Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Who is Christ?

I'm reading Bonhoeffer's Christology lectures this week for a presentation while also attempting to finish some James Cone reading for today's class on his Christology. I have enjoyed reading the Christology of Bonhoeffer and Cone simultaneously since I'm finding a lot of continuity between them. Both theologians are attempting to answer "Who is Christ?" for us here and now within contemporary society. Any Christology remains insufficient if it fails to answer the question of Christ pro me especially for Cone who emphasizes the need for liberation from oppression in the present. It was fascinating to read that both theologians agree in giving priority to the in-breaking of divine revelation that establishes and makes possible the question of "Who is Jesus" instead of this question becoming the precondition for faith. But more than this, I appreciated that for both men, the confrontation with divine revelation in Jesus Christ is the difference between life and death. This confrontation is the difference between liberation and oppression. Nothing but the the God-human in Jesus Christ in-breaking into this present situation of our life here and now will be sufficient to offer hope for humanity. Sometimes I ask myself what is the point of reading this or that theological work. But Bonhoeffer and Cone remind me that something is truly at stake in theology. Part of what is at stake in all of this is the very flourishing and liberation of humanity from the Sin and Death that reigns in the world that brings nothing but oppression under the weight of the powers of racism, classism, sexism, etc. And that vision, that understanding that something is at stake, really encourages me to keep pursuing this theological task. But enough from me. These are some great excerpts from Bonhoeffer and Cone that highlights important points of christological continuity (warning: the Bonhoeffer quote is a bit lengthy, but I couldn't justify shortening it):
"But what does all this mean in concrete terms? Human beings today still cannot get around the figure of Jesus Christ. They have to deal with him. Take Socrates and Goethe, for example. It may be that our education depends on the confrontation with these two. But on our confrontation with Jesus depend life and death, salvation and damnation. From an outside point of view, this is not understandable. It is from the church that we learn that the sentence on which everything depends is this: "There is salvation in no one else." The encounter with Jesus has a different cause than does the encounter with Socrates and Goethe. One can get past the person of Goethe, because he is dead. [The encounter with Jesus Christ is different.] The attempts to face up to this encounter and at the same time avoid it are thousandfold.  
For example, in the world of the proletariat Christ may appear to be as finished off as the church and bourgeois society as a whole. There seems to be no occasion for giving Jesus a qualified place. The church is the stultifying institution that sanctions the capitalist system. But this is not the case. The proletariat actually disassociates Jesus from his church and its religion. When the proletariat says that Jesus is a good human being, it means more than the bourgeoisie means when it says that Jesus is God. Jesus is present in factory halls as a worker among workers, in politics as the perfect idealist, in the life of the proletariat as a good human being. He stands beside members of the proletariat as a fighter in their ranks against the capitalist enemy.  
Dostoyevsky portrays the idiot as a Christ figure. The idiot does not isolate himself, but he is awkward and gives offense. He associates not with the powerful but rather with children, who like him. He is mocked, and he is loved. He is the fool, and he is the wise one. He is the one who bears all things and forgives all things. He is the revolutionary, and also the one who goes along with everything. He is the one who, through no intent of his own, calls attention to himself by his very existence, so that the question pops up again and again, Who are you? Are you an idiot, or Jesus Christ himself? ... 
Here in the end we also have the question, Who are you really? So Jesus Christ passes through our time , through different stations and occupations in life, always being asked anew, Who are you? and yet always, when some person is aware of having confronted this question, being killed anew. These are all attempts to be finished with Christ. Even theologians do the same. Everywhere the Son of Man is betrayed with the kiss of Judas. Wanting to be finished with Christ means that now and then we kill him, crucify him, commit shameful acts against him, kneel before him with the scornful and say, "Greetings, Rabbi!" 
There are only two possibilities when a human being confronts Jesus: the human being must either die or kill Jesus. Thus the question, Who are you? remains ambiguous. It can also be the question of those who realize, as soon as they ask the question, that they themselves are meant by it, and instead of hearing the answer, hear the question in return: Who then are you? Only then is it the question of those judged by Jesus. The "who question" can only be asked of Jesus by those who know that it is being asked of them. But then it is not the human beings who are finished with Jesus, but rather Jesus who is finished with them. Strictly speaking, the "who question" can be asked only within the context of faith, and there is will receive its answer. As long as the christological question is one asked by our logos, it always remains within the ambiguity of the "how question." But as soon as it stands within the act of faith, it becomes a form of knowledge, which has the possibility of posing the 'who question'." 
- Bonhoeffer, "Lectures on Christology," 306-307, emphasis added. 
"We ask "Who is Jesus Christ for us today?" because we believe that the story of his life and death is the answer to the human story of oppression and suffering. If our existence were not at stake, if we did not experience the pain and contradictions of life, then the christological question would be no more than an intellectual exercise for professional theologians. But for Christians who have experienced the extreme absurdities of life, the christological question is not primarily theoretical but practical. It arises from the encounter with Christ in the struggle for freedom. 
The question, "Who is Christ?" is not prior to faith, as if the answer to the christological question is the precondition of faith. Rather, our question about Christ is derived from Christ himself as he breaks into our social existence, establishing the truth of freedom in our midst. This divine event of liberation places us in a new sociopolitical context wherein we are given the gift of faith for the creation of a new future for ourselves and for humanity. It is because we have encountered Christ in our historical situation and have been given the faith to struggle for truth that we are forced to inquire about the meaning of this truth for the totality of human existence." 
- James Cones, God of the Oppressed, 100, emphasis added.