Unspeakable Cults

Unspeakable Cults

An Essay in Christology

by Paul J. DeHart

Imprint: Baylor University Press

271 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 x 0.00 in

  • Hardcover
  • 9781481315555
  • Published: August 2021



The incarnation of God in Jesus poses numerous challenges for the historical consciousness. How does a particular human at a particular time embody the eternal? And how does that embodiment work itself out in faith across the centuries? A gulf would appear to stand between what Christians say about Christ and the historical event of the man Jesus; indeed, the true reality of the incarnation seems unspeakable.

Unspeakable Cults considers the nature and potential resolution of the conflict between the relativistic assumptions of the modern historical worldview and the classical Christian assertion of the absolute status of Jesus of Nazareth as God's saving incarnation in history. Paul DeHart contends that an understanding of Jesus' history is possible, proposing a model of the relation of divine causation to historical causation that allows the affirmation of Jesus' divinity without a miraculous rupture of the world's immanent causal patterns. The book first identifies classic articulations of the conflict in nineteenth-century German thought (Troeltsch, D. F. Strauss), and then draws on the history of religions to suggest possible relevant motifs in first-century culture that mitigate the axiomatic "tension" between Jesus' humanity and his deified status in early Christianity. With a creative appropriation of Thomas Aquinas, the heart of the argument aims to understand the eternal Word's presence in a human being as a thoroughly cultural event, but one dependent on divine power conceived as quasi-formal rather than merely efficient cause.

Such an approach undercuts opposition between the absoluteness of Jesus and the relativism of historicism. DeHart ultimately confronts the resulting challenges to traditional belief resulting from this proposed model, including the irremediable ambiguity of Jesus' "miraculous" performances and the constitutively unfinished nature of his human identity. Rather than treating these as scandals of modern consciousness, Unspeakable Cults vindicates them as necessary aspects of the "offense" perennially confronting faith in the incarnation.