Cletus WESSELS, Jesus in the New Universe Story. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2003. pp. 240. $25.00 pb. ISBN 1-57075-465-9.
Reviewed by Carol J. DEMPSEY, University of Portland, PORTLAND, OR 97203

Written from a cosmological perspective, this wonderful and thoroughly engaging volume takes the traditional anthropocentric view of creation, God, the universe, revelation, salvation, and Jesus and revisions it in light of new scientific developments and what has been labeled, "the new universe story." Written in a reader-friendly style, and intended for a general audience, the volume is composed of two parts and seven chapters.

In Part I, "The Foundational Stories," Wessels examines the three stages of human development, namely, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, discusses the concept of an emerging universe, and then explores the understanding of God, revelation, and salvation in relation to this emerging universe. Wessels argues that revelation is "the presence of God unfolding through the cosmos and within us as individuals . . . human consciousness entering into God's dynamic emerging process within the universe. . . ." (p. 71). For Wessels, salvation is linked to restoration, transformation, and self-restoring, and has three dimensions: reconciliation, healing, and liberation.

In Part II, "The Biblical Stories," Wessels focuses on Jesus and draws particular attention to Jesus' resurrection, the revisioning of one's understanding of resurrection, the life and mission of Jesus, the concept of Jesus as savior, and the pre-existence of Christ. He then situates Jesus in the emerging universe. Wessels closes the volume with a final reflection that pulls together the threads of ideas presented throughout the study. Here he emphasizes the need for intimate loving relationships with all creation and affirms God's presence at work in the midst of all. The volume's bibliography and index offer readers additional resources and easy access to locating the various topics discussed in the work.

I applaud Wessels for this much needed volume that complements a wide variety of material being published on theology, biblical studies, and the new universe story. Wessels' points and insights are to be taken seriously, but as a biblical scholar who is also revisioning the biblical texts in relationship to theology and science, and within the context of an emerging universe, I offer the following thoughts.

First, Wessels distinction between a "created" and an "emerging" universe is, in my opinion, accurate, but I am less certain of the precise lines of demarcation as Wessels suggests. The problem may lie in our understanding of "creation" and "emergence," with the former suggesting a more finite experience and the latter, an ongoing experience. The biblical text on creation celebrates both the imminent and transcendent presence of God which the wisdom tradition makes clear. Wessels' discussion on the "emergence of human consciousness" is excellent, but I wonder if the ancients did not have a consciousness of the presence of God imbued in all creation, as the biblical wisdom tradition suggests. Perhaps we in the western world are only waking up to this consciousness in our lives. Shifts in biblical interpretation and theology are happening not only because of the fields being informed by other disciplines but also because those engaged in the biblical and theological fields are finally discovering a sense of what our ancient ancestors already knew. The vision that Wessels celebrates is embedded in the ancient biblical text but it is only now being retrieved and reread in our new ecozoic social location. For too long hierarchy, patriarchy, and anthropocentricism had dominated our search for truth.

Second, I appreciate very much Wessels' comments on revelation and redemption, but I would suggest that here Wessels does not go far enough in his thought. If all creation is revelatory, and if Christ is the first fruits of creation, then what is to be the final experience of creation? Will creation, and more to the point, the entire universe, be embraced, in the end, by the Spirit of God, and in keeping with the view of Chardin, will it not, then, have discovered "fire" for the second time? There is more to revelation, redemption, and salvation from a biblical-theological-ecological-scientific perspective that Wessels has not yet pushed.

Finally, while the volume offers many important insights into the biblical text and tradition, Wessels' discussion would be stronger if he included the work and insights of those biblical scholars who are currently engaged in vigorous rereadings of and hermeneutical approaches to the many biblical texts to which Wessels refers. There are biblical scholars and biblical theologians working from a cosmological and ecological perspective, and Wessels' omission of their contributions to the conversation is a lacuna in his text.

With this said, I strongly recommend this text to be read again and again. I appreciate Wessels' work. His ability to situate the person of Jesus in the context of an emerging universe gives Christianity a significant voice in this new paradigm that must keep moving forward in the context of world religions if we are to arrive at a truly new understanding of God in conjunction with a new understanding of the universe and all that this new understanding will entail and imply.

TO ORDER BOOKS: - Continuum - Crossroad - Eerdmans Publishing - Liturgical Press - Orbis Books