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b) Christology in an Evolutionary Perspective

The importance of christology in an evolutionary perspective depends on both how closely theological anthropology is connected with evolution and on the view that nature, in some sense, needs to be redeemed.

In his wide-ranging survey of the history of Christian theology from its origins to the first half of the twentieth century, Paul Santmire argues that the role of nature has been thoroughly ‘ambiguous’ not only in redemption but even in creation theologyH. Paul Santmire, The Travail of Nature: The Ambiguous Ecological Promise of Christian Theology (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985).Many scholars now, however, reject the view that nature is just a neutral backdrop to the human drama of salvation. For example, though he finds it inappropriate to use language about ‘moral evil’ in the context of ‘natural evil,’ Holmes Rolston argues that “whatever is in travail needs redemption, whether or not there is any sin to be dealt with.”Holmes Rolston III, Genes, Genesis and God: Values and Their Origins in Natural and Human History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).Theology should now admit that nature participates in both the theologies of creation and redemption. “We can recognize here (in nature) a principle both of redemptive and of vicarious suffering...(T)he biological process anticipates what later becomes paramount...The Garden Earth forebodes the Garden of Gethsemane. Creation is cruciform.”Holmes Rolston, III, "Does Nature Need to Be Redeemed?" Zygon 29 no. 2 (1994): 218-21.

Most scholars now follow a similar approach in discussing christology and evolution.See for example George L. Murphy, "Time, Thermodynamics, and Theology," Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 26.3(September 1991); Judith Scoville, ""Natural Evil" and God's...Barbour, for example, suggests that we reformulate Christology in terms of relationship and history, rather than in terms of substance though keeping in mind the traditional intent of the creeds.Ian G. Barbour, Religion in an Age of Science, Gifford Lectures; 1989-1990. (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1990), 208-14, 238-42.Thus on the human side, Christ was freely obedient to God; on the divine side, God acts in and through Christ. In light of evolutionary science, we can understand both the human and the divine aspects of Christ both as continuous with prehuman evolution and yet as something genuinely new in nature. Christ is part of the continuous process of evolution as well as human culture, yet he represents something genuinely new. Christ is also the product of God’s immanent activity in all of evolutionary history and yet he is a radically new revelation of God’s nature. The evolutionary perspective leads Barbour to emphasize the subjective, Abelardian interpretation of Christ’s death (i.e., Christ as moral example), but he includes some insights from the objective interpretation of Anselm (i.e., substitutionary atonement).

According to Peacocke, evolution is characterized by the ‘paradox’ of emergence: the rise of the genuinely new within the continuity of natural processes. This paradox can be used theologically to bring together the transcendence and the immanence of God as Creator: as immanent Creator, God is immanently present ‘in, with and through’ the continuous evolutionary processes, yet God is also transcendent as the source of all existence and the occasions of genuine novelty. Turning then to the Incarnation, Peacocke underscores the continuity of Jesus with the rest of humanity and thus with all of nature, and yet his distinctive relation to God is an element of discontinuity. Peacocke thus understands the Incarnation “as exemplifying that emergence-from-continuity which characterizes the whole process whereby God is creating continuously through discontinuity.”Arthur Peacocke, Theology for a Scientific Age: Being and Becoming --- Natural, Divine and Human, Enlarged Edition (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 301.

The atonement of Christ can also be understood within the context of biological evolution. Peacocke first distinguishes between the objective or ‘constitutive’ atonement theories (including vicarious sacrifice; Anselmian satisfaction; victory over evil powers) and subjective theories (such as Abelard’s view of it as an act of love). The former entail an irreversible, ontological change in all of humanity in relation to God, since the Cross reverses the effects of the Fall, including biological death. But, as Peacocke points out, evolution undercuts both the Fall and any causal relation between biological death and human sin. Moreover, the objective theories fail to capture the sense of human ‘becoming’ through God’s shaping and molding care or explain how it is that we respond to Christ’s atonement. The subjective theory, on the other hand, accords with this view of God’s actualizing the potential given us by God while avoiding the problems of a historical Fall and the ‘sin=death’ equation.Peacocke, Theology for a Scientific Age, 319-37.

Gerd Theissen has given detailed consideration to an extended analogy between evolution and christology. He developed his arguments around three key questions: “1. Is Jesus a variant (or ‘mutation’) of human existence in which the change of human ‘heart’ promised by the prophets has become reality? 2) Is Jesus the consummation of that protest against selection which was formulated with increasing clarity in biblical religion? 3) Is Jesus a permanently valid ‘structure of adaptation’ to the central reality to which we do justice only when we participate in its form of life?” These questions lead Theissen to view Jesus as “the central reality to which all life must adapt itself.”Gerd Theissen, Biblical Faith: An Evolutionary Approach, 1st Fortress Press ed. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), 105, 128.

In the final volume in his series, Jesus of nazareth Yesterday and Today, Juan Luis Segundo set out to use evolutionary categories to understand the significance of Jesus of NazarethJuan Luis Segundo, An Evolutinary Aproach to Jesus of Nazareth, trans. John Drury (New York: Orbis Books, 1988).. “For the first time in history, the Christian message and its function must somehow be pondered and lived in terms of the mechanisms of one sole and single evolutionary context...Using evolutionary categories, I shall try to comprehend and explain the concrete, limited event that took place once in human history: Jesus of Nazareth.”Segundo, Evolutinary Aproach to Jesus, 12, 18.Segundo provides a critical reformulation of the approach of Teilhard de Chardin from the perspective of liberation theology, a christology ‘from below’ and a ‘this-worldly’ eschatology. The concrete Jesus, writes Segundo, “does not fit in with the theological images of an immobilized or idealized Jesus.” Instead “his life and message preserved the supreme evolutionary quality: flexibility...Jesus represented one of these privileged moments in which evolution bends back on itself to become conscious, hence to become a human task.”Segundo, Evolutinary Aproach to Jesus, 93.

Although Ruether, too, stresses a ‘this-worldly’ view of redemption commensurate with her understanding of mortality as natural, she adds to this a ‘cosmic’ christological perspective. Classical christology combined a messianic king of a new age of redemption and divine wisdom. The Reign of God was expected to take place on earth, not an another world,Rosemary Radford Ruether, Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology (Boston: Beacon Press, 1983), p. 116-20.and redemption is “the fullness of life within these finite limits.” But Ruether views Christ as the “cosmic manifestation of God” appearing as both creator and redeemer.Rosemary Radford Ruether, Gaia & God: An Ecofeminist Theology of Earth Healing (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1992), p. 139 and Ch. 9.

Ron Cole-Turner argues that the miracles of Jesus function to include all of life in the story of redemption. As he points out, the forgiveness of sins and miraculous healings often occur together in the ministry of Jesus. Though the domain of sin and forgiveness is strictly human, all of life participates in cycles of disease and death and ‘groans’ for healing. Thus the New Testament accounts of forgiveness and miracle bring together these different domains into a single understanding of redemption.Ronald Cole-Turner, The New Genesis: Theology and the Genetic Revolution (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993).A number of scholars have developed related approaches in discussing miracles and eternal life which deserve careful further reflection in future work.Robert W. Jenson, "You Wonder Where the Body Went," CTNS Bulletin 11.1, no. Winter (1991); George Murphy, "Quantum Theory and Resurrection Reality," CTNS Bulletin 11.1(Winter 1991);...

Contributed by: Dr. Robert Russell

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