Review - Being in Christ by Peter Phillips

Peter Phillips, Being in Christ, Columba Press, 2013, £9.99

Fr Phillips writes his book in the key of what Augustine in his De Trinitate refers to as: “Embrace love which is God, and embrace God with love”. The author calls Christ the encounter which sets us free for doing the task of christians. The task of christology is to express in word and deed what Christ himself expressed. His phrase for everything that his Abba Father wanted for us was ‘Reign of God’. It occurs more than sixty times in the discourses of Jesus. Paul refers to the Reign not as food and drink but as “justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17).  The Reign of God is encounter with Christ whose word heard by us finds echo in the depths of us and in doing in our world.

According to Newman the privilege which the first followers of Christ had was to know him without dogmas. Later on Christ became an object of study and motive for debate. By the time the Council of Chalcedon had adjourned the “homoousian” Christ was very clearly defined but straight-jacketed in rigid doctrines ring-fenced by anathemas. By this time there have been whole libraries dedicated to books on Jesus Christ but these can obscure the person in whose Spirit we are called to relate. He is a living person who has told us that he is to be found where the poor and the oppressed struggle, where the abused weep and where the forgotten and exiled languish and hope.

The author claims that this is an exciting moment for students of Christology. Con- temporary Christology must learn to dialogue with the cultures of Asia and Africa and with our own postmodern culture. We are too Euro-centric and far from the life and death struggles of the world’s majorities, far from the secular seeking truth, far from a planet which cries out for healing. Our Christ is a Graeco-Roman, triumphalist Christ the King with Catholics his favoured children. A glance, for example, at the bibliographies of Pope Benedict’s books on Christ will list no books from south of the Equator.

The New Testament provides a pluralism of christologies which we ought not abandon. Just compare Matthew’s Jewish Christ with Mark’s abrasive prophet and again with John’s saviour from above. There is a notable progression from the “on-the-ground” functional christologies of the Synoptics to the incarnational, ontological christology of John.

Phillips’s chapters flow easily from the historic controversies clearly outlined to a consideration of the various theological strands opened up by Chalcedon to the beginnings of a Christological spirituality lived in communion with God. The book ends with a most useful appendix on the history of interpretation of the person of Jesus Christ. This is a book well worth reading and pondering.

The author is a priest of the Shrewsbury Diocese. He is now in a parish in north Cheshire and is a Research Fellow in the Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University. He has worked many years in teaching at secondary and higher education as well as formation of adults.

Frank Regan
April 2013