The Logic of Christology from Below

By Roger Haight, S.J.


1. The Situation of Christology

  1. A new global situation
  2. New areas of research
  3. A new postmodern culture

2. Characteristics of a Christology from Below

  1. An apologetic method
  2. Christology from below
  3. A genetic method
  4. A hermeneutical method of critical correlation
  5. Other principles of interpretation
    • The symbolic character of religious language
    • Meaning and truth
    • The principle of analogy
    • Correlation with the social condition of human existence
  6. The criteria of christology

3. The Genesis of Christology

  1. Jesus
  2. The Easter Experience
  3. Interpretations of Jesus

4. The Structure of Christology

  1. The historicity of all religious experience
  2. Jesus symbol of God for Christian faith
  3. The dialectical structure of symbol

5. Loci in Christology

  1. Classical soteriology and christology
  2. Salvation theory
  3. Social salvation and Christian spirituality
  4. Jesus and other religious mediations
  5. The divinity of Jesus
  6. Trinitarian theology from below



As we approach the transition from the second to the third millennium, it is difficult to escape the feeling that we are entering a new period of history. True, numerical markers of time are arbitrary, and there are few sudden changes in history at large. But at the same time it is only now for the first time in the history of the human race that we can begin to think of a truly global history, of a consciously common history of all humankind newly bound together by political, economic, and cultural ties. The human race, as it passes into the 21st century, is entering a new age of world solidarity. As this happens it is also difficult for Christians not to expect shifts and changes in our self-understanding. The church in the West has gone through several major changes over its two thousand year history that can be correlated with changes in society and culture. No reason impels us to think that Christian self-understanding has ceased to develop. And such development is most crucial at the core of Christian faith itself, namely, the mediation of Christian faith in God through Jesus Christ. In fact few areas in Christian theology are as vitally active as christology. In the animated discussions within the discipline one can begin to see the broad contours of new Christian self-understanding beginning to take shape.

The developments in christology are occurring piecemeal in areas that are sometimes quite independent of each other. When one draws them together and measures their cumulative effect, one begins to see the depth and far ranging scope of the christological discussion. How can one begin to bring all these investigations and inquiries into a coherent statement? How can they be integrated into a unified christology? One possibility would lie in a consistent method. In the paper which follows I want to outline such a method under the well-known phrase "christology from below." The paper is an interpretation of the logic of a christology from below in response to the new situation in which we find ourselves.

By the words "the logic of christology" I mean two things. First, the logic of christology when taken formally or abstractly refers to the suppositions and method of its development. The logic of christology is like the grammar of the language; it is the underlying rules that govern usage. In a formal sense, the logic of christology simply refers to the underlying method by which a christology is constructed. Second, in a more material sense, the logic of christology refers to the content of the christology but in a schematic, abbreviated form. After a formal account of a method, I will lay out the fundamental lines of interpretation and understanding that could be assumed by such a christology. The the term "logic" is used to underline the fact that the intention here is not to develop this christology fully, but merely to point to the holistic strategy by which a christology might respond to our new situation.

Finally, the term "from below" refers to the distinctive quality of the christology that is being described here. Everyone has a vague idea of the meaning of christology from below since Karl Rahner described it positively for Catholic theology decades ago. I use the term here in an epistemological sense and not in an ontological sense. Two things are signaled by a christology from below. First, such a christology is one that begins here below on earth: it begins with human experience, with human questioning, with the historical figure Jesus of Nazareth, with disciples who encountered Jesus and interpreted him in various ways. The word "from" in the phrase "from below" thus indicates a point of departure in our christological thinking. "From below" does not indicate the end, goal, or result of christological thinking, which is by contrast a "high" christology. And "from below" does not negate or minimize the ontology of grace, or God's initiative "from above," for this initiative of God can be experienced according to the common testimony of Christians. Second, this beginning epistemologically from below sets up, or constitutes, a structure of thinking and understanding that remains consistent. Epistemologically christology is always ascending; it is always tied to human experience as to its starting point. And when its conclusions are reached, they must always be explained on the basis of the experience that generated them. But this will become clearer during the course of these pages.

I have divided the discussion into five parts. The first describes the postmodern situation of theology and christology today. The second is a formal statement of a method in christology that proceeds from below. The third describes the genesis of christology during the period represented by the New Testament. The forth generalizes the structure of christology on the basis of an analysis and theoretical interpretation of its genesis. And the fifth section simply enumerates some of the classical loci of christology that would be interpreted in the light of this structure and method.

The Situation of Christology

A discussion of the discipline of christology should begin with a description of the situation or human context in which it unfolds and to which it responds. One could develop this at length. I shall do little more than assemble known factors and point to areas of common experience. The supposition of this thin description is that Christian theology must adjust to it, just as it adjusted to the Greek and Roman worlds as it moved out of Palestine.

A new global situation.

The peoples of the earth are becoming interdependent and united in a new and unprecedented way, especially since the breakdown of the Soviet block in 1989. Many factors are contributing to this process of globalization: the triumph of liberal capitalism as the ruling economic ideology; the technologies of travel and communication; the migration of peoples. The ever increasing dynamism towards the unity of the world, or "one world," carries with it a number of polarities or tensions that unfold concretely in the lives of countless people in different ways and yet may be generalized.

One tension is between the local and the global. The church is in a new way a global church, taking firm roots in African and Asian cultures. As a communion of local churches around the world, the church is continually subjected to tensions between the center and the periphery, between what is common to the whole church and what is local and indigenous. A major problem in one part of the church many not exist in another; and the solution to it may cause a major problem in another part of the world if it is universalized.

Another area of tension can be identified when one looks at the church in relation to other religions on the world stage. In a global context, the church can no longer be viewed in isolation, as the exclusive religion of a particular region. The church now exists in an explicitly pluralistic worldwide context as one religion interacting with others. The two forces of the tension pull against each other: maintenance of firm Christian identity as a distinctive religion over against existence as one religion among the others. On the one hand the situation seems to undermine the identity of Christianity insofar as it has been conceived as the one true religion. On the other hand, it opens the way for Christianity to become truly catholic in the sense of embracing all cultures as genuinely other.

The new global situation could be described at greater length. One thing is clear, however, that a description today will not apply exactly in twenty five years. Christianity now exists in a world that is rapidly moving.

New areas of research.

So is christology. Movement in christology is being driven by several areas of investigation. It is helpful simply to enumerate some of the areas of research that have blossomed in the last couple of decades and which have a more or less direct bearing on christology. First, liberation and political theologies: these theologies represent ways of thinking that force a reappropriation of the significance of Jesus Christ in social terms. Personalism and individual-existential ways of understanding Jesus Christ, by themselves, are no longer adequate. Second, feminist theology demands as its supposition a recognition of the degree to which the Christian tradition is patriarchal and sexist; it too calls for fundamental revisions in our understanding. Third, Jesus research has flourished, and in so doing has provided the Christian imagination with a more earthly and human picture of Jesus of Nazareth with which christology must reckon. Fourth, inculturation as a movement and a self-conscious effort in theology entails speaking of Jesus Christ in new languages which, by definition, generate new and different understandings of him. One senses the growth of a new demand for pluralism in christology. Fifth, interreligious dialogue is an expanding practice. For christology, this reflects and ratifies the pluralistic situation which in turn provides a new context for christological reflection. And, sixth, all of the five areas I have mentioned combine to set up a demand that christology assume an apologetic form. By this I mean that christology must interpret and explain the tradition within this new context: it cannot simply presuppose the dogmatic forms, but must respond to the question of what they mean in this new situation.

A new postmodern culture.

One might frame this hasty portrait of the new situation of christology with a characterization of what is increasingly being called a postmodern culture. In so doing, I am not interested in claiming that western or world culture has passed a threshold beyond modernity. The concrete referent of the term "postmodernity" is an appreciation of today's world, and I use the term to call attention to aspects of our situation that appear new. Four characteristics of the way educated people view the world today seem to be typically, and in some respects distinctively, postmodern.

Postmodernity entails, first, a radical historical consciousness. By this I mean a loss of a sense of a telos in history, and a feeling that human existence is simply adrift, in an utterly contingent or arbitrary way, subject to the inner forces of history itself. Second, postmodernity involves a critical social consciousness. The human subject of the Enlightenment, the autonomous rationality which was the source of universal truth, has yielded to notions of truth and value that do not transcend a particular social arrangement. Third, postmodernity involves a pluralist consciousness. Western culture no longer commands the center, for there is no one center, but only a variety of local centers of thought. No religion can claim to be the one true religion, nor one people to be a chosen people. No individual or individual group or culture can design or possess a metanarrative the encompasses the whole; that perspective is simply not available. Truth is only attainable in fragments. And, fourth, postmodernity involves a cosmic consciousness. Science is gradually mediating to our minds a cosmos that can no longer be imagined, because of its size, its age, and its macro and micro complexity. It is becoming increasingly difficult to imagine that earthly homo sapiens is the center of reality and not an epiphenomenon.

This culture of postmodernity, as I have depicted it, appears threatening to Christian faith. But no more than Hellenistic culture at the dawn of the second century. This culture should not be viewed only as a threat, but also as a lure to create new construals of Jesus Christ that meet the temper of our time. Such an effort, however, will require a distinct method.

Characteristics of a Christology from Below

I move then to a formal description of the method of christology. This method is not idiosyncratic: implicitly or explicitly most of the characteristics I shall enumerate qualify the efforts of all theologians who are addressing the contemporary situation. Only the way in which they are put together may be distinctive. I take the time to at least point to these elements of method because they explain to a large degree the way christological content is determined. I realize that by simply stating a method, as distinct from mounting an extensive argument to justify it, I raise many questions without answering them. My hope is that much of this language is already somewhat familiar.

An apologetic method.

Our situation as Christians in a world that is not homogeneously Christian or even religious demands an apologetic method. By that I mean a way of doing theology that does not presuppose Christian doctrine as a common, accepted set of principles, but rather sets out to explain and communicate those very doctrines in a language of commonly shared principles and values. The Apologists addressing the Roman empire in the second century are instructive for our day. This apologetic dimension defines a style of theology that also has a bearing on Christian self-understanding, that relates to those inside the church insofar as they participate in and have internalized a postmodern culture, or any other culture that does not take Christian truth for granted.

Christology from below.

I explained briefly what I mean be "from below" at the top of this essay as indicating a point of departure and not the goal of christology, and as defining a structure of thought that epistemologically is rooted in this-worldly experience. Let me add a further precision: constructively christology from below begins with a consideration of the historical Jesus. This is commanded by our historical consciousness. Jesus of Nazareth is the object of christology and there can be no consideration of Jesus in any other state apart from the only Jesus that we know from history. Because "from below" points to a structure of understanding, this historical Jesus is always present as a criterion for christology.

A genetic method.

The phrase, "a genetic method," describes how an apologetic christology from below proceeds. It begins with Jesus and, after his death and the Easter experience of his resurrection, follows the development of christologies in the New Testament. It traces and then analyses the genesis of christology "for the first time" as it were. And on the basis of this development, and through an analysis of its structure, it determines the structure or logic of christology itself. In other words, an analytical appreciation of how the Christians represented in the New Testament interpreted Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ provides the model or paradigm for the structure of christology as a discipline.

A hermeneutical method of critical correlation.

The genesis of christology can be understood in terms of interpretation theory. In this case I appeal to the tradition of hermeneutics stemming from Schleiermacher and exemplified today in the writings of Heidegger, Gadamer, Ricoeur, and Tracy. Just as the genesis of christology consisted in the interpretation of Jesus as the Christ in the light of the encounter of God in his life and the experience of his exaltation by God, so too, analogously, christology today is interpretation of Jesus in the light of those same experiences. But as a formal discipline in today's postmodern world, this interpretation takes on certain technical qualities of method. These are referred to with the terms hermeneutical, critical, and correlation.

A hermeneutical method is a method of interpretation. The structure for this interpretation is indicated by the term "correlation." Correlation means placing the data of the tradition of Christian faith, in this case going back to Jesus of Nazareth, in conjunction with the world in which one lives at any given time. Interpretation occurs within a dialectical or a dialogical going back and forth between the past and the present, the witness of faith from the past and the forms provided by the culture of any given present situation. Finally, this conversation must be critical in several senses. It must involve the mutual questioning implicit in any dialogue, and thus the mutual listening to and criticism of each interlocutor of the correlation, the past and the present. Critical also refers to self-consciousness reflection on the process of knowledge, religious knowledge, and faith. And critical refers to "social critical," or an attentiveness to the sociology of knowledge and, more generally, the social construction thought and culture. Interpretation in Christian theology usually unfolds within the tradition. But at certain points the tradition itself should be placed in critical dialogue with "the world" so that traditional "blind spots" may be discovered.

In sum, the basic genetic structure of christology is interpretation of Jesus. Today, the formal discipline of christology incorporates the critical tools of postmodernity into its interpretation of Jesus.

Other principles of interpretation.

Other elements of a critical appropriation of a religious tradition that enter into theological method and thus into christology. I indicate some of these here without developing them.

A first and very significant element in theology generally, and especially in christology, is the symbolic character of religious language. The category of symbol plays a central role in the christology outlined here. The idea of symbol, of something that mediates another reality, is used in two analogous senses: a conceptual symbol refers to a symbolic idea, or word, or other devise of consciousness; and a concrete symbol refers to some thing, an object, event, or person which mediates and makes present something other than itself. The category of symbol is used frequently to reinforce an awareness of the symbolic character of all knowledge of transcendent reality.

Some other terms and categories that have a bearing on method include a distinction between meaning and truth. Meaning, or a unity of intelligibility, or the "sense" of a text, may be distinguished from whether or not this construal actually exists or existed. Truth, in its traditional definition of mental representation corresponding to objective reality, adds to meaning the dimension of reference to external reality. In conjunction with the distinction between meaning and truth, hermeneutical theory insists that, in affirming the truth of the past, of past texts, for example, one must draw that meaning into the present. Affirming the truth of something, as distinct from a non-referential meaning, is an act of responsibility to the evidence that cannot escape the conditions of what one knows to be truth in a given time or place. This gives rise to the principle of analogy. The principle of analogy says that one affirms the truth within the context of what one knows to be true in one's present world. Within an ontologically unified world, analogy with what one experiences as true in the present operates as a criterion for affirming truth generally. Ordinarily one cannot affirm as true in another historical context what one knows to be ontologically impossible within one's own.

I want to underline a principle of interpretation that was mentioned earlier in passing, namely, that one must interpret the meaning of the past in correlation with both the personal experience of individuals and the more objective social condition of human existence. The degree to which the public social conditions of human existence shape the individual is a relatively recent discovery that has contributed to the formation of postmodernity. Interpretation, in its quest to uncover the meaning of the past in its relevance to the present, cannot avoid its social implications.

The criteria of christology.

What are the criteria to determine whether a certain christology is adequate or not? It is clear that there is a pluralism of different understandings of Jesus Christ within the greater church and within Catholicism as well. Such a pluralism is not necessarily a bad thing. Therefore, the criteria for christology must be fluid enough to allow for a certain pluralism at the same time that they establish limits to what is acceptable: every christology is not adequate. I propose three criteria as central but not exhaustive: the first is fidelity to scripture and the landmark interpretations of Jesus Christ from the history of the community, such as the Councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon. The second is intelligibility to a present-day community. Christology must make sense in the language of today's world. The third is an ability to empower a Christian life in the contemporary world. A christology unable to do this is irrelevant and lacks a moral credibility.

To conclude, these reflections lay out an interpretation of our present situation at the beginning of the third millennium and some presuppositions and reflections on method that enable a response to that situation. This represents a first and purely formal description of a logic for a christology from below that is both historically conscious, in some measure systematic, and attentive to our postmodern situation. I now move to an account of the genesis and structure of christology.

The Genesis of Christology

I have already described a genetic method in christology. In this section I want to add some content to that formal description, while at the same time remaining on a somewhat abstract and general level of discussion. I analyze the genesis of christology in three phases: Jesus, the Easter experience of his disciples after his death, and the development of christological interpretations of Jesus in the light of his resurrection. I shall indicate briefly how each of these phases enters into the development of christology.


Most are aware that the quest for the historical Jesus has been pursued vigorously over the last decades. There are several debates concerning this research that have bearing on christology itself. One concerns what we can know of Jesus historically and how we know it. Another issue is the bearing of such knowledge on a theological appropriation of Jesus. All of these questions correlate neatly with the historical consciousness of postmodernity, and christology should contain clear positions relative to these issues.

But there is still another and I think more important dimension of the impact of this research on christology. This dimension can be illuminated by a consideration of the imagination in human knowing. According to Thomas Aquinas, all human knowing involves imaginative contact with concrete reality, and sensible images are at least a latent residue of all knowledge. When this view is transposed to christology, it implies that all christology involves, and often rests upon, implicit imaginative construals of Jesus Christ and his relation to God and to us. For the most part, these imaginative perceptions have been fashioned by the language of the liturgy, the catechism, and general church devotion. The Jesus literature most forcefully influences christology by bringing the imagination back to an historical personage, and in so doing reinforces the conviction, that at one point had to be doctrinally affirmed, that Jesus was a human being like us. In short, Jesus research is reschooling our image of Jesus.

The Easter Experience.

I shall not outline a theology of the resurrection here, but simply enumerate a few principles that will be at work in an approach to Jesus' resurrection "from below." First, an historical approach to Jesus' resurrection proceeds through a consideration of what the disciples experienced that led them to the conviction, the dynamic conviction that engendered the Christian mission, that Jesus is alive and was raised by God. This question of the Easter experience cannot be decisively answered, and one finds many theories about it. But it remains an important hypothetical question that reveals the structure of one's thinking. Also, the principle of analogy plays a role in this consideration. I agree with Edward Schillebeeckx that despite the differences of proximity to and knowledge of the earthly Jesus, one should not conceive an enormous difference between the disciples' experience of Jesus raised by God and alive and our own Christian experience of the same thing. However one explains this analogy in its degree of difference and sameness, an apologetic christology must make some appeal to experience to make sense of Jesus' resurrection.

Interpretations of Jesus.

The third moment in the genesis of christology consists in the interpretations of Jesus as the Christ that were formulated by the followers of Jesus who themselves thus became Christians. In my own analysis of these christologies three things assume a certain importance. The first is that there is a wide variety of different interpretations of just who Jesus-now-risen was and is. This corresponds nicely with the fact that these are historically condition interpretations by different communities in different situations. The second is that one can discern a certain unity or sameness in all of these interpretations: they are based on and witness to the experience that Jesus is the bearer of God and God's salvation. Jesus the "mediator of salvation from God" is as it were a common denominator of all New Testament christologies. Third, this pattern can be raised to a level of principle: christology is a function of soteriology or at least the experience of salvation. And this in turn gives one a very basic conception of the structure of christology and one of the most salient features of its logic. The pattern will also provide christology with its most fundamental criterion of adequacy. Whatever else a christology must do, it must explain why or how Jesus Christ is savior.

The Structure of Christology

In the genesis of christology, that is, beginning with Jesus, and in the light of the experience of him as raised by God and the interpretation of him as the bearer of God's salvation, one can discern the structure of christology. I summarize that structure around the category of symbol as in the phrase "Jesus symbol of God." I have to give a brief account of that central title for Jesus since it carries so much weight.

The historicity of all religious experience.

I relate the structure of christology to a general theory of the mediated character of all concrete human experience of God and hence the mediated character of all religion. This corresponds neatly with Karl Rahner's view of revelation and knowledge of God, and with the Thomistic tradition of epistemology as well. All knowledge of God is historically mediated, that is, through nature or through the events, persons, or constructs of history.

Jesus symbol of God for Christian faith.

In his philosophy of religion, John Smith refers to the worldly and historical media through which all positive revelation or religion receives its content. His descriptions of such media, however, make it clear that they are synonymous with what other authors, such as Paul Tillich and Karl Rahner, call symbols. On this general understanding of revelation and religion, it becomes clear that Jesus of Nazareth is the concrete historical symbol around which Christian revelation and faith are centered. Christianity is structured by and around Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ or Savior from God. Placed in the context of history the notion of symbol explains why Jesus is at the center of the Christian religious imagination.

The dialectical structure of symbol.

Because of the epistemological power and the ontological density of the symbol, however, it can also play a central role in a systematic understanding of Jesus Christ. First of all, symbols are often called into play in the knowledge of things that transcend other ordinary ways of knowing. For example, one finds in psychology and the arts areas of knowing that can only be opened up by means of symbols. The same is true of the transcendent sphere of religion where objects of faith transcend knowledge of this world. Conceiving of Jesus as symbol of God, therefore, opens up a form of participatory knowledge that exceeds what is communicated by univocal or literal speech. Secondly, through a phenomenology of symbolic communication and participatory knowledge, one can speak of an ontological mediation by symbols. A most common example of this is the mediation of human personal presence to another through bodily gesture. Such communication is not automatic, because gestures may also be used to dissimulate. But ordinarily they communicate one's self outside oneself. In short, concrete symbols render present and available the being of something other than themselves.

Both the epistemological and ontological functioning of symbols reveal a dialectical structure. By dialectical here I mean a tension between two forces or dimensions of a symbol that move in opposite directions or pull against each other in a manner that remains unresolved. For example, in the conception of my body being the symbol of my self, the body both is and is not the self. Generalizing, in the case of some concrete symbols, one must say that the symbol both is and is not what it symbolizes. This unresolved dialectical structure characterizes all religious symbols, so that to remove it would be to destroy their symbolic character. In christology, this dialectical structure is reproduced in the classical christological doctrine finally forged at Chalcedon after years of debate: Jesus both is not and is divine; Jesus both is and is not merely (that is, restrictively) human. Calling Jesus symbol of God, therefore, is a way of depicting the role of Jesus Christ in the historically distinctive Christian faith. Symbol is also a systematic concept that is analogously common among other forms of human knowing and academic disciplines. It offers a way of explaining the basic classical doctrines of how Jesus saves (soteriology) and the characterization of the status of Jesus as a person (christology).

Loci in Christology

A number of fundamental questions about Jesus Christ make up the classical loci that would have to be considered in any adequate christology. Some of these questions are relatively new, and together they are acting like a lever to move christology slowly forward. Others are less the focus of attention, but because of the interrelated character of all of them, are also undergoing reinterpretation. In what follows I will simply indicate how the logic of a christology from below subsumes these questions without developing specific positions.

Classical soteriology and christology.

It seems impossible to me for an adequate christology to jump over the period which generated the classical doctrines, as some evangelical theologians tend to do. The basic doctrines on how Jesus saved and the person of Jesus Christ are written into current liturgical, devotional, and catechetical language about Jesus Christ in the mainline churches. A christology from below, by dealing with the genesis of christology, will by definition analyze the biblical witness on these questions. It must also trace the further development of christology into the classical patristic period. The passage of Christian faith into the Hellenistic world is filled with instructive lessons. The more classical theology is compared with the theology of the New Testament, the more it will become apparent that within the continuity of the tradition major shifts in understanding and appropriation occurred during the patristic period.

One way of appropriating both the New Testament and classical theology from below would be through the use of a hermeneutical method of critical correlation. This would roughly consist in bringing to bear three kinds of analysis. First, it would begin with a strictly historical analysis of the genesis and development of doctrines within the context or horizon of their historical situation. Second, it would subject these doctrines to various forms of critical analysis from the point of view of our present horizon of understanding. Among these would be analyses that try to characterize the human experiences which generated the doctrines and that they therefore crystallize. And, thirdly, it would seek to appropriate and reinterpret the experiences that are latent in these texts as possibilities for self-understanding and living in the present. These possibilities that are opened up by the theologies of the past must be reformulated within the context of our own present and future life situations. It is crucial that one understand the critical analyses of the second phase be understood as opening up constructive possibilities for the present and future.

Salvation theory.

By salvation theory I mean what is often called theories or theologies of redemption, that is, of what Jesus Christ did to accomplish human salvation. Most educated Christians would probably agree that some of the language of the tradition, including the language of official liturgical prayer and devotion, has become embarrassing to Christian faith. The mythical and symbolic languages of the past no longer function positively in a postmodern culture, especially when their symbolic character is forgotten. A hermeneutical method of critical correlation, when applied to the traditional characterizations of what Jesus Christ did for human salvation, points in the direction of a reductio ad simplicitatem. The following four points might serve at least as a groundwork for understanding salvation, or at least provide terms that provide a foundation for interpreting more fully how Jesus Christ saves. First, Christian faith in God mediated by Jesus is at the same time an opening up of the imagination in a way that allows Jesus to be the parable of God. Second, in existential terms this means that Christians encounter God in Jesus. This phrase represents the absolute foundation and point of departure for a christology from below. Thirdly, within this encounter Jesus reveals God, that is, mediates God and makes God present. Fourth, Christian salvation consists in the encounter with the saving God in and through Jesus, so that Jesus saves by revealing and making God present. Much more could be said about the content of Jesus' mediation, especially as it relates to ever different situations of human captivity.

Social salvation and Christian spirituality.

By itself the language of personal individual salvation is inadequate in a postmodern context. Given our sense of human historicity, social solidarity, and social constitution, one must show the meaning and truth of Christian salvation for our lives in common. We need a theology of the appropriation of salvation that is simultaneously a theology of history and society. Liberation theology, which is in some respects the first Roman Catholic postmodern theology, has contributed a theology and spirituality of salvation that addresses the negativities of social history and describes the possibility of the salvation of history.

Appreciation of significance of a liberationist construal of salvation and spirituality requires an appreciation of the questions to which it is an answer. And these are generated by distinctively postmodern experiences of negativity: is there any ground for affirming the dignity of the human subject in the historical world we experience? Does human history have any meaning-giving direction? Does human freedom have any overarching or metaphysical purpose that may provide a norm for human self-actualization and self-direction? These three questions, in many different guises, are questions of salvation, here and now, and in the long term. As such they influence the form that the Christian answer will take. When Jesus of Nazareth is interpreted as symbol of God in response to these questions, he releases a view of God who is concerned with these issues and, concomitantly, proffers a possible salvation in response to them. That possible salvation must be read primarily in the ministry of Jesus, through his death, into resurrection. Such a salvation will become an actuality, however, only in the measure in which it is internalized in a freedom and praxis that in turn address the problems of human suffering. The possibility of salvation in and of history can only be experienced as an actuality within praxis. Salvation must negate the negativities to which it is a response by being acted out. In sum, Jesus Christ becomes actual savior in history in the measure in which people take up and practice his liberating revelation from God. Salvation does not exist apart from spirituality or the Christian life; and eschatology without faith praxis has no existential content.

Jesus and other religious mediations.

Our postmodern situation makes the question of the place of Jesus Christ among other religious mediations a new question, despite the fact that it has been asked and answered in its literal form from the beginning of the Christian tradition. More specifically, postmodernity, with its sense of historicity and expectation of religious pluralism, views religious pluralism positively, and this in turn puts severe pressure on the tradition's absolutistic understanding of Jesus Christ. Even the now common Christian understanding that Jesus Christ's salvation potentially includes all people so that all may share in Christ's saving grace is called into question by a new theocentrism. It is precisely such totalizing metanarratives that are suspect.

A position that in some measure respects the reservations of postmodernity and at the same time guards the substance of Christian tradition might be outlined in the following manner: to begin, it would insist that the encounter with God mediated by Jesus is both universally relevant and true. That is, God really is the way Jesus reveals and actualizes God's presence. But this God is precisely one that is intimately close as loving creator to all human beings. Therefore, one must expect that God's gracious presence will be reflected in all religions, despite the many and sometimes serious ways in which it is also concealed. Jesus is thus normative because he is a universally relevant mediation of the truth of God; but this very revelation implies that God is universally active and graciously present in other religions which, in the measure in which God's grace is efficacious, are also true and normative. In other words, the normativity and truth of Jesus Christ do not undermine other mediations of God; the religions need not be competitive, but may enter into dialogue; and the Christian can affirm the substantial truth of other religions on the basis of the revelation of Jesus Christ. What is becoming more difficult to hold today, however, and it is an open question among theologians, is that the saving grace in other religions is caused by the historical event of Jesus.

The divinity of Jesus.

The distinctiveness of a method of christology that consistently proceeds from below is most apparent in dealing with the questions of Jesus' divinity, and in the theology of the trinity. The reason for this is that christology from above has dominated the tradition and thereby shaped the structure of Christian self-understanding. A major part of the justification of the need for a thoroughgoing christology from below will depend on the recognition that, at least for many, the basic problem of christology has shifted. By its assumptions and method, christology from above faces the problem of the humanity of Jesus. What does it mean to say that Jesus truly had a real human nature? With the deepening of historical consciousness, and especially through the influence of Jesus research, the problem of christology is fundamentally altered. With Jesus of Nazareth at the center of one's historical imagination, the question becomes the following: what does it mean to say that this human being, who came to be worshiped by Christians, is to be called divine? What is the meaning of divinity when it is predicated of the prophet who stands at the head of the Jesus movement? Jesus the historical figure, the human being, is the supposition or given in this question; there is no question here of accommodating a human nature in a divine actor in history.

A christology from below neatly correlates with the new christological question. It begins with Jesus. It traces the various interpretations of him in the light of the experience that he was raised and exalted by God. The vast majority of these interpretations of him do not depict him as a divine figure in the sense that that came to be understood in patristic theology, that is, "of the same substance as the Father." But all of them recognize God's saving action through him and God's presence and power in him. Amid this pluralism of christologies, two in particular are apt for characterizing the person of Jesus himself as divine, namely, a Spirit christology and a Logos christology. Is this Spirit or Logos language capable of portraying Jesus as a truly divine figure in history? Yes it is. But this language, and the theo/ontological way of construing the person of Jesus with it, cannot cease to be symbolic and dialectical. The nature of truly dialectical language is precisely that the tension it maintains cannot be cleanly resolved. And in christology this is its virtue and its truth.

Trinitarian theology from below.

In a postmodern context, Christian language about God is most credible when it confesses God's absolute mystery. Postmodernity declares the end of religious triumphalism, of possession of final truth, of anything but a fragmentary grasp of the ultimately real. These newly experienced convictions do not conflict with some of the deepest strains of Christian spirituality which are now raised to the status of being the conditions for credibility. In this situation, how can the language of trinity about God, that seems to claim some knowledge of the inner life of God, be made to appear plausible?

Several dimensions of a trinitarian theology from below can be brought to bear on this issue. First of all is the recognition that trinitarian theology depends historically and logically on christology. Trinity is not a name for God, but a doctrine about God that is a function of christology and not the other way around. Second, however, an account of Christian salvation is unimaginable without trinitarian language. For Christian salvation is a narrative of God's saving action in history, and this story cannot be told without reference to God creator, Jesus Christ savior, and God as Spirit at work in the church and in the world. Trinity is the short hand symbol of this story of salvation. Thirdly, therefore, the point of trinitarian language is salvation. And this is born out at the junctures of the definition of the doctrine. The arguments for the divinity of the Word of God and the Spirit were made on the basis of salvation: "only God saves; therefore Word and Spirit cannot be less than divine." Fourth, from this salvific point one can make the trinitarian affirmation that God truly is as God is revealed to be in creation, and in Jesus, and in the Spirit experienced at work in the community. Does this entail real differentiations into distinct "persons" or "subsistent relations" or "hypostases" in the Godhead? It may. But one ought to explicitly underscore the speculative character of such a reach into the interior of God's absolutely mysterious being.


Does the logic of a christology from below as it has been laid out here amount to a paradigm shift in christology? Does it entail a substantially new method of christology that finds its basis in new premises and assumptions so that the conclusions reached in a former way of thinking are drawn up into a distinctively new synthesis? The characterization of this christology from below as a paradigm shift would depend on that with which it were contrasted. The turn to history and experience in Christian theology during the modern period seems to qualify as a paradigm shift with reference to the premodern period. This turn, which occurred dramatically with the theology of Schleiermacher, was countered in the Protestant world by Neo-orthodox theology, and that debate is nearing its close. In Roman Catholic theology, when the turn to history and experience was attempted in the modernist period at the beginning of the 20th century, it was simply silenced by authority. Although Catholic theological discussion was reawakened by Vatican II, at the present time discussion of christology that begins with history and experience seems once again to be threatened with authoritarian censure. In the measure that this authority repeats a premodern christological tradition, this christology from below represents a paradigm shift. But by being confronted with authority, instead of alternative postmodern theologies analogous to Neo-orthodoxy, it lacks the debate that is necessary to prove its viability. A serious theological discussion between a variety of views of how to adjust to our postmodern situation is needed before one could characterize this christology from below as something radically new.