Veli-Matti Karkkainen - "Christology"
11:31PM Jun 28, 2020
Jonathan J. Armstrong
Today it is our honor to be speaking with Dr. Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen. Dr. Kärkkäinen is professor of systematic theology at fuller Theological Seminary. He also serves as docent of economics at the University of Helsinki in Finland and adjunct professor at Regent University Divinity School Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, and global university. Professor Kärkkäinen is the author of numerous books, including a few of the titles I list here, introduction to ecclesiology, the Trinity global perspectives, and toward a new new ontological theology, Pentecostal and ecumenical perspectives on ecclesiology soteriology and the theology of mission. Professor Kärkkäinen is also author of the text that we'll be discussing today, which is the revised edition of Christology: A Global introduction, available from Baker Academic, the second edition in 2016. Professor Kärkkäinen, thank you so much for making time to be with us today.
Thank you. It's a wonderful opportunity and privilege for me.
If I can begin serve, one of the remarkable features of your second edition of this text is the way that the book surveys the spectrum of recent scholarship on global Christianity, how is the whole field of global Christianity changed since 2003, when you produce the first edition of this text
already, and in the beginning of the third millennium, when I was preparing the first edition, it dawned on me that a proper introduction to any Christian doctrine, let alone Christ could not be limited to the invitations coming from one segment of the Christian church and I wonder To begin opening the windows into interpretations coming, for example, from the Global South Africa, Asia and Latin America, but at the time, about 20 years ago, we still didn't have so much access to those invitations coming from outside the mainstream. academic field. Let's see. So between the beginning of the Third Millennium and last year when I finished the review, virtually rewriting, it's not only a revision, but I've actually rewrote the whole text. I had also had an opportunity to learn much more about invitations coming from various segments of the Christian church. And since I also teach in some of the locations in the global south and I also travel a lot so it's been a journey of discovery for me Well,
what are some of the ways that communication channels have opened up in the last two or three decades where you've been teaching and looking at theology from a global perspective?
Oh, dramatically and radically when I started my PhD studies at the University of Helsinki, almost three decades ago, we didn't yet have internet in the same sense we have it nowadays. We didn't have the kind of mutual exchange between ideas, persons, and even when you went to academic conferences, they were quite limited in, in participation. So we live in a new world and as theologians and also Christian ministers, we need to learn how to best take advantage of the opportunities God has given to
us. Professor Kurt cannon one of the features of this text Christology a global introduction is you referred several times to the distinction between crystals And quote Jesus ology, what do you mean by this distinction?
Thank you for asking. It's important to me and when am at the time of the Enlightenment, beginning from the 18th century, a critical study of the biblical texts and Christine fields it began, it led virtually into the exclusion and dismissal of what the church had believed about Christ in the past, namely, the church used to confess her faith not only in Jesus of Nazareth, the human person, the healer, the preacher, but also to the second person of the Trinity. And and so when I nowadays talking about the distinction between che salasi and crystal oxen, I wish to remind my readers of the fact that if we want to speak as I do it We want to stick with orthodox version of Christian faith as confessed in the Creed's and in the Bible, we need to hold on to both at Jesus demand and Jesus the God. So I'm critiquing those after post enlightenment, as a modern Crystal oxys which one did to get rid of confession of faith in the second person of the Trinity, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and so on.
Professor kokanee and how is this distinction between Christology and Jesus ology received in the global self.
And most almost all Christians in the global south take it for granted that the second person of the Trinity is the second person of the Trinity as much as he is also a perfect human person. It's a very strange idea for a typical believer in In the global south, to be told that he or she should only talk about Jesus, the teacher of the Sermon on the Mount, as important that as that is, but only in the context of Jesus his whole history, which is also History of Christ,
the Lord and Savior.
There are four parts to this text. The first part is entitled Christ in biblical testimonies. And in this section you examine both the Gospel accounts of Jesus and the testimony of the polis epistles as you reflect on the person of Christ. Paul is often accused of reinterpreting the message of Jesus, what is your conclusion?
And thank you again, for a very important question. We have to remember First of all, that when we look at the written version or the writings of the New Testament, Paul is the earliest writer, even though the gospels are placed before Paul Obviously, because of the narrative app Paul is the for example, First Corinthians is one of the writings first came to be included in the canon. So there's a good case to be made for the fact that Paul is in no way inventing a new religion, but he is the first authoritative and also holy, Spirit inspired interpreter of the faith of the church that was already that arose immediately after the resurrection of Christ. So I refuse to repeat the Gospels against Paul or vice versa. And I think so I'm more faithful to that the text we have, namely, the authority of the Scripture,
and is when you bring this this position again to teaching context in the global sense Are the students that you work with? Do they interact with this problem as well as they? Are they previously aware of this potential problem?
I don't find it am raised as a problem in the in the global south, because on the one hand, they absolutely love the Gospels, because Christians in the global south often appreciate more than we do. Jesus earthly ministry say, healings, exorcisms and those kinds of things. But they also firmly firmly affirm the so called high Christology of Paul line texts and the rest of the New Testament. And in their mind, perhaps they are more sophisticated than we are in their mind. The two belong together, namely, what they read in the Gospels and what they hear from from Paul and the other witnesses, and they they believe that The violin, same person. And I, of course share in that belief.
In part two of your text, you compare and contrast the Christology of the first five centuries of the church with the modern quest for the historical Jesus. What are the threads that unite? What appear on the surface very disparate periods of Christian theology, the Christology of the church fathers and the Christology of the Enlightenment theologians?
Yeah, if I approach your question from a little bit different angle, I often tell the students that if you had the luxury of only two hours of the history of crystal otzi, how would you proceed? And then I tell my students, and let's devote the first hour to thinking of other to looking at how the Church of the fathers thought of Jesus Christ as they were able to hold on together both at Jesus artsy and crystal artsy. And let's add juxtapose that with at the time of the modernity, which stems from the Enlightenment to Holmes scholars, it is very difficult to do confess their faith in Christ. And so, I tell the students that of course, they do both of the time periods and the scholars, they reflect on the same biblical text, but they come to it from different point of view, and from different at EDL oxys. And so, I, I tried to tell the students that, yes, there is continuity and discontinuity but now, as we look at the juxtaposition in the hind sight, and I am deeply troubled by the reductionism of the Enlightenment reading of the Bible, I am not against the critical biblical study or historical criticism, but I am against naive and kind of presupposition lists there. I mean we all bring to the task, our presuppositions, but enlightenment fools us telling that our people in the past had to please or possess and so we're biased, we do not. And that is the fallacy of the enlightenment. We bring a different type of presuppositions and we have to critique also our presuppositions and therefore, as a person living on this side of the Enlightenment, I can wholeheartedly confess my faith both in the Christ in Jesus Christ of the of the fathers and also contemporary faith in in Jesus Christ.
Professor Carr cannon there are several modern debates in the field of global Christianity that I'd like to introduce at this point. One is concerning whether we should do theology from scratch Or from our local contexts and scholars seem to be quite divided on this point. Some will say, No, we must start with the scriptures because that is God's revelation to us, etc, and roll the argument out from there. Some will say we must begin the theological process, the process of theological reflection from our own context, because we do anyway. And so whether or not we recognize our cultural influence on our thinking, it's there and present. How do you respond to this tension?
First of all, one of the advantages of the rise of the contextual theologies is to remind us that all of our interpretations and even all of the reading of the Bible is influenced by our particular context. That is a corrective to, to older ways of thinking when we presupposed that for Example, African Christians, they always lead from the context where as we Christians in the global north do not. So that is a very healthy reminder that we are all contextual. Where context duality goes wrong is if you juxtapose the text and the context, it is rather the other, it's much more complicated. First of all, honestly, we need to acknowledge and confess honestly, that no one's reading of the Bible is without contextual influence, but that we have to check our contextual ad against what we believe is the best reading of the biblical text. And they're in and we need help from and criticism from an affirmation from people. Christians from other contexts, and therefore, I have often said, when, for example, I was one of the editors of the global Dictionary of theology. And we thought, we gave some thought to what makes a global or contextual theology and we ended up with the kind of dictum which says that global theology is a communion of low call interpretations, which are tries to hold in dynamic tension. These two ideas I have mentioned, namely, yes, all Bible reading, all theology is contextual, but it should not be contextual in the sense that when we make a context, our text all readings stemming from an arising from particular context, have to be critiqued By and checked against what we believe is the best interpretation of the Bible. So it goes back and forth between text and context, but the text is the ultimate norm.
Professor canon, thank you for that remarkably insightful remark may also ask you another question in this regard, and that is, so when teaching the global self, there seem to be at least two major positions. One is that the theologians and the global self don't really need our enlightenment theology. So we need to just skip that part and go to the parts that's of interest primarily to them. There's another school of thought, too, that thinks that theology in the global south will mature in a trajectory that looks somewhat similar to the way that it is process processed in western theology. And so that the the workings of the Enlightenment theologians are necessary. should be taught in a global context. What is your view?
And very important question. First of all, I sometimes ask my students, if you wish to become medical doctors or economists or say lawyers, and do you want to do away with everything that enlightenment thinking has brought about? And they say no, of course not. Because everybody says medicine nowadays is more developed than it was in the say 13th century. And that that is my kind of icebreaker. I'm reminding the students that yes, enlightenment in itself is not our full enlightenment thinking is rather a tool and an asset that has to be carefully and critically employed. And then the other point what I do what I wish to make better when I'm teaching the global south And I'm asking my African or Asian or African American students, tell me if in your own cultural context, if there's anything similar in terms of intellectual and philosophical epistemological changes, if it is the case, as many say, and I think it's right that, for example, in the context of Africa, which is nowadays the biggest Christian continent, that in most African cultures, we can't pinpoint to a kind of exactly similar movement to to our enlightenment, and yet everybody who has even casually visited Africa knows that Africa nowadays is vastly different culturally and philosophically from what it was in the 17th century. So this means that even the the reflect on what makes the Enlightenment what enlightenment is and what it is not. It calls for a global conversation. And that may, ironically also help us who live in the global north to whom enlightenment. It's like it's in our plot. So, we need to be also told by our non global north brothers and sisters, how they perceive enlightenment and its influences and most of them at this professor theologians have have had the luxury of studying both in a non like ASEAN in places in the global south and also in the global mode, and somehow they've been able to put it together.
Professor Concannon in part three of your book Christology a global introduction you survey the amazing diversity of Christology around the world and the contemporary context, what are some of the most striking differences between many of the world Christian visions of the person of Christ?
What strikes me is, the more I read about an N and know of interpretations of Christ, for example, in the global south is that they come to the very same biblical text, say the Gospel of Mark. But coming from a different perspective, perhaps different needs, and looking at the text through different lenses. They, they find in the text, in the same text that I read, things that are different, for example, for a typical African, Christian, Jesus, whatever else Jesus is, Jesus is a powerful human, of course divine and human, but a powerful teacher who is also a healer. Exorcist, the one who reaches out to the persons in the margins. Compare that with a typical ad with a fight a case as I can say like a an elderly, Caucasian, gray hearing, man who lives in fairly luxurious place as a in Europe or us. We don't see those things we recall, we we read the text differently, and yet it's the same text. So that's all when I taught theology in Thailand. Because I've also been mistreated in Thailand. I was so struck by the fact that, for example, many of the Old Testament texts and some of them of course relate to the Messiah. They seem to be so familiar to my Thai students because of the cultural affinity between theirs and that of the Bible, whereas for me, there were the strangest books available. So it says also my own limitations. It is that wonderful diversity and richness of interpretations. And it has really helped me as a person as a European teaching in the US to embrace a richer, and hopefully more complete picture of Indigo Crystal otzi.
For the 2016 edition of your book, you added a fourth part, and that is this Jesus Christ among religions, diversity without unity, what is essentially different about the understandings of Jesus in Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism, when compared to that of Christianity.
And as a background, let me tell you that, that the biggest scholarly project that I have been working with for the last 10 years and which I was able to complete a year ago is a five volume Christian system theology which is my own constructed theology, it is published by Earth month is five volumes, and the serious title is a constructive Christian theology for the pluralistic world. And the opening volume is called Christ and reconciliation, where I present my own evangelical understanding of Christ in the context of the whole of Christian tradition, and in critical dialogue with Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu views, and I do it with every Christian topic. So that's why when I was revising this trilogy, that Baker academic published namely, the one that we are now talking Christology, the second volume is the doctrine of God, which will also appear in the revised edition next year, and I have just finished revising. No matter law to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, and I do the same with those two, namely, I put Christ I put God at Trinity, and the Holy Spirit in the wider context of other religions. And now back to your question. And so far the way Christian theology has operated, has been to assume or take it for granted that Christians only write for Christians, and that there is one world religion, or if there are others that are not important, namely, understanding. I have become convinced because of my exposure to Christianity in the global south, and also as well that if we wish to present a solid, orthodox, evangelical interpretation of Christian doctrines, we can't afford any more More to be isolated from the challenge is coming from other religions. And so let me give you an example of Islam because it is very relevant to pestalozzi. Very few Bible readers know that Jesus is very important figure in Islam. In the Quran alone. There are about 100 references to Jesus and his mother, Mary, and the Hadith, which is like the secondary literature, best rated in Islam is full of stories out Jesus and and there's a number of common convictions between Islam and Christianity about Christ. But what about Jesus rather, for example, that he was a teacher, the Quran talks about miracles, even some of the miracles that we don't have in the Bible and so on and so forth. And yet, there are dramatic differences. Islam speed, the Quran speaks of crucifixion, but not of Jesus of somebody in his debt. And, and so on. So, what I am trying to do, because I am not the pluralist I'm a I'm an Orthodox Christian, I appreciate and I have done the painful task of learning about, for example, Muslim priestesses. I look at the commonalities and I carefully look at the differences. And I enter into a dialogue. And the same applies to, for example, Buddhism or Hinduism, even though they don't speak so much about about Jesus and earth after two days. It's a very difficult issue. Because it is, like one of the scholars said, between Jesus and the Christians stand the two the two is person Jesus. So what the whites add to is and Christians is the truest person by the name Jesus the Christ. And I think if I add a commercial note, kind of advertisement, I think that part four is the most distinctive feats of my textbook, namely, the place, Jesus the Christ, within the matrix of other living face.
Professor cannon, you are not only a professor of systematic theology, but also an ecumenical. And I'd like to ask you this question that I've been asking all of the guests on this program. What would it mean for the church today to be united? How would we recognize this unity and what is it that we can do as Christians to pursue the unity of the church?
Thank you again at this topic dear to my heart, because in Helsinki, which is my alma mater, studied economics and I am professor of economics in Helsinki, a couple of things. unity of the church is not something we human beings do. unity of the church is established by our Lord Jesus Christ, there's one body and one head. So that is something we have to remember. We may be able to divide the tears and split it, but we are not able to unite it. But because God has brought about one church under Christ's lordship into the world. We are invited as Christians to look for ways to share a common vision, not in a sense of becoming who we are not like a unity of the church. In the contemporary world, for example, does not mean cancelling out. That is the differences between various churches. It has nothing to do with the idea of one world church, let alone returning to, for example, Catholic or any other church, but it means that Catholics, Anglicans, Pentecostals, Lutherans, Baptists, even if they continue holding on to their own distinctive Christian witness are not fighting each other. Rather, even with their distinctions and differences in in the doctrine they acknowledge that there is one church, one destiny, one and and one Lord and so on to the painful task of learning more about each other, trying to overcome prejudices that are not real. Look at where we are united and also look at where we are different. As as we build trust, and love Between us, I am able to, for example, look into the eyes of the Roman Catholic brother and sister and I say, honestly, here is where my beliefs differ from yours, but not in the sense that I fight you that I speak evil of you. But rather I acknowledge that there are differences. Let's talk about them. Let me say about all testimony, you share yours. Let's go back to the Scripture. Let's go back to the teachings of the church. And at least let's act in a civil manner.
It's been a delight today to be speaking with Professor Valley Maddy Carr cannon, author of Christology a global introduction to Maine among many other books and Professor of systematic theology at fuller Theological Seminary. Professor cook cannon, thank you so much for spending your morning with us.
And thank you so much. I feel it's a great honor and privilege and I'm very grateful