This is a remarkable text. Kelly’s book draws on the research of many scholars, and Kelly seeks not to add to that knowledge base but to frame a horizon within which to critically appropriate it. Among those on whom Kelly draws are Bernard Lonergan, Jean-Luc Marion, Von Balthasar, Eric Voegelin, and a host of New Testament scholars and theologians. Kelly’s fresh synthesis privileges Christian life while preserving cherished truths. In this context the resurrection of Christ emerges as a force that stands behind the activity and writings of St. Paul and the Evangelists, the life and mission of the church in every age, and the contemporary search for meaning and value.
Kelly’s book offers a tremendous source of materials for reflection on Christ’s resurrection as central to Christian life through, what he admits, is a spiraling mode of investigation. He begins his text in Chapter 1 with the observation that theologians have generally overlooked the resurrection as a significant source of meaning and value for theology, and he invites the reader to receive his book as one amidst chorus of voices who have lead theology back to its roots. Kelly sees his own reflections as aiming at appreciating the resurrection “on its own terms” before seeking any historical explanation or apologetic defense. After offering these reflections on the place of the resurrection in theology, Kelly turns in chapter 2 to “A Phenomenological Approach to the Resurrection”. This chapter is not an introduction to the single method pursued throughout the book but is one in which Kelly draws the reader’s attention to the resurrection as a pervasive phenomenon within Christian life. This is an important moment in a text that rejects a positivist reduction of the resurrection to a mere fact in the past and that approaches objectivity as a matter of self-transcendence. It is also an important prelude to Kelly’s reflections on the event or the resurrection as constitutive of the life of the Church. In Chapter 3 Kelly discusses the phenomenon of the New Testament, not indeed as a datum within the consciousness of the contemporary reader, but as a text generated by a confessing community transformed by this pervasive phenomenon.
Chapter 4 attempts to bring together, without homogenizing, a plurality of approaches to the resurrection through a consideration of six key aspects that have given shape to the life and mission of the church. Here Kelly introduces the multi-dimensionality of meaning: its effective, communicative, constitutive, and cognitive functions, as a framework for bringing together and preserving diverse appropriations. Chapter 5 is an interpretation of St. Paul’s view of the resurrection and argues for the centrality of conversion. Here Kelly’s theoretical framework draws on Voegelin’s account of human consciousness as existing in the tension between immanence and transcendence and which cannot be wholly thematized. However, he is critical of Voegelin’s depreciation of dogma and the historical person of Christ. Nevertheless, Voegelin helps Kelly to articulate an experience in consciousness that is partially objectifiable in terms of the liturgical, ethical, and Christological implications expressed by St. Paul and the early Church in the many dimensions of meaning.
In Chapter 6, Kelly’s attention turns to the objectivity of accounts of the resurrection, beginning with an examination of the relationship in the New Testament between seeing and being seen by the risen Jesus. Kelly argues that the criterion for the certainty of the witness is given in the power of the resurrection to constitute the Christian community whose values and identity are founded on the risen Christ. In Chapters 7 and 8 Kelly turns his attention to the critical ground for this renewed sense of objectivity. On these grounds stand the rejection of positivist and conceptualist interpretations of the Resurrection and the articulation of an ontology of meaning within history and personal development and transformation.
Chapters 9 and 10 draw attention to the manner in which the resurrection has transformed contemporary theology through its effects on Trinitarian and moral theology, interfaith dialogue, and, finally, on the nature of theology itself. Kelly argues in the conclusion for a theology that accepts the witness of love above that of reason within the ever transforming horizon of God’s self-giving love. In sum, Kelly presents Christ’s resurrection as a historical and an existential event, as a message to be affirmed and communicated and a truth that motivates and directs collaboration, and as a particularity of universal significance.