The Modern Christology class has moved on from Barth and this week was Rahner. What a difference in class contribution this week. The 4th year group, who did the Barth course last year and who dominated last week’s discussions, were remarkably less vocal this week. Even normally confidently expressed opinions were put forward with a degree of hesitation. It made for a fascinating study of class dynamics. Suddenly no-one was an expert and all opinions were equally valid. I don’t mean to suggest that some opinions are not treated seriously in the normal course of a discussion, just that there was a noticable change in the whole atmosphere today.
As for Rahner – interesting theology. Especially when you consider his roots. He was a Jesuit priest and his early writings weren’t terribly well received by the Roman Catholic church – particularly his views on Papal infallibility (or rather, lack of). That all changed with his involvement with the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) where he was one of the prime movers in its theology. Vatican II in itself is a fascinating study. Much of what Protestants consider to be RC doctrine is actually pre-Vatican II doctrine, much of which has changed. Having dragged themselves away from post-Reformation doctrines, in some respects, RC doctrine has ‘leap-frogged’ Protestant theology in its theological outlook on post-modernist thought.
Anyway, one of Rahner’s more controversial ideas is that of the ‘anonymous Christian’. A person who has never heard the gospel of Jesus, yet senses that there ‘is something greater’, may still be made righteous by God’s grace. A person who has heard the good news however, must respond appropriately to be saved. A rejection of Jesus/God is a pretty surefire way to be condemned. Although there are loads of issues that this kicks up, one that springs uppermost in my mind is that of proclamation and mission. If we don’t tell anyone the gospel, then there’s a chance that, if they are a ‘good person’, then they’ll be saved. If we do tell them the gospel, and make a real mess of doing it, then they will reject it and guarantee their condemnation. OK, it’s a very black and white scenario and there are, in reality, shades of gray, but it does raise a serious point for anyone considering a calling into ministry – we have a huge responsibility laid upon us.
I remember when I first felt called, one verse I wrestled with was James 3:1, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. ” Not because I was concerned with myself, as such, but rather because of the implied responsibility. But of course, it is not my words that I seek to proclaim and not my teaching that I set out. Rather, it is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, witnessed to in scripture and illuminated by the Holy Spirit that is the message I seek to proclaim. So if ever I get on my soapbox or seek to push a personal agenda, then I cease to be faithful to the witness I am called to declare and so I am rightly judged. And that would be a scary thought, enough to put anyone off or to keep sermons within ‘comfort zones’. But scripture is not so hidebound when it is read in the Spirit. It never ceases to be challenging and is always kicking the safe ground away from us. Perhaps that is even a measure of how far we are staying in the comfort zone – when challenge simply becomes guidance, maybe it’s time to look afresh at our scriptural understanding.
Anyway, that has all wandered rather far from the point that, despite having a headache after trying to make sense of Rahner, the Modern Christology class was rather good today, for all sorts of reasons.