Why We Need Both Stories

A response to Robert A. Krieg

All Christology begins "from below." Rahner’s distinction, "from below/from above," describes the plots of the Christological stories we tell, but not the genesis or sources of those stories. Too often we fail to make that distinction.

Christology begins in disciples’ imaginative responses to the "Caesarea Philippi" question. That’s what Mark portrays the disciples and Peter doing. They answer Jesus imaginatively with code words ("Elijah," "John the Baptist," "Messiah") that are shorthand for stories about "who he is."

New Testament Christological narratives have two types of plots. The ascending types (for example, in the synoptics) tell stories of how "God made a man God’s Son." The descending forms (for example, in the Christological hymns) tell stories of how "God made the Son a man." Of course, the New Testament makes many other Christological claims. But these two plots pattern the Christological imagination.

Subsequent controversies are debates over which story should dominate. Christological heresies result when one story cancels the other. It is easy for ascending Christologists to fall into patterns that shortchange the true divinity of Christ, and for descending Christologists to slip into patterns that practically deny Christ’s humanity.

Christian disciples continue these exercises to the present, as Robert Krieg reminds us. We continue to tell stories to account for the...

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About the Author

Terrence W. Tilley is chair of the Theology Department at Fordham University.