When I was involved in youth ministry, I found myself resorting to that catch phrase, “What would Jesus do?” Even at the time, I had a strong sense that, theologically, WWJD was rather thin. Couldn’t one ask the same question about Mother Teresa, St. Francis or even the Buddha? Wasn’t there a more substantial question to be asked?
In his most recent book, Ethics in the Presence of Christ, Christopher Holmes has provided that more substantial question. A young Canadian Anglican theologian, Holmes currently serves as senior lecturer in systematic theology at the University of Otago in New Zealand. Rather than seeing Jesus as one who has set an example, Holmes asks the church to consider what the crucified, risen and ascended Christ is doing now.
“The approach I am championing,” he writes, “aims to demonstrate the difference that it makes to ethics when one takes seriously that the God who acted then in Christ is confessed to be present to us now in Christ through the Word and by the power of the Spirit.” The challenge is to consider how we, both individually and as church, should align our lives with that claim.
Holmes takes a very high view of scripture. No surprises, then, that among the theologians most frequently cited are Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and T.F. Torrance.
Holmes holds a robust view of the resurrection, ascension and promised return of Christ. For readers more influenced by Borg, Crossan and Spong than by Barth, Bonhoeffer and Torrance-or for that matter, by the Anglican biblical scholar E.C. Hoskyns, on whose work Holmes draws substantially-this will be a stretch.
To be fair, at a modest 164 pages, Holmes can hardly be expected to do more than lay out the basics of a thoroughly invigorating perspective. Still, there is a good deal packed into this carefully argued book, demanding not only a close and careful reading but also a deep engagement with the heart of the Christian faith.
The Rev. Jamie Howison is the founding pastor of saint benedict’s table in the diocese of Rupert’s Land.