Crucified and Resurrected: Restructuring the Grammar of Christology
Ingolf U. Dalferth. Jo Bennett, trans.
Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015
352 pp. | $45.00
Here is a modern classic on Christology, freshly translated by Jo Bennett (and edited by R. David Nelson) from the German work, Der auferweckte Gekreuzigte, which was originally published in 1994. The author, Ingolf U. Dalferth (Dr.Theol., University of Tübingen), is the Danforth Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Claremont Graduate University, professor emeritus at the University of Zurich, and author of some twenty books.
As stated on the jacket, Crucified and Resurrected is a restatement “of orthodox Christology in a modern key.” Indeed, Dalferth’s theological ear is attuned to modern Christological leitmotifs, and he is thus able to guide the reader into criticism of and interaction with its dominating themes. Of note is a new preface to the 2015 English edition, wherein Dalferth evinces that his attention to and exploration of such melodic lines is an ongoing endeavor. While Crucified and Resurrected represents an important movement in the emergence of Dalferth’s own theology, it is not its coda.
Dalferth frames his treatment of Christology in the above-mentioned preface by adumbrating twin notions. First, there is the idea that Christian theology is “an intellectual endeavor sui generis” (xii). That is, in relation to the dialectic of mythos (narrative, temporal, meaning-constituting) and logos (argumentative, atemporal, reason-giving), it cannot be conceived as a “both-and,” “either-or,” or “neither-nor” (xi, xiii). Instead, it is an “effort to understand everything in a new way from the point of view of the eschatological breaking in of God’s creative presence in the human reality of this life and world in and through God’s Word and Spirit.”
Second, Dalferth offers a “conception of theology as a grammar of the life of faith” (xv). Theology, rather than “a theoretical or speculative discipline,” is better acknowledged to be and undertaken as a “practical discipline” (xv). Such a practicality, however, correlates not merely with human actions or religious activities, but rather “the divine activity that changes human life from sin to salvation” (xv). And, in considering this divine activity, Dalferth argues that, “the confession that Jesus has been raised by God is the starting point” (xvi). Still, such a concession cannot terminate on confession. Instead, one must press on to interrogate the grammar of Christology. And so, in Crucified and Resurrected, driven by a conviction that “unless we are clear about the christological grammar enacted in Christian life, we cannot ensure that what we claim to be Christian is in fact so,” Dalferth seeks to reconstruct “the grammar of this christological thought form” (xvii).
In the undertaking of this enterprise, Dalferth employs a “dynamic interpretive process,” aiming not so much to supply a “definitive doctrinal statement of a truth,” but rather a “hermeneutical guideline that inducts us into a process of reorienting our life” (xvi, xviii). Still, while it “is not theory but practice that counts,” Dalferth’s emphasis here is on grammar, not application (xviii). As mentioned above, this is because comprehension concerning theological grammar is necessary before one can live out the implications of that grammar. And, when one rightly grasps Christian grammar regarding Jesus Christ, the following realization will ensue: “What is decisive about human life from a Christian point of view is . . . God’s creative and transforming presence, whether we believe it or not” (xvii). Thus, a correct understanding of theological grammar leads to a focus on divine action.
In line with this trajectory, Crucified and Resurrected proceeds as an exercise in careful dogmatic orientation, wherein Dalferth’s unfolds his thesis concerning the primacy of the crucifixion and especially the resurrection. As Dalferth puts it, when it comes to Christology, the topic at hand is “God’s firstborn raised from the dead,” and, moreover, the “Christian faith stands or falls with the confession that Jesus has been raised by God” (31). Such a perspective is set in contrast with theologies where the incarnation is assigned precedence. To advance his thesis, Dalferth’s aforementioned “dynamic interpretive” approach is worked out over the course of five logically ordered and assiduously argued chapters. His line of inquiry moves from the resurrection, to the cross, to the life of Jesus Christ, to our understanding of God, and, finally, to the salvation that this God has worked in and through Jesus Christ. Along the way, Dalferth ably engages contemporary (and classic) scholarship, all the while cogently articulating the lineaments of his core premise.
Baker Academic is to be commended for its part in broadening the exposure of this principal German-language work. Dalferth’s work here is to be lauded, as it exemplifies contemporary scholarship of the first order. With an acute awareness of the past, Dalferth yet skillfully operates within and seeks to advance the present social and theological milieu. Nonetheless, for its rigor and influence, some parts of Crucified and Resurrected sing more than others. For example, as has been noted by more than one critic, the final chapter, which concerns Jesus’ atoning sacrifice, never really finds its voice. But these sour notes do not wholly compromise the integrity of the piece as a whole.
All in all, Dalferth’s explication of the inner logic of Christology assists the reader in thinking better about many items that are too-often taken for granted, or are contemplated solely historically, without sufficient attention being given to their present and ongoing implications. And while, certainly, there is mystery in the Church’s confession of Jesus Christ’s identity and predication, mystery is not the same as abstraction. Rather, whatever is confessed of Jesus must be done so in view of this concrete reality: Jesus is “the one who has been crucified and raised” (24). Ultimately, whether the reader comes to cede Dalferth’s thesis concerning the priority of crucifixion and resurrection (over incarnation) is of no great consequence. Instead, it is in helping the reader to carefully contemplate the significance of these events that Dalferth’s work finally succeeds. One cannot walk away from this sustained reflection without having had his or her Christological grammar substantially refined.
About Tim Harmon
Timothy G. Harmon is Assistant Director of the Th.M. Program at Western Seminary, and lead pastor at Northeast Baptist Church in Portland, Oregon. He is a graduate of Western Seminary (M.A.B.T.S. and Th.M.), and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in systematic theology.