Credo: A Theopoetic Christology
(In this second part to a three-part paper (find the first part here), I write about three Christologies that contribute to my own Christology. Each of the three Christologies also are theopoetic in their emphasis upon embodied experience. Jesus Christ, enough of reading this introduction–get on with the rest of the paper already!)
Central to Christianity is beliefs about Jesus. Yet, other Abrahamic traditions also believe something about Jesus. It is the belief that Jesus is Christ that engenders Christology and a distinction between Christianity and the other Abrahamic traditions. One would venture that with the importance Jesus plays in Christianity, a single and coherent Christology would have been developed by now. Yet, such a feat could not be further from the truth. At no point throughout Christian history has there been an unanimously agreed upon Christology. Even the four gospel accounts from which Christians pulled to develop Christologies do not have a singular Christology. Therefore, staying consistent with the Christian tradition’s utter inability to develop one singular Christology, I will draw upon the theopoetic work of Marcella Althaus-Reid, Monica Coleman, and Catherine Keller to dissertate three similar yet different Christologies that inform my own Christology.
Christology in Theopoetics
Before I dive into the theopoetic Christologies from which I draw to formulate my own Christology, it is significant to explain why theopoetics is crucial to understand my Christology. With theopoetics’ emphasis on creating theology from embodied experience, I would argue all Christology derives from one’s embodied experience. For example, my theology, despite my earnest attempts otherwise, derives from my experience as a white, straight, cisgender man. Because I cannot fully escape creating theology outside of that embodied experience, it is necessary for me to learn theology from those who have different experiences. Therefore, the three Christologies from which I draw are vastly different embodied experiences than my own. All three theologians are women. One is Latina, one is black, and the other is white. While I am unsure of the sexual orientations of two of the theologians, one publicly identifies as queer. Each of these theologians’ identities shape their Christology, which in turn has shaped mine.
Marcella Althaus-Reid was a Argentine theologian at New College in Edinburgh, Scotland. Her theological interests included liberation, feminist, and queer theologies. Each of these theologies converge into one in her provocative book, Indecent Theology: Theological Perversions in Sex, Gender, and Politics. In it she explores a liberation theology that connects radically to sexuality and gender. In Indecent Theology, Althaus-Reid invasively explores the sexuality of Jesus. She critiques the dominant Christologies for their lack of consideration for Jesus’ sexuality and gender. She criticizes them for creating a Christology that is “wrapped up in male heterosexual masculinity so obsessively as to reach the point that it does not allow us to see his relationship with his community or with us.” Because Jesus is wrapped in a male heterosexual masculine Christology, those who are queer are unable to identify with Christ, unless they hold their queerness as “strange.” Furthermore, the “systematic” in “Systematic Messiah,” as Althaus-Reid calls dominant Christologies, hinges upon a binary. He is “a Christ of clear limits and boundaries, a compromise found amongst the ambiguities of his character and the almost military precision and clear planning of his life which heterosexual thought requires.” The attempt to even strip the ambiguities and complexing of Christ to syncretize Christ into one singular Christology can only be done with unchecked heteronormativity. Althaus-Reid suggests imaging a more fluid and non-reduced Christology. Cloaked in the unbeknownst sheet of patriarchal heteronormativity, one may counter that Althaus-Reid’s Bi/Christ, a fluid and non-reduced Christology, does not truly matter. But, as the theologian later indicates, Christologies matter greatly per her example of heterosexual men pontificating online about the limits women ought to have in society. A Bi/Christ matters greatly to the experience of Althaus-Reid as a queer Latina woman and the many other women like her. Therefore, Althaus-Reid’s Bi/Christ Christology is paramount in my formulation of a Christology that predicates itself upon fluidity and non-reduction.
Salvific Creative Transformation
While Althaus-Reid focuses upon who Jesus is in light of the perspective of the perceiver, Monica Coleman focuses upon the salvific activity of Jesus to formulate her Christology. A process womanist Christology, therefore, is in direct relationship with soteriology. Before directly connecting Christology to soteriology, Coleman draws upon John Cobb’s Christology of creative transformation. Creative transformation “is the change that occurs when God’s aims toward novelty are accepted and incorporated.” With this definition of creative transformation, Cobb’s Christology does not exclusively draw upon Jesus, but rather formulates a Christology into which Jesus can become Christ. Drawing upon creative transformation, Coleman suggests womanist theology affirms its creative activity with the metaphor of “making a way out of no way.” Citing womanist theologian Kelly Brown Douglas, Coleman suggest womanist theologians develop a Christology from “Jesus’ activity, not his constitution or particular experiences, that make him Savior and worthy of emulation.” Jesus’ activity of inclusion of all people, dining with sinners, acts of healing, and teaching and the subsequent similar activity Jesus inspires in others are the basis for salvation. Jesus’ salvific activity births novelty into the world and thus becomes Christ in both womanist and Cobbian Christologies. Therefore, unlike creating a Christology out of Jesus’ experience and identity as Althaus-Reid does, Coleman and other womanist theologians move towards particular attention to the salvific activity of Jesus to form a Christology. This move relates Christology to soteriology in a way that Althaus-Reid does not.
Jesus as the Christ
While Althaus-Reid focuses on Jesus’ gender and sexual identity and Coleman draws upon process and womanist theology’s soteriological Christology to formulate their Christologies, Catherine Keller includes a breath of pneumatology to formulate her Christology. Keller wants “to put the breathing room back in Christology: an interval of ruach, right in between “Jesus” and “Christ.” The term Jesus Christ dissipates each term. One becomes a proper name, the other a symbolic title. Instead of a Christology of “Jesuschrist,” Keller proposes to honor what she calls “the breathing room.” By creating space for the Spirit in the breathing room, “a more spirited Christology becomes possible.” In the same vein of Althaus-Reid and Coleman’s Christologies, Keller’s pneumatological Christology does not breathe into existence for its own sake, but the sake of the world. It is the Spirit of Life in Jesus that is the same spirit “we may both receive and conceive.” This spirit is “not a miraculous favor or zap of salvation, not an absolute power to rescue us from the dissolute world–but a resolute spirit.” It re-orients our way of being in this world to re-commit to Her. Just as this spirit is one in which we can receive and conceive in our world today, can Jesus as the Christ breathe into life today? Absolutely, because Jesus as the Christ is in process! Utilizing Paul’s metaphor of “Body of Christ,” the church today is a part of the organism that is Jesus as the Christ. Jesus as the Christ is alive today “only to the extent that [he] is embodied in process” by the Body of Christ by living and practicing the justice of the commonwealth of God.
Clark Williamson’s Christology in Conversation with Christo-Poetics
Clark Williamson develops his Christology in a way that would resonate with that of Althaus-Reid, Coleman, and Keller. He begins his Christology by rooting Jesus in his socio-historical context and then ends with discussing a liberative Christology. While understanding Jesus in his socio-historical context does not make the Christological turn, it does matter for the eventual theopoetic turn Althaus-Reid, Coleman, and Keller make that contributes to my Christology. To place Jesus historically as a Jew under Roman oppression does not necessarily make the Christological turn; however, it does reinforce the importance Jesus’ material existence (the emphasis in theopoetics) plays in developing a Christology. In addition, Williamson later on suggests a “Liberating Jesus,” which resonates well with the theopoetic Christologies of Althaus-Reid, Coleman, and Keller. Liberating Jesus means to “liberate Jesus from the anti-Jewish grip in which we have held him for so long.” By liberating Jesus in this way, his material existence will be able to exist on its own terms, without the colonizing of his material existence that so many Christologies have done. In addition, Jesus liberates us “to love ourselves appropriately, to love God with all of ourselves and our neighbors as ourselves.” Similar to that of theopoetic Christologies, a Christology that does not move us into liberation is incomplete. Thus, Williamson’s Christology resonates similarly to the Christologies of Althaus-Reid, Coleman, and Keller.
Each of the aforementioned Christologies are critical pieces in the development of my own Christology. They, in each of their unique ways, draw upon theopoetics in their utilization of embodied experience and beauty as theological sources. In addition, I also hold Althaus-Reid’s Christology of Bi/Jesus, Coleman’s Christology of creative transformation salvific liberation, and Keller’s Christology of Jesus as the Christ, in their distinct particularities, in theopoetic togetherness. Therefore, I hold to a Christology of Jesus as the Christ because of his salvific activity and queering binaries breathes life into the Body of Christ for today’s necessary work of the justice of the commonwealth of God. I hold to Jesus as the Christ, because by doing so Jesus becomes not merely a historical concern but a Christological one. For it is in this Christological turn that “Christianity was born…[when] one of his followers was driven to say to him, “Thou art the Christ.” It is also in this Christological turn that Jesus’ life and teachings liberate all and place a demand upon those who are also driven to say “Thou art the Christ” to do the same. It is when I am driven in word and deed to declare Jesus “the Christ” that I place a demand upon myself to participate in the work of liberation. Thus, the Christological turn, for me, also makes a theopoetic turn in that the Christological turn of Jesus as the Christ places a demand upon me to live in ways that honor and liberate my own material existence and the material existence of others.