David Brondos, Fortress Introduction to Salvation and the Cross

(Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007.)

In Fortress Introduction to Salvation and the Cross, David Brondos, Professor of Theology at the Theological Community of Mexico, surveys soteriological constructs ranging from the book of Isaiah to 21st century theologian Rosemary Radford Reuther.

Brondos' writing style is clear and readable, and while his treatment of biblical voices at times presents an overly harmonized picture of "canonical" soteriology, his handling of later theological voices reveals the diversity of subsequent Christian positions on redemption and salvation, as well as Christianity's departure from its Jewish roots. His book is peppered with artwork from various traditions and epochs in Christian history, providing a nice compliment to the book's thick theological content.

Brondos includes a timeline of relevant events and persons spanning from the reign of Kind David to the Salvadorian civil war,[1] a chapter-by-chapter list of discussion questions, a glossary of relevant terms, and an admirably comprehensive index.

In the introduction, Brondos explains that the Christian doctrine of salvation is always told through a particular story, one in which "God's dealings of old with God's chosen people, Israel, play an important role" but which ultimately "revolves around Jesus Christ and his death on the cross."[2] The contours of this story differ based upon the story-teller, and this book surveys thirteen different tellings of the story of redemption and salvation. These thirteen figures are: Isaiah, Luke, Paul, Irenaeus, Gregory of Nyssa, Anselm, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Albrecht Ritschl, Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann, Jon Sobrino, and Rosemary Radford Reuther.

Brondos enumerates a series of questions through which he examines and evaluates these respective voices: why did salvation have to come in this way and not some other way? Is atonement aimed at saving humans from the guilt of sin or the power of sin? How do we conceive of and negotiate between "objective" salvation and "subjective" salvation? Is salvation universal? If not, who is saved? What role does human response and action play in the process and event of salvation? What role do the Holy Spirit and the church play?

In chapter one, Brondos explicates Isaiah's conception of redemption, noting "no Old Testament book is alluded to more frequently in the New Testament than the book of the prophet Isaiah."[3] Brondos discusses Isaiah's treatment of Israel's sin, God's love and God's wrath vis-à-vis Israel, and the Isaianic vision of salvation. Brondos explains the book of Isaiah's orientation toward Israel's corporate redemption, its portrayal of salvation as both conditional and unconditional, the role and destiny of "the nations" in Isaiah, the book's repeated and diverse notions of "savior figures," and its portrayal of an eschatological state of affairs that includes both continuity and discontinuity with creation.

On this last point, Brondos surmises that, according to Isaiah, "[t]he idea is not that God's people will ‘go to heaven' to dwell in some spiritual, otherworldly paradise after they die but, rather, that they will live on earth in the land given them by god. Salvation, therefore, is conceived of in corporal and material terms, not just in spiritual terms: in the coming new age, people will still dwell in Jerusalem, live in houses, plant vineyards, and eat their fruit, thus enjoying physical pleasures along with spiritual well-being."[4]

In chapter two, Brondos treats Luke's account of salvation in his gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. After reviewing the plot narratives of these two books, he offers a comparison between Luke's soteriology and that of Isaiah. He highlights Luke's narration of the offer of salvation to the gentiles through Messiah and the early church's mission of "witness" as an extension of Israel's mission. Luke maintains Israel at the center of his soteriology, so much so that Brondos claims that, in general, "Luke understands salvation in the same way as the book of Isaiah."[5]

However, Brondos qualifies, while "Luke follows Isaiah in speaking primarily of the redemption of Israel,"[6] their soteriological paradigms differ in that Luke incorporates forces of evil (such as Satan and demons) into the divine drama, leaving it ultimately ambiguous as to who - God, human beings, the devil, or some combination thereof - was responsible for the death of Jesus. Finally, Luke incorporates a personal dynamic into Isaiah's largely corporate perspective on salvation. For Luke, "salvation is confined to those who repent and believe."[7]

Brondos next addresses Paul's soteriological construction, explaining that though Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles and Ephesians, Colossians and 2 Thessalonians is disputed, one can still speak of a "Pauline," as all of these letters were indeed composed by a Pauline school or circle.[8] Brondos points out that Paul's writings have been used in support of numerous soteriological models (i.e. penal substitution, Christus Victor, moral exemplar, etc.), and cautions the reader against reading theology back into the text (though he does not seem to escape this caveat entirely).

Brondos places Paul in continuity with Isaiah and Luke,[9] enumerating the similarities as well as flagging the differences between their respective soteriologies. Perhaps the most interesting part of this chapter is his treatment of Paul on "Faith, Works, and Justification," wherein he expresses the tension in Paul between faith and works (citing, among other passages, Romans 2:6-13).

He offers a short (and glaringly inadequate) discussion of Paul and the Law, wherein he (too) neatly distinguishes between the "letter" and the "spirit" of the Law in Paul, claiming that Paul was concerned with obedience to the latter and not the former. This section exemplifies a larger issue throughout the chapter as a whole, namely a blurring of Jews and gentiles in Paul's letters that lacks sufficient nuance.

Next Brondos addresses the soteriological ideas of Irenaeus, explaining his use of the term oikonomia, his distinction between image and likeness in Genesis 1:26, and his idea that humanity is slowly growing toward eschatological perfection. Brondos teases out the various soteriological threads woven into Irenaeus' theology, namely humanity's "recapitulation" through the incarnation, Christus Victor theology, Christ as exemplar and revealer, and occasional references to Christ as the one who appeases God's wrath. Brondos critiques Irenaeus for departing from the story told in Scripture, truncating God's sovereignty and freedom, and painting soteriology in decidedly Platonic and Hellenistic hues.

According to Brondos, much of what Irenaeus says can be read back into Scripture, though Irenaeus' thought does not reflect the Jewish worldview of the New Testament, which revolves around "not only Christ but the people of Israel and such figures as Abraham, Moses, and David, all of whom play only a minor role in Against Heresies."[10]

As he moves on to address Gregory of Nyssa,[11] Brondos demonstrates the increasing distance developing between Christian theology and its Jewish roots. After explaining Gregory's detailed analysis of human nature as the center of the dramatic acts of creation, fall, and redemption and wrestling with Gregory's ambiguity regarding universal salvation, Brondos spends one evaluative paragraph explaining Gregory's departure from Scripture and Israel's centrality therein. In Brondos' words, Gregory's "understanding of salvation is far removed from what we find in the Scriptures," for "Gregory's theological system is built just as much on Greek (and Platonic) philosophy, cosmology, and anthropology as it is on the teaching of the New Testament."[12]

Brondos also notes that Gregory's construal of salvation centers upon his understanding of "universal human nature," thus de-emphasizing Christ's particular life, flesh, and body. Having disclaimed that such an understanding uses Scripture merely as "proof texts," Brondos goes on to state that "many would consider the fact that Gregory tells a universal story about human salvation rather than a story revolving around a particular people, such as Israel, a positive rather than a negative."[13]

In his treatment of Anselm, Brondos helpfully notes the context of feudal kingdoms in which Anselm existed (and which greatly influenced his theological construct), as well as his Muslim and Jewish interlocutors - the "infidels." After reviewing Anselm's rationalistic argumentation in Cur Deus Homo, Brondos notes the various critiques that have been offered against Anselm's theology, and adds that Anselm's "understanding of salvation as an eternal, blessed existence in a heavenly city seems far removed from what Isaiah, Luke, and Paul affirm regarding redemption."[14]

Curiously, Brondos' chapter on Luther is the first chapter wherein he does not offer a contrast with Scripture (and Scripture's orientation around Israel). Though at this point the reader is familiar with his almost constant use of Israel as a reference point, he fails to make explicit the vast divergence between a Judaic (and Hebraic) notion of sin, righteousness and salvation and Luther's antinomian portrayal of the freedom offered in Christ.

In his evaluation of Calvin, Brondos highlights Calvin's version of the story of creation, fall and redemption, noting its employment of the "penal substitution" model of the atonement. Brondos helpfully notes that Calvin's understanding of divine justice is at odds with what we find in the Old Testament, wherein "God's punishment of sins has as its objectives the destruction of evil, the purification of his people's hearts, and their deliverance from their oppressors."[15] By contrast, for Calvin, "punishment seems to be an end in itself, so that what actually satisfies God is the execution of his sentence of condemnation, which took place when Christ suffered the dreadful judgment deserved by sinners in their stead."[16]

Brondos' selection of Albrecht Ritschl as a representative of modern liberal theology nicely reflects the paradigmatic shifts brought on by the Enlightenment, and Brondos aptly evaluates the implications of Ritschl's thought with regard to other religions. Responding to Ritschl's idea that Christ is the founder of a religion superior to all the others, Brondos remarks that implicit in this view is an endorsement of Ritschl's own version of Western Christianity as superior to all other cultures, flinging the door wide open for continued domination of other cultures and religions by Western ideas and expressions of the gospel.[17]

Brondos does an admirable job of summarizing Karl Barth's thought, providing an assessment of Christology, anthropology, hamartiology, election and ecclesiology according to this seminal twentieth century thinker. Unfortunately, he does not weave in a comparison between Barth and Isaianic or Hebraic soteriology, though he does comment that "Barth's teaching regarding human salvation in Christ seems to go well beyond what we find in the New Testament."[18]

Next Brondos discusses Rudolf Bultmann with his now popular distinction between what Scripture "meant" versus what it "means." Brondos demonstrates the amenity of Bultmann's thought to a modern scientific worldview, especially via the concept of "demythologization" and emphasis upon salvation as the independence of the individual from the world. Brondos lucidly explains Bultmann's contention that even Paul and John appropriated Jesus into the language and context of their own day, using Hellenistic and Gnostic modes of thought to proclaim what originally took place in a Jewish context. Accordingly, for Bultmann, our task today is to translate the message of the gospel into our own cultural context, thus essentially re-creating Christ (and thereby offering salvation) in today's world.

Brondos explicates the theology of Jon Sobrino as a representative of the "liberation theology" movement. He highlights Sobrino's emphasis on the imperative for Christians to actively struggle against injustice, the historical Jesus as the starting point for Christological reflection (this is Christology "from below"), the public, social, and structural dimensions of sin, the "this-wordly" orientation of redemption, and God's consistent preferential option for the poor. Brondos explains the context in which liberation theology emerged, and how Sobrino's own "firsthand experience of extreme poverty, widespread injustice, bloodshed, and war has greatly shaped his understanding of Jesus and the cross."[19]

Lastly, Brondos discusses the contribution of "feminist theology" via the theology of Rosemary Radford Reuther. Brondos explains Reuther's contentions that 1) sin is identified with patriarchy (which is the "root problem of injustice"), 2) both traditional language for and understanding of God must be reformed, 3) redemption must include cultivation rather than exploitation of creation, 4) a strong element of human agency is implicit in redemption, and 5) the Old Testament prophetic tradition (of which Jesus was a continuation) must function as hermeneutical lens and practical priority. Reuther asserts that "patriarchy is the social context for both the Old and New Testaments" yet argues that "both Testaments contain resources for the critique of patriarchy and of the religious sanctification of patriarchy."[20] Reuther also draws from non-Christian traditions in order to construct a non-patriarchal soteriology, claiming that the "way of Christ need not and should not be seen as excluding other ways" and that the liberating presence of God "has been expressed in many religious cultures."[21]

{josquote}[the stories of Redemption] are capable of contributing to the transformation of human beings and the world. {/josquote}

Brondos offers his own concluding reflections on the book's content, remarking that "all of the stories of redemption we have seen from the time of Irenaeus to the present differ in important ways from the essentially Jewish story found in Isaiah, Luke, and Paul," but that the story of redemption told by each figure surveyed "is capable of contributing to the transformation of human beings and the world." Recognizing that "the biblical authors themselves differ from one another in certain respects,"[22] Brondos stipulates that our modern context requires the Christian story of salvation to be presented in new and fresh ways which nonetheless remain faithful to the basic message of Scripture.

It is praiseworthy that, throughout the book, Brondos (almost consistently) maintains Israel as a focal point even though the post-biblical theologians he treats do not. His repeated references back to the biblical centrality of Israel is a welcome reminder of Christianity's persistent tendency to depart from that reality and its continued significance.

Brondos' handling of prominent figures throughout Christian history highlights the unique contributions of each person's soteriological ideas, and his own evaluation of those ideas at the end of each chapter provides the book with an otherwise absent sense of consistency and coherence. He does a nice job of setting each theologian in his or her historical context, such that one feels as though, after reading this book, they have been privy to a refresher course not only on the history of Christian theology, but on Western civilization as well.

R.R., M.Div., is a doctoral candidate in Systematic Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary and adjunct professor of theology at Azusa Pacific University.

 


Notes:

[1] Given Brondos' maintenance of Israel as a reference point throughout the book, it seems odd that this timeline does not include the 1948 (re-)creation of the state of Israel.

[2] David A. Brondos, Fortress Introduction to Salvation and the Cross (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), 1.

[3] Ibid., 5.

[4] Ibid., 12.

[5] Ibid., 29.

[6] Ibid., 31.

[7] Ibid., 33.

[8] Brondos' treatment of the "Pauline" corpus is a bit awkward at times, and certainly deserves greater nuance. Several times throughout the chapter he helpfully refers the reader to his previous book Paul on the Cross: Reconstructing the Apostle's Story of Redemption (Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 2006), where he presumably treats these issues more carefully.

[9] While Brondos' effort to put forth a canonically united perspective on soteriology is admirable, tying Isaiah, Luke and Paul too tightly together tends to constrain their respective perspectives. Brondos' construal of canonical continuity begs the question of whether the best way to establish canonically sound theological paradigms is to allow each book and author to speak for itself rather than (falsely) attempting harmonization.

[10] Ibid., 63.

[11] Brondos chooses Gregory of Nyssa out of the four "outstanding theologians" of the fourth century, the other three being Athanasius, Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nazianzus. His preference is due to the fact that Gregory, as the last of the four, "reflects and develops many of the ideas found in the others in spite of the inevitable differences among them"(Ibid., 65).

[12] Ibid., 74-75.

[13] Ibid., 75.

[14] Ibid., 87.

[15] Ibid., 110.

[16] Ibid.

[17] It would have been helpful for Brondos to mention specifically the consequences of such a notion vis-à-vis Judaism and with regard to Jewish-Christian relations.

[18] Ibid., 140.

[19] Ibid., 156.

[20] Rosemary Radford Reuther, Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology, 10th anniversary ed. (Boston: Beacon, 1993), 22-23; cited in Brondos, 176.

[21] Rosemary Radford Reuther, Introducing Redemption in Christian Feminism (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998), 94; cited in Brondos, 179.

[22] Brondos, 183-184.

 
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