At 602 pages of text, ON BEING A CHRISTIAN is the definition of a tome. The style is no walk in the park: even taking into account that it''s a translation from German, some of the passages are quite dense. The bottom line is, though, that it''s worth the effort....
At 602 pages of text, ON BEING A CHRISTIAN is the definition of a tome. The style is no walk in the park: even taking into account that it''s a translation from German, some of the passages are quite dense. The bottom line is, though, that it''s worth the effort.
When this book first appeared in the 1970s, I hesitated to read it. Aside from the intimidating length of the work, I had the thought--if Kung is on the margins of Catholic theology, then what impact could his work have? Suffice it to say that I was neither a theologian nor a very astute young Catholic. However that may be, I was surprised to find that, except, perhaps, for matters pertaining to Church governance, Kung is hardly a leftist firebrand or a Bishop John Shelby Spong-like skeptic; Kung, essentially, is a fairly orthodox theologian, it seems to me. As a committed Catholic Christian, he''s devoted, though, to scraping away the barnacles that have adhered to the mother ship of Roman Catholicism over the past two millennia.
Kung does not shy away from the difficult issues: in the course of ON BEING A CHRISTIAN, he tackles thorny issues like Karl Rahner''s "Anonymous Christian" concept, the Resurrection, the Trinity, liberation theology, and a Christian''s response to war, among many, many problems. I was often in awe of Kung''s deft handling of these issues, but other times felt somewhat lost in the theological discourse. For instance, Kung accepts the "reality" of the Resurrection, but rejects the theological and historical necessity of the Empty Tomb. He claims that the disciples could not just have had some sort of self-realized epiphany after the death of Jesus; for the Christian movement to have taken off as it did, it must have been because the disciples of Jesus had a real experience of Jesus'' resurrection. But since Kung also rejects the notion that a Christian must accept the violation of the physical laws of the universe, is he trying to have it both ways, or is it that his argument is simply beyond me? For Kung, what is *real* about the Resurrection?
Kung''s root answer to what Christianity is about is given early on in the book: "Christianity exists only where the memory of Jesus Christ is activated in theory and practice" (p. 126). For Kung, Jesus is "in person the living, archetypal embodiment of his cause" (p. 545). One who accepts this Jesus in his or her life receives the call to be radically human. What ultimately counts in life is not accomplishments (not that accomplishments are bad), but trust (faith) in the Christ Jesus. In fact, Kung demonstrates from the opening section on "The Challenge of Modern Humanisms" throughout the course of this book, that the Christian as true humanist is the principle that underlies his concept of Christianity.
For a long time many people have encouraged me to read ON BEING A CHRISTIAN. I am heartily glad that I have finally followed their advice. I know that I will be returning to this book in the years ahead to revisit Kung''s keen insights into what being a Christian truly means. In these days, when Christianity has been degraded and sold out as a tool of politicians, this is a book whose message should be read all the more to call us to metanoia, a change of heart.