Jesus Without Borders: Christology in the Majority World

Jesus Without Borders: Christology in the Majority World

(Eerdmans, 2014) Edited by Gene L. Green, Stephen T. Pardue and K.K. Yeo
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Some denounced the ills of the attractive and seductive forces of the prosperity gospel particularly the embrace of business and market-oriented models. Others decried the silence and extremely passive role of the church regarding contemporary issues particularly justice. Both have a high view of Scripture. Still others deplore the anti-intellectual, ahistorical and worldly condition of the Christian church particularly due to its high rates of biblically illiteracy and permanent flirts with culture. All three seek to retrieve and honor the historical Orthodoxy of the Christian Faith as laid out primarily in Scripture but also steeped in tradition particularly in the creeds and the confessions. All seek to be God-centered rather than man-centered. However, all three can miss a greater and broader reality. They may not be attentive to the global shape of the faith. Some may be aware of the global character of Christianity but not of its implications.

Jesus without Borders aims “to move beyond mere observation of world Christianity and into the realm of actually reading the Bible and thinking Christianly together in light of these realities” (p. 3). Jesus without Borders is the first text in the Majority World Theology series. Its goal is to deal with the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth.Jesus without Borders is a collaborative approach where eight leading scholars from around the world discuss what Christology looks like in their region. Jesus without Borders interrogates each of these eight authors as to “the relationship between Christology of the Chalcedonian Definition and their contextual Christological observations and proposals” (p. 5).

Jesus without Borders can be divided in two parts (two halves). The first part (chapters 1-4) is written by theologians, “reflecting on Christology as an enterprise that united philosophy, history, and cultural anthropology with reflection on Scripture” (p. 6). The second part (chapters 5-8) is written by biblical scholars, “reflecting on Christology through deeper interaction with specific biblical texts freighted with Christological significance” (p. 6).

In Jesus without Borders chapter 1 Kevin J. Vanhoozer “reflects on Christological development in the West over the centuries, and considers what kind of continuity is important for contemporary Christians seeking to talk about and worship Jesus in the same way that early Christian did” (p. 6). Vanhoozer begins by defining Christology as “living to follow Jesus Christ” (p. 11) after the English Puritan William Ames who defined theology as “the doctrine of living to God” (p. 11) in his work The Marrow of Theology. Vanhoozer continues to cite Andrew Walls to underscore both the marriage of theology and missiology and the urgent question of whether Western Christology was simply a product of its “Fall” into Hellenistic philosophy or the evangelization of Hellenism and therefore a deepening of the ecclesial understanding of Jesus. The shape of Western theology is best understood by focusing on Christology particularly looking at the person first and then the work (following Bonhoeffer here). Western theology can be understood in a deeper way by revisiting the Council of Chalcedon and considering its metaphysical strengths and restraints. Vanhoozer then traces the views of Western theologians who have worked to modify, preserve and reject two-nature Christology. These fall into two alternatives: the Jesus of history and the Jesus of moral value. Vanhoozer shortly explains two nineteenth century (Friedrich Schleiermacher and Albert Ritschl) and three twentieth century responses (Kenosis, the Jesus of history in Edward Schillebeeckx and the Christ of Myth in John Hick) to Chalcedon. Paul Tillich and Alfred North Whitehead followed by offering a Christology grounded in existential philosophy (being and substance) and becoming and process respectively. Conversations in contemporary Western Christology have focuced on the humanity of Jesus Christ (this one consisting in faith, fellow feeling and falllenness); the narrative identity of Jesus Christ (Hans Frei’s call for history-like narratives); focal points in the narrative of Jesus Christ (T.F. Torrance on the incarnation, Moltmann on the crucifixion, Wolfhart Pannenberg on the resurrection and other theologians’ focus on the ascension); analytical philosophy which redefine definitions and clarifies distinctions to demonstrate the coherence of concepts (Thomas V. Morris’s The Logic of God Incarnate) and Christology as lens for viewing other doctrines and domains (Barth’s doctrine of election, Robert Jenson’s doctrine of God’s very being meaning metaphysics, and R. J. Holmes’s ethics). Vanhoozer closes this chapter by underscoring that development of any future global theology must be “live in the tension between continuity with the church’s doctrinal tradition on the one hand, and, on the other, opennesss to new experiences and understandings of CXhrist arising out of the particular contexts of suffering and hope” (p. 29). Vanhoozer also states that “church history is the story of contextualization as the gospel encountered new frontiers … [thus] … it is no longer simply a matter of the gospel entering new contexts, but rather of the intersection of contexts, including some that have already received the gospel” (p. 29). Vanhoozer makes three suggestions about the development of any future global theology, namely: that (1) “what is normative in Chalcedon is not a particular metaphysical scheme but the underlying biblical ontology, not the particular concepts but the underlying judgments that they express (p. 30); that “while the Bible alone has magisterial authority, the early catholic consensus has ministerial authority insofar as it displays biblical judgments. It thus provides pedagogical directions and an important opportunity for global theology to display catholic sensibility, which is to say a concern for doing theology in communion with the saints” (p. 32) and that “Western Christology is ultimately a matter of regional, perhaps even masterpiece theater that, while not providing an exhaustive description, nevertheless affords previous insight into the identity of the main protagonists of the drama of redemption” (p. 33). Vanhoozer final sentence is that “Christology requires a plurality of tongues – languages, vocabularies, and concepts. Yet whatever language or conceptual scheme Christian speak and think, let them confess in line with the Chalcedonian (ontological) grammar” (p. 35).

In Jesus without Borders chapter 2 Victor I. Ezigbo “discusses the history of Christology in Africa, considers and critiques contemporary proposals, and then offers his own suggestions for a biblical Christology relevant from Africans” (p. 6).  Right at the outset, Ezigbo asserts that “an African Christian Christology should pass both the test of ‘Africanness’ and the test of ‘Christian-ness” (p. 37). Ezigbo argues in this chapter that African Christian Christology: should use Africans’ contexts as an indispensable source; “should learn from Christological statements of the earliest councils and should not be in contradiction with the understandings of Jesus Christ that are expressed in Scripture” (p. 38). African Christian can learn two lessons from the Christologies of the ecumenical councils: contextualization and the danger of imperial romance. Ezigbo then considers and evaluates three Christological models that embody presuppositions underlying Christological discourses in sub-Saharan African Christianity: Neo-missionary Christologies, Ancestor Christologies and Revealer Christologies. Revealer Christologies is the one that offers African Christian “the opportunity to commit to Jesus’ critique and the redirection of their views of him, God and humanity without disregarding their contexts” (p. 58).

In Jesus without Borders chapter 3 Timoteo D. Gener “assesses the available proposals on offer regarding what it means to see Jesus through Asian eyes, and suggests that as members of a minority faith, Christians in Asian are best served by thinking about Christology through a missiological lens” (p. 6). Gener describes the Asian (Church) setting as one affected by the triple realities of poverty, religions and cultures. Gener makes the case for Christologies in the New Testament by underscoring the reality of four Gospels which denotes “a plurality and diversity in our views about Jesus while at the same time giving parameters to these views” (p. 64) and one that embody the reality of contextualization. Gener approaches Asian Christologies by both probing what the Scriptures reveal about Jesus Christ and by incorporating the human experience. Gener appropriates Latin America evangelical theologians models for missiological Christology and argues that doing Christology in Asian “is a process of translation and enculturation of the Word (Jesus Christ)” (p. 69). Some of the Christologies in Asia that offer promising missiological engagement include the following: Jesus fully human; the Witness-Reception of Jesus Christ amid Asian religions and Christ and supernaturalism in popular piety (which includes Jesus as Lord of the Spirits and Jesus among Folk Catholics).

In Jesus without Borders chapter 4 Jules A. Martínez-Olivieri “wraps up the first half of essays of examining Christological trends in Latin America, and arguing that the region is an ideal place to bridge the gap between Jesus’ heavenly and earthly identities” (p. 6). Martínez-Olivieri reviews common threads of two theological movements in Latin America, namely: Catholic liberation theology and Protestant Christology. After briefly noting the background of liberation theology, Martínez-Olivieri explains the theological method in liberation theology. Martínez-Olivieri then traces the trajectories of theological production among Protestants in Latin America. One relates to the historically Protestant churches who is represented by theologians such as Rubén Alves, Emilio Castro, Julio de Santa Ana and José Míguez Bonino. The other trajectory is associated with the Fraternidad Teológica Latinoamericana and is represented by theologians such as C. Rene Padilla, Samuel Escobar and Emilio Antonio Nuñez. Martínez-Olivieri employs Bonino’s faces of Protestantism to supplement, enlarge and enrich the trajectory of Protestant theology. These are the liberal face, the evangelical face, the Pentecostal face and the ethnic face. This trajectory is one guided and shaped by a soteriology that embraces liberation. Protestants emphasize salvation as “communion with God through Jesus Christ, maintaining that the God of the Bible is a God who reconciles people and transforms societies” (p. 87) and as liberation of the captives which defines Jesus Messianic vocation. In short, salvation is personal and societal. In the third part of his essay, Martínez-Olivieri presents a concise overview of contemporary Christologies in Latin America by focusing on Catholic and Protestant approaches. His thesis is that “Christology in Latin America moves from a focus on the history of Jesus and its soteriological significance toward an account of Jesus the Christ who calls for participation in the kingdom of God” (p. 87). Right at the outset Martínez-Olivieri quickly cites the heavy hitters or the giants of Latin America or what he deems the most mature treatments of Christology (Leonardo Boff and Jon Sobrino) and then states that despite there is no systematic Christology monograph yet there are some fine introductions, namely: Nancy Bedford’s La porfía de la resurrección: Ensayos desde el feminismo teológico hispanoamericano; Alberto García’s Cristología: Cristo Jesús: Centro y praxis del pueblo de Dios, Antonio González’s The Gospel of Faith and Samuel Escobar’s En busca de Cristo en América Latina. The contribution of Latin American theology particularly with liberation theology centers on the historical Jesus or what Martínez-Olivieri refers to as ‘ascending’ or ‘from below’ trajectory. The life and work of Christ here is the work of Leonardo Boff although Martínez-Olivieri informs us that Sobrino’s Cristología desde América Latina: Esbozo a partir del seguimiento del Jesús histórico is a more complete outline of Christology from a liberation perspective and touches upon soteriology particularly as it relates to specific historical and political contexts. The primary metaphor at work here is the kingdom of God. In addition to this liberation Christology, Martínez-Olivieri expounds on Latin American Protestant Christology by asserting that while “the confession that Jesus is the one unbegotten Son, the Logos, surely provides the ontological presupposition on which Christian faith delves into the mystery of God … the systematic perspective, to approach Jesus as the Christ of God via the historical particularity of Jesus as the Christ of God via the historical particularity of Jesus as the man Nazareth” (p. 93) is equally legitimate and even necessary. Martínez-Olivieri proposes that Christology needs to be evaluated in holistic perspective (following the work of Bedford particularly her advocacy for Christologies to be understood in Trinitarian terms and the need to avoid ‘toxic Christologies’. Martínez-Olivieri underscores Christology and the limits of creedal orthodoxy in Latin American particularly the tendency to embrace abstraction that lead towards making the doctrine of Christ “susceptible to historical indifference” (p. 96). Finally, Martínez-Olivieri stresses that Latin American theologian approach the soteriological question of Jesus’ death on the cross in a historical and theological manner. Martínez-Olivieri is consciously aware of Latin America’s experiences of “violent colonials, political Christendom, dictatorships, civil wars, discrimination, exclusion and poverty and thus” (p. 99) and thus ultimately claims that animates a “transformative Christology that avoids the practical and discursive dualisms between a heavenly savior and an earthly liberator,” (p. 99) a challenge that equally leads to the advocacy of the unity of Jesus Christ, the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith and of exegesis and dogmatics.    

In Jesus without Borders chapter 5 Yohanna Katanacho “reads the gospel of John as a Palestinian, with a particular interest in its relevance for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He argues that forcefully that John depicts Jesus as establishing a new world order that precludes approaches to Christology that exclude either Palestinians or Jews” (p. 6). Katanacho claims that many have made the Chalcedonian Christ an exclusive one by stressing the ontological dimension at the expense of the functional one and by not addressing the full humanity of Christ particularly its ethnicity. Therefore, Katanacho proposes to read “the scriptural story of Jesus of Nazareth combining the human and divine spatiotemporal realities from a functional point of view” (p. 105). To make this case, Katanacho focuses on how the gospel of John deconstructs major elements of Pharisaic Judaism which include the following: the ‘new beginning,’ holy space, holy time, holy experience, holy communion and holy land. While acknowledging that the incarnation is a central theme in the gospel of John, Katanacho identifies the new beginning in the first sign, the wedding at Cana in John 2:11. “God started his work in the first Testament with a couple, and now he starts a new work with another couple in a wedding. Weddings in first-century Jewish culture symbolized God’s relationship with Israel. Water is the important element that Katanacho focuses on in this story for in John 1 we witness the waters of baptism; in John 2 the water turning into wine; in chapter 4 Nicodemus must be born from the water and so forth. In addition, Katanacho continues to emphasize the means of cleansing when there is no water. Certain themes or words discussed include the following: the ‘hour’ which “becomes the indispensable foundation for the new world order, or the messianic age” (p. 109) and the cross. The point here is that it in addition to his birth and incarnation, the humanity of Jesus can be understood through the hermeneutical lens of the hour and cross. Following this discussion of ‘the new beginning’, Katanacho considers ‘holy space’ by looking at John 2:1 – John 4:54 particularly the stories of Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman in which case “Jesus tells Nicodemus that the presence of the Spirit of God is not limited to a specific place (John 3:8)” (p. 111) and where Jesus speaking to the Samaritan woman “denies the monopoly as to the true place of worship of the Pharisaic Judaism of his day because the true worshippers do not emphasize the place of worship by the nature of worship” (p. 111). Holy time is another central element seen by two signs that take place in the Sabbath, namely: the healing of the crippled person in John 5 and the healing of the blind man in John 9. That Jesus performs these signs on the Sabbath implies that He is not only God but also announces that the Sabbath as an eschatological reality “cannot be found apart from the work of Christ” (p. 112). A fourth element present in the gospel of John is holy experience. In John 5 Jesus, the new Moses, recalls the exodus and the wilderness traditions. Jesus is the center of the Passover. “In John, Jesus is the source of life, whether the life of liberation from Egypt of the life that is associated with maintaining Israel in the wilderness” (p. 114). Katanacho considers ‘holy land’ as yet another central element. The people of Israel are rooted in father Abraham and their liberation takes place because they are chosen by God in connection to Abraham. In the gospel of John Jesus makes the case faith commitment not descent is what defines true Abrahamic sonship-daughtership. This reality includes Palestinian and Israeli Jews. The community of Christ is made up of followers, the free ones that have accepted Jesus and are born of the Spirit not necessarily the members of the synagogue. Parochial ethnocentrism dies not define the community of Jesus but “those who, like the seed of wheat, die and are reborn into the community of peace and brotherhood” (p. 116). Finally, Katanacho explains ‘holy land’ from a Christocentric point of view. John 10 states that Jesus is the door and the shepherd. These are images that speak of Jesus “leading the going in and out of the sheep and finding pasture” (p. 117). Katanacho help us see the connection of John 10, Jesus as the shepherd, to the Promised Land in the book of Numbers. Jesus is the New Testament Joshua who “is not only interested in the land but is also interested in the people of the land. Instead of killing the inhabitants of the land he is willing to die in order to save them. Katanacho also help us see the connection of John 10, Jesus as the door, to the Old Testament particularly Ezekiel 33:21 – 37:28 where we read of bad shepherds and then of a new David who will be a new shepherd. Katanacho closes by pointing out the similarities between John 1 and Genesis 1-2 in terms of a new creation and by re-stating that the gospel of John “presents a new world” (p. 119) that deconstructs major elements of Pharisaic Judaism and reconstructs them in relation to Christ” (p. 119).

In Jesus without Borders chapter 6 Aída Besançor Spencer “takes a closer look at New Testament passages relating to Mary, and then considers and critiques the approach to Mariology and Christology in Latino communities” (p. 6). Besançor Spencer approaches Christology from a Latina feminist evangelical perspective by focusing on the relationship between Mary and Jesus and intercession. Besançor Spencer seeks to “esteem Mary but not deprecate Jesus” (p. 124). Besançor Spencer highlights the priority of the Christian family in the Latin American Christian culture. Besançor describes how devotion to Mary replaced devotion to mother goddesses especially Artemis of Ephesus; explains why veneration of Mary is not necessary because Jesus is the intercessory according to 1 Timothy 2:5-7; shows how Mary models humility as disciple though with limitations and finally discusses the importance of authority. Besançor Spencer closes by highlighting different aspects found in the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) which depicts the conquering Mary, the suffering Mary, and the liberating Mary.

In Jesus without Borders chapter 7 Andrew M. Mbuvi “considers the sacrificial system and its usage in 1 Peter in relation to Christ, offering a close examination of the book from the perspective of an Akamba reader” (p. 6). Mbuvi seeks to respond to the following two questions: “how the Petrine community would have understood the person and the work of Jesus given the letter’s rather strong usage of cultic imagery and language” (p. 141) and “how this Petrine perspective would fit with Chalcedon formulations of the person and work of Jesus Christ” (p. 141). Mbuvi underscores the work of Kwame Bediako who writes of European ethnocentrism that denigrated the African religion and its resultant eradication of religious tradition that characterized the African missionary encounter. In fact, Mbuvi quickly mentions the three primary colonial and postcolonial reactions to the western missionary enterprise in Africa and then surveys African theological scholarship regarding Christology. Mbuvi then proceeds to discuss Christology and Cultus in 1 Peter by noting that the all-encompassing understanding of holiness here fits well with the African experience since the African religious perspective and that the Western notion of salvation as largely and heavily individualistic contrasts “with the African notion of salvation in the community by overcoming the spirit world” (p. 150). Mbuvi closely surveys the metaphors in 1 Peter 1:2, 1 Peter 1:18, 1 Peter 3:1822, 1 Peter 4:6, Christological images able to demonstrate that when “interpreted from an African perspective, can be fruitfully understood while being appropriated differently from the common Western readings” (p. 159). Mbuvi concludes by revisiting the creeds particularly Chalcedon. Mbuvi aptly and succinctly states that since creeds “were prompted by the encounter of Christianity with Greco-Roman culture and religion” (p. 161) leading then Christologies to be “from the very beginning the products of the encounter of the gospel message with different cultures, then one wonders whether there is need to revisit the creeds themselves, given the more recent Christian encounters within African, Asian, and Latin American cultures” (p. 161).

In Jesus without Borders chapter 8 K. K. Yeo “concludes this collection with an essay that sheds light on the challenge of unity and diversity in New Testament Christologies, and also proposes a Christology that reflects on the image of God from a Chinese perspective” (p. 6-7). Right at the outset K.K. Yeo acknowledges that the contributors Jesus without Borders face two issues, namely: “the unity and diversity of biblical Christologies” (p. 162) and “the meaning and task of theology” (p. 162). After briefly surveying the landscape of biblical Chinese Christologies, K.K. Yeo approaches the unity-diversity issues of biblical Christologies and that of Chalcedon; discusses the ontology of Christology “as contextual Christologies from the Majority World move forward to a global Christology and finally presents an ecumenical discourse “through a distinctly Chinese Christology of renre(a person who loves) that helps us to understand Christ(ians) as the image of God” (p. 163) by attempting to write and embody “a fully Christian-biblical and fully Chinese-cultural Christology” (p. 163).

Reading Jesus without Borders is an eye-opening encounter for three reasons and an empowering experience for two reasons. First, Jesus without Borders is an eye-opening encounter because Western Christianity particularly its troubling Christendom legacy, its growing prosperity theology and especially its American evangelicalism (certainly alien at times to its Protestant Reformers) is being prophetically and legitimately denounced for often being rooted and driven by presuppositions and ideas that negate biblical fidelity and doctrinal integrity. Second,Jesus without Borders is equally eye-opening encounter for while much of the writing and education that matter in Christian theology nowadays is done by theologians and pastors in countries such as the United States and the old centers of power (Europe), Christianity is playing its major role in the Majority World. The massive shift of Global Christianity is inevitable. It is happening in front of our eyes. Third, Jesus without Borders is an eye-opening encounter because we ought to be thankful that the Lord has prepared and equipped real and serious scholars and men of God who are not only deeply concerned about cultures, but also about the work and the person of the main character behind their cause and calling, namely: Christ (Christology, its study). Jesus without Borders is an empowering experience because it facilitates and invites towards a richer and deeper discussion that engages text and context, Christ and culture by honoring the Scriptures. Finally, Jesus without Borders is personally empowering and I will add liberating because it reminds us of not only the practices, struggles and issues that our global neighbors face as they practice their faith but also brings us often to the painful and joyful realization that current American Christianity have much to learn from our global brothers and sisters and possibly even be renewed by their missionary and missional understanding of the God of the Scriptures.


The author David