Joerg Rieger

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from  Christ & Empire

In his book, Christ & Empire: From Paul to Postcolonial Times, theologian Joerg Rieger (Fortress Press, 2007), examines the use and abuse of Christ and Christology in the name of empire or resisting empire for the past 2000 years.  His last chapter, entitled “Resisting the Reframing the Cosmic Christ: Christology in a Postcolonial Empire,” (pp. 269-312)  is devoted in great part to the work of Matthew Fox including but not limited to his book, The Coming of the Cosmic Christ.  Below are a few observations by Professor Rieger.

“Like Bartolome de Las Casas, Fox might be perceived as one of the theologians struggling against empire from within.  Like Las Casas, he is using stronger language than most of his contemporaries, comparing contemporary phenomena to the Holocaust, fascism, and other expressions of empires in the past….His work deserves serious attention because it has struck a nerve in our time and represents broad and forward-looking cultural and religious developments. (p. 270)

Fox’s notion of the cosmic Christ transcends some of the most common battles in contemporary theology that are waged in the so called culture wars between liberals and conservatives and thus he provides a breath of fresh air.  The basic challenge of our times, according to Fox, is the survival of the earth, an issue that is today increasingly noticed again in light of global warming.  Only the cosmic Christ can save us from the predicaments we have created that threaten our destruction (CCC 78)…Fox talks about the need for a ‘historical Christ’ who is a ‘living Christ who can change history once again and ground that change in a living cosmology’ (CCC 162; emphasis in original).  Fox’s cosmic Christ is not a remote historical figure (concealed in the depths of history), nor is he a remote metaphysical figure (distantly sitting at the right hand of God).  The cosmic Christ is present and at work.

Consequently, Fox rejects both conservative theology’s narrow focus on Christ as well as liberal Enlightenment theology’s narrow focus on the historical Jesus.  (279f)

Fox is one of the few theologians writing in the North of the Americas who have made the suggestion that we need to think about the North and South of the Americas in relation.  The fact that both Americas have experienced colonialism indeed provides a common bond—one more likely to be seen form the perspective of the colonized than the colonizers.  Furthermore, Fox points out that “The United States colonized Latin America, often with the kind of cruelty that  a wounded child effects on others when that child becomes a ‘killer adult’” (Creation Spirituality, 117)  This is an interesting thought: What happens when the colonized become colonizers?  (288f)

The grounding of the cosmic Christ in Bible, tradition, and solidarity with those who suffer is crucial.  Fox’s call for a ‘historical Christ’ is key for the resistance to empire.  The question is not primarily ‘What would Jesus do?’ but, to use the word of Frederick Herzog, “What is Jesus doing now?’ (296)

Fox also goes deeper than the culture wars paradigm when he develops a more complex understanding of the problems with conservative ideas  Rather than simply rejecting the notion of sin altogether, as liberals locked in battle with conservatives often do, Fox develops an awareness of the problems of an insufficient notion of sin in the conservative camp: ‘Very often a fall-redemption religious ideology trivializes sin just as it trivializes creation and grace and spirit’ (Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh, 157)….This insight goes hand in hand with a deepening of the notion of sin.  Fox has never fallen into the trap of privatizing the notion of sin as if sin were only the problem of individuals.  Sin includes the disruption of social relationships and social injustice as well as the disrupting of our relationship to world and cosmos.  (296)

The two most important aspects that lead us beyond the limited scope of the culture wars are Fox’s critique of elitism and his concern for the margins….To the degree that Fox’s argument allow for the leadership of the margins, he offers a new paradigm. The concerns for the margins displayed by conservatives and liberals have no room for this aspect, as conservatives seek to teach personal responsibility and liberals seek to support the margins through social programs; in each case, the goal is to integrate those on the margins back into the system.  Fox’s emphasis on the leadership of the  margins leads beyond these two positions, but it would need to be developed more fully.  (297)

Fox continues to hold what are often separated: mysticism and prophecy.  The combination of those two components leads to a self-critical stance, which is perhaps the thing most lacking in the postcolonial empire.” (301f)