Jesus And The Theological Imagination In The Work Of Gordon D. Kaufman -- By: Michael D. Williams

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 32:2 (Jun 1989)
Article: Jesus And The Theological Imagination In The Work Of Gordon D. Kaufman
Author: Michael D. Williams

Jesus And The Theological Imagination In The Work Of Gordon D. Kaufman

Michael D. Williams*

On the seventh day man created God in his own image. Blasphemous? Yes, but nevertheless true. The genius of liberal theology is that it can and does say those things at which we evangelicals can only hint. Like it or not, we do project our personal wishes, fears and judgments, as well as our communal and cultural hopes and prejudices, upon God. Perhaps more than we care to admit, we treat the Deity as a nose of wax. We invest God with those attributes that we find desirable but lacking in ourselves and those that legitimate the states and arrangements that we seek to implement. And we do the very same thing with Christ. Liberals, no doubt, do this more overtly and unashamedly than we do. Because they do, they provide useful examples for case study. In particular, Gordon D. Kaufman offers us an especially cogent example of phenomenological Christology in his notion of God as imaginative construction. This essay will introduce and then critique Kaufman’s views, gleaning from them what is insightful and useful and exposing the flaws in what is not.

I. The Shape Of Kaufman’s Theological Method

Kaufman put forth his typically immanentist liberal Christology in his Systematic Theology, first published in 1968. He constructed his Christology “from below,” beginning with the earthly Jesus, because that process and position seemed to him to replicate the Christological discovery of the first disciples of Jesus. Those disciples knew Jesus first of all as a man, a man to whom they were greatly attracted. Only later, as they grew to know him better and to witness his works, were they able to conclude that God was present in him in some special way. This Jesus, an historical man, became “the Son of God,” “the Christ,” in their eyes. The presupposition that Jesus was first of all an earthly man, however, was never questioned by them, even as they began to think of him as something far more than a mere man. In fact, according to Kaufman, it formed the very ground of all primitive Christological reflection. Jesus was no figure parachuted in from heaven. He was a man, albeit a most unusual and “unique” man.1

* Michael Williams is a master of divinity student at Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Despite a thoroughly this-worldly starting point, Kaufman felt it incumbent upon him to conclude that God’s power to reconcile the world to himself became known and was made effective in Jesus. Thus God unveils himself in Jesus Christ.2 Although beginning his ...

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