Union with Christ : Adolf Schlatter’s relational Christology
The present study is considered to be the first extensive work on the Christology of Swiss theologian Adolf Schlatter (1852–1938). As the title of this study suggests, we argue that Schlatter’s Christology reveals a distinctly relational trajectory. From this claim emerge two hypotheses to be probed, namely, first, whether the aspect of ‘relationality’ (Beziehung) is a correct reading of Schlatter and, if so, one has to demonstrate, secondly, to what extent Schlatter’s relational approach offers a sustainable Christology that adequately describes and explains the person and work of Jesus Christ in relation to God and to humanity. Instead of pursuing the classic two-nature treatment, Schlatter, based on his empirical realist method, develops a relational account of Jesus Christ against the backdrop of a distinct Trinitarian framework. Father, Son and Holy Spirit share a communion of will and of love which creates, shapes and upholds the life-story of the Christ. Based on his New Testament ‘seeing-act’, Schlatter pictures the Son as dependent upon the Holy Spirit and in continual obedience to the Father, who, through his salvific work, invites us to participate in the Trinitarian communion of love. The prime locus to probe the validity of Schlatter’s relational motif is his theologia crucis. Schlatter regards Jesus’ action on the cross as the significant relational movement of Jesus Christ first and foremost towards the Father, as ‘service to God,’ and on this basis, also to human beings, as ‘service to humanity.’ Jesus reveals his divinity on the cross as he is able to maintain fellowship with God in spite of God-forsakenness, mediated by the Holy Spirit, and he reveals his humanity by remaining in close communion with sinners, thus transforming them and gathering the redeemed into the new community of faith. Schlatter’s relational perspective provides not only a balanced view of Jesus Christ’s divinity and humanity, but also offers a highly creative way of investigating Jesus’ being in relation and his being in essence. This work suggests that Schlatter’s Christological approach offers much by way of promise both in its faithfulness to the New Testament witness and in its attempt to achieve a harmonious understanding of Christology and soteriology.