Kathryn Tanner – Christ the Key (2010), 320 pp
Kathryn Tanner joined the faculty of Divinity in Yale in 2010. This was after teaching in the Divinity School of the University of Chicago for sixteen years and the department of Religious studies in Yale for ten years. She has engineered a lot of research on the history of Christian thought to current issues of theological concern using cultural, feminist, and social theory. She has written several books such as; God and Creation in Christian Theology: Tyranny or Empowerment? The politics of God: Christian Theologies and Social Justice, Theories of Culture: A New Agenda for Theology Jesus, Humanity and the Trinity: A Brief Systematic Theology, Economy of Grace and Christ the Key. She has also written chapters in books like The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology and many scholarly articles.
Tanner is also a member of the editorial board of Modern Theology, Scottish Journal of Theology, and International Journal of Systematic Theology. She also worked with the Journal of Religion where she was a former coeditor. Tanner was active in numerous professional societies. She was a past president in the oldest theological society that existed in the United States, The American Theological Society. Tanner is also a member of the Theology Committee, which advises the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church. She had a Luce Fellowship in the Academic Year 2010-2011 where she did research on financial markets and the perspectives that Christian Theology has on them.
In Christ is the Key by Kathryn Tanner, the thesis is stated in the title. This is not a new claim in theology, but Tanner believes that when an individual has a good understanding of Jesus and what God accomplishes through him, it can give a new light to topics in theology. The manifestation of the Word of Christ comes from the intense and intimate relationship between humans and Go. This results to God giving Christians the gift of his own life. This is the basis for Tanner’s study of the centrality of Jesus Christ in all Christian thought and life. As much as the ways of God are beyond our grasp, Jesus is seen as the key to the pattern that unites the divine and the human.
Her choice of the title was a good move. However, saying,” Christ is the key” does not mean that the statement is true. The statement lets me wonder whether Tanner can rightly see the structure of human agency and the integrity if human beings in relation to God. Kathryn Tanner takes up the Catholic debate of whether the nature of humans is directed to grace by a desire that is natural for grace. She rejects the whole Thomist Aristotelian terminologies that desires are rooted in human nature. Her opinion is that the desire that human have for God comes from His gracious presence and not human nature. She mentions that this presence is necessary for the well-being of humans.
The book develops an innovative theology that is Christ-centered. It sheds light on main theological issues like the imago dei, the implication of the Trinity for human community, the relationship between grace and nature, and the way the spirit works in human life. According to Christ is the Key, humanity is purified from sin and given participation in God’s life when the Word takes over human nature through incarnation. For Tanner, the key to Christology is incarnation. According to the book, incarnation is understood not only as the event of Jesus’ conception but also the permeation of the Word in human nature that is completed in his resurrection and Ascension. After this, Christ is the Key to all else.
The book is a single argument on how understanding Christ has an effect on the various theological topics. The discussion on human nature is seen in the first three chapters of the book. According to this book, humanity is oriented by grace from the beginning to the image of God. Humanity is, therefore, made for the grace that unlocks the divine life. Human nature cannot function well without grace. These chapters of the book explain how understanding Christ clarifies the interrelations of the trinity, atonement and sacrifice, political theology and how the spirit works in the world.
Tanner’s account on human nature, which is in the first chapter, is a case in point. She acknowledges the distinction between the creator and creature. She argues that human nature is part of creation and is in the image of God. She says that human nature is not self-contained. Being creatures created in the image of God, humans participate in God’s image. The power of God, which is manifested in Christ, gives his creation the power to be human versions of his divine image. This makes the human being dependent on their environment as they are implicated in it as they are made for grace. Unlike Christ, human beings are not plastic to their true nature or their environment because of sin. In relation to that, grace does not add to what is present. Grace remakes humans to act in accordance to the one who is in the pattern of God’s image who makes human exhibit their true “nature.”
In relation to grace, which she mentions in the second and third chapter, Tanner’s understanding is that nature is the first reference point. This is decidedly a Catholic point of view. This is a contradiction as grace completes nature, not by building on it positively but by correcting what nature lacks. She advances her concerns from the first chapter by proposing that human nature does not contain the divinity. Due to the sin of humankind, the grace and power of God are not accessible to humans. This, therefore, means that the hypostatic union is because of the precondition of human beings attachment indeed and will to the divine in Christ (71).
Kathryn Tanner constantly uses the language of sanctification and justification to show the character of this attachment and how the hypostatic union affects it. This language is seen as she mentions that, in salvation, God makes the sinner righteous. Attachment to Christ gives Christians justification, and the resulting benefit from this attachment is sanctification. When reconsidering the nature-grace relationship, which is often contested, Tanner’s arguments are based on the grace-centered account for the creature (116). Tanner starts with the gracious intent of God to give us his own life through his son as our own end. The desire humans have for God is from God, as nature does not give this desire. As much as grace is different to us, it does not alter human nature. Grace makes humans receptive to their nature.
Tanner’s work is mostly based on Augustine and the Greek Church Fathers mainly Cappadocians and Athanasius to make her case. Although her writing is occasionally dense, it is also clear. The density in her work results from her discussions of hard questions in detail. Example is how she discusses the Gospels’ stories. Her discussions give a template for understanding the relationship of the members of the trinity.
Tanner also wrote a chapter on politics in her book where she analyzed political theologies and their weakness, which seek to make the Trinity a model for human communal life. She points out in her analysis that this approach resulted to bad theology and ambiguous political recommendations. Her first argument is monotheism does not inevitably result to authoritarian politics. Second, Trinitarian thinking does not always lead to egalitarian politics. Lastly, appeals to trinity for how they structure human communities do not show the radical difference between humans and God seriously enough (82).
Kathryn’s account of Trinitarian life supports the account of the unity of the economic and immanent Trinity in such a way that it does not remove the priorities of the immanent Trinity. The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit, who form the trinity are in our lives in a way that we can imitate them. This is the main effect of the incarnation. After incarnation, human life becomes a life in Christ. Human life is transformed to be a form of the Word so that in the end, the life of the Word might recur in ours (161). In a similar way, the Spirit and the Son leaves the father so that they can return and re-ascend with us.
Human nature is caught up in the Trinitarian relations when looking at the economy of grace. It is imminently conceived though it is allowed to share in the Trinitarian relations. According to Tanner’s argument, we share the Spirit of the Son’s body directly through the Spirit. The spirit can recognize the Son’s form in us. This is the main mission of the son, giving us his own spirit. The reason the Son gives us his own spirit is so that believers can truthfully speak about the immanent life of God. This is because the movement of life in God is for our benefit.
Kathryn Tanner’s assumption of human nature by God in Christ is another problem that I encountered in her work. This is because she is straightforwardly redemptive for all people who share that nature. She points out that Christ is one with his followers in honor of his followers’ humanity. The hypostatic union wraps his followers. It is something that is inevitably felt in the journey of the believers. She also says that Christians is justified by the Incarnation of Christ and not sacraments or faith. God’s form of attachment to his followers is through the incarnation of the Word in human flesh. This justifies Christianity. Through the justified attachment to Christ, Christians get faith. This makes faith a gift of the spirit. This shows that Tanner refutes the possibility that love or faith are what attaches Christians to Christ as both views excessively elevates human actions.
According to Tanner, not only does incarnation bring about a change in a person’s objective situation but it also redeems and justifies all people. This is because in her book she does not reference baptism-uniting individuals to Christ and never puts the assertion flatfootedly. Human appropriation becomes a case of sanctification and is not intrinsic to justification.
Tanner rejects any ideas that the cross has an orientation back to God. An example is the satisfaction of divine justice. In common, theology, this kind of rejection is not uncommon. However, this overlooks the importance of human sinfulness. Sinfulness is a responsible action, which God takes seriously. In my opinion, the introduction of sin to humanity is a responsibility of human immaturity after the gifts of grace are first given. In the past, Western Christianity heavily relied on juridical categories. These categories expressed an essential about the responsibility of human agency.
The problem in Tanners theology is also as a result of its strengths. From Kathryn Tanner’s first book, she has consistently and consistently spelled out an understanding of divine agency. Human and divine agency operates at different reality levels in order for God to be at work with human agency without taking away the freedom of humans. In the story of Joseph from Genesis, God mentions his purpose as he works within the network of human cause. In this story, God is never a character that other characters interact with.
The image of God and humanity from the bible is also inclusive of real interaction with human beings. God casts Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden because of their sin; Abraham talks to God about Sodom and Gomorrah and its fate. These stories show how the agency of God is different and distinct from human agency.
The interaction between humans and God is a sign of how significant human actions are for God and acts as a sign of condescension. Holding together these two pictures of interactive and noncompetitive divine agency is a problem in Christian theology. The theology book by Kathryn Tanner is a witness to the effects of underplaying a single side of the bible. This is because the bible has a double vision of how humanity and God relate and taking a single side might confuse the reader.
There is adequate, and consistent development of the author has stated thesis throughout the book. Her thesis was stated in the title of her book. The thesis is seen as you read chapter to chapter of the book as the connection between the trinity and human nature through Christ is portrayed. Kathryn’s purpose when writing, “Christ the Key” was to give the readers the right understanding of Jesus and what God accomplishes through his son. Her theological approach in the book shows how Christ is the link to God the Father.
Throughout the story, biases can be seen in Kathryn’s work. She mostly uses the catholic point of view in her work, which is not similar to other protestant churches. . Kathryn Tanner takes up the Catholic debate of whether the nature of humans is directed to grace by a desire that is natural for grace. She also mentions that the time of human appropriation changes to a matter of sanctification, which is not intrinsic to justification. This shows a bias as this disagrees with the council of Trent, Protestant Reformers and the clear, meaning of scriptures. Tanner supports her thesis throughout the story. This is seen as she offers an evangelical though catholic account of Christ that is deep rooted to the father. She also motions that Christ became the Key after his resurrection and ascension.
In summary, the author can be seen to suppress contrary evidence so that she could make her thesis credible. She rejects the whole Thomist Aristotelian terminologies that desires are rooted in human nature. Her opinion is that the desire that human have for God comes from His gracious presence and not human nature. She mentions that this presence is necessary for the well-being of humans. Another flaw is seen when she assumes human nature by God in Christ is redemptive to all people who share in the nature. Tanner also rejects any possibility that love or faith attach Christians to Christ as explained above.
The nature of the trinity, the human, God- World relationship, and atonement is also seen from the essay. From the book’s central thesis, other many theological topics arise from this central thesis. Therefore, her account of an incarnation brings out more than her Christology. The strengths of the book can be seen with the development of the plot and the way she constructs her arguments on the topics she chooses.
The book is a good read because Christians can get to know God through his benefits and his gracious intentions. From the book, God’s intentions have been to give human beings the fullness of His own life. The story defeats death swallows sins and transforms human nature thus making the book a good read.
Christ is the Key has several lessons as seen from the essay. Kathryn Tanner shows her central theological commitment. In doing so, her lesson to the readers is that God intends to give humanity the fullness of his own life through Christ. This is the deepest way possible he can give humanity His own life as he gives us his only son for humanity. Another lesson she gives the reader is that Christ is the key as is in her thesis statement. She mentions that Christ is the key through God’s participation with humans for humans in the hypostatic union which all humanity participates and takes part in the divine life. These lessons can be seen from the explanations of the body of the essay.
The lessons from Christ the Key by Kathryn Tanner can be applied in a ministry context. This is because some of her messages can be taught in a church sermon. Kathryn Tanners work is informative and has a good message for Christians. It gives Christians hope as it teaches on redemption of humans through Christ. The book can also be used to explain biblical issues like the trinity to Christians so that they can closely understand God. Christians can also learn about their human nature in relation to God. All the above issues are explained in the essay.
The book is a good read, and I would recommend it to scholars, the members of the theological society, members of the church including leaders and the congregation. This is because the book has many points that would be useful in understanding Christ as the key that leads humans to God the creator. Kathryn Tanner has written many books and has been part of many active theological societies hence improving her work credibility. Her argument for Christianity shows Christians how religion can be part of the solution and not a problem.
Kathryn, T. and Tanner, K. (2010). Christ the Key: Current Issues in Theology. Paperback, 309 Pages. Cambridge, CA: Cambridge University Press. ISBN-13: 978-0-521-73277-2, ISBN: 0-521-73277-8