(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

By the 1970’s, Christian systematic theology had undergone enormous changes. The great systematic theologians of the mid-twentieth century—Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, and Emil Brunner—came under attack in the 1960’s on a variety of fronts. Most important, Thomas Altizer’s radical theology, which proclaimed the death of God in 1966, challenged the traditional transcendent notion of God (a God over and against us in the heavens) and opened the way for theologies that focused more on God’s immanence (God’s presence within the world, not outside of it). The 1960’s and 1970’s witnessed the great flourishing of theologies in which human experience rather than God or Scripture became the sole authority for doing theology. The feminist theologies of Mary Daly and Rosemary Ruether, the liberation theology of Gustavo Gutiérrez, the black theology of James Cone, and the process theology of John B. Cobb, Jr., all grew and developed during these decades.

In addition, the 1960’s witnessed the great “turn to the East” in religion. Turning away from the irrelevant religions of their parents, scores of young people sought spiritual direction and enlightenment in various forms of Buddhism and Hinduism. As colleges began to offer programs in the history of religions that offered an objective study of these religions, Christian thinkers were looking for ways to engage with the increasing religious pluralism of the age. One method was simply not to engage and to exclude the beliefs and practices of these other religions as false paths to God. Another method was to include these religions as legitimate in their own right but as merely incomplete manifestations of God. A final method embraced religious pluralism and recognized in it the potential for understanding more richly Christian existence.

Cobb’s groundbreaking book, Christ in a Pluralistic Age, grows out of his work in process theology as well as his attempt to answer the question, “How can Christians understand the primary image of their faith in a pluralistic age?” Originally delivered as lectures at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in 1972, Cobb’s...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Cobb, John B., Jr. “Response to Ogden and Carpenter.” Process Studies 6 (Summer, 1976): 123-129. Cobb argues that Ogden misses the point of Cobb’s Christ as the way of creative transformation and that Carpenter confuses Cobb’s idea of “structure of existence” simply with “quality of life.”

Fackre, Gabriel J. “Cobb’s Christ in a Pluralistic Age: A Review Article.” Review of Christ in a Pluralistic Age. Andover Newton Quarterly 17 (March, 1977): 308-315. A critical but appreciative review that applauds Cobb’s use of art and the imagination as ways of understanding Christ as creative transformation.

Jenson, Robert. Review of Christ in a Pluralistic Age. Interpretation 31 (July, 1977): 307-311. Jenson criticizes Cobb’s image of Christ, arguing for a more orthodox view in which Christ functions as a singular way of salvation for others.

Lewis, John M., and John B. Cobb, Jr. “Christology and Pluralism.” Perspectives in Religious Studies 4 (Spring, 1977): 63-72. A conversation between Lewis and Cobb on potential Christian responses to increasing religious pluralism, emphasizing Cobb’s notion of a pluralistic Christ.

Ogden, Schubert M. “Christology Reconsidered: John Cobb’s Christ in a Pluralistic Age.” Process Studies 6 (Summer, 1976): 116-122. Ogden argues that Cobb’s image of Christ as creative transformation misses the point of Christology and is too hypothetical to be useful for theology.