What is Christological Praxis? Part 1/2

What is Christological Praxis?

Christology as a Normative Factor

Christology is a normative factor for social praxis but Christological ethic is not to be construed as merely an exercise in the detailed reproduction of the work and words of Jesus. Attempts towards mere replication of the activities of the historical Jesus give an impression of datedness since Jesus could only address issues 2000 year ago. Worse still, one may be forced to conclude that Jesus is irrelevant to social praxis today.

Regardless, the significance of Jesus remains as the past example, the prototype or model for social praxis. But his significance must not be reduced to his past activities. For the Christian, the significance of Jesus must also be eschatological in that the future of the Risen One determines the future of the church. The significance of Jesus for his disciples is that he enables them to take responsibility for and to redirect their own history. This requires that Christians follow Jesus’ “attitude” to life and history rather than any specific social programs.

The church as the community arising from Jesus’ ministry functions as the community of moral discourse and bearer of Jesus’ ethical teaching. The Jesus we know is the Jesus remembered by the church, and is mediated by its tradition and made present through word, sacrament and action. In this sense, to neglect the community in our quest for a christologically based praxis would be to ignore the most important legacy of Jesus’ social ministry.

The story of Christ cannot be told in isolation from the present experience of the church within wider society. More importantly, the community takes priority over the individual in Christological praxis. After all, the church nurtures the relational capacities of its members. Finally, the church, through its moral discourse and socialization of its members, shapes the moral sensibilities and identities of the members. As such, the community represents a more comprehensive and adequate framework for social praxis.

Thesis 1: The process from Christ to social praxis is mediated through a specific anthropology, philosophy of history and social structure. Christological anthropology, that is, the concepts of freedom and cohumanity in Christ conceives of man as acting under divine determination and enables social praxis to maintain a relational view of man which is necessary to keep the community in view.

Two corollaries arise from this thesis:

First, man is viewed as “being in encounter,” in which human existence is enacted in a history of I-Thou interactions. Christologically speaking, Jesus as the “man-for-other-men” provides the foundations for human solidarity and community. Cohumanity in Christ ensures that social praxis arises out of the freedom of action received from Christ and is aimed towards promoting a community of equity and justice.

Man is a historical being with an openness to the future, longing for and working towards a concretely better world. That is to say, human existence is embodied existence within a created reality or a changing environment. But created reality, especially human society, often frustrates human well-being. As such, there is no separation between salvation and liberation from dehumanizing social existence. Christian hope points to new possibilities, spurs men towards seeking redness in the suffering world and works towards “concrete utopias.”

The sociality of human nature, the need to promote community, demands that concepts which inform social praxis such as freedom and justice must be seen not so much as descriptions of individualistic preferences as assessments of the quality of the community in question. At the same time, the social expectation of what is entailed in the community’s promotion of freedom and justice often remains a disputed issue. This arises because ruling power groups inevitably use the state apparatus to define, on their own terms and for their own advantage, what is acceptable for human freedom and justice. In effect, we have an ideological imposition by the stronger on the weaker social group. The result is a lack of critical awareness of the need for change.

The Christian must discover his freedom from such ideological domination from among the resources available in the story of Christ. In this respect, Jesus as “the man-for-other-men” and his concept of cohumanity remain indispensable foundations for any christological praxis directed towards social change and attaining a more responsible community.

Second, from the standpoint of faith Christ’s lordship and presence give direction and sustain social praxis. Popular piety often view Christ as an ethical agent isolated from his social context. Christ could only function as a mere moral exemplar. However unsurpassable Christ as an archetype, in significance he remains a figure in the past, whose ‘presence’ is only that of his continuing influence through his community. Without a ‘social cosmos’, that is to say, a social realm conceived as under the directive rule of Christ, all human subject, including the Jesus of history, could only carry out his ethical action in a social vacuum.

In this regard, we need to learn from Karl Barth whose category of Jesus as the “Lord of time” enables Christians to assert the contemporaneity of Christ. Christological praxis is therefore of real historical significance since “it is all true and actual in Him and therefore in us.” Barth spells out what this means: Christian existence consists in being incorporated into the continuing history of Christ. The history of Christ provides the continuing context and unity of purpose and direction for Christian action. The Christian’s existence and action have an objective historical and social character under the determination of the resurrected Christ who reigns both in the civil community and the Christian community. Indeed, reality is seen as transformable by the powers of the resurrected Christ. As such, humanity or rather cohumanity assumes new eschatological possibilities.

The significance of Christ for social praxis is therefore seen as more than merely symbolic. This must be stressed since it is only too easy to view the term “christological identity” as being merely symbolic and restricted to self-understanding. Hence, the necessity of the contemporary presence of Christ is underlined to ensure that reference to the incorporation of the Christian agent into the history of Christ entails experiences of the Holy Spirit as the power of the resurrected Christ. The Christian’s incorporation into the history of Christ serves as a reminder that social praxis must consist of more than a series of isolated actions or ad hoc ‘historical projects’. Rather, praxis must be seen as generating not only events but also the ordering of events. Actions integrate into a patterned whole because history and historical changes assume coherence when they are viewed as the action of a single subject, namely, the risen Christ.

Next part – Thesis 2: Social praxis is structurally mediated by the emancipatory solidarity of the community of Christ.

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