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Disturbing the Peace: The way of disciples

30 November, 1999

Eamonn Bredin invites all who wish to be disciples of Christ to look again at the Jesus of the New Testament and at the struggles of those first disciples who saw Jesus die as a criminal on the cross, and then to embark on a journey of re-assessing their own lives and discipleship on Jesus’ terms.

290pp, Columba Press 2006. To purchase this book online, go to www.columba.ie


Preface Introduction

1.  The Path of Discipleship
2.  The Language of Jesus
3.  Setting the Scene
4.  The Ministry Begins
5.  Preaching the Good News
6.  Good News in Action
7.  Communitas
8.  Going up to Jerusalem
9.  A Useless Passion?
10. Reading the Easter Narratives
11. Renaming Jesus
12. Teaching All Nations

Appendix I
Appendix II Notes



Eamonn Bredin invites all who wish to be disciples of Christ to look again at the Jesus of the New Testament and at the struggles of those first disciples who saw Jesus die as a criminal on the cross, and then to embark on a journey of re-assessing their own lives and discipleship on Jesus’ terms in the light of recent scripture studies. Jesus’ signposts for that journey include the language that Jesus used, his new images of God and of God’s kingdom, the selfless lifestyle of commitment to the poor and the sinners, his acts and attitudes which scandalised his contemporaries and co-religionists, and, finally, his death and resurrection. All Christians are called to be that very presence, through a truly committed discipleship in the contemporary world. This book was first published in 1985 and reprinted four times.



Let him Easter in us,
 be a dayspring to the dimness of us.

G. M. Hopkins

All is not well with our following of Jesus Christ today. This becomes clear when we contrast the demands of the call to discipleship, ‘come and see,’ with our undemanding and tamed version of that call. Can we overcome some of these difficulties? We are already aware of the powerful influence our image of Christ exerts on us at all levels, and we recognise that a whole theology and spirituality are compressed into that image. But perhaps it would help if we examined in more detail some of the influences that mould our image of Jesus Christ and discipleship. Obviously, classical christology will be among the more powerful and formative of these. Should such theology prove to be a less than adequate foundation for discipleship, we will have to search for a new starting point.

Classical Christology
It seems fair to say that, for most Roman Catholics, the dominant model of Jesus Christ is the incarnation of the eternal, only-begotten son, the second person of the Blessed. Trinity.(l) The theology that elaborates this model is often referred to as ‘classical christology.’ Much has been written in recent years about this christology, frequently in a critical vein (2) Here we will simply note how it has influenced the way we think of Jesus and some of the problems it has raised for our discipleship.

At the origin of Christianity stands an historical individual, Jesus of Nazareth, whom Christians confess to be the Christ of God, the saviour of the world. Here we have a historical person who is given various titles in order to proclaim his universal saving significance. It would indeed be strange if Christians did not have a profound interest in this Jesus of Nazareth who is the subject of their confession of faith. Who Jesus is tells us who the Christ is and what salvation means. However, classical christology had little time for the historical life of this person, Jesus of Nazareth. It took the approach that Jesus Christ was God, that he made this claim for himself in many ways, especially by giving himself titles that obviously implied divinity, and he proved this claim many times by working miracles during his lifetime and finally and definitively by raising himself from the dead. This basically, was the approach presented in apologetics and handed on in religion classes.

The emphases of classical christology become more understandable when we recall a little of the history of the church. From the time of Arius (condemned at the Council of Nicaea, AD 325) when the divinity of the son was denied, there was a certain reluctance to speak of the full integral humanity of Jesus Christ. This reluctance was intensified after the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451), which declared that Jesus Christ must be ‘acknowledged in two natures united in one person and one hypostasis.’ The theology that developed this statement declared that Jesus Christ was only one person, a divine person, and although he had a human nature he was not a human person.

It is extremely difficult to speak about the full integral humanity of Jesus Christ if we use this model and this language as a starting point. The same difficulty lurked in the minds of priests and teachers of that time when they preached or taught about Jesus. Above all, it created a tension in the lives and prayers of the people of God. They experienced the profoundly Christian desire to be united with all aspects of Christ’s life, but they were aware of the difficulty that this presented for them because of the emphasis ‘on Christ’s divinity in the theology of that time.

Despite this, they retained a vivid interest in the humanity and suffering of Jesus Christ. Their intuitive grasp of the crucial significance of his humanity found expression especially in meditating on the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary, reflecting on the ‘mysteries of Christ’s flesh,’ doing the stations of the cross, devotion to the Sacred Heart. Thus they were enabled to identify with him and to relate their own experience of life and suffering to the memory of his life, his suffering, and his victory over death through resurrection in a transforming way. Yet, the tension remained.

The starting point for classical christology was the definition of the universal significance of Jesus Christ given by the Councils of Nicaea, Constantinople (AD 381), Ephesus (AD 431), and especially Chalcedon. These theologians began not with Scripture but with the Trinity and asked how, since he was already God, did one of the Trinity become human? Presupposmg Christ’s divinity, they then went back to Scripture to find a basis for this presupposition. They stated very clearly that Jesus Christ was God and although they did not deny he was man, they certainly did not emphasise this truth. What passed as a christology based on the decree of Chalcedon had smuggled in its own presuppositions and so gradually came to adopt positions that were difficult to reconcile with the real teaching of that council.

The tragic irony of the situation was that while these theologians regarded themselves as staunch defenders of the faith of Chalcedon, they sometimes came dangerously close to espousing the heresy of monophysitism (only one divine nature in Christ) opposed by Chalcedon. When other theologians pointed to the monophysite strain that lies near the surface in classical christology’ they encountered fierce opposition. They were doing no more than restating what was proclaimed in the Council of Chalcedon itself, yet they were sometimes accused of heresy by people who regarded themselves as defenders of Chalcedon.

At the level of popular piety, despite the desire to identify with the humanity of Jesus, this monophysite strain is still to be found. ‘Jesus is God’ is thought to be the complete confession of Christian faith. Attempts to speak about the real humanity of Jesus Christ, to speak about his solidarity with us, about human limitations in him, may be countered by the response, ‘But he was God.’ Such a response based as it is on a partial and incomplete christology has disastrous consequences for Christian religion and morality. How can we seriously maintain the demands of discipleship if they can be neutralised by saying ‘it was easy for Jesus because he was God?’ That kind of ‘theology’ saps the authenticity of Christian life.

Classical christology still exerts so much influence that some people may be confused to learn that the full Christian confession of faith about Jesus Christ as Chalcedon put it is, ‘that he is truly God and he is truly man, composed of body and rational soul, that he is consubstantial with the Father in his divinity, consubstantial with us in his humanity like us in every respect but without sinning (3 ) That quotation from the decree of the Council itself speaks of the solidarity between Jesus Christ and us. He is bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. But was this emphasis clear within classical christo logy or within the religious education programs derived from it?

The question facing us now is, ‘Can we do credit to the fullness of the message of the tradition? Can we speak of Jesus Christ as “consubstantial with us in his humanity,” as being, “like us in every respect but without sinning,” while confessing his true divinity and knowing that we must hold both truths if we are to remain Christian at all?’

Pope Leo I, who sent a famous letter to the Council of Chakedon, said in a sermon, ‘It is as dangerous an evil to deny the truth of the human nature in Christ as to refuse to believe that his glory is equal to that of the Father., (4) Some Christians may find it difficult to accept the full truth of that statement. We have been conditioned to use only God-talk of Jesus Christ. But we must do more. We must use God-talk and human-talk of him. To refuse to do so is to deny the truth of the Incarnation. God did not become God in Jesus Christ; God became human.

How then are we to cope with these difficulties which seem to beset any approach to discipleship which bases itself upon ‘classical’ christology? Can we once again make our own Chalcedon’s confession of faith in ‘Jesus Christ, true God and true man’ and give equal weight to each word? How can we realign our discipleship with the true faith of the church of Christ?

Another Starting Point
We have become aware of the limitations of classical christology. It is partial and incomplete and does not do justice even to the Council of Chalcedon which it claims to represent. It clearly does not provide the kind of basis for the renewal of discipleship needed today. However extensive its field of force, it is only one of the formative factors that shape our image of Jesus Christ. The source of all those other influences is the church which claims to incarnate the word, the work, the spirit and tradition of Jesus Christ in its whole way of life, in its proclamation, its pursuit of justice, and its liturgy. If the church’s claim to be the community that seeks to “hear the word of God and do it’ (Lk 8:21), to keep alive the memory of Jesus Christ and to live by his spirit, is true, then it offers the possibility of living contact with him today. For it was in this church that our faith in Jesus Christ had its origin. It was only through coming into contact with believing Christians that we began to believe. It was this web of relationships which enabled us to understand what lived discipleship could mean.

While we may begin with the church as we know it, we must also inquire about the validity of its claim. We must continue asking: Who is this Jesus Christ whom the church always points to as both its origin and its meaning, its starting point and its unique centre? Why do church people sum up what is of supreme importance to them as Christians by saying ‘Jesus Christ is Lord,’ ‘Jesus Christ is Saviour,’ or most simply, ‘I believe in Jesus Christ’? When we listen to the church’s answers to these questions, we find ourselves involved with language in the sense of the thought and talk and discourse about Jesus as the Christ that we call christology. Above all we are in touch with the total language of tradition, with the flesh-and-blood language of the witness of the countless Christians who have peopled these centuries.

Here we are being drawn back to the ultimate origins of all Christian language, the well-spring of all our professions of faith and forms of Christian life. We are led back behind creed and council to the source for which they claim to be summary and clarification. We find the real genesis of our language, our church life, our worship, our discipleship in the communities that gave us the New Testament.

These groupings of Christians existed (so their writings tell us) because their lives had been totally changed by knowing Jesus of Nazareth whom they confessed to be the Messiah or the Christ. They came together in a new way because they wished to embody, proclaim, and celebrate the good news that he is. They wished to live a life of witness that would be consistent with their faith in Jesus Christ. They wished to remember and be challenged by his whole way of life, to celebrate his saving presence among them so that they might respond to it more adequately. together they struggled to hear ever more faithfully the implications of the good news that brought them to birth so as to incarnate it in lives of dedicated service. It is these communities then that are ‘an (open) letter from Christ … written not with ink but with the spirit of the living God… on tablets of human hearts’ (2 Cor 3:2-3).

We must turn to these communities and to their writings if we wish to learn more about the identity of Jesus Christ and the meaning of discipleship. What we find on the pages of the New Testament is the end-product of the struggle by these Christians to find a language that would be commensurate with their experience of the mystery of Jesus as the Christ. When we look more closely we recognise something of the shape of our own struggle as members of a church and as disciples within a given cultural setting. We realise that, like us, they too were wrestling with presuppositions, familiarities, and ingrained certainties (see chaps. 10 & 11). The social, cultural, mental, religious, and political climate that had eased them into the Jewish religion was also what made it difficult for them to believe anything different. So we are put in touch with their struggle to bring to expression their transforming experience of coming to faith in Jesus as the Anointed of Yahweh, in whom alone is salvation found. They are insisting on the continuity between faith in Jesus as Messiah and their Jewish faith, and they are trying to understand and proclaim him in that light. But they are also stressing the discontinuity between that faith and their cultural Jewish faith and are searching for ever more adequate ways to live their new faith and express it in language. We are struck by their awareness of the problem; the liveliness of their discipleship compared to the dullness of our own, the richness of their language contrasted with the fatigue of our statements and formulas.

We obviously need to return to these origins, this source, if our following of the way of Jesus Christ is to be in any way adequate. Instead of assuming that we understand and appreciate the language we use about Jesus Christ and about ourselves as disciples, we should begin by enquiring about the origin of this language (word and witness) in order to, understand it. This approach should give us an opportunity to correlate what we find in the Scriptures with our present-day grasp of things.

From the vantage point of contact with these communities we begin to see other aspects of our present difficulties more clearly. These communities were searching painstakingly for the interpretation that would be most adequately commensurate with their transforming experience of coming to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ. The multiplicity of approaches to this mystery in the New Testament testifies to their care for language and meaning. We find both a profound experience and a corresponding, deepening interpretation of that experience. Yet there was a real danger that when this interpretation reached a ‘final stage, when it ceased to be revised, some people might separate the intepretation from the genetic experience which gave rise to it and it and thecontemporary experience of which it was supposed to be an interpretation. The interpretation is ‘built into’ the experience but must be articulated. It would no longer be a vibrant and transforming interpretation of the raw experiences of people because of its own innate truth. Instead it could become like some kind of slogan or ideology imposed on people by other means.

If any group of Christians no longer struggles to truly hear the person and the revelation that brought them together initially there is a grave danger that they will smuggle their own presuppositions into what they do and say. Their statements, their profession of faith, their interpretation of life may still sound orthodox (they are still using the community’s language) but something very serious has occurred. What is now being spoken of and lived as discipleship of Christ may have only a very tenuous link with the concrete historical realities of the message and ministry of Jesus. Instead of being grounded in these realities and founded in this history, this ‘faith’ floats free and becomes unhistorical or mythological. This ‘discipleship’ becomes a disguised expression of the groups’ own dominant concerns and ‘Jesus Christ’ becomes one more mythological ‘Lord,’ made in his creators’ image and likeness. The contact with the foundational Easter and pre-Easter experiences of the first followers of Jesus, and with the real life and death experiences of his present followers, is lost.

So those who still protest their allegiance to Jesus Christ might in fact be tending toward being gnostic (salvation comes through special knowledge) or docetic (God does not make genuine contact with humanity but only appears to do so) in their approach. ‘Discipleship’ might mean little more than assenting to these set formulae and being marginally involved in ritual activity. That this could happen is evident from Paul’s account of the Corinthian church and from other explicit and implicit references in the New Testament. It is further documented m the history of the heresies that plagued the early church. But the danger and is real for everyone.

Today even our verbal formulae are orthodox and accurate, even if we can quote chapter and verse of conciliar statements, this does not mean that we have avoided this danger or overcome the difficulty. No formula as formula, no doctrinal statement even, is the mystery of Jesus Christ. It is language about that mystery and as such can never measure up to the fullness of the mystery. Language does not deliver up the mystery to us and using language about the mystery can never be a substitute for living it. Words must not be allowed to substitute for deeds. As church we cannot simply repeat formulae – we must constantly and actively listen to the word to which these formulas claim to give insight. Only in this way can we ‘continue in my word’ (In 8:31) so that we may live it now.

Some people today wonder whether we take all this seriously. They point out that on the question of discipleship we usually tend to work with the conclusions arrived at by others. We often seem to be unaware of the influence of historical developments so we take for granted what are in fact dense theological summaries. Because we ‘do not know history we are at the mercy of recent history’ and so we end up believing that what exists today is to be maintained vigorously, for we are convinced that it is in true harmony with ‘what was from the beginning.’ This can lead us to depreciate our Christian faith and to be insensitive to the genuine questions that others may have about what we regard as immutable.

These people feel that we may in fact be somewhat gnostic in our approach. They believe that our christology has tended to become a theoretical theological system or, worse still, a set of propositions which has lost living contact with both the genetic and present-day experience of Christianity. Consequently, they believe that this christology and the discipleship that it informs do not enable us to interpret and shape our living and dying in the most transforming way possible. Yet this is precisely what we need to be able to do – to read our life stories in an integral and hopeful way in terms of the fullness of what took place in Jesus Christ.

To help us to do this we need to remain in contact with christian witness, with the movement started by Jesus of Nazareth and with the Scriptures as our privileged mode of access to this movement. However, it is not a simple matter to decide to begin with Scripture. We must be prepared to admit that we will also tend to read the Scriptures in terms of our dominant image of Christ
What the New Testament is saying will be filtered to us in terms of the current models of Jesus Christ and Christology. This becomes a problem only when we do not acknowledge it to be the case, for then we cannot set  about introducing any corrective measures. We will try, therefore, to be aware of this difficulty in our approach and attempt to remedy some of its shortcomings.

Biblical Scholarship
In choosing this approach, we will rely heavily on the work of Scripture scholars to open up the complex riches of the Scriptures for us. Some people may feel that this prospect is rather daunting or that it will make us unsure of our ground. They may remember that these scholars were the first to raise questions about the approach to Scripture which sustained and was sustained by classical christology. Many of us can remember our own reaction when we heard it said that the gospels are not biographies but confessional, kerygmatic documents from beginning to end; that they interpret and proclaim Jesus as Lord and Christ after Easter and in the light of Easter; that they speak ‘from faith to faith.’ It may have been disconcerting for some of us to hear that the gospels are not primarily concerned with giving us historical facts about Jesus or that not everything attributed to Jesus in the gospels was necessarily spoken by him in the form in which we now have it. We may remember trying to incorporate into our understanding of the divine inspiration of the evangelist, the announcement that a long period of oral tradition liturgical development, and catechetical adaptation lies behind the gospels. 

Yet, far from de-stabilising our approach, the findings of these scholars have given us a new and much stronger basis for it. Those using the methodology of critical biblical scholarship have given us new insights into Jesus’ extraordinarily warm and attractive but enigmatic personality. These insights can help us greatly in speaking and teaching about him in a vibrant way. He stand.s out clearly as someone with whom we could genuinely identify and yet he remains so utterly mysterious in our attempts know him or follow him that he forever draws us beyond everything we might achieve. He becomes someone whose way of life forever challenges, questions, and sustains us. We could credibly pray tohim and feel called to celebrate his presence to us.
The Quest for the Historical Jesus
What has emerged from these studies is both exciting and challenging, yet the reactions to the foregoing statements about the gospels are readily understandable- Roman Catholics were unfamiliar with the Bible itself and unaware of the developments in biblical research. Indeed, until about two hundred years ago such statements would have been unthinkable for any Christian. The church quite simply did not accept that any development took place between the ministry of Jesus and the christology of the New Testament – such a distinction would have been meaningless. It was agreed that the gospels were literal accounts of the words and actions of Jesus who really spoke as he does in both the synoptics and John. The year 1778, when certain Fragments of H.S. Reimarus were published posthumously, marks the beginning of the modern era of biblical studies. Reimarus, in a very provocative way, made a radical distinction between the ‘Jesus of history’ and the ‘Christ of faith’ preached by the churches. Reaction to what he said launched generations of Protestant scholars on what was later called ‘The quest for the historical Jesus.’ The details of that ‘quest’ need not concern us here. (5) We simply note that despite the conflict, the scepticism, and the overweening confidence that characterised some of the contributions to it, the overall cumulative gain was a new appreciation of the Bible as Bible.

The enduring contribution of the nineteenth century was in the area of source criticism. From 1918 what was called ‘form criticism’ sought to regain, through the written sources, contact with the developments that took place during the period of oral tradition. It was concerned with the process by which the beads (units giving, e.g., a saying, a story, a miracle of Jesus) of the gospel necklace were formed. Since the mid-1950s, ‘redaction criticism’ has been attending to the theological vision, the overall preoccupation of the creative editors that we call the evangelists. In these ways scholars have been developing and refining methodologies for approaching the Bible in all its rich complexity.

For many years this research was carried on solely within the Protestant churches. Gradually, however, the best insights of these approaches came to be accepted by the Roman Catholic church. The crucial documents here were the Encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu (1943), The Constitution on Divine Revelation (1965), and the document published by the Pontifical Biblical Commission, Instruction on the Historical Truth of the Gospels (1964). This latter document accepts the validity of the approaches of ‘source criticism,’ ‘form criticism,’ and ‘redaction criticism’ in interpreting the Bible. It tells us that the interpreter must take careful note of ‘the three stages of tradition by which the teaching and the life of Jesus have come down to us: These are distinguished as the ‘works and… words of Jesus’ (Stage I); the apostolic preaching after Easter (Stage 2); the final editing and setting down of ‘this earliest body of Instruction… in the four gospels’ (Stage 3). (6)

That Instruction provides us with the blueprint we will follow throughout this book. We will try to return to the words and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth (Stage 1). Then we will try to retrace the response to his preaching, his life, and his death which gave rise to the apostolic preaching (Stage 2). Finally we will try to move through the formation of the New Testament (Stage 3) into the reflection on the mystery of Christ that led to the Creed of the Council of Chalcedon.

We will draw on what is available to us from a rich variety of sources: the Scriptures and biblical scholarship, traditional and contemporary christological insights, a keen historical sense, praxis and praise, and above all the fleshy witness to the mystery of Christ, the lived discipleship of Christians in every age. It is extraordinarily difficult to hold all these elements together but if we emphasise one at the expense of another, our approach will be impoverished. The diversity of opinion among Scripture scholars can be bewildering and the rather dry categories of theology can be off-putting, but in our approach we need biblical insights if we wish to remain in living contact with the sources and we need the ‘bias binding’ of theology if we are to avoid ravelling at the edges. The cross-influence, we hope, will be enriching – a refreshed return to our common spirituality and the basic witness of other Christians will help to build up a more credible theology. We need, desperately, to have our imaginations fired without doing violence to our historical sense so that in prayer and activity we may contemplate in a transforming way the Christ of the gospels.

The results of such an approach should invite us to a new and enlivened following of the path of discipleship. Our basic mode of access to Jesus Christ will always be through the direction of our lives, through discipleship. Obviously, it is not some thing that can simply be gleaned from books but must be questioned, clarified, and sustained by the best scriptural, theological, and historical insights available. Much of what has been emerging recently in writings about christology has been concerned with drawing all of this together so as to build up a renewed, living, engaging approach to the mystery of Jesus Christ. It is concerned with the kind of person Jesus of Nazareth was, the effect he had on people, the message he proclaimed, the lifestyle he engaged in, the movement started by him in the context of his tune, what it was that led to his death, how the church began in his name. This stress on history is indispensable. Through it, these authors are trying to understand how disciples who were engaged in these historical experiences came to confess this Jesus as the Christ of God after Easter. They are concerned with the correlation between historical experience and this profession of faith.

We frequently tend to make a sharp distinction between history and faith or between faith and theology or spirituality and theology, and yet we forget that the statements of faith or the outlines of our spirituality are always couched in the language of a particular theology and are culturally conditioned. We must also realise that this underlying theology may not always be as adequate as it might be. But as the people of God we deserve the help of the very best theology so that we may interpret and live daily life to the full in terms of the God and father of Jesus Christ and in the power of his Spirit. We are reminded that we must ‘Always be prepared to make a defence to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence’ (1 Pet 3:15).

To give a basis for the Christian hope that is in us means that we cannot begin by appealing to the very conclusions that are being called into question. Instead of begging the question about our position as Christians we are asked to demonstrate the reasonableness, the intelligibility, the plausibility of that stance. In relation to the theology of Jesus Christ, which sustains and directs our discipleship, our primary task must be to show the intrinsic correlation between the person and history of Jesus of Nazareth and our professions of faith in him. To do so means that we cannot begin with these professions of faith themselves nor indeed with the doctrinal statements of the church. Instead we should begin with the apostolic witness to the life, the history, the words, and the deeds of Jesus of Nazareth and attempt to retrace the steps of the journey undertaken by his disciples in arriving at the statements of faith that we find about him in gospel and creed and council. In other words we must show that our christology (discourse about Jesus as the Christ) can justifiably be founded in the concrete personal history of Jesus of Nazareth by following the path taken historically by his disciples. We simply cannot avoid the historical question or ignore the problem of the historical consistency of our approach.

However difficult such an undertaking may be, it becomes all the more pressing in a world that proclaims ‘the death of permanence.’ When talking about the New Testament communities we noted that what disposes us to believe in the first place – the whole social, mental and cultural climate – makes it very difficult for us to believe anything that is different from what we have always believed? That total climate makes it possible for us to form an image of the Christ whose disciples we claim to be, but it also makes it difficult for us to modify that image or renew that discipleship.

Now that climate and culture have changed dramatically, especially in the last twenty-five years. We have been living through a period of profound change and upheaval with the resulting instability, insecurity, loss of identity, break-up of institutions, and the splintering of social life causing so much pain. And the trauma continues. Those who study these things say that our experiences have been traumatic because we have been living simultaneously through both the dying kick of a moribund culture and the gestation period of a new self-understanding of humankind that has not yet found adequate expression. The slow, gentle, almost imperceptible shakings experienced over the centuries finally had their effect and the very foundations of the ‘classical culture’ cracked dramatically. The assumptions on which that culture was built and which had gone unquestioned for so long could no longer sustain it; yet the secure foundations for the new future had not as yet been laid. We were literally caught between two worlds.

Since the life of the church is always culturally conditioned, this cultural fragmentation was bound to have a profound effect on the church. It would be tedious and unnecessary to try to catalogue the various ways in which the church was affected by all this since we have had first-hand experience of at least part of it ourselves. Suffice it to say that even at this stage the ‘Christian commonwealth’ can no longer be assumed to exist anywhere, that the social and cultural underpinnings that once sustained Christianity have by and large vanished. So the preconditions for a certain kind of faith and a certain kind of Christianity no longer exist. The changed situation has saddened some people who lament the passing of the ‘old ways.’ Others have closed ranks against it and pretend it never happened. Still others see it as offering an exciting challenge to rediscover the Way of Jesus Christ. They maintain that this will lead us to a more personal, responsible faith.

When the ‘residual Christian commonwealth’ is no longer capable of sustaining the indifferent or cosseting the uncommitted, those who wish to be Christians will have to opt in or opt out. This new changed situation will impose a radical asceticism on those who come to this decision of faith. They will be called to a new kind of discipleship by the very nature of the situation in which they find themselves. In such circumstances they will be stripped of many of the cosy trappings, forced to jettison the non-essentials, get back to the heart, the core, of what Christianity is about and live it. Once more this quest for the heart of Christianity must begin with the Scriptures.

We have decided to adopt an approach to the mystery of Jesus Christ that begins with the Scriptures. We are making this choice because we hope it will help us to face the difficulties of discipleship in the world today.

To opt for this approach is to choose a starting point and a perspective that are at variance with those of the classical approach. This is not done arbitrarily or in order to disregard what is unquestionably valid and valuable in that approach. But it is done so that we may become bearers of the fruitful dialectic between the traditional approach and the one we now choose to follow. This dialectic will be with us in all that follows for although our discipleship has been shaped to a greater or lesser extent by classical christology, we are no longer unquestioningly satisfied to inhabit the confines of that approach. We carry the tension within us.

Because of the difference in starting point and perspective we should not expect an exact correspondence in priority and preoccupation between one approach and the other. Indeed what is a serious problem within one approach may not present the same difficulty within the other. For example, if we start with the assumptions of classical christology we may feel obliged to ‘prove’ the humanity of Jesus Christ, yet no contemporary of Jesus of Nazareth would have dreamt of asking whether Jesus was fully human, whether he was a man. We need to return to the Scriptures and allow them to speak to us about the reality of his humanity while realising that the same scriptures proclaim ‘that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself’ (2 Cor 5: 19).

If we could unravel something of that movement from knowing him as man to confessing him as Son of God, we would come closer to understanding the way in which disciples wrestled with that mystery. And we could then continue in contact with the centuries of reflections of later disciples that finally gave us the formula of Chalcedon (see appendix 2: The Definition of Chalcedon). In the process, I hope we will have come to appreciate the entire movement in a new way and come to a renewed understanding of Chalcedon.

This is the key to the approach that will be followed throughout this book. We will be trying to follow the movement in which the first disciples were engaged, the path they followed. Of course we are not forgetting that we, who have inherited 2000 years of tradition, cannot become contemporaries of Jesus’ disciples, nor are we ignoring the fact that our faith embraces not only the earthly Jesus but the risen Christ. We may wish that we could approach the life of Jesus, the Scriptures, the question of discipleship for the first time. Such innocence, however, is not recoverable! Yet, while being aware of the problems of presuppositions, precomprehension, and the ‘hermeneutical circle,’ we will be attempting to imaginatively relive the life and death of Jesus as experienced by his historical disciples. Given their values, attitudes, and culture, how could they have followed a man who said and did what Jesus said and did? Given our values, attitudes, and culture, what are we to make of him? Who is this Jesus of Nazareth?
1. See John F. O’Grady, Models of Jesus (New York: Doubleday, 1984) .
2. ‘It is 1) a christology ‘from above,’ which remains incarnation centred, 2) runs into philosophical problems, 3) mixes together historical, theological, and mythical language, 4) bypasses the ministry of Jesus, and 5) separates the person of Jesus Christ from his work, that is to say, separates christology from soteriology or the doctrine of salvation.’ Gerald O’Collins, What Are They Saying About Jesus? (Ramsey, N.J.: Paulist Press, 1977), p. 1; see Dermot Lane, The Reality of Jesus (Dublin: Veritas, 1975) for summary of criticisms.
3. See Appendix 2 for full text.
4. Sermon 7 on the Nativity.
5. See Lane, The Reality of Jesus, 2 ff, for a brief survey.
6. See Appendix 1 for the relevant parts of this Instruction, its significance for our approach, and the criteria we will follow for establishing authenticity.
7. Edward Schillebeeckx, Jesus: An Experiment in Christology (London: Collins, 1979), 48 H.

AId winckle, R.F. More Than Man: A Study in Christology, Eerdmans,1976.
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