social forms of human life; it works through anxiety, through the interdependence of all finite things, through non-existence and resistance to divine activity. The directing activity of God uses all these factors in creativity directing everything toward their fulfillment. Such direction is a quality of every constellation of conditions, which lures the world toward its fulfillment. This activity is present in every group of finite conditions and in the totality of finite conditions. It is the quality of inner directedness present in every situation. This affirmation asserts with faith that no situation can frustrate the fulfillment of one’s ultimate destiny, that nothing can separate the individual from the love of God in Christ. Creation does not come to its fulfillment until the end. For humanity, awakened to its independence, becomes open to the future as the dimension from they can achieve the content and fulfillment of their existence. Origin and consummation do not coincide.


            The theological doctrine of creation cannot show that the praise of God is evident in the sense that we can read it off plainly from nature based on present knowledge. The senseless suffering of entities and the at least temporary success of evil makes it difficult to praise a loving and good God who has the power to be the source of the universe. The presence of suffering and evil cast doubt upon the affirmation of faith in loving, good, and powerful God. The goodness of the universe depends on humans and their being in accord with the divine purpose. The meaningless suffering of so many entities forms a real obstacle to faith in God. The fact of wickedness and evil in the world remains an insoluble riddle and offense.

            One can meet the objection only by affirmation of a hope for a future defined by God. Suffering, guilt, and tears cry out for a real overcoming of evil. Creation and redemption are the background of a hope that makes possible a plausible answer to the question of theodicy. Only God can give a satisfying answer to this question.

            An open question remains as to why the one who made the universe did not make it one in which pain or guilt could not exist. To point out that evil has its origin in the freedom of humanity to decide and act does not absolve God of responsibility for making a universe like this. Even in their freedom, human beings are still entities God made.

            One possibility, suggested by Leibniz, is that finitude introduces an imperfection in entities, for finitude cannot know all things, may make mistakes about many things, and can thus be guilty of other failings. God cannot do anything self-contradictory, and therefore to make finite entities is to risk the future to suffering the limits finitude. In this sense, it would be foolish to ask for anything better. This would be an expression of Christian realism. Suffering is an element of finitude. Evil becomes revolt against the limit of finitude, the refusal to accept one’s own finitude, and in the illusion of being God. Evil arises in the movement from independence that God willed to the autonomy that humanity demanded. Such evil causes suffering as the result of estrangement from human origin and destiny. Suffering is meaningful to the extent that it calls for protection and healing in the attacked by pain. It can show the limits and potentialities f a living being. Suffering becomes meaningful because of how others respond to this suffering and how the one who suffers responds to it. When suffering destroys the wholeness of the person, it has the experience of meaningless suffering. Humanity falls victim to entropy. Those who do not open themselves to the new energy provided by the Spirit of God fall victim to entropy. Our interdependence suggests that humans live off each other and for each other. Evil is possible because of the finitude of existence, and especially among an entity like humanity, who seek autonomy. The assertion of autonomy is against God, but it is also against each other. The assertion conceals dependence upon God, the source of the energy needed for newness of life and the source of the information needed to advance toward the fulfillment of humanity. The parallel is the autonomy that science sees in the natural processes it observes.

            Even though human will explains much of the suffering in the world, God must bear an ultimate responsibility in choosing to make humanity as a free creature at all. For this statement to be consistent with the love of God, we must not be able to reach the good attained through suffering by any other means. God must do everything in accordance with the nature of God against evil and suffering. God has made the world as it is because God chooses to suffer with it, thus choosing a limit by sharing in suffering. If we use the image of God as one who designs a community, God has to work within it, suffering its growing pains and leading it to the aim God has for it. Factors like influence and persuasion, vulnerability and suffering, become paramount qualities in the building of a community. The world is a living society, growing towards the aims God sets for it through a network of mutual influences, with God sharing in the conditions of its becoming. We can root the limitations and sufferings of God firmly in the will of God as creator who offers real freedom and independence to that which God has created. God wills that as a suffering God, the world changes God and God is under constraint from the world God engages.

            One can suggest that if God wanted free and independent entities that can acknowledge God, and thus correspond to the fellowship of the Trinity, the decision to create carried with it the risk of a misuse of this freedom. God accepts the risk of sin and evil as a condition of realizing the goal of a free fellowship of human beings with God. God did not will wickedness and evil as such. God could not take pleasure in them. They are not an object of the will of God. Nevertheless, they are in fact accompanying phenomena. They are the conditions of the realizing of the purpose of God for humanity. They come under the directing and persuasive influence of God, which can bring good out of evil, as God moves toward the reconciliation and redemption of the world through Christ.

            The human ability to distinguish others from the self and the self from others, and therefore the awareness of finitude in distinction from the unbounded God, opens the possibility of an acceptance of finitude, corruptibility, and suffering in humility before God. Theodicy is impossible without a vision of an end that brings the unsatisfactory state of the present to its fulfillment and wholeness. Since the universe comes to completion with the reconciliation and redemption brought by God, then God and humanity can unite in the battle to overcome evil and to reduce and heal suffering in the world. Only the end can definitely demonstrate the reality of a loving and good God who made this universe. Praise of the God of creation anticipates this consummation.

            One of the new areas of orthodoxy is that God is vulnerable to life. It suggests that we need to develop a view of the action of God in the world coherent with the world we experience. God suffers, while remaining God. God suffers universally with all persons, while suffering in a unique way in the cross of Jesus. God suffers with the suffering that humanity experiences. Vulnerability is a perfection of loving freedom. Such loving freedom offers us a model for the living of our lives. God is about mutuality, equality, and love.

            Love is the most authentic mark of the Christian life, and love among humans, or within God, requires community with others and sharing of the profoundest kind. The doctrine of the Trinity is the account of that community and sharing in the life of God. Personally, I like the idea that in Jesus, God hit the world with the force of a hint. The way God is present in Jesus is as a servant who suffers. The central place of the cross of Jesus within Christian faith also suggests that God suffers. If theology affirms that God was in Christ, then it seems that God suffered in Christ at the cross. If God was involved with the person and career of Jesus, then God experienced what the crucified Jesus experienced. We can understand the Father of Jesus primarily as an analogy for love rather than power. God willingly becomes vulnerable in love as to send off a beloved child to die for a sinful creation, is also fully engaged in the risks of love.

            God has accepted and bore responsibility for the world God created in the cross. Evil is real and costly enough for God as well as for humanity. The crucifixion of the Son makes this plain. God accepted the corruptibility and suffering made possible by creating a universe like this. God also accepted the concealment of the presence of God within the world that God made. God also accepted the covering and questioning by the independence of human beings.

            A suffering God has unrealized potentialities. In human experience, we suffer because we have unrealized possibilities. I will need to write carefully about the future of God, the concept of which interweaves the Trinity and the desire of God. When we glorify God, God already has a history of coming into fellowship within God, and our fellowship with God can then add something to the being of God. God has a desire for this fellowship with humanity that God needs satisfied. God has a path from suffering to glory along the track of desire in search of fulfillment. The first step is that a God who has a future protests against the reality of the present world. In particular, God protests against suffering and death. God makes this protest most significantly in identifying with the suffering of Jesus. When we listen to the desire God has, the focus is on the experience of God in the present, and in particular through the sacrament of the present world. The second step is to recognize that this kind of God is not complete. If God feels our suffering, God must also change in awareness. Because God knows all possibilities, something cannot be new for God in the same way as it is for us when we actualize a possibility.  However, when the possibility becomes actual, it does contribute something fresh to the experience God has. God knew it before, but not like this. Thus, something new is possible for God in the future, though not as for us. When the possibilities are people and free personalities, something new can happen for God. A gap exists between God knowing persons as potential and as actual, a gap between perfection and completion bridged by desire. God knows us perfectly in all our possibilities. God desires union with us in actuality, in the actual state of our liberation from suffering. This desire springs from perfection of knowledge and relationship. Because God is perfect, God desires.

            At any one point in time, God knows all the possibilities that one can know, but God does not know possibilities that no one has yet creatively thought, and which do not therefore exist. God has temporality. God takes our history so seriously that God experiences it as history. God takes our future so seriously that God experiences it as future. Without this experience, God would fail in love, for time is important to us and must mean something to a loving God. The third step is another way the experience God has transcends our experience, in that God has victory over suffering. We need to know that suffering could not overcome or defeat God. The traditional statement of the bliss of God negated this possibility. The victory of God over suffering is in two ways. God has certainty of final victory, for God knows that God will be all in all at the end. God chooses this suffering. God also knows the power of love to persuade and influence creation. God has the certainty of perfect hope, where ours can only be partial, and hope is the evidence of things not seen. Divine certainty is confident hope, not prediction. The eternity of God is a way to reflect upon the healing of time. At every moment of divine life, God would be integrating the flow of past, present and future into a new wholeness, redeeming the past and anticipating the future in a new harmony. Thus, although there would be an element of the unknown in the future for God and God would experience the future in a different way from us, the hope God has would be perfect in ways that we cannot conceive.

            A theology of a suffering God must build up intolerance towards those conditions of human suffering that God and humanity working together can abolish. The world must influence God as well as God influencing the world. God becomes what God is in reaction to the environment of the world as the world becomes in the context of God. The inclusion of the world within the experience of God must have some effect upon God.

            A suffering God is one who has potentialities within God that God has not yet actualized. A gap exists between what God already knows and what the world does at any point in time. The world brings something new to God each morning, for this is what a real relationship involves. We then distinguish between what God knows perfectly in potentiality, and what God knows perfectly in actuality as it happens. Relationships begin with a journey of love into the unknown. When humanity has broken the relationship with God, God heals it by knowing the suffering of a love that exposes itself to the unknown of death. Choosing to allow the world to affect God in this way does not make God less, but God becomes more richly God, fulfilling the nature of God through the world. In this sense, the world is necessary for God to be God. This choice of God to suffer in love makes sense if God is at risk, but not injured.

            The choosing of the world by God is a free overflowing of the goodness of God, an expression and application of the love in which God is God. Even the being of God is a result of the choice of God. God chooses to love in this way. The key to divine suffering lies in the desire of God for fellowship with another. Love is a longing for communication, a thirst to communicate what is good. God desires us because God chooses to be like that. The desire of God is the will of God. God needs the world in the sense that God has freely chosen to be in need. The change this relationship brings to God is so that God becomes more truly God. God is open to this suffering because God chooses humanity for fellowship, and so chooses fulfillment through creation. This suffering love is a desire in which God longs for our love in return.

            God takes a risk in creation, but we call it a limited risk. If the end is certain, the route has openness about the future that stems from human freedom and the choice open to human personalities. The goal of God is making of persons. The kind of persons we become is based upon the choices that we make, the kinds of values we hold to, the ways in which we respond to challenges and disappointments. Decisions and experiences in this life matter. They build what we are. This view has room for tragedy and triumph in the victory of God over suffering. While creatures will know bliss in the contemplation of their creator, God may know that they are not all that they could have been. When God chooses suffering, God protests against the suffering of the world, and motivates believers in God to change the conditions that cause suffering.

            The doctrine of sin also involves us in matters of theodicy. The permission God has given for sin to occur is the cost of genuine independence from God. Humanity is not simply an echo of the will of God. Humanity must develop and become what we are and ought to be. In the process, we can all too easily give our independence the form of autonomy in which we put ourselves in the place of God and his dominion over creation. Without independence, the relation of the Son to the Father cannot show itself in the medium of individual life.

            God took the risk and the resulting evil in the world is the problem that God has.  We are responsible as human beings for this evil.  However, we must also conclude that God shares responsibility in the creation of the independent persons who had the possibility of falling away from God’s purposes.  God is the one who takes evil into account, strives against it, resists and overcomes it.  God elects, rejecting what God does not elect.  God wills, opposing what God does not will.  In the Christian sense, evil is that which exists without grace.  We cannot organize or control evil.  We can envision the defeat of evil only as the purpose or end of history in which God deals with us.  The conquest, removal, and abolition of evil are the cause of God.  When we try to envision the end of evil as our cause, we view ourselves as the hero who suffers, fights, conquers, and is therefore like God.  We make this choice against God, and therefore we make an evil choice even as we try to eradicate evil.  God takes up this battle in Jesus.  In the resurrection, Jesus gained victory over evil.  We no longer need to fear it.  Evil has no lasting existence.

            Christian hope expects a life without death. This life in fellowship with God cannot involve a total absorption of individual life in God but expects its renewal and definitive establishment. The finitude that is part of individual life will not be set aside by participation in the divine life. It follows that finitude does not always have to include mortality. The hope of Christians knows a finitude of individual existence without death. Hence, death cannot e necessarily a part of the finitude of individual life. Only of existence in time is it true that the finitude of life and mortality go together. The existence without death that Christian hope expects is characterized by fellowship with God and participation in the wholeness that flows from the eternity of God. As the life of individuals within the temporal span stands open to the eyes of the eternal God, so the redeemed will also themselves stand before God in the totality of their lives and glorify God as the source of their lives.

            This wholeness of life is not attainable by individuals who are subject to the process of time. Death is not itself external to our lives. The end that has yet to come casts a shadow in advance and defines the whole path of life as a being for death in the sense that our end is not integrated into our lives but threatens each moment of our living self-affirmation with nothingness. We lead our temporal lives under the shadow of death. At the same time, in each moment of our present our self-affirmation of life is marked by the antithesis to our end in death. Death is the last enemy of all living things. Fear of death pierces deep into life. On the one hand, it motivates us to unrestricted self-affirmation, regardless of our finitude. On the other hand, it robs us of the power to accept life. Either way we see a close link between sin and death. The link is rooted in sin to the extent that only the nonacceptance of our finitude makes the inescapable end of finite life a manifestation of the power of death that threatens us with nothingness. We prolong the small stretch of time given to us. We try to fill the moment with as many transitory things as possible. We try to create a memory in a future that is not ours to create. We imagine a continuation of life after the end of our time and endlessness without eternity. We resist our finitude. The fear of death also pushes us more deeply into sin. The fact that the acceptance of our finitude is so far for us who know ourselves to be living beings and affirm ourselves as such is connected with the structure of temporality in which our end, and with it our wholeness, is still ahead of us. That end and totality of finite existence in time are still ahead of us characterizes the situation in which sin actually arises.

            We see here the outworking of the patience of God with sinners and the continued creative activity of God in governing the world, which repeatedly brings good out of evil. By the continued creative activity of the Spirit, God constantly rescues individuals from entanglement in self-centeredness that comes because of their anxieties and desires. In spite of sin and its ramifications, we may know the original joy in life, joy in the richness, breadth, and beauty of creation and in each new day, joy in the illuminations of the life of the spirit, power for action within the order of community life, and a turning to others and participation in their joys and sorrows. The effects of sin can accumulate and bring the whole peoples within its orbit. Yet, reason and law can restrain them. In our human story, we have achieved astonishing things and known periods of high cultural blossoming. This does not alter the fact that even at the best of times dark forces have been at work in life that by means of anxiety and desire have finally brought death and destruction. We cannot achieve liberation from these sinister forces merely by breaking the fetters that oppressors put on us from outside. We achieve liberation from sin and death only where the mage of the Son takes shape in human life through the operation of the Spirit of God.



Christology and Incarnation

Some individuals in human history have such a profound influence upon others around them, often through the force of their personality as much as what they teach, that their followers best serve human history by making sure that humanity remembers that such a person once stood in their midst. Socrates was one such person, and philosophers continually return to him, as well as go beyond him. Buddha was such a person, and the Buddhist community continues to receive inspiration from returning to his spirit.

The church has the responsibility of reminding people that a man named Jesus once stood in their midst. No one for whom Jesus becomes important can ever again become as though he or she never heard of him. That importance may have been confused recollection and superstition in such a way that it did not give strength for the journey of life.

Yet, with so many denominations, and so many people who deny him and reject him, the matter of Jesus becomes confusing. I would not blame people who simply gave up the search for trustworthy information concerning Jesus. I would blame no one who decided that the question does not matter, although I do think such a conclusion wrong. When we make enquiry concerning Jesus, we have to do with something common to humanity in our awareness that we cannot reduce human life to biology, economics, psychology, sociology, or any other way we might engage in study of ourselves. I want to direct our attention not just toward a doctrine, but questions of life. Jesus and the apostles lived with the conviction that they had a greater destiny and a deeper meaning than their immediate time and space could contain.

Many theologians argue that the Trinity and the Christology of orthodox theology is unbiblical.  To some degree, one can only agree. Yet, the growing concentration of divinity in Christ is consistent with the direction that the New Testament takes.  Even if the New Testament did not work out the relationship between Father, Son, and Spirit, we can at least admit that the text affirms the divinity of each. Think of the way the New Testament describes Jesus.  In him is the fullness of divinity bodily.  He is all knowing, can raise the dead and work miracles, he is before all things in time and rank, and has life from within himself.  The consequence of the New Testament is that Christ can only be God.  Christ is one with the Father in will, some will say.  Yet, to be one will, presupposes unity in nature.  Christ is the ambassador and representative of God.  Only a divine being can truly represent God.  My representative can only be someone with whom I share certain qualities.  Christianity concentrates its belief and values in Christ.  He alone meets the longing for a personal connection to God.  On him alone, Christians concentrate all the joys of the imagination, all the suffering of the heart.  In him alone, we exhaust all feeling and imagination. 

Many theologians do not want to be bothered with the debatable proposition that in Jesus of Nazareth we have discovered the one whom most fully and universally reveals God. Since some Christians interpret this teaching in an exclusive way, theologians shy away from it. Further, the reality that Jesus was a Jewish male bothers some theologians. For example, Christian theology has often interpreted the new covenant with God through Christ in a way that negates the covenant of God with Israel, even though Paul explicitly rejects this view Romans 9-11. Christian theology has also interpreted the maleness of Jesus in a way that excludes women from full participation in the ministry of church. To escape all of these problems, some (Tillich, Hodgson, Reuther) have suggested that the Christ-Spirit is far larger than the historical connection with Jesus of Nazareth, and can take other historical and cultural shapes. The history of religions school attempts to connect the development of Christology in the New Testament with the Gnostic redeemer myth in ways that are not legitimate, given the adequate Hellenistic and Jewish background. In attempting to relate to a secular culture and a religiously pluralistic culture, the approach of lowest common denominator contents itself with some deliberately vague assertion about Christ-Spirit, Sophia, without committing itself to the resurrection, let alone Incarnation, and deliberately ignores the tensions and pressures within the earliest developments of Christology.

Another way to escape reflection upon the particularity of Jesus is to focus on the faith of individuals or the church rather than specifically faith in Jesus.  However, we would not be faithful to the task of Christology if we do not undertake this effort.  Such a presentation does not make unnecessary faith or the Holy Spirit.  However, the appeal to faith or the Holy Spirit is not persuasive.

            The teaching about Jesus lies at the center of every Christian theology.  This essay must face doubts among those who do not believe, these are many, and we must not avoid them.  Among those who believe, doubts often arise.  This essay must satisfy the believer's own conception of what is true.  If we do not deal honestly and directly with the affirmation of faith that we know God through Jesus, it has no right to claim to be a Christian presentation.  We cannot avoid this basic task of Christology.

Why can the man Jesus be the ultimate revelation of God?  Why is it that in him we know the true God? 

We can find the unity of Jesus with God only in the historical conduct, message, and fate of Jesus.  As such, the traditional approach in Christology, in which the focus is on the relation within the Trinity, cannot be the place to begin.  As A. Ritschl has pointed out, there is no way of knowing the "Son" apart from his historical existence.  This view presupposes that the conduct, message, and fate of Jesus have openness to the reality of God.  We must show the foundation of confessional statements as in the historical person of Jesus.

            The central historical question dealt with by Christology is this: how did Jesus who preached become the Jesus who was preached?  How did the one who preached about the kingdom of God become the focus of preaching?  What is the connection between the message, conduct, and fate of Jesus on the one hand with the message of the church on the other?  How can one justify such a message after the fact of public execution? 

I sympathize with those who want to affirm classical Christian teaching, such as Thomas C. Oden, and become frustrated with the inexact, uncertain, and contingent character of historical study. The church normally trusts the apostolic documents represent sufficiently the historical Jesus. It trusts the New Testament witness for the sake of the Christ it presents. Even where legends and teachings of the church have their place in the story of Jesus, we discover the influence of Jesus of Nazareth upon those who placed their trust in him. In that sense, the church could legitimately ask the skeptic to submit sufficient reason why the church should distrust its sources. Yet, Christian theology needs to submit itself to continually re-examining the historical foundation of its faith. This fact makes theology quite uncomfortable for most Christians. Once we make the separation between apostolic testimony and life Jesus lived, a separation the modern theologian needs to make, the task becomes incredibly difficult. I grant that such a separation has the value of reminding the church that Christianity will always be more than the accuracy of its official teaching. However, the reality is that persons who have the agenda of discrediting the church and Christianity often use their version of the historical Jesus to do so. One might think of David Frederick Strauss in that light, but those who came after him appear to have the same agenda. They want to separate Jesus of Nazareth from the apostolic narratives and from the creeds and tradition of the church, thereby discrediting the church and questioning its authenticity. Modern historical research takes a skeptical approach to its sources, asking probing questions of them, in order to mine as much certainty as one can, given the contingency of all historical study. When the skepticism turns to the sources of the church, whether in the bible or in its creeds, many Christians understandably become cautious. Yet, most modern Christians will not find it sufficient to repeat ancient formulas as if nothing has changed culturally or philosophically since then. At the same time, I do not think some skepticism that historical study requires does not mean that we have to consider the disciples and apostles as bringing intentional distortion and deception into their efforts to share what they believed God showed them in Jesus. The New Testament is the result of their struggle to express to themselves and to others what Jesus meant to them. In that sense, all we can do is ask ourselves if the response of faith that changed their lives will also become a response of faith that changes our lives.

I can also sympathize with those who think of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ as a deposit of the divine Word to which one submits by faith. It seeks to protect present faith in Jesus from the uncertainties of historical research. It lays stress upon the movement of God toward humanity in Jesus. This response recognizes that Jesus does not simply represent the best of the moral ideals discovered by humanity in other places. It recognizes, along with the church through the centuries, the uniqueness of Jesus, as well as the universal applicability of his coming. However, such a response represents the frustration with the unending questioning of the human mind. At some point, we need to decide passionately for some course in life, some step of faith that determines the direction of our lives. Yet, our unending questioning also represents our sense of the unbounded nature of human life. It suggests that we never fully possess that which we desire. I do not think that the proper response to this questioning is to submit to any authority, for we still need to reflect upon whether the authority is worthy of our submission. We cannot surrender our responsibility in discerning such courses of action, and in particular, when they determine the course of life.

I will grant a certain amount of arrogance in the many attempts to re-construct what one can reasonably know about Jesus. Such studies often have an arbitrary nature to them, including and excluding material for seemingly dubious reasons. The results tend to say more about the creativity, ingenuity, and agenda of those presenting their reconstructions. My own conclusion is that we simply do not have the sources from which to re-construct a biography or life of Jesus that in any way compares to modern biographies. Any such supposedly unbiased presentation has to deal with fragments of material that do not lend themselves to biographical material. The attempt suggests for some the possibility of discovering minimal reliable facts about Jesus so that the Christian faith will have a safe foundation. Given the contingent nature of all historical events, the attempt to do so fails. History has no such safe places. The attempt suggests to some that if we meet the real Jesus, we will have made significant discoveries for the meaning and direction of our lives. It also suggests that the church is covering up contact with the real Jesus, a sentiment many persons share. The church has an imperfect life and thought that often obscures who Jesus is and what faith in him can do for one today. After investing several years of personal study in the materials out of the Jesus Seminar, and then leaving it alone for a while, I had great discomfort over the undue distrust of the gospel narratives. Further, the deception New Testament authors must have engaged simply does not reflect my reading of the text. Whatever else we may say, we ought to read them generously enough that they struggle to express in word and story the influence of Jesus upon their lives. Often, persons who have engaged in such study over several years, doing so with great intensity, achieve certainty in ambiguous matters. The texts with which we deal do not lend themselves to such certainty. At the same time, faith in the documents and their authority is simply not sufficient for the modern theologian. Consequently, the theologian engaging modernity will need to submit to the uncertainty of historical investigation.

The disciple of Bultmann and the fundamentalist in religion have commonality in saying that the modern attempt to discern the historical Jesus has no relevance to Christian faith today. I will grant that Jesus of Nazareth cannot be the object of Christian faith, for that possibility opened itself only in the resurrection. Yet, in the modern context, it can have a useful purpose. It reminds us that Christianity does not have its origin in myth or a cipher without content or some timeless archetype. Christianity is not some vague existential attitude or way of being in the world. It reminds us that piety or mystical experience cannot dismiss the human for a divine world. An honest search for Jesus of Nazareth does not allow us to domesticate Jesus to a form of life with which we find comfort. Further, Jesus of Nazareth had far less interest in the burning social and political issues of his day than the prophets did in their day and contemporary scholars in their day. Christian faith is adherence to a particular person who said and did particular things in a particular time and place in human history. The risen Jesus is the same person who lived and died as a Jew. He embarrasses us in not conforming to our modern standards. He may not seem relevant to the burning political and social issues of our day. We need to listen to him, in spite of this.

Every attempt to deal with Christology today must deal with the tension between what theology and faith have said about Jesus on the one hand, and what the historical study of Jesus says on the other.  For some, it is impossible.  The historical Jesus has no influence upon the church today.  These scholars usually view Jesus as an apocalyptic preacher of the imminent end of the world.  His failed message has little to do with the church of today.  In this view, only the Christ of the church has any significance.  The historical Jesus is quite meaningless to salvation or a universal message of relevance.  They find the unity of the New Testament precisely in the common experience of the early Christian movement itself.  The starting point for Christology is what the church proclaims about Jesus, and thus what theology and faith say about Jesus.  Indeed, for a long time scholars considered the idea of getting behind the preaching of the church to Jesus himself impossible. The skepticism that many modern biblical critics have toward the early church is disconcerting. I do not share the skepticism. What I see in the writers of the New Testament is an attempt to express their sense of what God had shown them through Jesus. They understood that if Israel were to have a Messiah, it would be Jesus. If Israel would have a Son of Man, it would be Jesus. Far from attempting to deceive others, they wanted others to share in the new life they discovered in Christ.

Christology must show that in Jesus of Nazareth there is reason to believe that here is the one supreme case of the fulfillment of human reality.  The overcoming of alienation in human sin became real in Jesus of Nazareth.  The church has witnessed to the unity of God in that the creator is the some God revealed in Jesus.  The saving work of God becomes an expression of God's creative work.  When Paul compares Adam to Christ, he testifies to the universal significance of Jesus. 

            The view that an historical event can have universal significance is itself debatable. We must presume that the will of God for bringing healing and wholeness to humanity is universal. Thus, people who do not have contact with an historical event of universal significance must still experience sufficient grace to bring their lives to the fullness possible in that space and time.

            The point of departure for Christian preaching is connection with the historical Jesus of Nazareth, and therefore with an ascending Christology or a Christology from below. Christological reflection cannot begin at the “end” determined by the later theology of the church. The individual churches and individual Christians may interpret adequately or inadequately what occurred historically in Jesus. Where it is interpreted adequately and legitimately in a profession of faith and unites people in this profession, there we have the Christianity of the church. The belief of ordinary Christians often carries mythological connotations, no matter how orthodox their formulas are. Those who demythologize such classical Christian teaching do not have the same understanding of Christian teaching as the piety influenced by myth. Others rejected orthodox formulas because they misunderstood them, even while they may have genuine faith at some level.

            How do people who do not believe in Jesus as the Christ come to this faith? People make this decision before the tribunal of conscience, truth, and moral decision. It appears one must be at a point of synthesis is necessary for faith in order to see the objective ground of one’s faith in Jesus, which then justifies the willingness to believe. Such assertion refers to a definite historical person and to historical events. It implies historical assertions that conscience and integrity of believers require them to investigate. Christological assertions have a historical dimension. These events are of decisive importance for the existence of humanity. I recognize that some emancipate themselves from the burden of history, suggesting the unnecessary character of a historically contingent ground of Christian faith. In such a conception, faith itself is the first and last thing. Faith does not contain within it an element distinguishable from itself that would ground it. Such an understanding has the advantage of freeing us to begin with from every historical difficulty. Such an understanding also separates itself from the Christian faith as understood in the tradition. However, the New Testament knows itself as a faith related to a definite historical event from which it receives its justification and foundation. Even for the first witnesses to Jesus, the point is that faith involves the commitment of the whole person, and not just faith that certain events occur.

            The question is how something historical can be universally significant, and thus whether the ground and totality of humanity can be dependent upon an historical, contingent reality. We live with the relative certainty of historical knowledge and the absoluteness of commitment on the other. We cannot escape the possibility of error by refusing to reach such commitment because we cannot have absolute historical certitude concerning the foundations of faith. In this sense, we must admit the universality of the incongruence between the full commitment we need to have fullness of human life, and theoretical certainty about the facts. Such ambiguity is part of the freedom human beings enjoy. In such matters, the distance between historical foundation and responsive commitment is large. This faith has an interest in the history of Jesus before the resurrection and his self-understanding. Plato once said the unexamined life is not worth living. In the same way, for Christians, the unexamined Jesus is a Christianity cut lose from its source. We may despair at times, in that the danger is always look into Jesus as if looking into a mirror and see only our own reflection. Yet, if we can be honest about our bias and open to the new things Jesus might teach us, the potential for our own renewal is great. This faith has a connection with the self-understanding of Jesus, even if that understanding is not the full understanding of the later church. For Jesus, a sense of a distinctive and intimate relationship with the God of Israel, whom he called Father, is basic to this sense of the source of his life. For Jesus, his proclamation of the new potential experience of the nearness of the reign of God suggested that he was himself more than a rabbi or prophet. He viewed the newness and uniqueness as potentially significant for all people. He abolishes religious and moral categories such as those touching family, marriage, nation, the law, the temple, the Sabbath, and the origins of religious authority. They have now been broken through a new and real immediacy of God. They no longer have that precise function of mediating and representing God that they once correctly claimed to have. Jesus is the historical presence of this final and unsurpassable word of God.

            The challenge of Christology for Christians is that we cannot discuss whom Jesus was apart from who he is for us, what he means for us.  One of the issues raised, then, is whether who Jesus was, in his resurrection, message, conduct, and fate, can have universal significance for the rest of humanity.  If we cannot demonstrate this, the Christian enterprise has been for nothing.  The continued existence of the church for two millennia at least suggests at the beginning of this essay that it is possible to make these connections.

            In dealing with Jesus, Christology often focuses on the significance of Jesus for us, that is, salvation.  The focus is on the meaning of Jesus as it relates to the fate of humanity.  This is quite natural, for we are most interested in what immediately influences our lives.  At the same time, has anything actually been said about Jesus?  We need to separate who Jesus was on the one hand, and his significance for humanity, and thus of salvation, on the other. We can view "Salvation" as that wholeness of life toward which humanity is even now searching and working, both as individuals and as communities.  We shall never have such wholeness in this life.  Humanity is continually open to that which is beyond present experience and lures it beyond anything that is presently at hand.

I want to suggest that the correspondence between the confession of the first Christian community in Jesus as Messiah, Lord, and Son, have their basis in the public ministry of Jesus, his unique relation to God, and his resurrection.

We cannot escape the resurrection, even with its historically questionable character, for it is the basis for believing in the life-giving power of the Spirit and in the continuing fellowship of the Son with the Father. The crucified man attains the dignity of Lord and Son. In light of the Spirit raising Jesus from the dead, Jesus is the eternal Son and living Lord of the community. Many do not want to consider this.  After all, the resurrection of a dead person is open to legitimate skepticism and question from historical, scientific, and philosophical perspectives. Yet, the New Testament proclamation and message has its foundation in an Easter event that disclosed to the followers of Jesus who he was. The Easter message follows the Easter event; it does not create it. The event appears to give legitimacy to the whole course of his life, ambiguous as it was to his contemporaries, as a life lived in obedience to God and in fellowship with God.

Faith in Jesus as Christ can arise with no awareness of such matters. The Spirit can work in the life of people apart from awareness of such reasoning. However, theology cannot avoid dealing with these questions. Theology needs to explore the basis and foundation for the rise of faith in Jesus as Christ, Logos, Son, and Lord. When theology explores these matters, it does not supplant faith or the work of the Spirit, but rather explores the foundation of their work.

I want to consider the possibility that Christology from below shows that the confession of the church is a relevant expression of the significance of the word, deed, and fate of Jesus in terms of an implication and development of his life that legitimately sees that he came from God and the basis of his life was in God. The incarnation is a pertinent development of the meaning hinted at, suggested in, and implied through, the life, message, and fate of the man, Jesus of Nazareth.

            As we consider the Incarnation, we need to take the word seriously. Divinity and humanity meet on friendly turf in Jesus. In this way, we can take seriously the transcendence and the immanence of God toward which the Trinity points us. The Son experiences humanity and divinity fully in emotion, suffering, and death. Divinity and humanity struggle, weep, love, become angry, suffer, and die, in Jesus. In fact, I might suggest that we see divinity precisely in the Son who served, became weak, loved, suffered, and died. The Christian view of God needs to consider seriously the openness to risk that the Trinity takes in the Son becoming incarnate. In what we might consider an unusual path for God to take, the Trinity has fully embraced human emotion, suffering, and death Jesus. God became vulnerable in the Incarnation. For many monotheists, the difficulty of saying that the Jesus suffered and died as the divine Son is nonsense. I do not know how Christians can legitimately escape this. Historically, Jesus deflects focus from him and directs people to offer praise and worship of the Father, thereby becoming a model for Christian behavior. When the Son became a specific man, in a specific nation, in a specific family, the Son came home. Humanity is not foreign to the Trinity, for in the Son, the Trinity had already embraced humanity. We need to take our cue from Paul in Romans 5. Christ fulfills the intention of God for humanity. What God intends for the world and what humanity can become reach their fulfillment in Jesus.

            When we think about the Incarnation, we need to begin with an understanding of creation. God made all that is through the Son. Creation bears the image of God, and humanity does so in a unique way. God made humanity in such a way as to receive a word from God. Yet, humanity has marred that image, even if humanity has not destroyed it. Now, I suppose God could have simply destroyed humanity and started over, so that the universe would flow in accordance with the will and purpose of God. Instead, God chose to love that which God made. The height of that love was in the sending of the Son. The divine Son became human, so that he might lift humanity toward what God intends for humanity. Christ restored the image of God marred by Adam and in him by all humanity. In fact, we can say that the purpose of God now is to restore humanity and the whole creation to what God intends. We see the patience of God in working with independent creatures who often struggle for their autonomy from God.

            First, concerning our understanding of humanity, a Christology from below recognizes that humanity orients itself toward God, and toward that which is beyond individuality and human community. The human predicament is universal, in that all human beings experience alienation from each other, from self, and from the meaning of life. The human desire for reconciliation of such alienation is also universal. Christology from below suggests that God has shown the fullness, health, and wholeness of humanity in Jesus. I do not mean to assume that which I hope to prove. Rather, our understanding of humanity as oriented toward that which is beyond humanity meets a friend in the understanding of God who has also turned toward humanity in Jesus. The special relation between Jesus and the Father whom he proclaimed embraces all humanity, which then raises the question of the deity of Jesus.

Second, concerning God, human beings have the distinction of a special relationship to God. The relation to God is an explicit theme inasmuch as we differentiate God from human life and any finite thing. This suggests that any human life will find its most full happiness, meaning, and development, in the development of a relationship with God. Human beings have consciousness and self-consciousness. Things and beings are finite and distinguished from other things. Yet, always related to them is our reflection upon the Infinite. Our human awareness is a transcendent awareness that rises above the finitude of objects. In grasping finite objects in their distinction, we are also aware of the Infinite as the condition of their knowledge and existence. Our orientation is toward God. We are inescapably religious beings.

One way to understand the appearance of Jesus is as the completion of the intention of God in creation. The incarnation is the free, unmerited, unique, and supreme fulfillment of what humanity means. Recognizing that humanity continues to reject Jesus is enough to suggest that it is not obvious that Jesus completes humanity. Human sin represents a sufficient alienation from the intention of God to help us understand this reaction. It also suggests that Jesus does not simply express essential humanity, but also discloses who God is. The community between God and Jesus determines the course of the life of Jesus and his sense of connection with the purpose of God. This universal relevance of Jesus we see in the way God is present in the historical form of Jesus.

The particularity of Jesus becomes the basis for the Christian understanding of a new humanity. Christ sheds light on the original situation of Adam and therefore on our human nature and destiny in relation to God. This biblical foundation is the basis for our consideration of Christology from below, in which we consider the historical particularity of the public work of Jesus and seek there his universal significance for the race and a basis for confession of his deity. The God revealed in Jesus as redeemer of humanity is the same God who created the world and the human race. In this sense, the work of healing and wholeness through Jesus is an expression of the faithfulness of God toward humanity. This typology between Christ and Adam had potential for development in Christian theology toward consideration of the evaluating the human uniqueness of Jesus as a medium of the revelation of who God is.

Jesus becomes the origin of a new humanity made anew in his image by participation in his obedience, death, and resurrection. Participation in Christ means being changed into his likeness. The link between Adam and Jesus is that the consequence of the sin of Adam in the sin of humanity meets the gift of grace that brings justification. The orientation of the mission of Jesus is toward the wholeness and fulfillment of those under the domination of sin and death. The issue is the obedient suffering of Jesus. The Father had in mind the fulfillment of humanity. It was also the will and work of the Son, as in Rom. 5:6 and Gal. 2:20. In reality, theology needs to evaluate the orientation of the obedient suffering of Jesus to the wholeness of humanity within the context of the message and activity of Jesus that led him to the cross. Theology needs to accept responsibility for showing the connection between the public ministry and fate of Jesus with the wholeness of humanity. In this sense, theology accepts responsibility for showing the interest of God in humanity. The human concern for happiness, meaning, and fulfillment has a partner in God.

To begin with, we need to understand Jesus in the context of his people. Jesus came to move the people of the covenant to conversion to God. The question Jesus posed was the question of how seriously Judaism would take the first commandment: You shall have no other gods before me. For Jesus, this meant placing God above any religious tradition. Jesus and his message met with rejection from his people. The basis for this rejection and its connections with the trial of Jesus needs careful consideration. Out of rejection, passion, cross, and death, we find God overruling it all, bringing good out of evil. Further, through this rejection, the first Christians brought the message of the wholeness of life through Jesus to the Gentile world. He received the title of Messiah, although it needed revision when linked to the one crucified. The confession of Jesus as the Messiah corresponds to the mission of Jesus toward the people of the covenant. He brought the message of the imminence of the rule of God and the righteousness of God. The messianic character of the ministry of Jesus had the orientation of renewing and deepening of the relation of Israel to the God who initiated their covenant. For the first Christians, within the theological context of Israel, no room existed for any other Messiah that the one declared in the resurrection. For these first Christians, the messianic hope of Israel merged with the image of the suffering servant and the crucified Son. Israel could have no other Messiah beside Jesus. By faith in the Crucified, the nations will come to worship the God of Israel as the one and only God. Israel rejected this message because in its theological development, the messianic hope arose as an attempt to overcome suffering.

By depicting Jesus as the fulfillment of humanity God intended in creation and thus in Adam, Paul expressed the universal significance of the person and history of Jesus in the light of Easter. Paul showed the oneness of Jesus with sinful humanity and through the resurrection to begin a new humanity as the last Adam. This significance extends beyond Israel as the people of the covenant. Paul also brought wisdom language of Judaism to express the cosmic significance of Christ and the continuity between the creative act of God and the redemptive purpose of God fulfilled in Jesus. Paul did not use the concept of the Messiah to achieve this end. For Paul, Jesus is the Messiah who exercises power through his vicarious suffering for human sins. In the process, Jesus changed the Jewish hope in the consciousness of his disciples and opened that hope up to the reconciliation of the Gentile world with Israel and its God.

Jesus viewed himself as the one through whom the nearness of God came into the world in a unique and universal way. The incarnation of the Son in the form of Jesus means that this man is the Son and was so throughout his life. In the light of Easter, Jesus has personal identity as the Son from eternity, as well as throughout his life. The self-emptying and self-humbling of the Son is an expression of his deity, rather than a limitation of deity. The sending of the Son has the purpose of bringing wholeness to humanity. The sending of the Son aims at the reconciliation of the world to God. We may dare to view the Incarnation as the emptying of God and the completion of humanity.

We need to note the connection between the sending of the Son to bring wholeness and the function of the Messiah to bring fellowship and renewal of the people of the covenant. The covenant of God with Israel had the aim of being light to the world. The universal relevance of the Jewish tradition of divine justice found expression in the righteous will of God shown in the cross. This led to the theological reflection that the Law as a separator between Jew and Gentile ended, since the Law was a historically contingent feature of the covenant God established with the people. The central theme for the faith of Israel was divine law. The messianic hope stood in service of the actualizing divine law. The election of Israel was the basis of its commitment to divine justice. Based on the prophets, the aim of the election of Israel was that it should proclaim the righteous will of God to the nations. The election of Israel serves the will of God on behalf of the human race as a whole. It serves the kingdom of God in the world, as in Isaiah 42:1f. However, as Israel preserved its legal traditions and observed the Law in practice, the Law became a sign of difference and separation between Israel and the Gentiles. The righteous will of God needed to become universally binding to fulfill the hope of the prophets, whereas Jewish practice guarded the Law for itself. The universally valid content of Jewish faith tradition lays in the link between fellowship with God and human fellowship, which becomes the witness of Israel to the nations. Jesus wanted to break free the universally valid content of the Law from the burden of encrustations. He also wanted to break through the messianic hopes and ideas of the people. Jesus criticized the traditions. Since he was not the hoped for political leader, he met with opposition. By relating the messianic idea to the cross, the risen Lord could show himself the Messiah of all people, the Son who wills to unite all people to himself and through himself to God.

We need to discover the contours of the divine Son in the human history of Jesus. We need to show how one can perceive the Son in the reality of the human history of Jesus. The deity of Jesus is not an addition to his human life. The deity is the reflection that the human relation of Jesus to the Father casts on his life, even as it illumines the essence of God. Further, the assuming of human life by the Son does not add something alien to deity. We can make some sense of the divine contours of the life of Jesus if we also assume some community between the divine and the human that make this possible. We need to show the way Jesus fulfills human destiny and delivers us from the confusion introduced by sin. The Son fulfills his deity in Jesus and fulfills human destiny. The relation of Jesus to the Father is the way we decide in what sense he partakes of deity as Son of the Father, the God of Israel.

            The question Christians in a modern context is that, based upon what we can know about Jesus, is their any basis that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of his Father, and therefore shares in the deity of his Father? If we are open to the possibility that the New Testament is right in what it affirms about Jesus, I want to suggest that we do find such a foundation.

First, I would like to consider the relationship of Jesus to his Father in his public ministry, and see if we can see in it the contours of the divine. In doing so, I begin with the content of his message.

The rule of God in human life was the dominant theme of his life. He shared with the people of Israel the expectation of the rule of God. His difference with apocalyptic literature is that it developed notions of the coming of a new age, of world judgment, and of the coming of the Son of Man to judgment. Jesus preferred to speak of the hope of the rule of God.


Restore our judges as in former times, and our counselors as at the beginning; remove from us sorrow and sighing; reign over us, O Lord, You alone, in loving-kindness and tender mercy, and clear us in judgment. Blessed art thou, O Lord, the King who loves righteousness and judgment. (11th of the Eighteen Benedictions).


Exalted and hallowed be his great name

  In the world which he created according to his will.

May he let us kingdom rule

  In your lifetime and in your days and in the lifetime

  Of the whole house of Israel, speedily and soon.

And to this, say: amen. (Qaddish Prayer)


He differed with John the Baptist on this point, for John focused upon the imminence of judgment, whereas Jesus focused on the coming of divine rule, and on the health, healing, and wholeness that rule will bring. In a symbolic way, we find Jesus leaving the desert, the place where John called his followers to escape judgment, and returning to the towns and villages of Galilee.

A tension existed within Israel between those loyal to the covenant institutions of Davidic king, priesthood, and temple as over against the prophetic tradition that the people of the covenant had come under divine judgment. The Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist, the Teacher and Qumran, and Jesus, all suggested the possibility that God was ready to do something new that would bring the covenant at Sinai and the covenant with David to fulfillment and therefore to a close. For Jesus, the coming of the rule of God meant a saving future for those who set their hope on this coming divine rule. For people who have this trust or faith, the promised wholeness of human life became active in the present.

We need to see this present participation in salvation, in its relation to the proclamation and work of Jesus, in terms of the meaning of his intimation of the rule of God. Jesus referred to the rule of God as coming in the future, and this future itself is the basis of the possibility of that future of God breaking into our world in the present. The ministry of Jesus oriented itself to the imminent rule of God. He urged people to give this imminent rule of God priority over all other human duties and concerns. The basis for this priority is the first commandment to have no other gods before Yahweh and the uniqueness of the God of Israel. This God was “jealous” in refusing to allow Israel to accommodate worshipping the God of Abraham, Moses, and David to the practices of worshipping other gods. Jesus referred to loving God with all one’s mind, heart, soul, and strength, a text in Deuteronomy 6:4-5 that rests on the uniqueness of Yahweh. He also suggested that we should seek the kingdom of God first in Matthew 6:33. The uniqueness of the God who comes to rule excludes all competing concerns. God already comes with this rule to those who open themselves to this invitation by Jesus. The rule of God is imminent, emerging from the future to the present. The coming rule of God works itself out in the present life of people who respond to the invitation of Jesus to love God and to seek the kingdom first. The same God who offered covenant relationship to Abraham, then offered another covenant to the Hebrew Tribes at Sinai, and then offered another covenant through David, also inspired the prophets to look forward to a new covenant that would fulfill the intention of the previous covenants. The oneness and uniqueness of this God also offers the expectation of the rule of God through Jesus, providing the basis of the present claim upon those hear the message.

The presence of the rule of God allows believers to participate in the promised wholeness and fulfillment of human life. When Jesus participated in table fellowship with all sorts of persons, he anticipates the future banquet that Jewish tradition associated with the future rule of God. Although the people of the covenant stand under the threat of judgment, the offer of participation now in the saving future proclaimed by Jesus demonstrated the love of God that seeks the lost, as well as the goodness of God that causes the sun to shine on the good and the bad. In the series of parables that open Luke 15, we find the goodness of God becoming saving love and bringing joy to God at the saving of the lost. Forgiving love reaches its goal in this joy. Those who accept the message are no longer outcasts. They share in the wholeness of human life that the rule of God brings. The barrier that separates from God is sin. The presence of the rule of God and participation in its work of wholeness and healing include remission of sins and overcoming of the sin that separates us from God. When Jesus turned toward tax gatherers and sinners, he makes it clear that he includes sinners in this new community who place their trust in the coming rule of God. The table fellowship of Jesus is the most striking expression of the message of the saving love of God.

The work of Jesus mediates the love of God that shows itself in the nearness of the rule of God as present saving work. Hearers need to say Yes to the movement of the love of God as it aims at incorporating individuals and the whole world. We have fellowship with God and in the rule of God as we share in the movement that expresses the love of God. The command to love God and to love neighbor stands over against the Jewish tradition as a critical principle. The Law and its strict fulfillment is no longer the criterion of faithfulness to the covenant, for Jesus found a new basis for the meaning of faithfulness to the God of covenant. Jesus knew that in shifting the criterion he was in agreement with God. He also knew himself as the mediator of the inbreaking of the rule and the forgiving love of God. Such awareness gave him confidence to oppose the tradition received from Moses, trusting that in the process he was in harmony with the will of God. The offense Jesus caused to many of his contemporaries was similar to the offense caused by Jeremiah as he proclaimed a new covenant. One does not need a new covenant unless the old covenant has failed. Jesus caused offense to devout Jews. He is person became the subject of violent controversies between adherents and opponents.

A second basis for perceiving in Jesus the contours of deity is the unity of Jesus with the Father as a point of contention in his life. I want to consider the person of Jesus at this point.

Modern biblical exegesis has shown that although the followers of Jesus worked through theological grounding for the divinity of Jesus, Jesus himself avoided speaking about himself or avoided providing theological material for identifying who he was in light of Jewish tradition. Jesus treated identification of himself with Jewish eschatological and apocalyptic expectations with caution. He did so with good reason. The Messiah had political connotations that did not relate to the mission and message of Jesus. The Son of Man was a future heavenly judge. Although he may have had some intimation that the Servant of the Lord described in Isaiah 53 may describe his mission and ministry, he does not appear to have accepted the title. Yet, his claim to mediate the future rule of God in the present made his person an issue, whether he wanted it or not. Frankly, such a claim arouses suspicion that he was arrogating to himself authority and power, when in fact any authority or power rested in God. The fact that Jesus avoided titles like that of Messiah suggests the genuineness of his claim to focus on the nearness of the rule of God and the fatherly love of God.

Jesus was conscious of intimate sonship as a unique and distinctive relationship to the Father. He may have anticipated vindication of his life beyond his death. He claimed inspiration through the Spirit of God, a prophet anointed by God to announce that the good news of the nearness of the rule of God. He may well have spoken as envoy of the wisdom of God. One might suggest that later New Testament reflection on the significance of Jesus is a reasonable meditation and reflection on this sense of sonship and his sense of being prophet of the nearness of the rule of God.

The ambivalence of the human history of Jesus helps us to understand the offense directed to him personally. Others took offense at his table fellowship. Others took offense at his claim to forgive sins. In Q Luke 7:23 he calls blessed those who do not take offense at him. The gospel accounts in which Jesus stopped people from magnifying his person may contain traces of realization by Jesus that he was aware of the ambivalence into which his message thrust him and that he tried to counteract it. The future rule of God is present in him and through him. The gospel of John mentions charges by opponents that Jesus equated himself with God. The ambivalence of the appearance of Jesus would require some sort of confirmation from God that did not come during his ministry. A. Ritschl proposed that in the passion of Jesus we find an expression of faithfulness to the calling of God. However, if one misses the implication that the immanence of the rule of God invited a response of faith, and instead one focuses attention upon the person making such a claim, we can then understand the assessment that Jesus arrogantly assumed authority and power to himself. In that light, the warning of judgment that God would destroy the temple, consistent with Jeremiah, and the accompanying symbolic action of the cleansing of the temple, become the immediate reason for his arrest by Jewish authorities. The denial of Jesus by Peter supports the account of a night hearing in the palace of the high priest. Historically, we do not have enough information to say whether the hearing ended in formal condemnation or whether they handed Jesus to Roman authorities only as sufficiently suspect of sedition and heresy. The prophecy of Jesus concerning the destruction of the Temple suggested intolerable arrogance on the part of Jesus. The reason for the prophecy, however, was the refusal of Israel to return to the God of the covenant in answer to the message of Jesus. Yet, the prophecy and symbolic action of Jesus relating to the Temple anticipated the future restoration of Israel. Paul also affirmed that the God of Israel stood by the election of the people in spite of their taking offense at Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus gives confirmation to the self-perception of Jesus as united to his Father in giving his message of the nearness of the rule of God and expresses the faithfulness of God to the election of the people. For Paul, the cross does not end the election of Israel.

The offense taken at the message and conduct of Jesus was not accidental. It arose out of the ambivalence into which the message of Jesus thrust his person. The relation of his crucifixion to the results of the offense forms the basis of the saving significance of the cross. Based on his message, we note the link between ambivalence regarding his person and the resultant offense in many rejecting him, the arrest, and handing him over to Pilate for condemnation as a rebel. Such consequences flow from the intention of God in sending Jesus in the form that the Son appeared.

Third, the Father confirms the word and deed of Jesus through the resurrection, thereby clarifying the divine contours of the history of Jesus and revealing his divinity. I would suggest that Christology would not develop had it not been for the resurrection.

As important as the resurrection of Jesus is, the resurrection is not an isolated event. Rather, it refers back to the history of Jesus of Nazareth, who proclaimed the nearness of the rule of God, gave offense to his adversaries as a deceiver and seducer, and whom his adversaries handed over for execution to the Romans. God cancelled the human offense by receiving Jesus. God confirmed the claim implicit in the message of Jesus that the imminent rule of God that Jesus proclaimed was about to break in, and was already doing so for those who trusted his message. The resurrection determines the meaning of the history of Jesus and his relation to his Father. Therefore, the resurrection of Jesus carries its own meaning as welcoming Jesus to a new life with God. The question is what kind of event is resurrection?

v     The use of the word “resurrection” is the language of metaphor, even if it refers to a real event. The new life to which resurrection refers is eschatological and eternal and is life in the full sense, as over against the limited human experience of life.

v     The roots of the idea of resurrection and eternal life have their foundation in Jewish eschatological hope.  The prophetic emphasis we find in Jeremiah and Ezekiel on the individual is the represented a break with the older version of the solidarity of Israel as people of the covenant. Jewish eschatology arrived at the idea of future reward or punishment for good or bad deeds that do not produce appropriate fruits in this life. Daniel 12:2 refers to the resurrection of some to life and others to judgment. The concept arose out of the problems of theodicy, the justice of God, and its demonstration in the lives of individuals. For the first Christians, the resurrection of the righteous one, Jesus, is a resurrection to the coming rule of God, eternal life, and eschatological life.

v     The first Christians interpreted what God did in raising Jesus from the dead in the conceptual context of the Jewish eschatological expectation. Therefore, what they saw did not suggest to them a ghost or one who had come back to earthly life. Rather, it was the Lord, as the disciples recognized Jesus through their sharing in his life and work up to the days of his going to Jerusalem and his arrest.

v     At the same time, when the first Christians applied the future resurrection to Jesus, they altered in a profound way the Jewish expectation of future resurrection. Jewish expectation of the end did not include the resurrection of one person before the end. Christians suggested that end-time events began in the resurrection of Jesus, even though Christians continued to expect a general resurrection of those who respond in trust and faith in Jesus. This means that the confirmation of the Christian message also awaits the future verification. Of course, this truth is part of the human condition. Any truth human beings think they have is still human truth, and therefore conditioned by the time and space, the history and culture, within which one perceives the truth. Human truth is always open to its power to continue convincing and persuading of the minds and hearts of those who believe it. In this sense, the conviction that God finds individuality so worthwhile and full of dignity that God will preserve individuality in eternal life awaits the future for its confirmation.

v     We need to consider the possibility that the Jewish expectation of a general resurrection of the dead is a hope that applies to the human race.

v     The basis for the factual possibility of the resurrection of Jesus is the appearances of the risen Lord to the disciples. We find the earliest account in the I Corinthians 15, in which Paul identifies the appearance of Jesus to him as on equal foundation with Peter, James, the disciples, the apostles, and the 500 brothers and sisters. These accounts suggest visionary experiences that we encounter in other contexts as hallucinations. The appearance of the Lord from heaven described in Galatians 1:16 suggests that resurrection and ascension form a single event in exaltation, as we find in Philippians 2:9. Further, the disciples in Jerusalem appear to consider Paul their equal, based on the appearance of Jesus to Paul. Many persons who have studied the evidence consider it an historical fact that these persons had visions of Jesus. The question of whether resurrection is the proper explanation for what they saw is a question of one’s view of the world. If one views apocalyptic as the intellectual framework for the disciples, it becomes easier to understand how they would view the reason for the appearance. God raised Jesus from the dead. The discovery of the empty tomb may be an old local Jerusalem tradition and part of the early narrative of the passion. Any early references to an empty tomb in debates between Jews and Christians had a common recognition that the tomb was empty. Their contention was over why it was empty. Given the contemporary beliefs concerning resurrection, people would assume the emptiness of the tomb. One can assume the tenable character of the Christian message of resurrection only with the emptiness of the tomb. In debates between Jews and Christians, no one contested the emptiness of the tomb. The link between resurrection and corporeality was strong, especially in relation to one recently deceased. The idea of resurrection apart from the resurrection was not present in this period. Today, we should assume the emptiness of the tomb. However, since one could explain the emptiness of the tomb in a variety of ways, Paul rightly focused on the appearances as proof of the resurrection. The emptiness has no importance on its own. However, the emptiness of the tomb moves the Christian understanding of the resurrection away from hallucinations and superficial spiritualization. Even so, the nature of the new life into which God raised Jesus is a genuinely new reality foreshadowing the future rule of God.

v     The thesis that the dead Jesus of Nazareth came to a new life implies a claim to historicity. Even if we affirm a transition into a new and imperishable life with God, the event took place in a human world. This statement assumes that the event does not have to be like other events in history. Theologically, this affirmation suggests God has overcome death through this new life with God has actually occurred in this human world and history. As with other historical events, it has a contingent and debatable character. Christians will need to relax with this contingency, for the debatable character of the resurrection of Jesus will not end until the rule of God becomes universal. Our preconceived notions affect our judgment concerning historicity, in that one would need to leave open the possibility that resurrection can happen, and then evaluate evidence accordingly. However, most historians operate with a common sense of reality that assumes historical events are one time and unique events.

            What does the resurrection mean in terms of divine confirmation of the life Jesus lived? We need to assume that the resurrection has retroactive force, disclosing the divine contours of the life of Jesus precisely at the points of controversy with his contemporaries.

            In terms of the accusations brought against Jesus, he was not blaspheming God. He differentiated himself from God by subordinating himself to the Father so that he might the lordship of the Father by all that he did. In this way, he gave the Father the honor that all creatures owe God as the one God. In this self-distinction from the Father by subordination to the royal rule of the Father, and in service to it, is he the Son. He is righteous before God as the Son of the Father.

In terms of questions concerning whether he is the Messiah, the resurrection says that he is not the Messiah in the sense of a political ruler and therefore in the sense of the charge of revolt against Roman domination. He had nothing to do with restoration of political independence or establishing supremacy among the nations. The early church re-interpreting the concept in terms of the suffering obedience of the one crucified. His ministry had a messianic character in the sense of renewing and deepening Isaiah's relation to God. Jesus liberated the one true God from the historically conditioned images of land, law, and temple.  This constitutes the messianic character of Jesus.  The history of Jesus had the result of freeing the messianic hope of Israel for the whole of humanity.  He became Messiah of all humanity, Son of God, who unites all people to himself, and therefore to God.

            In terms of the implied claim by Jesus that the future of God is present in and by him, the resurrection says this is not human arrogance. Already in his ministry, he acted on the authority of the Father, so that the royal rule of the Father was indeed present in him. Jesus was the Son of the Father in the life he lived. We can appreciate the birth and baptism of Jesus as disclosure of who Jesus as Son only in light of the resurrection.

            In terms of the message of Jesus concerning the imminent quality of the rule of God, the resurrection says that for Jesus himself the final salvation of the rule of God became a reality with his resurrection from the dead. The delay of the return of Jesus was not a disappointment in the early church because the salvation offered through the risen Lord and the Spirit had already become a certainty for believers. The accent of the preaching of the church rightly shifted to present fellowship with the Lord, now present in the church through the Spirit. The reconciliation and redemption enacted in the death and resurrection of Jesus replaced the theme of urgency in the message of Jesus.

            All of this suggests that God is from all eternity the One whom Jesus proclaimed him to be. The life Jesus lived provides the definitive revelation of the Father turning toward the world in love. Christians find here the clearest affirmation of divine love in the appearance of the divine within a human world. This coming of the divine, far from being royal and powerful, was humble and non-coercive. God accepted responsibility for caring for the humanity by giving up absolute notions of divine sovereignty and chose reveal, “God is love” through the works of love. Christians legitimately see here boundless love that led to self-sacrifice, a work of love at boundless cost and pain, for the reconciliation of a world dominated by destructive forces. God does not simply look upon the suffering of humanity from a distance. God has entered into fellowship with human suffering, and at infinite cost, has taken this suffering world into the heart of God. Christians cannot think of the Father apart from the Son. Such reflections lead us to the realization that Jesus of Nazareth is the incarnation of the pre-existent Son. However, we can only think of this eternal relation of the Father to the Son in light of the life Jesus lived. The exaltation of Jesus in the resurrection has priority over the concept of pre-existence, but they are closely connected. The idea seems inescapable if we assert the fellowship of Jesus with the eternal God. It also seems inescapable when we link the eternal identity of the Father whom Jesus proclaimed and the relation to Jesus as the Son. The risk the Father took in sending the Son was to make the relation of deity to a man constitutive for the eternal identity of God. This also means that the man involved in that relation is eternal. Pre-existence statements in the New Testament have a vague formulation the required theological reflection until the fourth century to bring out their implication. Combined with statements of divine sonship at the birth and baptism of Jesus, we find that all such statements become possible in the light of the divine confirmation of Jesus in the resurrection.

            Christians today easily forget that one element of the uniqueness of Jesus rested on his unconditional subordination of his person to the lordship of God that he proclaimed. He differentiated himself as a mere man from the Father. He subjected himself to the claim of the coming divine rule, just as he invited his hearers to do. He even rejected the title “good Master” because God alone is good (Mark 10:18). In this subordination to the rule of the one God is he the Son. As he gave his life in service to the rule of God over creation, he is as man the Son of the eternal Father. Death exposed his finitude in contrast to the eternity of the Father. The resurrection revealed that he did not deserve the death of the sinner. This means he suffered in our place as sinners. Dying the death of a sinner, Jesus suffered the fate that he did not deserve, but that his accusers deserved, and with them, all those who reject the divine claim upon their lives that Jesus proclaimed. The resurrection reversed the charges against Jesus and confirmed his mission. Jesus chose to have his mission consume his life, and therefore as a man be one with God. He did not cling to his life, but chose to accept the ambivalence that his mission meant for his person, with all its consequences, he showed himself to be obedient to his mission. The remoteness from God on the cross was the climax of his self-distinction from the Father. This self-distinction of Jesus from the Father is self-emptying and self-humbling along the lines of the early Christian hymn in Philippians 2:6-11. The man of obedience to God is distinct from the sin of Adam, who wanted to be like God and thus forfeited the fellowship with God for which God intended. This self-distinction of the eternal Son from the Father is the basis of all individual life in its distinction from God. The Son moved out of the unity of the deity and became human. However, in so doing he actively expressed his divine essence as the Son. The self-emptying of the pre-existent one is not a surrender of deity as the Son, but the activation of that deity. Therefore, the end of the path of obedience in the cross is the revelation of his deity. The self-emptying and self-humbling of the Son is primarily an expression of the self-giving of the Son to the Father in an obedience that desires nothing for self but serves totally the glorifying of God and the coming of the kingdom. Through this self-distinction of Son from the Father, God draws near to us. This self-distinction is an expression of the divine love, for we attain to our health, wholeness, and fulfillment as human beings in the closeness of God to us and in our participation in the life of God.

            When we understand the union of Father and Son as clarified in the resurrection, it allows us to consider that this union continued throughout the life Jesus lived as the Son took shape in him. With the development of his human life, a relationship to the Father developed with increasing depth and with it his divine sonship. Jesus was always the Son of the Father, but only his suffering made him perfect in sonship. We know this about Jesus only because of the light the resurrection throws upon his path of obedience. Human beings share a connection with God through their creation in the image of God. The pre-existent Son, in the incarnation, did not come to an alien essence, but rather to his own possession. The nature of the Logos finds expression in all creation, but especially in human beings, we can distinguish God from ourselves, so that the self-distinction of the Son from the Father can take shape in us. In this sense, we can think in terms of wider application of images such as that of Son, Messiah, and Logos.

            Christology needs to embrace the diversity contained in the New Testament. The primary struggle in the development of Christology in the New Testament was to maintain Jewish monotheism while being faithful to what the first Christians experienced in the risen Lord and the life-giving Spirit. The Jewish context of the Word, the Spirit, the angel of the Lord, and Wisdom, provided material for the first Christians to reflect on Christology. The experience of Jesus as Son of the Father and his awareness of his connection to the nearness of the rule of God provided the context in the ministry of Jesus for Christological reflection. The introduction of the Adam and Christ typology and Christ as Wisdom by Paul became the foundation for later Christological reflection. Jesus as Son of God, Messiah, Lord, and especially the Logos were reasonable developments in Christology. I will grant that an advantage of Logos Christology is its potential for stressing the unity between God and Logos. The introduction of the Son of God introduced distinction between Father and Son where maintaining unity became difficult. However, later development of the Trinity wanted to find ways of maintaining unity and distinction in God.

            We can think of the Incarnation as expressing something profoundly true abut human life in notions of reconciliation, love, peace, giving, suffering for others, and love for enemies that expresses the human need for fulfillment. The Incarnation expresses the interest of God in humanity. The incarnation is no alien thing. For human beings who experience alienation from God, and thus alienation from their source and destiny, the incarnation may feel alien. Human beings can no longer fulfill their destiny on their own strength. The incarnation is a reminder that as we rise above our present sinful condition through the Spirit, and accept our distinction from God, we can allow the relation of the Son to the Father to take shape in us. Individuals can have fellowship with God in this distinction from God and in the humble and obedient acceptance of this distinction, just as the Son demonstrated in the life Jesus lived. The origin of human nature in the Logos provides the condition of the possibility of the incarnation as the union of one individual life with deity. Only in distinction from the deity of the Father can we speak of a participation in it. The mediation of the participation of the humanity of Jesus in the deity of the Logos by the relation of Jesus to the Father means that the mutual indwelling of Son in the life Jesus lived and of his humanity and lowliness in the deity of the Son, all of which takes place in the process of his history. The human nature of Jesus shares in the deity of the Logos through the mediation of self-distinction from God. The life Jesus lived shares in all the human limitations, needs, and sufferings that a human form of life entails. In the death of Jesus, the deity reached the extreme point of the self-distinction from the Father by which the Son also relates to the Father in such a way that not even death could hold his humanity.

            In Christmas, Christians celebrate God become a human being, another way to express the intent of the wisdom and Logos Christology. God has not abandoned the self-centered humanity. Rather, God has identified with sinful humanity in Christ, so that the creative power of God has its highest expression in the personal relationship of self-giving love that was the heart of the life and teaching of Jesus. The fullest expression of the word of God is the life Jesus lived, with all its ambiguity and historical contingency. In Easter, Christians celebrate God become human in terms of the Adam and Christ typology and the presence of the life-giving Spirit. In the death and resurrection of Christ, God has broken the stranglehold of human selfishness, has proved the enduring and conquering strength of divine love, and has overcome the weakness of the flesh to crown this man Lord of all. In Pentecost, Christians celebrate that the Easter hope extends to a reality and process in which persons share now. God in Jesus Christ has proved to be self-communicating love and that as such is permanently among humanity in the Holy Spirit.

            Through the incarnation of the Son, the deity of the Trinity shows itself to the world. The incarnation of the Son is the means of actualizing the royal rule of the Father in the world. Any God unable to achieve lordship over the world God created would not be God or creator in the full sense of the word. The rule of the Father is through the Son and the Spirit. However, the independence of the world from God hampers recognition of that lordship. God has made the world independent and the goal of God in creation seems to be genuine independence. This independence gives the impression of the world operating so automatically that we do not need the thought of God in order to understand the world. In particular, as the supreme embodiment of this independence, human beings seek explanation of their world. This actualization of the rule of God with the coming of the Son is present to others and becomes a force that determines their lives and fills their lives with meaning, wholeness, and fulfillment of the purpose of God. We might think of the actualization of the rule of God and the reconciliation of the world as two sides of the same coin. This defines the purpose of the sending of the Son. The future of God is already present in the world through him. The Son opens access to our wholeness and completion of the intention of God by participating now in that future. The deity of the Father depends on the success of the mission of the Son. The Father suffers with the suffering of the Son. The rejection the Son experiences put the lordship of the Father in question as well. The Son actualizes the royal rule of the Father. The sending of the Son by the Father suggests the absence of the Father except through the Son. We see the love of the creator in the gift of genuinely independent life. We also see fatherly care in their preservation. Yet, the Father is absent for individuals as they grow into independence.

            Secular culture senses this absence. Human beings are aware of their independence and rely upon it, experiencing the power of God only as a limit to their ability to manipulate and control their future. The absence and hiddenness of God is the judgment given to human beings when it emancipates itself from God and trusts fully in its finite resources to determine its own future. I will grant that God remains the Lord of those who turn aside from God. However, the judgment that sinners cannot escape expresses the impotence of the Father who gave life. The Son takes on human form in order that his message of the future rule of the Father might be present to the world for healing and wholeness rather than judgment. The Son glorifies the Father in the world and completes the work of creation.

            The place of the experience of divine absence was in the statement from the cross, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” The Son suffered the fate of sinners. The absence of God as deliverer means that the drive of individuals toward autonomy from God will experience its own consequences. Jesus died the death of sinners because of the ambivalence of the life he lived. As the Son, he suffered the absence of the Father more profoundly than others do. Yet, in the light of resurrection, the Father has judged the world that rejected the Father in the Son. At the same time, the judgment of the Father in the cross becomes access to the fullness of human life. The absence of the Father in the cross is a factor in the Father becoming present for the world through the Son. We can see the fatherly love of God in the sending of the Son and the intent of God to bring healing and wholeness to humanity. As people come to this awareness, the Son actualizes the deity of the Father in the world and glorifies the Father. The Father sends the Son and the Spirit. The obedience of the Son and the work of the Spirit bring the self-actualization of the Trinitarian God in the world. In this case, the self is both subject and object of the actualizing. The self precedes the fulfillment of its own actualizing. The self to be actualized is also the subject of the action and as already actual. Parenthetically, this is not true of people, for we never experience identity of the subject and the result of the action, for we are always in process of becoming. We are on the way to the self and must move forward on this with our activity. In reference to the Trinitarian God, we may speak of the relation between the immanent and economic Trinity as that of self-actualization. The subject and result are the same. The reality the eternal fellowship of the Trinity achieves and the economy of its action in the world is the same thing.

            The future came already to those committed to the future of the royal rule of God announced by Jesus. The way God was present in Jesus was a way of actualizing the rule of God without oppression and with respect for the independence of the world. The extension of the rule of God among human beings requires the work of the Spirit as fulfillment of the mission of the Son. Everything in the conduct of the Son and work of the Spirit glorifies the Father. The resurrection of Jesus is the place where the Son and Spirit glorify the Father clearly. The life-giving work of the Spirit relates primarily to Jesus, even while it extends to other human beings and to the world. The Spirit brings human beings into filial relationship with the Father and Son. The aim is the reconciliation of the world with God.


The cross of Jesus has a debatable character as far as history is concerned. True, the death of Jesus occurred on a particular datable occasion. Yet, the point is that some people see this death has significance for human beings in every culture and in every time. The difference between the death of Socrates and the death of Jesus can be one of degree, thus becoming a sublime and noble martyrdom. While death for Socrates was a calm and rational activity, Jesus approached his death with agony and struggle. For still others, the cross is a demonstration of human love at its highest point that it becomes a demonstration of divine love. I grant that the death of Jesus is at least this. However, Christianity views the death of Jesus as far more.

How can we think of the death of Jesus as somehow affecting reconciliation or atonement? It seems to be an event of long ago that may be inspiring and interesting. Yet, how does it affect us? How could we possibly think of it as significantly altering our situation in the world? Did it even make any difference to the people who lived at the time of the crucifixion? How can the cross of Jesus be a saving event for us today? I know of no other religion that dares to suggest that human beings see God most clearly in one who died the death of a criminal. I suspect that for many persons, the nature of this death is a cause of objection to Jesus. Frankly, the basis of much Christian understanding of the cross has its foundation in a sacrificial system that modern people abandoned long ago as mythical. Can Christian teaching concerning the cross even be credible in a modern setting? The point is critical for Christian theology, for it makes the claim that the most fundament human concerns for salvation, happiness, meaning, and purpose are contingent upon a Jewish prophet in a minor Roman dependency around 30 AD.

Reconciliation aims at the human race as a whole. Reconciliation is as wide as creation. Potentially, the reach of reconciliation embraces all people. Frankly, if evil and sin are not a serious problem in the disruption of the relationship between humanity and God, then God has no need to save and the cross is a waste. What God does in Christ must deal with the profound depths of human alienation.

First, I want to show how the victory and the reconciliation that it accomplishes are relevant two thousand years after the event. I would relate this to the paradoxical character of any great creative event in history. It occurs at a given time in the past, and in that sense is once and for all. Yet, the more the event is creative, the more it is an event that is continually being made present in the experiences of those who have made it part of their history. Some events in history open up new possibilities of life. These possibilities remain open only so long as those who come after them in time appropriate them. New horizons take place: Nietzsche called them monumental, Heidegger authentic, repeatable possibilities, and Bultmann eschatological. Such events disclose human life or God, and continue in a way that such disclosure continues to take place. To believe in the cross of Christ is to make the cross of Christ our own. We relive the cross in our own experience in the sense of following Christ in his rejection of idolatry and his obedience to the demand for self-giving. The work of Christ is not tied to its moment in history. It expresses the continuous reconciling work of God. The cross has a revelatory and gracious character. In the work of Christ, we also see the life-giving work of the Holy Spirit. The cross shows grace, working in those whom it addresses and making possible their response of faith. The demonic continually threatens us. We must win the victory in our lives repeatedly that Christ already won on the cross by making the cross of Christ our own. Followers commit themselves in faith, rejecting the temptations toward idolatry and give themselves in love.

Second, I want to show how the work of Christ is extended to the wider life of humanity in general. I have already given a partial answer in the previous paragraph. In addition, sin is more than individual disobedience or disorientation. It has a social character. In the same way, reconciliation must aim at the human race as a whole. It must aim at the overcoming of sin in its communal dimensions. The sinlessness of Jesus as a teaching of the church refers to the overcoming and reversing of the tendency toward sin that operates in human community. As Jesus lived sacrificially, especially in embracing the cross, his final obedience was the complete self-giving of his own person.

Theological reflection on the death of Jesus takes place because of resurrection.  There is a prophetic structure to Christology, discovering the relevance of all humanity in the history of Jesus and anticipating the outcome of history.  Humanity is not yet reconciled within individuals, with each other, between cultures, or with God.  For this reason, the truth of the reconciliation that Jesus brings remains debatable and open to the future.  Believers know it, but they do not yet know its truth in world history.  Here is the missionary charge of the church: to persuade people in their hearts, minds, and lives that Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the ultimate revelation of God, and that we can have fellowship with God through him.

Yet, what is of interest is that people have seen depth in this event; they have seen it as revelatory and a vehicle for the activity of God. In that sense, it is not simply a datable event of history, but relates to the on-going activity of God in the world. Reconciliation is in all of the activity of God in the world. No historical event changes the attitude of God, turning an angry God into a gracious God. No historical event starts the reconciling work of God.

If we understand the cross, we understand the New Testament and we understand the present significance of Jesus for believers and for the church. The cross intensifies the unique and universal experience that Christians have of God through Jesus.


            The root sin is idolatry; it alienates us from who God intends us to be, from our neighbors, and from God. The worship of an idol gives it demonic power. It becomes the focus of a distorted interest or concern of humanity, and finally destroying the person who has given it allegiance.

Through the cross, we become aware of the gulf between God and humanity, and that God has spanned that gulf and sought its removal. Sin caused the separation. It represents the obstacle that separates humanity from God. Human beings suffer as a result of being close to God. Yet, our suffering often reflects a sense of the remoteness of God. Our guilt is so terrible because God is so near. The more we see that sin is sin against God, the more serious it becomes. The more we see it as sin against God, the more we recognize that our sin is irrevocable. Sin and guilt express the personal relation between God and humanity. As we develop intentionally our relationship with God, sin and guilt stand out even more to us. We recognize that we cannot construct the bridge across the chasm that separates God and humanity. God could not pretend the obstacle did not exist. Humanity cannot push the obstacle out of the way. However, forgiveness means the removal of the obstacle.

Good people forgive because they remember their own sin, because they know they have no right to judge others. It forms part of the morality of good people. If we take God seriously, we will forgive each other.

The preacher on Good Friday who urges us to look at the image of the crucified and say to ourselves, “I did that,” makes an important point about human nature. To learn to look at the world as an expression of who we are as human beings is to learn to confess sin, an important step we need on the path toward healing and wholeness. To learn to take upon oneself the evil in the world as an expression of the evil within us, is to learn the universal compassion toward which God leads humanity.

If God is to save us, it is because of grace.  Any joy and happiness we experience in this life and in the next is because of grace.  God has designed us to be like Christ; our lives reflect the life of Christ.  Sin is the reaction against the intention God had for human life and order. This moral character of God on behalf of humanity shows itself in the fact that disobedience on the part of humanity is always self-destructive.

The healing work of the cross in New Testament teaching

            It may take a particular historical event to bring into focus this reconciling activity of God. Christians view the cross as that crystallization of the saving, reconciling work of God. We cannot separate who Christ is from who Christ is for the world. The purpose of God in sending Jesus is the salvation of the world.


(John 3:17 NRSV)  "Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.


We cannot separate the question of the particularity of Jesus from the saving purpose of the word, deed, and fate of Jesus. We find the saving purpose of God in the uniqueness of Jesus. Yet, we cannot project onto Jesus the human interests or hopes for salvation, so that Jesus is nothing more than the exponent of our expectations. Jesus fulfills the universal hope of salvation. Therefore, Jesus attracts to himself all the different forms of this hope. In this way, the saving purpose of God is a function of who Jesus is, independent of historically shifting hopes of salvation. Jesus is the criterion in defining our understanding of salvation.

            The crucifixion presented a major problem to early Christian preaching.  "Anyone who hangs upon a tree is cursed," said the Mosaic Law.  How could Jesus be the coming Son of Man, the Messiah, the servant of the Lord? Early preaching came up with several explanations.  Religious leaders were rebellious.  The death was fulfillment of Is. 53 and Ps. 22.  Jesus was innocent of the charges and Jewish leaders misled Rome.  The silent and suffering Jesus became an example for believers.  The cross itself led to belief.  Paul was among the first to turn what was the greatest obstacle to Christian missionary preaching into the center of his preaching.  Except for the broad outlines, much of the narrative concerning the trial and crucifixion of Jesus is rooted in biblical and theological reflection and apologetics.  They also tell the story in such a way as the believer might enter the story and identify with it.

            We cannot separate the life of Jesus from his death. The whole life of Jesus constitutes the reconciling work of God. Christian theology tends to focus the reconciling and atoning work of Christ in the cross. This is appropriate. Yet, we cannot separate the cross from the life that the cross ended. In the New Testament, the writings of John stress the incarnation, the presence of God in the incarnate Word. Paul preaches Christ as crucified and risen, the human situation changing dramatically because of his death and resurrection. Some Greek authors almost equate incarnation and atonement. In the West, the death of Jesus atones. The passion narrative presents in an intensified form the same aspects of Christ that we find in his life. One motif is that of obedience, in which Jesus fulfills the divine will. Note Acts 2:23, in which Jesus is delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God. Note the agony in the garden, in which Jesus prays for the will of God to be done. The same submission we note throughout the theological interpretation that Mark and John give to the passion narrative. The other theme is that of self-giving. We notice this theme throughout the passion, but especially in the concept of the descent into hell. Still another theme is the gaze into the anticipation of future salvation. The death of Jesus, though the center of his work of salvation, is continuous with his life. His life had an ambiguous appearance, resulting in his death. We need to base Paul’s interpretation of the crucifixion of Jesus as an expression of the love of God upon the revelation of the love of God, as it was present already in the word and deed of Jesus.


(Rom 5:8 NRSV)  But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.


Later New Testament authors begin to make this shift, suggesting that God imparts salvation today, through the gospel.


(Eph 2:5 NRSV)  even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved-- (Eph 2:8 NRSV)  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God-- (Titus 3:4-7 NRSV)  But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, {5} he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. {6} This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, {7} so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.


We begin to make a shift to the present in the idea of participation today, though still with a reference to future consummation. At this point, later New Testament authors are closer to Jesus than is Paul. The rest of the witness of the New Testament does not share the sharp distinctions that Paul makes between reconciliation, justification, and future salvation.

Present salvation and the future judgment by God

            Our theological task is to unite salvation to the future of God, already present in Jesus, even though its fulfillment is still ahead of us. Further, our task is to show how we participate now in salvation, as Jesus mediates that salvation through the cross. Reconciliation with God through the death of Christ on the cross is the basis of the present form of Christian participation in salvation. Paul described it as justification and peace with God.

I will not enter into a lengthy discussion of the alternatives concerning the understanding of the cross. However, I will agree with Paul Tillich that some core principles are important. The cross depends upon the reconciling work of God. No conflict exists between this reconciling love and justice. God does not overlook guilt and punishment or the reality of human life. God participates in our estrangement and self-destructive consequences. God participates in them, transforms them, and brings transformation to these who participate in him through faith. The cross reveals the depth of alienation in human life. Forgiveness of sins is the negative side of salvation.  The positive side is accepting the lordship of Christ and the new life that decision involves.

God is committed to saving humanity. The problem confronted by God is how to repair the broken relationship with humanity. The problem is how to get people broken in their relationship with God and with each other to turn and restore the relationship and find their way home. God chose the path of incarnation. God decided to become what God was not, that is, a human being. God could assume the brokenness within humanity that needs healing. God as Father came into the midst of the human family God created, bearing the burden this family brought upon itself and seeking by all the discipline of love to build them into the likeness of Christ and to live fellowship with God. The reason for this is that humanity requires development in history, claiming the parental patience, forgiveness, and timely discipline that God offers to humanity in many forms. This development in the context of love brings real change in individual and corporate human life, and thus deals with moral and social relationships.

Salvation cannot come to humanity in the same way that we save a burning building. Salvation does not come solely external to humanity. We experience salvation only as we appropriate into our lives the saving activity that God directs toward us. God potentially accomplishes such reconciliation for all humanity, even those who never give the matter a thought. However, that reconciliation finds fulfillment in the full sense as people consciously appropriate it. Thus, we cannot just look backward to an event of the past. We must also look forward from the cross, to the continuing work of reconciliation. Yet, this does not mean salvation is nothing more than imitating the example of the love God shows in Christ. After all, our failure of will and desire to put such examples of love into practice is evident in history. Such a view misses the dimension of grace, and places the activity of human beings at the center of reconciliation and salvation. Frankly, if salvation depends upon human effort, our history has shown that salvation will not be possible. We have not grasped the depths of human sin.

The cross makes human transformation possible. God delivers from the powers of oppression. God frees from the burden of sin. God strips human beings of destructive illusions. The family setting is a good image for understanding what God did in the cross. In the suffering of Jesus, one senses the pain of the Father and the grief brought about by love. The cross demonstrates the compassion of God. Through the surrender of Jesus, God seeks out lost sinners, enters into their forsakenness and brings them into an unbreakable fellowship. The real issue is a broken relationship. Before the cross, God loved sinners and wanted to save them. God seeks the healing of the relationships within humanity and the healing needed between God and humanity in the cross. God draws wandering children home and restores family relationships. The cross is a revelation of a compassionate God. Suffering love is the way of salvation for sinners. Jesus takes the pain of divine love on himself in solidarity with all of us. God remains faithful to the world God made and loves, even when people have abandoned God. God desires that people live and not die. Jesus died to change our attitude to God. God took the initiative of reconciling the world. The decisive change needs to take place in humanity. The cross was a sacrifice without which we would not have been able to accept forgiveness. The only sacrifice God requires is a broken and contrite heat, as Psalm 51 reminds us. The challenge is how to save us from ourselves. The solution is the Son who defeats enemies by turning the other cheek, by accepting wounds inflicted upon him and making them the means of redemption. On the cross, God absorbs the hurt the sins of humanity has caused. Even as sinners drive nails into his hands, Jesus forgives. Neither Father nor Son lash out, retaliate, or bear a grudge. God simply loves. The path of the cross is the cost to God of restoring broken relationships. The cross is God at work in healing relationships. The Father suffers the death of the beloved Son, and the Son suffers the pain of death. The passion of Christ dying and the passion of the Father letting it happen combine in the experience of divine passion. The Father and the Son together suffer the pain of the love God has for the world. A suffering God has moral credibility for dealing with human sin. God entered history so profoundly that the world and God mutually affect each other through it. God took up the human cause because of love, and carried it through to the goal.

We might conceive of reconciliation between two alienated parties occurring in three ways. One might be negotiation. I suppose legalistic forms of religion are a form of this approach. If humanity obeys God closely enough or follows ritual precisely enough, humanity has negotiated sufficiently to bring reconciliation. Although on a human level this may well occur, the idea of human beings negotiating with God for reconciliation is not a notion Christianity could imagine. We might imagine a third party mediating the dispute and bringing about reconciliation. Such arbitration of a dispute occurs in business and family disputes all the time. Some views of the cross and atonement suggest Christ is the mediator between God and humanity. However, we reflect upon this a bit more, we discover that a mediator must have more power than either of the other two parties is in the dispute. It assumes that neither of the parties truly wants reconciliation. The only genuine Christian option suggests that one of the parties effects reconciliation. Divine love for humanity realizes its objective in reconciliation.

The divine purpose for humanity engages in a struggle against the forces of alienation. The cross the victory of these powers. We gain a profound insight into the nature of God, as we understand the cross as a victory over evil. Divine love for humanity gains victory through self-giving and sacrifice. It creates a new situation for humanity and creation. The finished work signifies the victorious coming of divine love. This victorious power is the power of God. This work is victory because the purpose of God does not reconcile itself with evil. As Paul puts it in II Corinthians 5:19, God accomplished reconciliation in Christ. 

Romans 8:32 (NRSV) He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?

Romans 5:8 (NRSV) But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.

Galatians 2:20 (NRSV) and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 1:4 (NRSV) who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,

Galatians 3:13 (NRSV) Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”—

2 Corinthians 5:14 (NRSV) For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.

2 Corinthians 5:21 (NRSV) For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

1 John 4:10 (NRSV) In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

John 1:29 (NRSV) “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!


            In punishment, acts rebound upon those who do them. Expiation releases the damaging consequences of their actions. The Hebrew people transferred guilt to the animal, especially on the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16:21-22. God has set up expiatory offerings to make possible the transfer of sins to Christ in his crucifixion. The sacrifice of which I write is a free act of obedience the part of Jesus. The free initiative of God makes this act of obedience possible. God gives the world the possibility of making satisfaction to the holy purpose of God. Grace given in view of Christ is the condition for salvation by appropriating salvation freely. I recognize that in writing this, I have lifted concepts of expiation and sacrifice out of the worldview in which animal sacrifices had significance and have sought new significance in it for us today. In other words, the practice of animal sacrifice has not proven in human history to have persuasive over the minds and hearts of human beings. The symbol has lost its meaning for modern persons.

Sacrifice is an act of giving. Always thinking of sin offerings, we tend to forget that most of the sacrifices of the bible are gifts of gratitude. A sacrifice is an act of surrender and commitment to God. In the same way, Jesus on the cross offered himself to God as our representative. Sacrifice has much to do with giving gifts. True religion is bringing gifts to God, bringing the best we have. Sin robs God of the gifts of thankful praise. Christ became the perfect sacrifice to God in the sense that he offered his life as a gift. We forget that after the Jewish people offered their sacrifices to God, they ate them. The animal died that people might live. The meaning of sacrifice includes communion with God and fellowship with each other in eating. For Christians, sacrifice focuses on reconciliation. We sustain love through sacrifice and willingness to be hurt. Children only realize later in life how much it cost their parents to love and care for them. The triune God too is hurt in the course of loving us. The sacrificial love of God involves God in a continual willingness to absorb, forgive, and forget the hurt of loving. The Eucharist is a reminder of this truth. Sacrifice lies deep in the loving heart of God.

            The death of Jesus was expiatory, though not necessarily sacrificial.  Expiation removes the offense, the guilt, and the consequences of human sin. Paul calls the death of Jesus an expiation.


(Rom 3:25 NRSV)  whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed …

1 Corinthians 11:23-25 (NRSV) 23 For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

1 Corinthians 10:16 (NRSV) The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?

1 Corinthians 5:7b (NRSV) For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed.

Romans 5:9 (NRSV) Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.


            Yet, not all references to the death of Jesus 'for us' are expiatory.  It contains the idea of a change of places, which leads to the thought of representation. 

            Giving one's life to save others or society is a special case.  Thus, if Jesus did not die for his own sins, he can only have died for others.  Humanity is hostile to God; yet, in Christ the love of God faces our hostility toward God. Our understanding of sin is not as profound as it ought to be until we look on the cross of Christ to understand what God thinks about our sin.  This concept of the death of Jesus is not limited to an instance of solidarity with others.  He is not the 'man for others.' He is first the man for God.  Nor is it self-evident that his death must embrace all humanity.  The disciples could just as easily view his death fully within a substitution for Israel.  The Roman participation in his death led to theological reflection upon the possibility of the universal impact of Jesus' death. 

            There is an exchange of places between the innocent Jesus, executed as a sinner, and the manifestation of the righteousness of God in those whom he represents. Jesus died the death of sinners because of the historical nature of his coming. The reconciling death of Jesus is not a payment to God in place of others. It does not mean that others need not die. Christ's death represents before God the death of all.  Christ represents in himself what is the same in all individuals.  The universal nature of this representation is consistent with Paul’s view of Christ as the second Adam.  What takes place in Jesus is that which is to be repeated in all the members of humanity. For Paul, the death of Christ includes our death in baptism. Our death takes place in hope because of his death.  It does not apply automatically to others but must be received.  It needs the express establishing of fellowship with him.

            This view lifts before us a life of perfect obedience, overcoming every temptation toward idolatry, and remaining faithful even to the cross. It holds up this life as the paradigm of human life and appeals for the response of a similar obedience. Such an understanding of Jesus may even move people to obedience, as they meditate upon his word, deed, and fate. Reflection and meditation upon the word, deed, and fate of Jesus may gain a hold upon one’s life and influence the character of one’s life.

It would appear that someone must remove our hostility to God if humanity is to experience reconciliation with God. The inclusive representation of humanity before God in Christ does not limit itself to any single interpretation of the death of Jesus. Jesus becomes the paradigm of all humanity in its relation to God. He is our representative as we are to be.  It aims at the overcoming of the sin for which he bore judgment in our place. However, this inclusive representation does not violate our independence. Rather, Jesus experienced a father-son relationship with God that all should have no less of an immediate access to God. Jesus is the new Adam, in whom we achieve our destiny of divine likeness. Jesus did not represent others temporarily. He is the definitive actualizing of our destiny as the incarnation. His definitiveness leaves room for the individuality of others. This does not suppress, replace, or eliminate such individuality. This is because our understanding of the reconciling work of God in the death of Jesus must not violate our independence.  By accepting his own death, Jesus made room for that of others. Others can share in that family relation to God and the inheritance of the kingdom only through the death of Jesus and through acceptance of their own death. Jesus died as an expiation for the sins of others. That expiation is effective because the separation between God and one’s own life is overcome once others let their own death be linked with the death of Jesus. People then gain access to life with God after death. The death of Jesus means that others no longer need to see themselves as excluded from fellowship with God.  They share life from God and can live the earthly life assured of the eternal fellowship with God that overcomes death.  Representation still affirms the independent existence of others along side Christ.  Linked to Christ's death, we share in the life that overcomes death.  Such independence is characterized by liberation from sin and death, and law.  It liberates us from one another in the sense that we can now fulfill our individual callings.  The significance of the death of Christ cannot be restricted to the past.  Only the bringing in of those for whom Christ died actualizes it.

We do not set aside the independent significance of others because the reconciling work of God in the cross focuses on the particular event of the death of Jesus. The exclusive sense of his vicarious death makes possible the independence of others alongside him. Linked to the death of Jesus, we may all live our own lives and follow our own vocations in the confidence of sharing in the life that has overcome death in the resurrection of Jesus. Christian freedom from sin, law, death, and even independence from the world and its power, becomes possible in a proleptic way through fellowship with God. We establish an appropriate distance from each other, which enables us to fulfill our individual callings in the serve to God and to the world. It leads to the freedom we have as children of God, actualized by the Spirit of adoption in believers. The Spirit brings the mission of Jesus to completion.


At the same time, the self-giving life of Jesus is continuous with the self-giving character of God. The whole work of reconciliation is the work of God. Something needs to be done for humanity, something that we are powerless to do for ourselves. The self-giving of Jesus brings the constant self-giving of God for God’s creation right into the created order. The self-giving activity of God has appeared in history in the word, deed, and fate of Jesus. This life is a work on our behalf; it is a work of grace. The life of Jesus shows the costliness of reconciliation. God is the one who pays the cost and holds the initiative throughout. The life of Jesus not only places a demand, but it lays hold on humanity, empowers a change of direction, and brings the activity of God into human community.

For today, it might be best to view the cross of Jesus as a symbol of a just and good human being suffering for others.  It is no longer possible to know the mind of Jesus in the closing days of his life.  It is at least possible that he viewed his submission to religious and political authorities as part of the salvation offered by God through his own message, conduct, and now his fate.  In this sense, the death of Jesus is the ultimate act of service, motivated by love, which brings the life of Jesus to completion.  In analogy with other acts of service in human experience, there is a vicarious aspect.  The vicarious suffering of divine love does not remove the burden or consequences of alienation, but it gives new power to bear it. Vicarious love does not end the struggle, but it furnishes a new possibility to carry on the struggle. Without the act of service, the person would have to receive satisfaction of the need through them.  Service is also "for" another.  In this sense, the death of Jesus is "for us." Paul, especially in the opening chapters of Romans, made the universal need clear.


            Forgiveness is at the heart of the Christian tradition about the suffering of God in the cross of Jesus. Forgiveness is not obvious. Punishment as the consequence for violating divine order and moral law is justice. Forgiveness operates through the same kind of process of exchange of feelings. An act of forgiveness involves embarking upon an experience that is costly in terms of suffering, and which for this reason has a powerful effect upon the experience of others. The cross discloses the human situation, for mere introspection will not convince us of the depths of our struggle with sin. The cross also shows the unconditional love of God. God loves humanity, in spite of the sinful nature of humanity. The love of God is without condition. The cross shows the willingness of God to experience the guilt and consequences of sin for humanity. Forgiveness is an act that always runs the risk of lacking justice and throws doubt on moral seriousness and moral responsibility.

            In any human act of forgiveness, we find a costly and painful voyage of experience, a journey of imagination and sympathy into the situation of the offender. Forgiveness is a costly matter because it aims at reconciliation, and this requires an acceptance of the experience of another into oneself that is nothing less than a journey of painful discovery. First is an active movement discovery and awareness. If the forgiver is truly to heal the broken relationship, he or she cannot just forget about the offence. It would be more comfortable to put it out of mind. However, this part of the journey acknowledges brokenness in relationship that one has to face if they can every mend it. To forgive truly is more than ignoring the other and leaving the other in the mists of forgetfulness. The forgiver has to bring the wrong done back to mind, painful though it is to relive it, and then try to think into the mind of the offender. This painful voyage of identification is a key part of reconciliation, because the forgiver is trying to win the offender to accept the offer of forgiveness. To accept forgiveness from another is a humbling and disturbing matter, and it will only happen if the forgiver is experienced as a certain kind of person, someone of fellow-feeling who has truly drawn alongside the one who is in the wrong. Further, this journey of identification also calls for a journey of discovery by the offender, who must awaken to the wrong done and the hurt caused. No healing of relationship occurs unless the offender faces up to it and feels remorse. The forgiver becomes vulnerable in opening oneself in ways unknown and incalculable.

A forgiver must always stand where the offender is, and here God enters into the human experience of death in its most estranging form. God participates in our brokenness, to win us to the offer of healing. Therefore, this is at the same time a journey of discovery for humanity. Jesus in dying as he does brings us to judgment. He awakens us to what the sin of humanity against humanity can do. This is what humanity does with goodness. Humanity crucifies love. We also see the consequences of the deeper, universal estrangement of humanity from the source of being in God. This is what death looks like when humanity distorts the most fundamental relationship of life. The cross of Jesus demonstrates that when God offers forgiveness in Christ, God does so in face of human anger and hostility against God, and that God knows the cost of absorbing it into the being of God. Jesus is the target of extreme hostility, provoked by what seems to be the blasphemous offer of the acceptance of God to the outcasts and law-breakers of society. The cross sums up the whole ministry of Jesus that has been the offer of the forgiveness of sins on his Father’s behalf, accepting the ritually unclean into his personal company. This mission evokes resentment from the religious authorities. Throughout his ministry, Jesus is absorbing their hostility, and in the end, the passion narratives depict his drawing out of the venom from soldiers, priests, and the crowds.

            Forgiveness and love are cheap and indulgent if they cost nothing. Love calls the lover to suffer with the beloved in their adversities and pain, even taking into oneself the burden of their disordered, self-destructive, and illusory choices and forms of life. The only way to avoid such suffering love is to stop loving the one loved. Such suffering with the one loved is the most natural instinct human beings have. Such love is costly, not the part of the beloved, but on the part of the one who loves. Such love may even lead the one who loves to separate from the one loved, to withdraw the relationship in a tangible way, as a form of punishment. However, punishment will not bring healing to the one loved. It will not restore the relationship. When does disapproval of the beloved by the lover stop? The beloved may have suffered enough, but the point of this type of punishment is to end the disorder contained in the form of life adopted by the beloved. Someone else can do nothing, for the point is a healthy, whole, and fulfilling relationship between the lover and the beloved. This costly love or forgiveness has a liberating effect upon the one forgiven. Suffering is the form that forgiveness takes. The burden that guilt caused in the presence of the one who loves creates a barrier to wholeness and fulfillment of one’s life. Forgiveness brings freedom from the past and opens the forgiven one to new possibilities toward the future.

            God has this costly love for humanity, demonstrated in biblical history and in the history of religions. Forgiveness has not cost humanity; forgiveness has cost God. The cost did not begin with the life and death of Jesus. Rather, this costly, suffering love of God toward humanity has been the choice God has made to bring healing into human relationships and into the divine and human relationship. The life and death of Jesus does not generate this suffering and holy love, but it does offer to humanity a matter for contemplation and openness to transformation. For Christians, God has risked uniquely and universally showing this love in the life and death of Jesus. The obedience of Jesus to the extent of the cross, his struggle to help people see the coming of the reign of God through him, his inclusion of all persons in his circle of friends, show the holy love that God has for humanity. The forgiveness God offers is the kind of forgiveness that restores relationships. The punishment God gives is that of alienation in the relationships human beings have, both with each other and with God. However, punishment alone will not bring healing to humanity. Although God could decide that an individual or humanity has suffered enough, the point is to bring healing and wholeness into the fractured lives of human beings. What needs to happen is that individuals need to turn from the disorder of their lives and turn toward God. The demonstration of this love carries with it the power to transform the lives of individuals and of communities.  People can remain trapped in a vicious cycle of self-justification and self-pity until God completely forgives individuals, liberating them from their focus upon themselves and re-focusing them upon potential future one has with God and with others. The disorder of our lives has oppressed others; the forgiveness of God redeems individuals and opens them to redemptive relationships with others and with human communities.

            God in Christ accepted suffering as the way to forgive the disordered way of life humanity chose, forms of life that caused suffering to God. God experienced the pain in order to invite people to bring healing within humanity and in the relationship between God and humanity. Since humanity inflicts its disorder upon each other, the invitation of God to forgiveness, reconciliation, healing, and wholeness invites us to consider other persons whom we have personally alienated from us and potentially from God. God has chosen to suffer because of the disordered lives of human beings. The shape of the suffering God has chosen is the cross. God did not need human assistance to demonstrate this costly and forgiving love. Biblical history and the history of religion is open to the new ways God acts, and the cross is a unique and universal demonstration of costly love. In Christ, human beings have the opportunity to see God accepting the pain the disordered and fragmented nature of human life causes God because God is good and desires the best for humanity. God becomes a victim of human disorder in choosing to accept the suffering that arises out of the love of God for humanity. In Christ, God chooses to become a victim of disordered and fractured humanity. The point of all his activity on the part of God is to bring to fulfillment human relationships and therefore the divine and human relationship. The human acceptance of this offer introduces the influence of God to bring transformation into all relationships, and especially as incorporated into a new community called the church.


            The cross becomes the supreme example of God's absence in the world.  God as deliverer is absent for Jesus, thereby allowing each person to deal with the consequences of their conduct.

            The work of Christ finds completion in the cross. The cross is victory over all the powers that enslave humanity, and therefore is a deliverance from them. I do not mean the mythological triumph over the principalities and powers, as if Christ defeated demons 2000 years ago, so that they would not trouble humanity again. This victory is the victory of God. The cross maintains its central place in Christian faith. Yet, we also view the cross as connected with the whole life of Christ. The cross summarizes the life and work of Jesus. Thus, the gospel narratives portray Jesus as in battle with the powers that enslave humanity, such as disease and demonic activity. Here is a struggle, victory, and triumph that demonstrate the costly nature of salvation. Dark powers enslave humanity. Christ comes into this situation and does battle with these powers. With the cross comes the overwhelming victory, deliverance and new life to humanity. This vicarious and suffering love is also victorious love.

            How does Christ obtain his victory? My answer has its foundation in the kingly, prophetic, and priestly work of Christ of which Christian tradition speaks. Christ the king, who wins the victory over the enslaving forces, is also the prophet who gives us the example of obedience, and still more the priest who gives himself as a sacrificial victim. He rejects worldly power as his ultimate concern, and this is equated with worshipping Satan. The rejection of this third temptation in the wilderness is a rejection that runs throughout his life. He will not enslave himself to any idol. He acknowledges only the authority of his heavenly Father. I mentioned this theme of obedience earlier. He breaks the dominion of the demons, and puts them to flight. This Christ finally does in giving himself in the passion and death. One’s own self is the last idol. The death of Christ on the cross is continuous with his life and mission, but the signal climax by which his work completes itself. This work is the overcoming of the enslavements, distortions, and alienations to which humanity falls victim through idolatry. These evils we might rightly call demonic, for they have escalated beyond our control. At the same time, the work of Christ opens up a new possibility of life, a life oriented toward God. The grace of God in coming toward humanity in reconciling and saving activity in the cross, sustains and establishes us in the face of the threat of death.

            However, none of this would be clear without the resurrection by God. God shows victory over sin and death in reconciliation of the world. The cross is not just the offering of the man Jesus to God, but the act of God to reconcile the world. We can then restore the cross to the center of Christian teaching. The form of anticipation allows us to say that God has already accomplished the reconciliation of the world.

Provisional nature of the cross

            The work of Christ is finished on the cross. It is also an event for all times that continues in the community of faith. It focuses the universal reconciling work of God, a work that is inseparable from creation and the consummation of history. The Son has actualized the deity of God in his person, a reality confirmed in the resurrection.

This view embodies the future accomplishment of this salvation. It opposes all achievement of human life in this world alone. In striving for self-fulfillment in this world, we close ourselves off to the future of God. However, theology cannot focus salvation exclusively in terms of the future.

Yet, statements regarding Jesus as the reconciler who brings salvation to humanity would not be true without correlation to a saved and reconciled humanity. Only in this relation is Jesus in fact the universal reconciler and savior. Human history is clear that humanity is hardly reconciled to God and saved from sin and death. Does that same history refute what we have said about Christ? Such statements about Jesus anticipate something that is still open to question in the course of history. The reconciliation of the world through Jesus has undoubtedly made itself know to believers. We cannot yet advance it as the conclusive result of world history.