Dluxe's World

Saturday, May 6

Wrap-up: Doubting Thomas: Christology in Story Form (Cobb)

After finishing my last book, I was stuck in a bit of a lull. The uber-order that we had placed wasn't here yet, and I was officially between titles. A quick email to coramdeo solved the problem and landed me a loaned copy of Doubting Thomas: Christology in Story Form.

I found this book to be a really cool read. We're presented with Thomas Atherton, a young seminary student out on a pastoral internship at a local university. While working, he notices that his supervising pastor, Janet Levovsky, seems to believe in a different Christ than he does. How should he handle this? Report her to the denomination? Tough it out? Thomas decides to speak to her directly before making any decision for action. The conversation sets the rest of the book in motion:
"So the deity of Jesus and the atonement and the resurrection haven't been important to you?" Thomas asked.

"I'm afraid my position is more extreme than that, Thomas. I think they are important, but they seem more like important obstacles that prevent people from following Jesus than like important aspects of faith itself."

Thomas was moved but he was even more troubled than when he first came in. "But then what do you believe?" he cried.

"I believe lots of things, Thomas," [Levovsky] replied gently...(p.13)

Levovsky goes onto express her wacky, but passionately held beliefs. Thomas is shaken, and embarks on a sort of quest to help him determine his proper response. Meetings and chats follow with the other Korean pastoral intern, the campus priest, a younger seminary couple, the campus Buddhists, the Christian eastern religions prof, a feminist theologian, the universalist pastor, and a man driven by a radical works ideology.

As the camera fades to black, Thomas makes the following statement to his wife:
"Yes," Thomas finally answered. "Jesus Christ is my personal Lord and Savior. That may not mean quite the same thing to me it once did. But I think it means more, not less. Now I see that Jesus saves me from the need to cling to a particular theology, that he frees me to be open to new ideas - to truth wherever it is. I'm excited by that... I don't need to defend Christianity anymore. Its truth will win the day and the chaff, of which there has been so much, will blow away." (p.83)

Cobb does a fantastic job of presenting compelling arguments/pleas advocating for the various, non-orthodox Christologies mentioned in the book. I'm sure any Christian in a secular university would immediately recognize each of these conversations. As Thomas is pushed and pulled through so many different 'takes' on Christianity, the reader sees how 'good' many of these positions sound. In the book, everyone holding a particular view is well-read, highly intelligent, and presents a robust defense of their particular Christology.

The real question is whether or not Thomas' closing statement above is a positive evolution? The answer is a resounding "NO!".

I think it's interesting that I started reading this book the evening after I made my previous post re: the Emergent statement of faith (or, more correctly, the lack thereof). The danger of Thomas's endpoint is the same as what the Emergent people face. Thomas, early in the book, seems to know and affirm basic Christological truths of orthodox Christianity. By the end of the book, all that has happened is that those truths have been set aside in favor of what seems emotionally or logically compelling.

All Thomas has managed to do is build a foundation in the sand. This is the same thing that's happening with the Emergents... The signposts that have traditionally kept us on the road of 'genuine Christianity' are slowly being ripped up in the interest of self-revelation and expression. While this potentially makes us 'feel alive', all we've really done is trump Christ's own revelation of his identity with a variation of our own (sinful) design.

This book is short - I read it in an evening - and highly entertaining. If you get a chance to pick it up, or borrow it, I would encourage you to do so.

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2 Comments:

  • The character says that he doesn't "need to defend Christianity anymore" and that truth will eventually be known for what it is, or triumph or whatever. I've heard this before from a few people. To some it might sound like a wonderfully modern, tolerant idea, embodying gentleness and love. But one big trouble I see with it is that this idea is so passive. Jesus didn't teach passivity. His life and teachings were about action, where to go, what to do, what to say, etc. The writers of the NT got this pretty clearly. There's a whole lotta verbs in there.

    I'm interested...is the author of the book identifying with Thomas? Is the conclusion reached by Thomas one that the author himself agrees with?

    By Blogger Eva, at 11:58 AM, May 06, 2006  

  • I'm interested...is the author of the book identifying with Thomas? Is the conclusion reached by Thomas one that the author himself agrees with?

    You know, I honestly can't tell. You'd certainly hope not... When I was typing the post, I had a paragraph saying that I hoped the author wasn't displaying his own Christology through the book. As a seminary prof, it's scary to think that those ideas would be what he's conveyed to his students.

    The book really isn't clear, though I will say it seems to present the ending as 'reasonable' and something of a 'return to faith'. But that's my impression, so we'll give the author the benefit of the doubt.

    By Blogger HeavyDluxe, at 3:27 PM, May 06, 2006  

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