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The Metaphor of God Incarnate: Christology in a Pluralistic Age [Paperback]

By John H. Hick (Author)
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Item description for The Metaphor of God Incarnate: Christology in a Pluralistic Age by John H. Hick...

In this major work, John Hick refutes the traditional Christian understanding of Jesus of Nazareth as God incarnate, who became man to die for the sins of the world and founded the church to proclaim this. Hick argues that Jesus did not teach what was to become orthodox Christian understanding of him; that the dogma of Jesus' two natures, human and divine, cannot be presented satisfactorily; that the traditional dogma has been used to justify great human evils; that the idea of divine incarnation is better understood as metaphorical than as literal; that we can understand Jesus to be our Lord and the one who has made God real to us; and that a nontraditional Christianity based upon this understanding of Jesus can be seen as one among a number of different human responses to the ulitmate transcendent reality we call God.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Westminster John Knox Press
Pages   192
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.7" Width: 6.22" Height: 0.49"
Weight:   0.56 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Jan 1, 1994
Publisher   Westminster John Knox Press
ISBN  0664255035  
ISBN13  9780664255039  

Availability  56 units.
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More About John H. Hick

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! John Hick is a Fellow of the Institute for Advanced Research in Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Birmingham (U.K.) and has held appointments at the Claremont Graduate University, California, the University of Cambridge, Princeton Theological Seminary, and Cornell University. His many previous books include Disputed Questions in Theology and the Philosophy of Religion, published by Yale University Press.

John H. Hick has an academic affiliation as follows - Claremont Graduate School.

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1Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Clergy > Church Institutions & Organizations
2Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Theology > Apologetics
3Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Theology > Christology
4Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Theology

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Reviews - What do customers think about The Metaphor of God Incarnate?

A case for rethinking traditional theology  Mar 9, 2007
John Hick makes a compelling case for why we should rethink the traditional theological belief that Jesus was 'God the Son', second person of the Holy Trinity. Hick critically examines this doctrine and attacks it from all sides.

First he talks about the metaphysical problems inherent in trying to stipulate how someone could be completely God and completely human at the same time. He does a good job at examining all of the major attempts at doing so and explains why each such try has been inadequate. He goes on to describe how New Testament scholars have concluded that Jesus' divinity cannot be ascribed to Jesus' own teachings. I'm not a New Testament scholar by any means, but apparently they have thrown doubt on many of the biblical passages where Jesus alludes to his own divinity. New Testament scholars apparently attribute such sayings to later writers of the bible who were just reflecting a current belief in the Christian community at their time. Hick goes on to discuss how the 'God the Son' doctrine implies the superiority of the Christian religion, being the only religion founded by God himself. He discusses the problems inherent in believing so, all of the evils committed based in part on the belief of Christian superiority, and the problems and illogicalities inherent in the overall belief that Jesus as 'God the Son' was needed as a sacrifice for the sins of humanity.

His own theory is that the incarnation doctrine should be taken metaphorically instead of as literal truth. In short Hick believes that "In so far as Jesus lived a life of self-giving love, or agape, he 'incarnated' a love that is a finite reflection of the infinite divine love" (105). Furthermore, "In so far as Jesus was doing God's will, God was acting through him on earth and was in this respect 'incarnate' in Jesus' life" (105). I'll let you read the book to find out more about this theory and how it fits into the overall schema of religious founders and saints who also reflect, although not necessarily to the extent that Jesus did, the divine love on earth. In theory then we could suggest that Jesus was a normal human being who was so completely open to God that he was spiritually perfected.

As I said in the beginning, this book provides a very compelling case for why we should at least rethink the traditional doctrine of 'God the Son' as opposed to 'Son of God', spiritually perfected, which in theory we could all be. However Hick does not prove anything in this book. At the end of the day I think Hick has to accept that it's a dispute over theory, not something we can prove either way. Just because we cannot, as of yet at least, adequately stipulate 'God the Son' metaphysically does not mean that it is not possible. Just because we cannot find a way as of now doesn't mean that we will never be able to do so. However, it may just be beyond human conceptualization. Furthermore, you can throw doubt on any passage in the bible you want, but even if we can't attribute Jesus' divinity to his own teachings, this doesn't mean that Jesus was not 'God the Son', second person of the Holy Trinity. In other words, even if Jesus didn't teach it, it could still be so. And the superiority problem is only a problem for religious pluralists. So in essence, Hick explains all of the very compelling reasons why he thinks the incarnation should be taken metaphorically instead of literally. However, whether Jesus was 'God the Son' literally or metaphorically cannot be proven either way. He does provide very compelling reasons for his position on this issue. I commend Hick for this wonderful work on the issue and think that all Christians should read it.
coming to terms with orthodoxy  Jan 9, 2007
After all the shouting that the MYTH OF GOD INCARNATE gave rise to, this is a considered response, preserving the view that "God Incarnate" is not a meaningless idea, but that one needs to be very careful just how the term is to be understood. The original authors have a chance to talk back to their (hysterical) critics.
A Cogent Challenge to Christian Orthodoxy  Sep 27, 2005
In this follow-up to his controversial 1970s compilation, "The Myth of God Incarnate," British philosopher John Hick fleshes out his own critique of the Christian dogmas of the Trinity and the Atonement, and offers alternate ways of understanding the message and meaning of Jesus in today's pluralistic world.

Although Hick overstates the degree to which the doctrines of the Trinity and Atonement are no longer believeable (millions, in fact, still fervently believe those doctrines), he persuasively argues both that (1) neither Jesus nor his earliest followers regarded Jesus as God incarnate, and that (2) the doctrine of the Trinity is in fact intellectually incoherent and - paradoxically - cannot even be explicated in terms which do not violate Christian orthodoxy. Hick shows that all attempts to explain this doctrine either implicitly deny that Jesus was a human being like other human beings or redefine God in such a way that God is no longer God.

Some of the theological argumentation is a bit technical, but with careful reading it is quite intelligible even to the non-professional. I found the critique of the atonement (the idea that Jesus' death on the cross was necessary for the forgiveness of human sin) to be particularly cogent insofar as Hick quotes from the sayings of Jesus himself to show that a sacrificial death is not necessary to effect divine forgiveness. (In this context, Hick quotes both the Lord's Prayer and the story of the Prodigal Son.)

Traditional Christians might think that Christianity is utterly destroyed if shorn of the doctrines of the Trinity and the Atonement, but Hick disagrees. He proposes an understanding of Jesus' life as a metaphor for the action of God in the world, a metaphor all the more potent because it is grounded in the real-life example of Jesus. Hick also believes that the Eastern Orthodox concept of human "deification," the transformation of the human personality through the mysterious workings of the Holy Spirit or Divine Energies, provides a potentially fruitful basis for a future Christian theology.

Although Hick is critical of orthodox theology and of the crimes of Christian civilization, he is not polemical in a rude or crude sort of way, nor does he ignore - as many critics of Christianity do - the deficiencies of other religions and the cultures they produced. (However, one might disagree with his claim that all religions have had pretty much the same effect on culture, and that the advantages and disadvantages of the various religions ultimately cancel each other out. In my view, that is a highly debatable proposition. I think different religions effect culture in very different ways, and develop in different ways because of ideas present at the core of each individual religion.)

One might have wished that Hick spent some time discussing the doctrine of the Incarnation as it is found in Hinduism, which believes in successive divine incarnations throughout history. Perhaps some insight into the Christian doctrine of Incarnation could have been found there, just as an analysis of the Buddhist understanding of "taking refuge" in the Buddha might shed some light on the Christian doctrine of the Atonement. As it is, however, Hick does not delve into the theological or philosophical nuances of any religion other than Christianity.

Traditional Christians will likely be offended or alarmed by this book, but Hick's sincere challenge to Christian orthodoxy is what the times demand. In a world where Islam has once again become (or remains) militant and agressive, Christianity must regroup on a firmer moral and intellectual foundation if it is to survive the clash of civilizations that has already begun.
Very Provocative Challenge to Chalcedonian Christianity  Aug 21, 2005
John Hick is one of the leading advocates of religious pluralism today, and identifies himself as a Christian. In the above work, he sets out to criticize the following tenets of traditional Christianity, expressed above all in the Chalcedonian ecumenical council, established in 451 CE, which is for most the sine qua non expression of Christian Christology. He is a very honest writer, and lets the reader know from the outset his agenda. For one to uphold the doctrines of Christian pluralism as he does, one cannot simultaneously hold to the traditional understanding of Christ. He explains: "If he was indeed God incarnate, [then] Christianity is the only religion founded by God in person, and must as such be uniquely superior to all other religions" (ix). As one who does not believe Christianity is superior to all other religions, Hick must justify his pluralism by a reconsideration of the doctrine of the incarnation. In a nutshell, for him it is not a metaphysical reality, but a metaphor which depicts the God-centered life of Christ. In this book Hick criticizes 6 sets of ideas common to Christianity, traditionally understood, and puts forward an alternative for a Christianity of a pluralistic age. He avers that:
(1) Jesus himself did not teach what was to become the orthodox Christian understanding of him;
(2) that the dogma of Jesus' two natures, one human and one divine, has proved be incapable of being explicated in any satisfactory way;
(3) that historically the traditional dogma has been used to justify great human evils;
(4) that the idea of divine incarnation is better understood as metaphorical rather than as literal;
(5) that we can rightly take Jesus, so understood, as our Lord, the one who has made God real to us and whose life and teachings challenge us to live in God's presence; and
(6) that a non-traditional Christianity based upon this understanding of Jesus can see itself as one among a number of different human responses to the ultimate transcendent Reality that we call God, and can better serve the development of world community and world peace than a Christianity which continues to see itself as the locus of final revelation and purveyor of the only salvation possible for all human beings (ix).
Before I began reading this book, I had already a background in historical Jesus studies and early Christianity, as well as proclivities toward Christian pluralism. What this book did for me was to nourish a pluralism that, quite frankly, had already been born in my mind. For me, therefore, it was confirmation of an already existing belief, and a helpful articulation of why I had begun to lean in this direction. For some (and for me about 5 years ago), this book would seem to stink of liberal scholarship, and of the inspiration of Satan himself. Thus, it will not be persuasive in the least to some. I don't believe those who believe this are foolish. However, I would still encourage this book as a fine example of irenic scholarship which puts forward a different persepective, if for nothing else than to understand and foster dialogue. The author is respectful and painfully honest, while making gentle criticism and proposing a new direction in a spirit desperately needed in this intolerable age. One can only hope for an honest reading, and a sympathetic disposition.
The thinking man's Spong  Mar 7, 2000
Writing in a wonderfully lucid, ego-free way Hick subjects the traditional, literal understandings of the Incarnation to a searching philosophical analysis and concludes that there is no way to make sense of the idea except as a Metaphor. This realization he hopes can liberate Christians so that they can embrace the rest of believing humanity instead of excluding it from their unnecessarily narrow notions of salvation.

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