The Redemption: An interdisciplinary symposium on Christ as Redeemer

02 November 2006


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 redemption

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 human life.

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.

To place an order for this book, contact


100 Best Christian Books

How many have you read?

Visit the 100 Best Christian Books website to see which books made our list, read the judges' notes and add your own comments.

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

The Church Times Podcast

Interviews and news analysis from the Church Times team. Listen to this week’s episode online

Subscribe now to get full access

To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read up to twelve articles for free. (You will need to register.)