Stephen T. Davis, Daniel Kendall SJ, Gerald O’Collins SJ
OUP £55 (0-19-927145-3)
Church Times Bookshop £49.50
He himself is our peace: John Macquarrie on how the incarnation reveals
WE OFTEN hear about "summits", meetings of top politicians to discuss
difficult problems. Now we are hearing also of theological summits. This volume
is based on papers read at "The Redemption Summit" in New York, where a group
of experts met to study the meaning of the redemption offered in Jesus Christ.
Though the group is described as international, eight of the 11 members
teach in institutions in the US, two are from England, and one is an Australian
who teaches in Rome. So the theological summit would appear to be primarily an
American phenomenon; but how one qualifies for this theology
in excelsis, as it might be called, is not explained.
Needless to say, the doctors disagree. One contributor (C. S. Evans) argues
that disagreement on complex theological issues is not a bad thing, for there
is usually an element of truth on both sides. That may well be so, but there is
still evidence in these essays of a good deal of wrangling at the summit.
For instance, Seitz mounts a sustained criticism of N. T. Wright for
allegedly taking too narrow an approach to the subject, and concentrating on
the image of return from exile as the basic clue to the meaning of redemption.
But in his contribution to the present volume, Wright sets out a plurality of
images derived from Paul, and probably escapes the criticism.
To my mind, the outstanding essay is that of Brian Daley, "He Himself is our
Peace". The background is Athanasian. We should not separate the work of Christ
from his Person. What is primary is the incarnation, and this in itself effects
redemption and the transformation of our human nature. Reflection on the full
meaning of incarnation, including the whole life and activity of Christ, not
just the cross or even the resurrection, though certainly not excluding these,
reveals a full act of redemption.
So can we leave aside as superfluous all those elaborate theories of
sacrifice, satisfaction, penal substitutions, justification, etc.? I would be
tempted to do so, but there is another excellent essay in the book, "The Power
in the Blood", by Caroline Bynum, which makes us think again about the value of
such ideas. Like many of us, she shudders at hymns using the imagery of blood;
but in a sympathetic yet critical study of such language, she tries to release
the truth hidden in it. That truth may be difficult to reconcile with Daley’s
theology, but it does stress the cost of redemption and the tragic strand in
Other essays draw our attention to the understanding of redemption that we
can find in literature, the visual arts, and music. This is not expressed in
abstract theological terms, but none the less evokes a deep inward awareness of
what redemption might be. Nor should we forget prayer, which is treated by the
only Jewish contributor to the book, Peter Ochs.
These various essays remind us that more than historical knowledge and the
techniques of hermeneutics are needed in the study of redemption — perhaps what
Paul called spiritual discernment?
In spite of its extravagant claims to summitry, this is a book with many
insights. But the price probably puts it beyond the reach of many
clerics, and will prevent their joining the summiteers.
Canon Macquarrie is a former Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity in the
University of Oxford.
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