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Spring 2015 · Vol. 44 No. 1 · pp. 104–105 

Book Review

Christ at the Crux: The Mediation of God and Creation in Christological Perspective

Paul Cumin. Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2014. 261 pages.

Reviewed by Brian Cooper

This book, Paul Cumin’s published doctoral thesis from King’s College, London, is a worthy read for the theologically ambitious who are considering the nature of the Incarnation. Its topic treats the manner in which Christians can confess that God is both other than the world and still meaningfully related to it—simultaneously transcendent and immanent. Though not immediately obvious, it becomes clear that Cumin’s goal is to show that the seemingly arcane world of speculative Christology and that of the everyday Christian are not separate worlds, as Cumin will know from his experience as pastor of Pemberton Christian Fellowship (Pemberton, BC).

Cumin’s ambitious project involves tracing elements of mediation in eight theologians from the history of Christianity in order to make his own proposal. The sequence begins with three patristic authors, Irenaeus, Cyril, and Philoponus; visits Reformation thinkers Martin Luther and John Calvin; and ends with modern theologians Robert Jenson, John Zizioulas, and Colin Gunton. At issue is each respective contribution to an understanding of the “systematic profile” of divine mediation in Christological perspective. The book draws these theologians’ thoughts together in a meaningful way, and Cumin makes an interesting and somewhat provocative suggestion regarding the role of the God-man in bringing together the infinity of the Godhead with the finitude of the created world. In the process, Cumin ably combines enduring elements of patristic thought with recent theological work (particularly that of Robert Jenson) that helps Christians overcome the over-dependence on Hellenism in traditional Christology in order to creatively propose “a relation that does not dissolve into monism and an otherness that does not dissolve into dualism” (205). While the danger of skidding to one side or the other of the Alexandrine-Antiochene divide is ever-present, Cumin’s work teases apart the presuppositions underlying the two poles of this tension in order to provide helpful context for understanding Christology and its role better. {105}

Readers will notice that this book is a considerable departure from traditional Mennonite Brethren biblical-theological fare into more speculative work, but the reader’s horizon will be broadened by forcing her to think deeply about the implications of longstanding Christian confessions. Cumin’s work is a reminder that “the Bible says” is far from the only way to initiate a meaningful conversation about God. Moreover, a theology that is robustly biblical does not need to continually cite chapter and verse, but it can extrapolate—even dramatically—without relinquishing its rootedness in the text and its suitability for discipleship in the community of believers. To be sure, while this work is aimed at a scholarly readership, Cumin’s depiction of the role of the Spirit in the Incarnation has profound implications for discipleship. His adoption of Jenson’s provocative suggestion that “time and its effects on creatures’ collective experiences are internal to the ‘enveloping consciousness’ of God” (141) has the potential to revolutionize human understandings of how God relates to temporal humans. Traditional Christian thought has posited that a timeless God somehow interacts with time-bound humans in a way that creates problems in two directions. First, emphasis on divine foreknowledge and providence can tend toward determinism, and the proposal of open theism as an alternative has not proven an attractive means of explaining God’s interaction with creation. Second, traditional theology has implicitly posited time as an external absolute to which God must relate, even if not actually subject to it. This model is problematic in that God is the only absolute in a Christian understanding of the world. The degree to which Jenson’s proposal can solve these difficulties without creating greater ones remains to be seen.

Cumin’s style, while dense, is far from prideful. A significant contribution of this book is the reminder that talk of the divine life in the Triune Godhead, the mediation of God and Creation, the location of the Incarnation relative to God and Creation—all of these take even learned theologians into territory where the most cogent conclusion is that there can be no settled issues, merely theological ciphers that point us to the greatness of God, beyond our comprehension. Put another way, the content of Cumin’s work reminds us that for the present, we “see only a reflection as in a mirror.” Cumin’s concluding proposal is dramatic, yet humble. It is a reminder that human thoughts far exceed our reach, but the value of such thoughts, and books such as this, can be weighed only in the long term.

Brian Cooper
Associate Dean
Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary Canada, Langley, B.C.

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