Incarnation and Resurrection: Toward a Contemporary Understanding. By Paul Molnar


Pp. xiii, 418 , Grand Rapids, MI , Eerdmans , 2007 , $35.00 .

This text is an attempt to provide a contemporary understanding of the incarnation and resurrection based on an unequivocal belief that Jesus Christ is the actual incarnation of the Word of God and his resurrection is the public witness to his Lordship. The miracles of Christmas and Easter are intrinsically related. Molnar contends that too much current theological reflection has lost the proper ground for religious truth within the Immanent Trinity. He endeavors to show how misguided much theology is when it substitutes some form of personal religious experience or mythological theory of the divine for the sure knowledge of God given by the Incarnate Word. Dogmatic thinking is shown to be interrelated and practical. (p. xii) Christology, trinitarian theology, soteriology and ethics should be interdependent for any proper theology. Several prominent theologians are surveyed and analyzed to show just how catastrophic it is for the Gospel whenever these connections are severed, or weakened. Additionally, M. hopes to contribute to the ecumenical dialogue between Roman Catholicism and Reformed Christianity by re-centering all theology and faith on God's self-revelation in Jesus Christ in the New Testament and so fostering a real foundation between the traditions instead of just formal declarations that perpetuate divisions. The book, then, is a call to return to the ‘traditional’ understanding of the biblical faith that was authentically interpreted through the Holy Spirit at the councils of Nicea and Chalcedon.

M. argues that the truth of the unity of the incarnation and resurrection recognized by Karl Barth is decisive and must be maintained in any serious Christology. (pp. 271–272) He debates with some major voices in contemporary theology, such as, Karl Rahner, John Macquarrie, Paul Knitter, Gordon Kaufman, Sallie McFague, Roger Haight, John Hick and Wolfhart Pannenberg to show where divergences from revelation lead their reflections away from the historical truth of the Christ event. Each of these thinkers rejects the traditional view of Christianity and prefers instead to follow either a liberal or radical approach to faith that does not begin with a realistic understanding of the incarnation or resurrection. M. says revelation is identical with the person and action of the Incarnate Word, the only assurance of real knowledge of God, which lies, outside of experiences of faith and hope. (p. 126) Additionally, revelation shows that the incarnation and the resurrection are so closely related that if one is compromised in the slightest way then so too is the other. The same unique subject who was active in the incarnation remains active in the resurrection and beyond as the ascended Lord of the church and world. M. believes that any approach to Christology which claims that the incarnation is the conclusion and not the starting point for Christology also damages the connection between the resurrection and incarnation and causes difficulty for other doctrines as well.

The incarnation and resurrection are also determined as free acts that are grounded in the inner life of God. They cannot be deduced from any experience within the economy of salvation. Miracles cannot be explained. If the starting point for theology is not Jesus himself as the incarnate Son of the Father, then Christology and soteriology are undermined because they are not rooted in a plausible doctrine of the Trinity. M. is attempting to provide what Torrance called a ‘scientific theology’– which is done in accordance with nature of the divine reality it is investigating – the eternally Triune God revealed by the Incarnate Word. (p. 87) Therefore, no social, cultural, philosophical a priori assumptions dictate the meaning of the Bible without undermining the divine foundation to theological reflection and replacing faith in the living God with faith in a human construct. In short, M.'s argument is that any Ebionite (Christ's divinity as a way of speaking of his human significance and not who he really is) or Docetic views of (Jesus as the confirmation of one's prior idea of divinity and the man Jesus can be dispensed with) Christ's person or work must be eschewed so as to avoid a weak understanding of the Trinity, ambiguous perspective on the resurrection and self-justification in the ethical sphere. (p. 121)

M. has written an excellent and much needed text in which theology is called to take ‘historical’ revelation seriously again. Too often in contemporary Christian theology the foundational divine events/truths of the incarnation, resurrection, immanent trinity, and salvific cross are cavalierly pushed aside for some alternative rendering that is deemed more plausible. This book is highly recommended for the admirable effort it makes to overcome an excessive preoccupation with the role of experience in theology. However, some readers may question M.'s ignoring of the historical quest for Jesus, postmodernism, liberation theology, theology of religions, feminism, philosophy and popular culture. Moreover, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox readers will wonder why any role for tradition and ecclesiology in the practice of the Christian faith is rendered essentially Pelagian. Yet, for M., these concerns miss the central point about a truly christocentric faith. In the final analysis, then, it will be up to the reader to respond to the challenge and decide if matters really are so clear cut: either one recognizes Christ as the incarnate Word who alone justifies and sanctifies sinners or salvation must be found in the human religious quest for meaning and salvation. (p. 242)