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A Review of
Jesus without Borders: Christology in the Majority World
(Majority World Theology Series)
Gene Green, Stephen Pardue, K.K. Yeo, Eds.
Paperback: Eerdmans, 2014
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Reviewed by James Stambaugh
The church of the global south, where the vast majority of Christians are, is usually not the first place we Western Christians consult about our theological questions. We necessarily employ a variety of sources, pre-understandings, and experiences for theological reflection, but rarely among them is what our sisters and brothers in Africa, or Latin American, or Asia think.
There is an historical reason for this: colonialism, the premise that it is our job to tell them what to believe and practice about God, not the other way around.
Jesus without Borders: Christology in the Majority Word is part of a larger attempt to remedy this situation. The larger attempt is called the Majority World Theology Series, which aims to address “the rising tide of Christian reflection” coming from the majority world i.e. not America and Europe. Jesus without Borders is the first title in the series.
Jesus with Borders is a strong collection of essays written by theologians with roots in the majority world. It is worth pointing out that they all have roots in the United States or the United Kingdom as well. All of the contributors and editors were either educated or now teach in the academic bastions of the West. This might be a weakness, but it is certainly also a strength. They are able to serve as bridges across cultural divides.
The collection has two parts. First there is a series of essays exploring the contours and history of Christology in different parts of the globe. Second there is a set of more specific engagements with Scripture. Despite the geographical diversity, the essayists share several things in common. They all find a starting place in the Chalcedonian definition of Jesus, which claims that Christ has two natures; that he is fully human and fully divine. They are all moderate Evangelicals, who take the Bible very seriously, without diminishing the importance for contextual theology. Each author is good about exposing their pre-understandings. This authenticity alone makes the book stand out.
The collection opens with a piece by Kevin J. Vanhoozer, who is not from the majority world (I think he’s from Illinois). He is, however, a respected Evangelical theologian. His essay is a succinct account of the discourse about Christ in the Western world. Vanhoozer insists on the importance of the creedal definitions of Christ, but reorients them. For Vanhoozer, they are not abstract metaphysical propositions, but rather a set of grammatical rules, defining the boundaries of right discourse about Jesus.
His point is well taken. Nonetheless, given the emphasis on what one should and should not say about Christ, and given the essay’s place at the beginning of a series of essays by non-Western theologians, it feels like the editors have given the referee whistle to Vanhoozer, whose job it is to keep the rest of the authors in line. I understand that historically the West has set the terms of the debate, but does that have to be true today? I suggest skipping the first chapter. Read it later as one voice among many, rather than the voice which gets to pre-determine the vocabulary and tone of the rest.
Because the rest is really good. Victor I. Ezigbo gives a fascinating account of sub-Saharan African Christology, and its relation to traditional African religion. He criticizes what he calls “neo-missionary Christologies” for not being concerned with the questions and experiences of Africans. Rather than try to eradicate African indigenous religions—the strategy of colonial missionaries—Ezigbo argues for authentic engagement. He wants to find a way to be faithful to Scripture, creedal orthodoxy, and a broad Evangelicalism, but also to the cultural contexts and lived experiences of African Christians. For Ezigbo, conversion to Christianity does not entail the eradication of old beliefs and cultural practices, but rather a reorientation of those things toward Christ.
Timoteo D. Gener, president of the Asian Theological Seminary in Manila, Philippines, writes about Christology in an Asian context. In addition to an overview, he provides a helpful framework for what he and his fellow contributors seek to do. Gener calls this framework “discipleship-in-context Christology.” He argues that the four Gospels themselves are a contextualization of the Jesus story for specific communities. Christology, then, is the living out of our understanding of Jesus in our specific circumstances.
Jules A. Martínez-Olivieri writes about Christologies in Latin America, giving precise summaries of dominant Roman Catholic and Evangelical viewpoints. His thesis is worth quoting in full: “Christology in Latin America moves from a focus on the history of Jesus and its soteriological significance toward an account of Jesus the Christ who calls for participation in the kingdom of God.”