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Jesus Humanity and the Trinity Paperback – June 1, 2001
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"[a] robust view of incarnation ... preserves both the divinity and humanity of Jesus in a non-truncated way." --Research News & Opportunities in Science and Theology, April 2003
About the Author
Kathryn Tanner is Professor of Theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School and author of two Fortress Press titles: The Politics of God: Christian Theologies and Social Justice (1992) and Theories of Culture (1998). She is co-editor of the Guides to Theological Inquiry series.
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As the subheading depicts, it is very (and sorrowfully) brief. It truly is its only major flaw. Yet, it speaks much of Tanner's unique craft to say so much in such powerful rhetor with such brevity. Thematically speaking, Tanner addresses her prolegomena, Christology, ethics, and eschatology. Structurally speaking, unlike other contemporary systematic theologies, Tanner places Christology prior to her prolegomena. In other words, her creedal-conscious Christology precedes her creedal-conscious trinitarian structure of theology. Tanner is unapologetically Christocentric, a refreshing insistence to hold while engaging in Christian theology.
What does the unique hypostatic union between divinity and humanity in the Second Person, Jesus Christ, have to say about ethics and eschatology? Life in and with God is achieve in and through Christ by the Spirit. It is in the presence of God where life flourishes, overwhelming and subsuming finitude and mortality, healing them just by proximity with God, and challenging those who are near God to be like Christ to those around them. As we draw closer to the communicator of God's goods, Jesus, we must become fellow communicators to others--hence "Christians" as "little Christs."
This isn't an easy read, but it should prove enlightening to the one who takes up the challenge.
Tanner's work here is very well organized and cohesive. Its primary drawback in my mind is that it seldom directly quotes scripture. Tanner's concepts and images are certain supported by scripture, and as I read I would often connect things she said to certain passages, but any theological work should at least include chapter and verse references that relate to what is said. The first direct reference to scripture is on page 45, 1/3 of the way through the book.
Also, Tanner's writing style is probably a bit too complicated and could be simplified without all the qualifiers.
Much recent theology, of course, has perhaps suffered from a surfreit of Christology, to the point of Christomonism in some cases. Tanner takes her christocentrism in a different direction, however, and manages to speak about the historical figure of Jesus not as a subject of history, but as a focus of Christian faith. She thus moves towards an overthrow of the Jesus of History - Christ of Faith dichotomy, by understanding the way that contemporary church people can focus on the Jesus of Faith, so to speak. She takes accounts in the early church of Jesus and reworks them into a view of a "graced human life" (21), seen in Jesus. All of this makes the concept of the Trinity a very human-centered doctrine (which is refreshing), and while she devotes space to a discussion of the immanent Trinity, for Tanner, the economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity, and in her hands the Trinity becomes a very practical doctrine indeed. In a way, one could say that, according to Tanner, Jesus' humanity leads into the doctrine of the Trinity because the trinitarian perichoresis (the divine "dance," literally) includes, in the Incarnation, God, creation, and humanity. Her conclusions about the human nature of Jesus' divinity lead into a very relational theology, of God as transcendent and yet gift-giving, and this saves the sometimes rigid systematic form from ossification.
Tanner's theological sources are firmly in the Reformed tradition, and she makes very heavy use of Barth throughout the text -- scarcely a page goes by without his name. Karl Rahner also shows up more than a few times, which is a nice juxtaposition with Barth at times, and Tillich is wholly absent. This is as it should be, given Tanner's (mostly unspoken) focus on Incarnation -- Tillich is largely without the Incarnation in his theology, and the humanity of Jesus means something different for him than it does Tanner.
On the whole, this is a successful book as long as it tries to relate all the doctrines of the faith back to her understanding of Jesus. If this perspective is lost, however, the book often seems arbitrary in its argument about Jesus' significance, especially in its main topic, i.e. the Trinity. However, there is no reason why one should lose sight of Tanner's position on Jesus, since it is well argued very early in the text. Whether the reader will follow Tanner in her interpretation of Jesus is another matter, but she has given good practical reasons why this reading of Jesus allows for useful contemporary visions of the Trinity. Tanner's book thus adds a welcome voice to the conversation about the significance of systematic theology for contemporary Christian belief.