Who do you say that I am?”: Christology and Identity in the United Church of Christ, edited by Scott R. Paeth. United Church Press, Cleveland. 2006. Paper. 221 pages. (This book review is from Joy in the Word, Spring 2008) A few weeks after my ordination back in 1975, I heard Robert Moss, then president of the United Church of Christ, preach a sermon in which he told a humorous anecdote about Kenneth Teegarden, the president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), who upon his retirement opened his morning Indianapolis Star to read this headline: “Disciples of Christ seek leader!” And we thought we had an identity crisis in the United Church of Christ! But even though we confess that “Jesus Christ is the sole head of the church” (Preamble to the UCC Constitution) it does not mean we have settled the questions of who Jesus Christ is, and what it means to be the church of which he is the head.
These are the big questions addressed in Who do you say that I am?” Christology and Identity in the United Church of Christ. This is an ambitious undertaking, given the dizzying diversity of views in our church, and the multiplicity of heritages in our history. Lee Barrett, sums up the challenge succinctly when he writes, “At times this variety may seem more like a curse than a blessing, leading to the suspicion that “Jesus Christ” has become nothing more than a blank screen upon which the proudly autonomous individual can project anything that tickles one’s fancy. Frequently, it seems that the Christ who was supposed to be center of the United Church has become the “wax nose” feared by Luther that could be twisted any way one wants, leaving the denomination centerless.” (p.42-43)Or as editor Scott Paeth puts it in his introduction: “Talking about Christology in the United Church of Christ is akin to wrestling an octopus.” (p. 9) He describes the purpose of the book as making a contribution to “the task of interpreting Jesus Christ in the United Church of Christ.” (p. 16)