Trends in Modern Christology: A Review

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Every week we will release a review of Christological literature. The following is a review of John Galvin’s From the Humanity of Christ to the Jesus of History: A Paradigm Shift in Catholic Christology

By Will Deatherage, Executive Director

John Galvin’s From the Humanity of Christ to the Jesus of History details how Twentieth Century Christology’s shift from studying Christ’s personhood (e.g. His human and divine natures and relation to the Holy Trinity) to His person in history (e.g. His intentions for His disciples and His self-understanding) impacted systematic theology. First, he explains how modern theology sought to avoid what Karl Rahner describes as a “hidden monophysitism” that emphasized Christ’s divinity so much that it nearly eclipsed His humanity. Galvin identifies two agendas that propelled this movement: the quests to integrate fundamental theology with dogmatic theology and to revisit the foundations of Christological dogmas. Regarding the former, Galvin shows how modern theologians sought to examine and explain several characteristics of Christ, such as His existence and divinity, that were previously assumed as true in dogmatic theology. Similarly, modern theologians sought to interrogate the biblical sources that were used to justify conciliar statements. These investigations yielded interest in several topics, such as Christ’s personhood, His omniscience, the nature of His Kingdom, His understanding of His death, and the origins of His sacraments that had been neglected by theologians for years.

Galvin’s historical overview is important because he highlights how the Christology of the early Twentieth Century’s reliance on presumptions called for renewed investigations and explanations of Christianity’s core fundamentals. He also vividly illustrates the impact this new Christology had on Systematic Theology, as well as Theology as a whole. He shows the significance behind a Christianity that must justify its core assumptions to a world that calls its foundations into question. That said, I would have appreciated a more in-depth overview of the global context that inspired these changes. Nevertheless, Galvin provides an excellent survey of the impact these Christological shifts had on systematic theology.

In an increasingly globalized world, Christianity cannot expect other belief systems to instantly accept the ideas its tradition uniquely experienced and accepted as true. Christ’s intention for His disciples to spread the Gospel to the ends of the Earth requires a robust systematic theology that argues for the fundamentals of Christianity. Furthermore, as modern philosophers like John Stuart Mill asserted, failing to question our beliefs not only inhibits us from dialoguing with other people, but it leads us to forget why we deem our beliefs as true, thus creating dead dogma. If theology develops in response to a changing world, then the rise of globalization and pluralism in the Twentieth Century was a blessed, not a tragic, phenomenon that can help us deepen our own understanding of Christ, as well as spread His Gospel to the ends of the Earth.

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