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Veli-Matti Karkkainen: Christ and Reconciliation

I recognize that this sort of self-reflective investigation can be scary not only because self-criticism can be painful but also that it may lead to heresy. But Kärkkäinen masterfully walks the balance beam avoiding both extremes. He is generous to his interlocutors but he does not avoid pointing out where their intellectual systems fail. If for nothing else, readers are provided well-considered insights into different faiths.

The breadth of his reading is astounding. If for nothing less, the book can be a useful guide to finding sources that can be helpful in establishing points for dialogue between Christians and non-Christians.

The book’s negatives are few but important. 1. Too often, Kärkkäinen’s writing was unnecessarily complex. I understand that he was attempting to protect himself from criticism of failing to be nuanced. But his frequent use of disclaimers, exceptions, and alternatives, made for some difficult sentences. 2. Sometimes, he left readers without a firm conclusion. To be fair, Kärkkäinen’s epilogue explained that a more fully developed Christology must wait till other topics are discussed, but I do think he could have given more specifics than he did. 3. Finally, I would have liked to see a bit more exegetical work. At times, he seemed to rely too much on what theologians thought the text said rather than what Kärkkäinen’s exegesis revealed. For example, he claims that Christ came to reconcile the creation to himself. But does Christ’s reconciling work mean that creation was redeemed secondarily following the redemption of the crown of creation (humanity) or does it mean direct redemption as Christ redeeming the plants and animals? A similar problem occurs regarding the notion of liberation. Certainly Christ wants to liberate us from bondage: spiritually, politically, and economically. But how does Christ want to accomplish that? With the bible’s emphasis on suffering, could it be that the church is to model liberation through the process of suffering as a way to show the political/economic rulers that there is a better way? Finally, Kärkkäinen is respectful of Scripture’s reliability but regrettably has adopted deutero-Isaiah language without providing proof that there is a second Isaiah.

Overall, Kärkkäinen’s text makes a good case for showing that classical Christian theology (i.e. Eurocentric/North American theology) is not so much wrong as it is incomplete. His engagement of other traditions and perspectives can only help us define and enrich our understanding of Jesus and his work.

Reviewed by Stephen M. Vantassel


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Read Stephen M. Vantassel’s reviews of all five books in Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen’s series A Constructive Christian Theology for the Pluralistic World:

Volume 1: Christ and Reconciliation

Volume 2: Trinity and Revelation

Volume 3: Creation and Humanity

Volume 4: Spirit and Salvation

Volume 5: Hope and Community

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Category: In Depth, Winter 2016

About the Author: Stephen M. Vantassel, Ph.D. theology (Trinity Theological Seminary), M.A.T.S. Old Testament (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary), B.S. Biblical Studies (Gordon College), is a Tutor of Theology at King’s Evangelical Divinity School in Broadstairs, U.K. and Assistant Editor for the Evangelical Review of Theology and Politics. His dissertation was published in expanded form in Dominion over Wildlife? An Environmental-Theology of Human-Wildlife Relations (Wipf and Stock, 2009), explains how biblical teaching on the use of animals provides a rubric for how God wants humanity to use the earth. He lives in Montana with his wife Donna. He regularly posts articles at

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