Christ in a Pluralistic Age Summary
by John B. Cobb, Jr.

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Christ in a Pluralistic Age Summary

(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 chapters undertake a radical rethinking of the nature of Christ, the relation of the image of Christ to the historical Jesus, and the future of a Christianity in which Christ is understood as a way of creative transformation. If Christ is to continue to be relevant as one religious image among others in a pluralistic age, how can we embrace Christ in a way that fosters pluralism without losing Christ’s distinctiveness and without succumbing to the relativism that most people mistakenly attribute to pluralism?

Cobb’s answer is a relatively simple one, and he explores it in three distinct parts of his book. He observes that Christ is a process of creative transformation that provides a unity to the many paths of religious meaning and that encourages openness to other religious ways of living.

In part 1, Cobb sets forth his notions of creative transformation and its impact on the idea of Christ. In this section, Cobb uses process philosophy to ground his idea that Christ is an image of an entity that actualized its own potentiality, liberating Christians from the burden of their past and encouraging hope for the future. Thus, Christ transforms our world by moving us from a static concern with the ways things have always been in religion to a more dynamic structure of existence that opens us to others and their experiences of religious life. Christ as creative transformation breaks our relationship with every established doctrine and its mooring in the past to allow us to experience many forms of Christ in the world today, including the presence of Christ in others. In short, Cobb argues in this section of his book that we are all potential Christs to one another.

Part 2 examines the relationship between the historical Jesus and Christ as creative transformation. Because the life and work of Jesus is the primary...

(The entire section is 1,100 words.)