Divine Self Investment by Tripp Fuller – review

Tripp Fuller, the American founder and host of the Homebrewed Theology Podcast can take credit for advancing the understanding of more than just open and relational theologies among a portion of the Church. He should, however, surely be particularly recognised for his work popularising the work of amazing Process theologians such as John Cobb and Catherine Keller among his contemporaries. He is currently working in Edinburgh University on a project which addresses the apparently conflicting worlds of science and faith.

In this book Fuller demonstrates his own theological prowess, cleverly drawing out the theologies of others to develop a holistic Christology of his own. Fuller has an impressively broad frame of reference, having developed a deep understanding of and respect for the work of a range of theological thinkers and ideas. He pings off names both familiar and perhaps less familiar to progressive Christians on both sides of the Atlantic, and places them into discussion with their interlocutors. His writing is in places passionate, but remains clear and well expressed. At points he executes a really neat turn of phrase that will leave you wanting more.

Much like the rest of his work, which seems to be aimed at bringing together apparently diverse strands of thinking, the book is primarily developed around the dialogue between pairings of theologians. Throughout Fuller seeks to extend apparently contrasting approaches to develop something which he says is lacking from much contemporary theological discourse, a clear answer to the Christological question from the perspective of an informed ‘liberal’ Christianity. I agree that this is a live issue.

Where there are problems in the book, they are not due to his theology – unless that is you take ‘open and relational’ to mean something other than broadly process oriented, a mistake few serious theology scholars are likely to make. Even if that were the case, it’s unlikely that one would have room to take meaningful issue with the quality of his thought or the accuracy of his representation of the work of others.

At times though I felt there were terms which would have benefitted from some clarity of definition: I’ve already mentioned the word ‘liberal’ for instance, and I found it to be used generously but without clarity of definition. My view is that it is not so clear in its definition (at least not in the UK) as to pass entirely without comment. One might argue that in this case the meaning becomes clear in its context, but I think that some clarity on it from the start would have been an advantage. A smart editor should perhaps have picked this up. My other criticism is linked: I also found that the occasional textual editing error crept into the book – a minor issue perhaps, and maybe not even worthy of a complaint, but these errors of formatting and grammar were enough to occasionally catch my eye and thereby my attention.

That leads me to my main point about the book – this is serious theology, it’s not a book from which you particularly want your attention to be distracted. However, it’s also readable, Fuller sweeps the reader along very well, and through some reasonably complex territory. He does this partly by flicking back occasionally to short and pacey sentences, in places as short as just one word, and repeated mantra type phrases such as: “Christology is a disciple’s discipline” or “Christology is a disciple’s dogma”.

Ultimately, in his own development of an articulated and articulatable open and relational Christology, Fuller reiterates his initial challenge: that such an endeavour must be able to take into account the historical Jesus, the existential register of faith and the metaphysical ‘referent’ to God. In doing this the reader comes to realise that of course Fuller has already given them the answer they seek in his title, his Christology concerns the idea that God invests God’s self in the world. As this ‘divine self-investment’ occurs God receives back into God’s self “all that the world becomes” – ‘so far, so Cobb…’ one might say. Fuller expands on this however, developing on the idea that God shares in the travails of the world such that God too needs salvation. Here Fuller answers not just the question of what it means to call Jesus the Christ, but also Joan Osborne’s more personal and experiential question: ‘what if God was one of us?’

There is a lot to love about this book, Fuller has a beautiful way with phrasing and his comprehension of and elucidation of the work of some brilliant theologians is superb. I think I will be returning to it quite often. It isn’t necessarily a book that evangelicals will love, I feel, but for those drawn to an open and relational approach to Christianity, this may well provide the answer they need to the Christological conundrum.

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