Discussion Guide

Doubting Thomas: Christology in Story Form
by John B. Cobb, Jr.

Discussion Guide

Christology is central to all Christian theology. It can be subdivided into numerous topics including Jesus’ pre- existence, his birth, his teaching, his miracles, his atoning death, his resurrection, his ascension, his coming again, his relation to the Father and to the Spirit, the relation of the historical Jesus to the Christ of faith, the Kingdom he proclaimed, his royal, priestly, and prophetic offices, and so forth. Only a few of these topics are touched on in the story. The focus there is on the person of Jesus, specifically the relation of his divinity to his humanity. Other topics are touched on peripherally.

Similarly, questions about Christology can be raised from the point of view of a variety of contemporary concerns. Liberation theology has lifted to primacy Jesus’ role as liberator, understanding this as prominently including economic and political aspects. On the other hand, there is a continuing tradition that focuses on personal sin as the single crucial problem and asks how Jesus is effective in mediating forgiveness. There are others who understand religion in more mystical terms and ask how a contingent historical event can be relevant. In this book the primary questioning is from the point of view of religious pluralism with secondary attention to feminist concerns.

This is simply to acknowledge the limitations of this book as an introduction to Christology. Nevertheless, the issues that are raised are central ones in our time, and ones that are likely to arise in the minds of many contemporary Christians. The purpose of this study guide is to encourage frank discussion of this limited but important range of questions about Christology. Throughout, the suggested questions follow the sequence of the text.

Chapters 1-4

These four chapters are designed to raise the issue of whether belief in Jesus’ unique deity is necessary for Christian faith. One question is proposed for each of the four chapters.

1. If Chaplain Levovsky thinks of Jesus only as a human being, do you agree with Thomas that she is not a Christian? If so why? What is so important about Jesus’ divinity?

2. Do you find some of the traditional Christian dogma repelling? Do you know people who reject Christianity on their account? Do you know anyone whose confession of faith would be similar to Chaplain Levovsky’s? Do you consider that person a Christian?

3. Can a purely human Jesus be a place for people to begin a pilgrimage of faith? Or should that kind of thinking be denounced as heresy?

4. In asking who Jesus is, does it make sense to start with the experience of a particular people and inquire how Jesus is good news for them? Or should we begin with church teaching and judge culture by that? Is the idea that God is like Jesus a good starting point for theology?

Chapter 5

This chapter is designed to introduce something of the his-tory through which orthodox Christology was fashioned. It also presents a way of understanding Christianity as a historical movement through which the Spirit of God is progressively expressed. The purpose is to suggest alter-native ways of viewing the authority of tradition.

1. Does Arianism make sense to you? If it had triumphed politically and remained “orthodox,” would you be able to be orthodox today?

2. Does the historical success of a doctrine signal God’s approval?

3. Can you distinguish between the Logos assuming humanity and the Logos dwelling in a human being? Which is closer to your way of thinking?

4. Was Nestorius wrong to deny that Mary was the Mother of God?

5. Should we accept the great creeds of the church even when we do not understand them?

6. Do you think Orthodox Christology has encouraged Christians to be anti-Jewish?

7. Can we trust the Spirit working through the church to bring us to truth, or do we need restrictions on what ideas can be introduced into the discussion?

8. Should the church’s Christological teaching be tested against the results of contemporary New Testament scholarship? If this is done how well will it fare?

Chapter 6

This chapter provides an opportunity to see how one version of liberal Christianity understands itself. This kind of thinking has at times been quite widespread in some sections of Protestantism. There have also been sharp reactions against it.

1. If we thought of Jesus’ divinity in terms of the Holy Spirit’s special presence in him, instead of that of the Logos, would that make a significant difference?

2. Do you think of Jesus as differing from us in kind or in degree?

3. Can a Christian believe that God was present in great leaders of other religious traditions?

4. Is the main purpose of foreign missions to gain converts to Christianity or to serve the total needs of people in other countries? Does it make sense to cooperate with other religious communities in serving the people?

Chapter 7

Here we relate to our discussion the questions recently raised by feminist Christians. Among feminists the question of whether they can remain Christians or must become post-Christians is a seriously debated one. Of course, Christology is only one of the problems with which they deal.

1. Do you see any problem for women in the fact that Jesus was a man? If you do, are any of the proposed answers helpful?

2. Do you think of salvation as something the Christian already knows in relation to Christ or as something promised and yet to come for which the Christian hopes?

3. Do you think of divinity and humanity as so related that the more Jesus is divine the less he is human? Or do you think of them as so related that the more Jesus is divine the more he is human?

4. Does it make sense to you that God is in human beings? Or do you prefer to think of God as present to you?

Chapter 8

This a pause in the story giving Thomas a chance to reflect. The questions he asks himself constitute a summary of the kinds of questions raised thus far in this Discussion Guide. They will be a good basis for review at this point.

Chapter 9

Instead of just having Christians talk about other religious traditions, chapter 9 allows some Buddhists to speak for themselves. As this challenges Thomas to respond, it should also challenge Christian readers.

1. Do you believe that Buddhists have authentic religious experience? If so, is it the same as that of Christians? If it is different, how?

2. Can Buddhism be an avenue of salvation?

3. If you had Thomas’s chance to make a Christian witness to these Buddhists, what would you have said? Does it make sense to affirm that Jesus Christ is the one Savior of the world in conversation with those who are finding religious meaning in Buddhism?

Chapter 10

Chapter 10 provides a discussion of how Christians can respond to Buddhists and others without either condemning them or renouncing their own claims. In a world in which Christians are more and more interacting with followers of other religious ways, this becomes increasingly important. Of course, only a few of the many possible theological responses are mentioned.

1. Are all religious ways paths to the same end, or do they lead to different goals?

2. If Christians have differing ideas about the goal, is only one group correct?

3. Does the resurrection of Jesus prove the superiority of Christianity?

4. Could one believe that Jesus rose from the dead and not be a Christian?

5. How do you personally interpret the religious meaning of non-Christian traditions?

Chapters 11-12

These chapters present a direct discussion of central Christological issues in light of considerations raised in previous chapters. Here, too, only a few of the positions now being discussed in theological circles are presented. The reader not satisfied with the directions here pursued is encouraged to enter the contemporary discussion.

1. Does the distinction between inner history and outer history make sense? Is Jesus the center of your inner history?

2. Are you interested in hearing the inner histories of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and others? Do you think you may learn something of importance from them?

3. Anselm taught that God became a human being in order that a human being could pay the debt owed by humanity to God for sin. Does that view of atonement satisfy you?

4. Does Jesus’ “divinity” mean to you that Jesus was God?

5. Does the distinction between Jesus as God incarnate and Jesus as the incarnation of God make sense? Which idea do you prefer?

6. Is it important to you to believe that Jesus was perfect? Why?

7. Does Dr. Colletti’s way of seeing Jesus as different from us in kind rather than degree make sense to you? Does it make any difference?

8. Can you agree that in relation to other religious traditions Christians should both listen and witness?

9. Can Jesus Christ be the center of an inner history that is informed by the contributions of all traditions?

10. What is the relation between doctrines about Jesus and practical discipleship? Are other doctrines more important?

11. Do you see the changes in Thomas as growth in faith or as loss of firm moorings?