Jesus of America?
A friend sent along this short review of a book on African Christologies. The author, who teaches
organizes the Christologies under four headings: Jesus as life-giver
(especially healer), Jesus as mediator (particularly as ancestor), Jesus as
loved one (family and friendship), and Jesus as leader (king/chief and
Reading this made me wonder what a book about American
Christologies would look like. What are
the images of Jesus that particularly resonate in our culture? What are their strengths? What are their
weaknesses? I’m not talking about
dogmatic Christology so much as the images of Christ that emerge in local
preaching and catechesis.
Over the last few years, I’ve had the opportunity to share
reflections on the scriptures with men at a local county jail. Over time, I’ve identified certain images of
Jesus that seem to speak to them. One is
what might be called—following Jurgen Moltmann—Jesus as the “suffering God,”
the God who enters into solidarity with human suffering. Another is what might be called Jesus as
“companion,” someone who walks with us in our human journey, encouraging us,
picking us up when we have fallen, and so on.
These are somewhat modern images, but the men also gravitate
to some traditional images. You might be
surprised to learn how many prisoners embrace something close to a strict
theory of substitutional atonement. Many
carry grave sins on their conscience and find forgiving themselves or accepting
forgiveness difficult. A belief that the
debt for these sins has been paid can open up new possibilities for forgiveness
I’m aware of some of the dangers here, of the Gospel being
reduced to a kind of therapy, to the mantra of “holiness is wholeness.” A passing acquaintance with the lives of some
of the saints should make us skeptical of that idea. But the two ideas are not entirely
unrelated. The example of Jesus’ own
ministry among the sick and outcast suggests that the healing and
transformation of individuals can be a powerful sign of the presence of the
Kingdom among us.
But back to the question: what images of Christ resonate in
our culture? What are their strengths? What are their weaknesses? Anyone want to share?