In The Future of Christology, Roger Haight provides a collection of essays that address salient themes from his monograph Jesus Symbol of God (JSG) (Orbis, 1999). Intended for an audience that does not necessarily include professional theologians, the book represents a recapitulation of the ideas and a response to the critiques raised by his provocative monograph. In addition to the implicit apologetics that run throughout the manuscript, the epilogue explicitly presents ten areas of concern surfaced by respondents to JSG to which Haight responds. Central to these concerns are Haight’s use of the construct of symbol, his interpretation of the doctrinal statements of Nicaea and Chalcedon, and the salvific normativity and uniqueness of Jesus Christ vis-à-vis other religions. Acknowledging the critiques that swirl around these issues, Haight offers clarification in terms of his particular hermeneutical approach which neither addresses the challenges to that approach nor advances the shortfalls in his proposals.
This apologetic undercurrent notwithstanding, members of the Catholic community as well as college and university students seeking dialogue with contemporary cultural and pluralistic worldviews will find this collection stimulating and insightful. Several chapters are noteworthy for their challenge to prevailing discourse and for the groundwork they lay for constructive theology. His chapter “Notes for a Constructive Theology of the Cross” raises significant questions concerning the meaning of the symbol of the cross, the spirituality and asceticism engendered by the cross, its necessity in the economy of salvation, and the understanding of God as willing the suffering of the cross as a means to salvation. Haight offers preliminary “notes” in response to these questions which disabuse the reader of the glorification of suffering and sacrifice that elicits devotion and perpetuates self-negation in hope of future reward. Haight suggests that it is not the cross that saves, but that “God saves in spite of and in the face of the cross” (92). In this context, Haight proposes an intriguing reading of the Pauline understanding of the cross, of kenosis, and of Jesus as the Second Adam.
A further issue that shapes many of Haight’s considerations is that of pluralism within Catholicism; between Catholicism and other Christian traditions; and among Catholicism, Christian traditions, and others world religions. He presents a cogent comparison of the viewpoints of Karl Rahner and Edward Schillebeeckx in his chapter on “Catholic Pluralism on Religious Pluralism” to demonstrate that pluralism of theologies is demonstrable, acceptable, and effective within the Catholic church. He applies his affirmation of religious pluralism to the issue of the mission of the church and discusses developments since Vatican II that have contributed to an understanding of evangelization and mission beyond the notion of conversion. Particularly lucid is his description and interpretation of the consciousnesses that comprise a postmodern worldview – historical consciousness, social consciousness, pluralist consciousness, and cosmic consciousness – and that serve as “a lure to create new construals of Jesus Christ and the Church that meet the temper of our time” (130). Finally Haight brings his understanding of the postmodern consciousness to bear on an “Outline for an Orthodox Pluralist Christology” of Jesus as the revelation of “a savior God who wills the salvation of all whom God created” and as “the historical efficacy of that divine and salvific initiative” (159).
While affirming his approach to Christology from below and his hermeneutical method of critical correlation, this reviewer questions Haight’s proposals concerning Jesus as symbol of God when symbol is understood as a dialectical construct. As Haight explains this understanding, “the symbol both is and is not what it symbolizes.” Hence, in the context of Chalcedon, “Jesus both is not and is divine; Jesus both is and is not merely (that is, restrictively) human” (47). A more efficacious interpretation of symbol that seems more consistent with Chalcedon is to understand symbol as that which ontologically preserves the coincidentia oppositorum and thus implies “both/and” rather than “is/is not.” Moreover, while Haight speaks of postmodern cosmic consciousness, his emphasis on a revelatory soteriology of God in Jesus neglects the cosmic dimension of salvation consistent with such a consciousness. While citing postmodern social and pluralist consciousnesses, Haight does not address the critical issue of contextual Christologies raised by social, gender, racial, and ethnic location, nor suggests how Jesus as revelatory symbol survives translation in multiple contexts. Therefore, in spite of his intention to offer these essays as “a more expansive reply” (11) to the critics of JSG, significant questions remain. Nonetheless, Haight’s work offers a timely reply to vital questions voiced by an expanding number of faithful and, in so doing, stimulates thought and dialogue in turn.