Rewarding but dense

Tripp Fuller can be very engaging and accessible, as he has shown many times in his “Homebrewed Christianity” podcasts and a previous book. His latest book, though, is intimidating from the start.

The cover features a stark black and white photo of a solar eclipse. Given that bleak beauty, the title seems almost ironic: DIVINE SELF-INVESTMENT: An Open and Relational Constructive Christology.

I know that Fuller can write clean and clear sentences, even punchy and memorable sentences. In fact, there are a lot of those in this book. I only wish somebody had gone through my copy and underlined them for me. Then maybe I could have just skimmed the rest.

Because too much of the rest is written in prose so dense and convoluted that it is sometimes almost opaque. OK, this book is written for academics. I get that. But it’s hard to tell whether academic prose is carefully precise or merely gaseous.

One of Fuller’s “Homebrewed” slogans is “theology that doesn’t suck.” Merely not sucking isn’t good enough. Theology ought to sparkle. I know Fuller can write sparkling prose, and I wish he’d done more of it here.

His aim is to create “a robust constructive open and relational Christology.” That’s to fill the vacuum created by liberal theology’s “laryngitis” in constructive theology, especially where metaphysics is concerned.

For the benefit of those who aren’t sure what “open and relational” means, here’s his nifty introduction: “Open and relational theologies can take several forms, yet there are two central convictions that underlie them all; namely, that God affects the world, and the world affects God. God and the world are inextricably linked and from moment to moment, they share a life together.”

Christian faith is necessarily confessional, Fuller maintains, and he points to Simon Peter’s declaration that Jesus is the Messiah. “What Peter is doing is making a confession of his faith,” Fuller says. “It is not a conclusion, or even a verdict demanded by the evidence, but a confessional response to the God who was present in Christ.”

Fuller says his confessional Christology has to address historical, existential and metaphysical concerns – that is, what happened in Jesus’ life, how God is present for us in Jesus, and how we can best understand God today.

He begins with an enlightening exposition of the modern quest for the historical Jesus. He concludes that though the quest does give “concrete content to the faith confession,” it really can’t tell us much about who Jesus is for us. What we need is not a Christology from below, or from above, but one “as a disciple from within.”

To explore that, Fuller pairs and compares the Christologies of six theologians. Catholic theologians Roger Haight and Joseph Bracken represent “Spirit Christologies.” Post-liberal Kathryn Tanner and process theologian John Cobb represent more traditional “Logos Christologies.” Finally, he compares the work of liberal Douglas Ottati, who offers a “Christology of the heart,” and the open and relational view of Andrew Sung Park.

I found these chapters the hardest in the book to read, and I found the comparisons simply tiring. The part about Cobb seemed clearer than the others, but maybe that’s because I’m more familiar with his work.

Given Fuller’s hope to create a “robust” Christology, I was underwhelmed by his concluding chapter tying everything together. Though he says that “the incarnation can be understood as God’s intention from the beginning of Creation,” he rejects the idea that Christ was pre-existent. He also rejects kenosis theologies and the hypostatic union. I want to know more here; I also want to know more about the difference between the Galilean and Roman gospels that he suggests several times.

Still, he says some great things. Open and relational theology establishes “Jesus Christ as model, means, and promise of God.” And “Jesus’ faithfulness was much more than a model; it was God’s divine self-investment in the world.” And “the essence of God does not change. God is love. Divine love is not an occasional activity.”

Finally, the last paragraph: “The work of God is revealed in the person of Jesus – precisely in what he said, did, endured, and continues to say, do, endure, and transform through the spirit. A disciple’s confession of Jesus as the Christ is not simply an act of identification, but one of recognition. If one comes to know themselves as known and loved by God in Christ, and one can see her life as also sustained and empowered by God, they might seek to discover and share the mind of Christ in which their will comes to cohere with God’s will. It is this life together in God for which the Spirit of God has always worked and the Word of God has always beckoned in desiring a full response. The promise and hope of salvation rests in this: that the God who chose to invest Godself in creating creaturely co-creators and who was ever faithful to the covenanted people of Israel, is the God of deep solidarity who stands in need of our shared salvation.”

Good stuff here, but some tough sledding to get to some of it.

** I am reviewing this book under an agreement with Speakeasy in which I receive an electronic copy of the book but no inducement to either praise or condemn it.

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