Postcards from Claremont: Part 2

Emergent Village Conference on Process Theology:  Day 2

Christology is not a Disease, but a Pathway to Finding God Everywhere

“If Jesus Christ is the center, there is no boundary.”  My friend, teacher, and mentor John Cobb shared his thoughts this morning on Christology, that is, how we understand Jesus Christ’s relationship to us and the world.  This is truly a treat, to hear Professor Cobb, now 86, speak of lively, open-spirited, and innovative Christianity.  John is one of the great theologians of our time, whose work has illuminated and expanded the impact of process theology.  It is appropriate that John Cobb be speaking at the Emergent Village Conversations.

To some, Christology sounds like a medical term, and, from my perspective, Christology can be a disease – it can limit our understanding of God’s revelation and salvation to people who hold “orthodox” visions of faith, and this can exclude other Christians.  It can present a picture of God as authoritarian and domineering rather than loving.  It can define God’s nature primarily in terms of power and thus subordinate love to unilateral power.  From this perspective, God might want to love us and save us, but God can’t truly love us because God has set limits to loving us based on doctrine, creed, and confession of faith.  God might want to save us, but God’s justice requires God to discard all humans who don’t follow a particular faith statement, usually  based on a literal understanding of scripture.

Many Christologies are disease-ridden, if disease implies causing unnecessary suffering and pain, most especially if God’s light only shines in one place, leaving the rest of the world in darkness – of sin, death, and damnation. Although God is uniquely present in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ – and Jesus had a unique relationship with God – God’s witness, I believe, is everywhere.  Other religious traditions are not falls from grace, nor are they godless falsehoods, but reflections of God’s presence in a variety of cultural and social settings.  When the settings differ, God’s revelations differ.  We do not live in a God-less universe, but a God-filled universe in which God responds to each creature and culture uniquely, shaping it and guiding it, and creatures respond uniquely to God, moving God closer or further from God’s vision for the world.

Iranaeus proclaimed that the glory of God is a human being fully alive.  Accordingly, there is no conflict with the divine and human in Jesus: more divine inspiration increases, rather than decreases, human creativity and agency.  As attuned to the divine fully, Jesus’ creativity and freedom were expanded.  In being attuned to Jesus, our freedom and creativity, and – surprisingly to some people – openness to learning from other faiths, science, literature, and critics of faith.

Christ is the image of hope and health, healing and joining all of us in a wonderful journey, whether or not we are Christians, in being God’s companions in healing the earth.   This is good news for an emerging church!



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About Bruce Epperly

Rev. Bruce Epperly, Ph.D., serves as Pastor at South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Centerville, MA. Prior to coming to Cape Cod in 2013, he served on the faculties and often in administrative and chaplaincy roles at Georgetown University, Claremont School of Theology, Wesley Theological Seminary, and Lancaster Theological Seminary. Bruce is currently a professor in spirituality, ministry, and theology in the doctoral program at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington D.C. He has served as pastor or interim pastor of congregations in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. He is the author or co-author of over 35 books in the areas of theology, spirituality, ministerial excellence and spiritual formation, scripture, and healing and wholeness, including Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God; Finding God in Suffering: A Journey with Job; From Here to Eternity: Preparing for the Next Adventure; and A Center in the Cyclone: Clergy Self-care in the 21st Century.