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Veli-Matti Karkkainen: Christology


Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, Christology: A Global Introduction. An Ecumenical, International, and Contextual Perspective (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004) 300 pages, ISBN 9780801026218.

Christology is one in a series of books published in recent years by Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, a Finnish-born theologian who currently teaches at Fuller Theological Seminary. As the subtitle suggests, the author offers a broad, international and ecumenical approach to the doctrine of Christ. This book is the second of a three-part textbook series on God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, all published by Baker Academic. Pastors, teachers and scholars will benefit from this introductory text which offers a comprehensive survey of biblical, historical and modern reflections on the doctrine of Christ. This lucid presentation of Christian thinking stands out particularly for its unique and comprehensive treatment of contemporary contextual Christologies in non-Western cultures and their multi-faceted theological approaches as, for example, in African, Asian or Latin American thought.

Kärkkäinen offers an exceptional overview of contextual Christologies that have emerged in and beyond the Western world. The reader will be hard-pressed to find another introduction to the subject with a similar spectrum of contemporary Christian thought. This highly relevant part of the book highlights the fact that Christology, like few other fields of study in theology, is intimately connected to culture and worldview. Feminist, black, process and postmodern approaches to the doctrine of Christ are among the images that bring color to this kaleidoscope of theological reflections. The book concludes with an important, if somewhat short, evaluation of the future of Christology.

Kärkkäinen also shines in his presentation of contemporary Western Christology. He introduces ten theologians who have written extensively on the doctrine of Christ, among them Karl Barth, Rudolph Bultmann and Paul Tillich from the first part of the twentieth century, as well as a number of contemporary representatives from the major Christian traditions, such as Karl Rahner (Roman Catholic), John Zizioulas (Eastern Orthodox), Jürgen Moltmann (Reformed), Wolfhart Pannenberg (Lutheran) and Stanley Grenz (Baptist). The only major Christian tradition not represented in this overview is Pentecostalism which, as the author remarks, has not yet offered a comprehensive treatment of the doctrine of Christ. This well-placed observation is sure to spark interest among Pentecostals; it reveals a glimpse of Kärkkäinen’s own Pentecostal origins and should be understood as an invitation to enter into dialogue with the rich and inspiring mosaic of contemporary thought on the person of Jesus Christ.

At a time when the continual publication of new books and articles on the person and work of Christ has created a panorama of opinions in which no one can keep up with all the developments, Kärkkäinen offers a concise introduction to the global situation. Similar to its companion volumes, Christology consists of about 30 chapters of very manageable length. The treatments of individual theologians generally consist of less than 10 pages each and make for a very enjoyable and educational reading experience. These snapshots of important theologians are undoubtedly the highlight of the book.

The Western authors chosen by Kärkkäinen in this volume are similar to those of the other books in the series. This has both positive and negative consequences. Kärkkäinen’s grasp of the various contemporary authors offers a remarkable survey of the Christological landscape that is sure to guide the reader into new territory. On the other hand, some readers may question Kärkkäinen’s principle of selection. For example, not all significant Catholic or Orthodox writers have been included in this survey. The immense Christological project of Edward Schillebeeckx, for example, is missing completely. In addition, a whole section on the growing importance of Spirit-Christology, not only among Roman Catholic theologians, would have been a justifiable and insightful addition to book.

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Category: In Depth, Winter 2006

About the Author: Wolfgang Vondey, Ph.D. (Marquette University) and M.Div. (Church of God Theological Seminary), is Professor of Christian Theology and Pentecostal Studies at the University of Birmingham, UK. He is an ordained minister with the Church of God (Cleveland, TN). His research focuses on ecclesiology, pneumatology, theological method, and the intersection of theology and science.

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