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Systematische Theologie: Dogmatik


Roest, Gert-Jan


The Gospel in the Western Context. A Missiological Reading of Christology in Dialogue with Hendrikus Berkhof and Colin Gunton.


Leiden u. a.: Brill 2018. X, 425 S. = Studies in Reformed Theology, 37. Kart. EUR 68,00. ISBN 978-90-04-38647-1.


Hans Burger

This book is the published version of Gert-Jan Roest’s PhD-thesis (VU Amsterdam). R. has worked as a church planter in Amsterdam. Currently, he is teaching missiology and working for the Dutch Protestant Church. The Gospel in the Western Context is about the quest for a contextual theology in the West (the North Atlantic world); systematic theology with a missiological interest. This is the central question (21): ›what are the contours of a contextualized gospel for the Western world at the beginning of the 21st century?‹
R. answers this question by analyzing and evaluating the Dutch theologian Hendrikus Berkhof (1914–1995) and the British theologian Colin Gunton (1941–2003). How do they read the Western context and understand the significance of Jesus Christ today? He approaches both theologians in four steps: R. describes (1.) the method and (2.) content of their reading the Western context. Next, he describes (3.) the method of (4.) their approach and the content of their christologies.
Berkhof was a church historian and systematic theologian whose theology was strongly influenced by the modern world of the 1960s. Berkhof discerned the ›spirit of the age‹ both inside and outside the church in the light of the gospel. His work was neither confessional nor liberal, but mediating between saying ›yes‹ and ›no‹ to the context. A theological response should be ›dialectically, embracing tension and crisis‹ (46).
According to R., Berkhof’s theology is characterized by three ›star-themes‹: God, the human being, and the world. Because modernity mainly refused to anchor human beings and the world in God, it presented a divided worldview, either stressing the outer world, or the inner world of emotions. The outer world is charac-terized by alienating structures, and we have a responsibility to change it. Modern worldview, moreover, is evolutionary. The modern understanding of humanity is influenced by existential-ism and anthropocentrism; the understanding of God by empiricism and functionalism. R. shows how this triple star system has shaped Berkhof’s Christology. Humanity (Jesus’ ministry with author­ity), God (Jesus’ resurrection) and world (Jesus’ way as con­-tinuation and fulfilment of God’s way with Israel), all are important elements of Berkhof’s Christology (104). Or, phrased differently: Jesus is the new human covenant partner, the Son of God, and bringer of salvation in history (chapter 5). R. shows that this triple-star system was stronger than Berkhof’s earlier Nicene Christology. As a result, Christology lost its theological centrality.
R. values Berkhof’s reading of the modern context. However, he deplores that Berkhof does not give a central role to Christology, and that his Christology has become Arian.
Gunton played an important role in the renaissance of Trinitar-ian theology. Important in his work on the crisis of modernity is his dialogue with Western philosophy. Along with Barth, he takes God’s revelation and the gospel of Jesus Christ as the starting point of his theology. According to his theological diagnosis of modernity, both the classical theistic doctrine of God and a deficit theology of creation have contributed to its crisis.
According to R., three important themes determine Gunton’s thought: the doctrine of the Trinity, a theory of human perception, and a trinitarian doctrine of creation (175). Gunton emphasises that human perception should be formed by the gospel of Jesus Christ so that ›humans are able to perceive both God and the world more truly as they are‹ (177). God no longer should be understood as being non-relational and timeless, prioritizing power. This leads to a monistic perception both of God and creation. Lacking a good idea of relationality, modernity was unable to understand rationality, time, freedom, and human community. Instead, the self-giving love of God in Christ should stand at the centre of theology.
In his Christology, Gunton opposes the dualism of a Christol-ogy from below and from above, emphasizing the continuity bet-ween image of Jesus presented by the gospels and the dogma of Christ as the risen Lord. Primarily, Christ is the present Christ, who is identical with the historical-risen Christ.
Gunton presents Jesus as Lord of creation and creature, pointing out that Jesus’ acts are both divine and human. Jesus is the presence of God’s eternal love in time. Moreover, Gunton understands Jesus in an Irenaean fashion as the mediator of creation who brings the project of creation to its eschatological completion. Furthermore, Gunton no longer prioritizes power, but the divine love. In Christ, God gives himself, making true being in communion possible in Spirit-enabled freedom.
R. values Gunton’s philosophical engagement with the Western context. However, he is critical of Gunton’s rationalized understanding of knowledge. A greater emphasis on desire and love would result in ›a more thoroughly embodied rationality‹ (244). Furthermore, R. is missing the cruciform character of knowledge: paradox and pain are too easily forgotten. Although R. values Gunton’s Christology positively, he criticizes its emphasis on the immanent Trinity and the lack of attention paid to discipleship within the context of a local church (252–253).
In part three, R. sketches a proposal of the gospel in a Western context. His own star theme is the gospel, the ›message about the mystery of Jesus Christ in our midst‹ (267). Jesus Christ is present, but our knowledge of Christ is incomplete; in a contextualization ›new facets of Him can be discovered‹ (274). With the mystery of Jesus Christ at its centre, a contextualized gospel is a combination of a contextualized stories of the God of Israel, and of Jesus Christ, as well as a contextual promise of human salvation (290). Moving forward, R. presents a Gospel-centred model for reading the context. The interaction with the context is threefold, in the light of worshiping Israel’s God, in the light of a cruciform spirituality, and in the light of the promising news of a new creation. Correspond-ingly, R. presents a reading of the context through the lenses of worship, salvation, and a crucified life style.
R. differentiates the combination of life style and cross with the combination of visible salvation and resurrection. In my view, this is too easy a solution: the a Christian life style is impossible without the resurrection, and the visibility of salvation is often cruciform. However, his reading of the western context shows the heuristic power of his three lenses and thus of a contextualized understand-ing of the gospel.
The Gospel in the Western Context is a clear and well written book. R. gives a sharp analysis of two European theologians who both interacted intensely with the western world. Combined with his own creative proposal, this book is an important contribution to the quest for a contextualized European theology.