Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Review Of Walter Kasper's The God Of Jesus Christ

AP: Normally I don't comment on books dealing with theology, since I am a philologist first and foremost. Theology is not exactly my field, and, well, I just don't feel competent in this area. But there is a book that caught my eye. That book is Walter Kasper's El Dios de Jesucristo (ed. Sal Terrae; Santander, 2011), translated from the English (The God of Jesus Christ). Actually it is translated from the second German edition by José Manuel Lozano-Gotor Perona. Even though this blog, which I share with my friend Thomas Hudgins, is English, permit me to just comment on the value of the translation. Even though I did not have the German in front of me to check, I found the translation in the samples that I checked very good indeed. The title definitely grabs your attention, doesn't it? Well, this book is very informative and summative, despite the fact that it is more than 500 pages. This particular book is the fourth volume of Walter Kasper's works on theology. And the author is already well known throughout the Spanish-speaking world for his works on Jesus of Nazareth and Paul (both of which I believe are translated into Spanish).

This book has a very extensive prologue that updates some aspects of this work, whose first edition was published some thirty years prior. Still the book has not lost its freshness or interest. From this prologue I have been particularly interested in the comparison of the God of Jesus with the Jewish God, the God of Islam (this comparison is remarkably rich and recommended if anyone is interested in such a comparison), and that of Buddhism.

The book is divided into three parts. The first is "The Question for God Today." It addresses the question of God as a problem; the negation of God in modern atheism; the problems of doing theology in the face of unbelief; the experience of God and knowledge of God (cosmological, anthropological, ontological, and philosophical arguments of history), and the "knowledge of God in faith": revelation and concealment of God. All this is treated with simplicity and clarity, practically taking nothing for granted, so that it is readable by everyone with a certain level. Personally I have been interested in the sections dedicated to Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Nietzsche. I recommend it.

The second part, "The Message about the God of Jesus Christ" has three chapters. The first is dedicated to God the Father, and he studies it in the history of religions, in the Old Testament and New Testament, in theology, and in dogmas. He then addresses the question of the theological definition of God in western metaphysics and in modern philosophy of freedom. Again I judge this chapter as dense, concrete, well synthesized, and very clear.

In the second chapter we enter into the theme that drew me especially to this book, "Jesus Christ, Son of God" (pp. 262–316; remember my notes are from the Spanish translation). He starts from the question of salvation, assuming that, from the ecclesial creed, people are much less interested in language about God in a general sense than the God manifested in Jesus Messiah. The author offers a clear looks at "the messianic promise of salvation in the Old Testament," where we find an interesting summary of the origin, evolution, and (almost) definitive transformation of Messianism with Christian theology. Interesting topics here include: God, the problem of evil and atheism; Leibnitz or "theological sadism," since the philosopher had come to the conclusion that God created the best of all possible worlds. Kasper accepts this as a sound methodology, in order to base a theology on Jesus Christ as mediator of salvation, the joint testimony of the Old Testament and the New Testament, something debatable because they are very heterogeneous entities, and the convergence in the New of all lines of royalty, prophecy, priesthood, etc., which ends up in the conception of the messianism of Jesus as understood by the early Christians and their successors.

My issues, from the standpoint of a philologist––not in the understanding of the text, of course, since it is equally clear––were with Kasper's theological position on the conduct and preaching of Jesus of Nazareth. The author accepts historical concepts or interpretations of Jesus that for me they are not. For example, that the kingdom of God tends universally to the realization of a new humanity––as Paul and the evangelists, as well as Kasper argued––even though he acknowledges that the historical Jesus only felt called to address the sheep of Israel (p. 277). Or that the Messiah was totally opposed to violence (where the author stresses the prophet Zechariah 9:9 and the fulfillment of this prophecy at the entrance of Jesus in Jerusalem on the back of a colt, which indicates his pacifism), omitting in his theological discussion the enormous dispersed evangelical material that points to the opposite: that he was expected to be a political messiah and that did not make him angry with violence, as I have argued other times. Or in his acceptance of the absolute contrast of John the Baptist and Jesus: the first as a preacher of judgment, and the second as proclaimer of grace and forgiveness ..., which is a cliché that must be qualified as such.

For me, the whole question of indirect or "implicit" christology, which can be deduced from (a) of Jesus' preaching; (b) their activity and conduct; (c) his most demanding call to follow him; and (d) in the way he addresses God by proclaiming his very special sonship. All these paths tend in theology to form a bridge that connects the insurmountable distance between the historical Jesus and the heavenly Christ promoted by Paul and his intellectual disciples, the evangelists. I think it's a actually an apologetic issue, not a historical one.

I also find the Christology of the Logos here to be debatable, especially the analysis of the Prologue of the Fourth Gospel as if it contained ideological advances that can not be explained by the Old Testament, neither by the Jewish apocalyptic nor by Philo of Alexandria, but as a landmark that––although it has precedents––is deeply original. I believe––although this could not be known by W. Kasper since the whole thesis has been developed by D. Boyarin––that the Prologue of the Gospel of John is a midrash on divine Wisdom, from Genesis 1, Proverbs 8, and Ecclesiasticus 24. It is also very controversial today that Paul defended the preexistence of the Messiah at all costs. Kasper relies mainly on the anthem of Phil. 2:6ff., but it is obvious that there are other texts of Paul that clearly do not permit such a position. In addition, the interpretation of this hymn is not necessary and exclusively pre-existentialist, as its intellection is increasingly imposed around the opposing Adam-Messiah, both as purely human beings. At the beginning of encountering this interpretation I was somewhat convinced, but now I see it more clearly. If so, then the whole theology of the kenosis––the theology of the emptying of the divine Messiah by which he sets aside his divine "form" and adopts the human "form––is left without its main foundation. In that case, we must rethink all this.

The third part, "The Trinitarian Mystery of God", which discusses foundation and development of Trinitarian theology, is equally clear. Here, as a matter of theology and not of history, I find less difficulty in accepting the reasoning of the author, once his biases are accepted, which are a matter of faith.

In short, I liked Kasper's book very much and I think it is a very interesting manual. It packs a lot in its pages and sheds a lot of light at the same time. I would highly recommend it. And, for the skeptics like me, this is a useful book for thinking through theology, an area in which I do not usually find myself very often.

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