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Reviewed by:
  • Reclaiming Participation: Christ as God’s Life for All by Cynthia Peters Anderson
  • Don Schweitzer
Cynthia Peters Anderson. Reclaiming Participation: Christ as God’s Life for All. Minneapolis, mn: Fortress, 2014. Pp. 301. Paper, $48.00. isbn 978-1-4514-7817-4.

This interesting attempt to address North Atlantic cultures by Cynthia Peters Anderson, senior pastor at Batavia United Methodist Church in Batavia, Illinois, argues that a patristically informed Christology can be a source of transcendent meaning for people today. She begins by contrasting a belief in humanity’s innate potential for transcendence, manifest in pop culture items like a novel by Dan Brown, with the criticisms by postmodern followers of Nietzsche that all claims to truth and transcendent meaning are but self-interested human constructions. She affirms the yearning expressed in the former and the criticisms of the latter, but presents Jesus Christ as an exception to the latter that fulfils the former. Cyril of Alexandria’s Christology is her guide here. For Cyril, the Word became flesh in Jesus Christ so that humanity might share in the divine life. The notion of deification is foreign to many Western Christians as a result of Augustine’s emphasis on the continuing effects of original sin in the life of Christians, Luther and Calvin’s re-emphasis of it, and its continued pre-eminence in the theologies of Karl Barth, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Paul Tillich. Anderson implicitly repudiates this emphasis and instead suggests that this foreignness stems from Adolf van Harnack’s critique of patristic theology’s Hellenization of the gospel. She then outlines Cyril’s understanding of Christ’s person and of how faith in Christ leads to participation in the divine life through the Holy Spirit. She next turns to the theology of Karl Barth, who appropriates Cyril’s emphasis on the incarnation but rejects his notion of the deification of Christians. Barth’s vision of sanctified human life was intended to affirm the possibility of faithful discipleship to Christ, as was Cyril’s, yet Barth resisted any notion of the deification of Jesus’s humanity or of the humanity of Christians. For Barth, Christians remain ‘‘disturbed sinners.’’ Faith in Christ brings no ontological transformation of their human nature. Anderson questions this view, arguing that faith in Christ brings a deeper transformation of persons than Barth was willing to recognize.

Anderson next examines the Christology of Hans Urs von Balthasar, who also appropriated Cyril’s understanding of the incarnation, but he followed some implications to extents that she finds questionable. She outlines Balthasar’s Christology, beginning [End Page 290] with his analogy of being between God and humanity, moving then to his understanding of the Trinity and incarnation. Balthasar argued that God’s actions of creation and redemption bring an increase to God’s being and that through faith in Christ, people experience a spiritual and ontological transformation into greater likeness to Christ. Anderson then examines Barth and Balthasar’s understandings of Christ’s person and saving significance in light of Cyril’s Christology. With Cyril she affirms that in Christ humanity’s separation from God has been overcome. As a result, people’s lives are ontologically transformed when they come to have faith in Christ. She argues that the incarnation demands this understanding of its salvific effect and that this is also necessary to undergird Christian discipleship. Barth’s failure to affirm it is a failure to grasp the full implications of the Christ event. Balthasar, on the other hand, verges on affirming too much. He follows Cyril in simply affirming the mystery of the unity and integrity of Christ’s divine and human natures. From this he concludes that God suffers in reconciling and redeeming the world and that this brings an increase to God’s being. For Anderson, God’s aseity in relation to creation is important for the internal coherence and salvific meaning of the gospel. She argues that ultimately Balthasar does not transgress this self-sufficiency, but that he does affirm that human nature is ontologically transformed to participate in the divine life through faith in Jesus Christ. This vision of Christ can speak to the yearnings and disillusionments of contemporary Western...


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pp. 290-291
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