A scene from the Leben der heiligen Altväter (1482)

Making Christology Safe for ChristologyJohn Webster’s “Christology, Theology, Economy”

Sapientia, A Periodical of the Henry Center

Whenever John Webster published one of his essays, it seemed you could hear from certain sectors of the theological academy the sound of theologians dropping everything.

They wanted—we wanted—to make sure our hands were free so we could take up and read. For about two decades these essays arrived as something less authoritative and less definite than marching orders, but then again something more urgent and more penetrating than mere scholarship, or just sage advice from a seasoned senior colleague. A fresh Webster essay came with a certain understated urgency; a book full of them (gathered under the unassuming and unexciting subtitle “working papers in systematic theology”) combined immediately relevant communiqués with time capsules apparently to be reserved for future consideration. Webster frequently untied knots I had been struggling at for years, and then went on to worry away at harder knots I hadn’t even become aware of yet, and might never have recognized without his warning.

The essay “Christology, Theology, Economy: The Place of Christology in Systematic Theology” is a late essay by the late Webster. It first saw print in 2015’s Oxford Handbook of Christology (edited by Francesca Murphy) before appearing in the first volume of God without Measure (2016). It has the poignancy of final advice transmitted shortly before the line went silent. And however we may periodize the phases of his career, this essay shows where Webster’s mind was moving near the end. So many lines of his later thought come together in these 7,500 words that the essay is almost an index of Webster’s most important summary judgments for future doctrinal work.