How is historical consciousness shaping the ways Christian theologians are interpreting Jesus and salvation today? In this lucidly written book, Thomas Rausch, T. Marie Chilton Professor of Catholic Theology at Loyola Marymount University in San Francisco, offers an introduction to the discipline of Christology that surveys the best of recent Jesus research, engages with Evangelical theology, and proposes a contemporary soteriology "from below."
The first two chapters address issues of context and method, focusing on the three quests for the historical Jesus, as well as the late twentieth-century development of critical Christologies that rely on New Testament exegesis and historical reconstruction of the life of Jesus. Rausch argues that the starting point for Christology should be the faith of the Church, expressed in its Scriptures and creeds, since this faith provides the primary access to the risen Christ (7). However, a critical "dialectical Christology" must also turn to the Jesus made accessible through historical research (8) if it is not to become ideological.
Chapters 3-7 form the largest section of the book and survey the results of recent Jesus research. Two chapters place Jesus firmly in the social context of first-century Judaism and the ensuing Jesus movement, and the following three chapters explore what is known historically of his ministry, death and resurrection. Rausch's main interlocutors in this section are the biblical scholars John P. Meier (a Roman Catholic) and N. T. Wright (an Evangelical Anglican). Chapters 8-9 present a typology of New Testament Christologies (Easter, Son of God, Wisdom, and Preexistence) followed by a narrative description of the genesis of doctrines concerning the person of Jesus Christ from the end of the first century through to the Councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon.
Chapter 10 treats the biblical and traditional sources for the theology of salvation, relating these to similar sources for the doctrine of original sin and closing with the debate between Roman Catholic and Protestant Christians in the Reformation period over the issue of justification. Finally, in chapter 11, Rausch presents his own soteriology, beginning with a critique of Anselm of Canterbury's satisfaction theory followed by a reinterpretation of salvation that is grounded in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and conversant with Piet Schoonenberg's view of original sin as "sin of the world."
One of the strengths of Rausch's book is the critical evaluation it offers of the soteriology of Roger Haight. On the one hand, Rausch agrees with Haight that soteriology should be done "from below" and that, retrieving the thought of Peter Abelard, Jesus is best seen as revealer of God and exemplar of human existence. On the other hand, he disagrees with Haight's reinterpretation of salvation to the extent that it "seems to find no positive value in the Cross" (198), denies that Jesus causes the salvation of all human beings, and undermines the doctrine of the "immanent" Trinity by opting for a Spirit Christology. For Rausch, drawing from Arthur McGill (193), the Cross remains a preeminent symbol of salvation insofar as Jesus' refusal to respond to violence with violence "reveals the non- dominative, life-giving power of God" (203). Furthermore, following Pope John Paul II (199), Jesus is the source of salvation for all human beings because he is "the embodiment of the mystery of God" (203). Finally, citing Walter Kasper (148), there is evidence in John's Prologue of Jesus being understood ontologically as God's Son and the incarnation of the preexistent Logos.
A limitation of Rausch's book, one which he himself acknowledges in his Introduction (x), is that it responds only minimally to questions raised by massive global suffering and religious pluralism. Only two references appear to liberation theology, the second to Jon Sobrino's influence on Haight's view that the Cross is a symbol of Jesus' entire life of choosing the kingdom of God (191). The works of Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza and Elizabeth Johnson are cited frequently in footnotes, but there are only two paragraph-long reflections in the text on the significance of Sophia Christology (137-38, 141-42). The only reference to the world religions is a mention that mainstream Catholic theology today recognizes that salvific encounters take place in and through other religions, not in spite of them (198).
Rausch's book will serve as an excellent textbook for upper-level undergraduate courses in Christology. Along with an index of names and subjects, it includes charts and a glossary. Instructors may want to supplement the book with readings not only from liberation, feminist, and interreligious perspectives, but also from ecological and cross-cultural perspectives so that the full breadth of the influence of historical consciousness on contemporary Christology is properly represented.