John Webster, Jesus Christ, & Evangelical Theology

Continuing through The Cambridge Companion to Evangelical Theology (ed. Timothy Larsen and Daniel J. Treier), John Webster presents a dense and sharp critique of evangelical theology on Christology in his essay "Jesus Christ." Any
evangelical theology of Jesus or even NT study of Jesus should take into account Webster's challenges.

Here are two such comments:

"Contemporary evangelical historians of Jesus and his early followers are certainly more sophisticated then their forbears, and a good deal more relaxed about the need to defend the viability of confessional orthodoxy or the reliability and authority of the apostolic witnesses. What they have in common with earlier work is the fact that their arguments are historical, not theological, and direct themselves primarily to historical reason rather than the judgment of faith. In this sense, they continue the evangelical tradition of Christology "from below" -- not in the sense of proposing a "low" Christology, but in treating Jesus and his human history as apprehensible in relative independence from the dogmatic question of his relation to the divine Logos. This, it should be noted, places them at a considerable distance from one of the primary affirmations of classical Christological teaching, namely that the humanity of Jesus is "enhypostatic" (has its existence in) the second person of the Trinity, and therefore "anhypostatic," that is, possesses no personal center of existence and agency of its own, and so is what it is solely in the Word. If this is so, then Jesus' humanity is not graspable as an historical entity without immediate reference to the Word who assumes it; incarnate humanity is not straightforwardly transparent to historical inquiry. Evangelical New Testament scholars have not so far addressed the adoptionist potential of the methods to which they have committed themselves" (pp. 57-58).


"Treatments of the resurrection are a particularly good register of how dogmatic topics have often been assimilated to historical and philosophical apologetics. Some strands of evangelicalism have long had a stake in existentialist apologetics, and Jesus' resurrection has furnished a test case for the viability of the strategy. In effect, the resurrection assumes a propaedeutic [introductory or preliminary teaching] function: as reason surveys the historical evidence, belief in the resurrection acquires plausibility, and with it the Christological claims of Christian faith. The strategy is only effective, it should be noted, on the basis of a relocation of Christian teaching about the resurrection. Moved out of dogmatics proper to foundations, the resurrection becomes faith's ground rather than its object, and its content has more to do with Jesus' resurrection as past event than with his presence and activity as the risen one. The effect of this relocation has rarely been noted by evangelical systematicians, who have been rather swift to subsume the resurrection within the larger project of demonstrating the objectivity and universal validity of the Christian revelation..." (p. 59).

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