Cross Purposes

Christ the Key
Kathryn Tanner
Cambridge University Press, $29.99, 322 pp.

Kathryn Tanner’s Christ the Key takes on what has been the knottiest problem in theological anthropology since the Reformation—namely, the relation between nature and grace. Does grace build on human nature, or does it cancel and replace nature entirely? And what exactly is our nature? In what sense, and to what degree, is the human being an imago Dei (image of God)?

Christ the Key will be a daunting read for the theologically unsophisticated, and a demanding one even for many theologians. Tanner, a systematic theologian, attempts to formulate new and comprehensive understandings of Christian teachings about God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, revelation, Incarnation, Mary, and the relationship between nature and grace. The poet Shelley famously remarked that “poets and philosophers are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” That is at least partially true of theologians as well; their unacknowledged influence affects what the ordinary Christian learns in religious education classes, hears from the pulpit, and experiences in the pew.

Tanner begins by questioning whether there is any meaningful way to talk about human nature “imaging” God. She rejects Augustine’s notion of the mind itself as a trinitarian image, “an ideally self-enclosed self-sufficiency.” Tanner claims that human nature by itself can never be an image of God except in a very weak sense. Strictly speaking, the only image of God is the Word of God, Jesus Christ....

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About the Author

John C. Cavadini teaches in the Department of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, where he is also McGrath-Cavadini director of the Institute for Church Life.