The term ‘Christian universalism’ may conjure up many images in the mind of the everyday follower of Jesus. These concerns or preconceptions of the phrase are often tied up with humankind's need to judge that which is good or other. What Congdon presents in his new book is a clear need for a revision of terms. Where most scholars use a biblical methodology, in The God Who Saves, we see a more systematic approach to arguing for the Christian account of universalism. The argument simplified is thus: the event of salvation is for all but not only that, it is the centre of all. Congdon names this soteriocentrism. In the age-old theological battle of doctrinal supremacy, here we see that rather than Patriology, Christology, Pneumatology, or any other -ology, the theology of Salvation becomes the arc above all existence.
It is relatively simple as to how these jumps are made, although potentially explosive. 1) God freely chooses to define himself as the ‘Saving One’. 2) This is made concrete in the temporal life of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, and then made accessible by his Spirit through the Church. And 3) (perhaps most radically) salvation is not a once for all change of nature but by life in God, salvation is an ongoing “ontic transformation of existence”. Whilst we must wait until the Epilogue to find out what Congdon suggests regarding other faiths, people who have come to death through horrific means or, traditional belief in conscious life after death, here begins the necessary ground work on what we can enquire upon here on earth; and it is an utterly convincing effort.
David W. Congdon’s work on Chalcedonian Christology in Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and tracing Cyrilline theology to Luther is of particular interest. Using this work, Congdon attempts to move Robert W. Jenson’s desire to prioritise Christology as the mouthpiece for speaking well of God, to salvation being the primary mode by which we define God’s act in humanity. Whilst progressive, this presents a never-ending cycle. A simplification of Jenson’s project is that we define salvation (among other adjectives for God) not by an abstract idea of saving, but rather it is the event of Jesus of Nazareth that defines salvation. Therefore Congdon, in true dialectical style, answers the question but in doing so, presents a new one. Either, the answer is to nail your colours to a mast or perhaps the solution is more nuanced as Archbishop Rowan Williams suggests “the world can't be fully seen even by the sum total of all pairs of human eyes, seeing that the world has a dimension of real strangeness, a depth not sounded.”
It is hard to review this book detached from the life of David W. Congdon. The prologue is a homage to the theological influences upon this work ranging from evangelicalism, studying Barth at Princeton to being inspired and caught up in the work of the dialectic tradition. This work is a decade in the making for the author and is also a personal project to enlighten readers to that same tradition. All that being said, it provides a great example of the dialectical theological form. Whilst some foundations on the work of Barth, Ebeling, and Bultmann may be helpful before reading The God Who Saves, Congdon manages to inject enough personality to lead the reader up peaks often surrounded by theological mist.