I have three posts on this topic now. I can’t help myself. I have to call it an official series.
So today, let’s continue our series on Non-elitist Theology…
Gosh, doesn’t that sound cool?! Okay. I admit it. I’m a nerd. A nerd in Bible school who gets excited at the excuse to call her internet rants a series.
The past two posts have talked a lot about how theology is often approached today –the good, the bad, and the ugly — and how to approach it in a balanced way that doesn’t reserve it only for the genius theologians of Christianity (although praise the Lord that we have such gifted scholars among us). I want to take some time now to start looking at some of the main pillars of theology that are super clear in scripture, stuff that anyone can, and dare I say, should be familiar with. This is the stuff that Christianity is made of — things with volumes of depths to them, but things that are available to anyone who wants to look into them. I will be adding to this series off and on as I have time and feel up to the task. Today I want to take a look at Christology.
Christology – the study of Christ. This is one of my favorite areas of study, because it’s really easy to keep it worshipful and devotional. As we stare at the beauty of who Jesus is, it’s really hard to not fall in love with Him more.
One of the great things about starting out studying this is that there are four very clear points to return to if we ever get confused. Christology can at times get very complex and scholarly if we make it so, at its core, it is very simple and attainable. These four main areas are scripturally clear, historically accepted by the Church as true and necessary, and having them in mind keeps us from getting off-base and losing sight of who Jesus is.
- Principle #1: Jesus is fully God. Although at an initial glance this seems like an obvious point, this has historically been one of the most-attacked dimensions of Jesus’ Person. Arianism, one of the oldest heresies the church has had to face, was one of the first serious attacks against Jesus’ divinity, claiming that Jesus was the first and highest of created beings, but was not Himself God. The need to refute this gave birth to the Nicene Creed, a good foundational statement of faith for Christianity.
Even today, you’ll bump into some scholars who claim Jesus was nothing more than a really great Man who had a good relationship with God. The implications of this point are huge. If it is right for us to worship Jesus, and if it is right for Him to receive worship (Matt 14:33; 28:9; John 9:38), He must be nothing less than God. He Himself made claims of deity, and if we are to accept His testimony at all as true, we must accept that He is fully and truly God (Matt 26:63-64; John 6:61-62; 8:58; 10:30). He did things which only God can do, such as forgiving sins (Luke 5:20-21), giving life to the dead (John 11), and creating the world (John 1:3; Col 1:16) — all these things testify to the fact that He is Himself God.
The writers of scripture were also convinced in the full, untainted deity of Jesus Christ. See John 1:1-3, Hebrews 1:1-12, Philippians 2:5-6, 2 Peter 1:1, and Titus 2:13 — just to name a few.
It is worth pausing here to consider the work of Christ in mediation before we continue any further. Jesus is described as a “Mediator” in 1 Timothy 2:5. A mediator is a go-between for two parties, someone who will serve as a representative of one side or the other in order to negotiate and make peace. In our world, a mediator can only represent one side or another. In a conflict between two countries, both ambassadors need to be present to discuss and settle the terms. A country will wisely not trust negotiations of their own interests to a foreign ambassador. Yet 1 Timothy states that there is one Mediator between God and Man — one Person who is able to justly represent both sides of the conflict between a Holy God and a fallen race of humanity — one Person who is fully God and fully Man, able to make peace between the two. Our salvation hinges on this. Jesus’ mediation becomes an important point of consideration in all four of these principles of Christology.
- Principle #2: Jesus is truly human. This has been contested almost as much as the assertion that He is fully God. The Greek culture had a terribly hard time trying to reconcile how a holy God could interact with a fallen created order. It was difficult enough to try and imagine how He could walk on the planet at all, let alone take on a physical body. According to their thought, spirit was inherently good and physical matter was inherently evil. Therefore, according to them, in order for Jesus not to be tainted with sin, He would have to be something other than a real human being. This idea manifested itself in Church history as Docetism.
Again, we must consider that in order to be a Mediator who would truly represent humanity before God, Jesus would have to be truly human. If Jesus is not fully Man, our salvation becomes impossible. If Christ was not truly human — if a human being did not die upon that cross — then no sacrifice was made, no atonement took place, and humanity would be no more reconciled to God than we had ever been.
Additionally, our personal relationship with Jesus depends on His embracing our nature, coming near to us and becoming “in all things …made like His brethren [us]” (Heb 2:17). If we are to follow Christ’s example and live how He lived (John 13:15), we must be able to approach Him with the confidence that He is completely human, flesh and bone like we ourselves, and a pattern that we actually have a hope of conforming to. Jesus’ humanity is tremendously significant to His humility — one of the key aspects of His personality is that He was willing to actually lower Himself to meet us where we are (Heb 2:17; Phil 2:7-8; John 1:14). In the witness of scripture, we see abundant testimony to His humanity. He was truly, physically born (Luke 2). He experienced human bodily experiences of pain, weariness, hunger, thirst, etc.; He was intimately acquainted with the limitations of living in a non-resurrected human body (John 4:6; Luke 4:2; Heb 4:15). Often, when discussing His humanity, Jesus’ emotions are discussed — joy, sorrow, compassion, anger, etc. — and while these are excellent studies into the character of Christ, it’s important to remember that God the Father experiences all these emotions as well. Emotions are characteristic of divinity as well as humanity… but that’s for another post. 🙂
Scripture again testifies to the fact that Jesus came in a real, physical, tangible body of flesh. See Luke 24:39, John 1:14; Colossians 2:9, 1 John 4:2-3, and many other verses.
- Principle #3: Jesus has two natures, human and divine. This language is not quite as straightforward as the first two points, but it’s still an important guide for us. The meaning of this point is easiest to understand by looking at the flipside — Jesus is not some nondescript mush of humanity and divinity. Again, misconstruing this point of Jesus’ nature would call our very salvation into question. We have already noted that if Jesus is not distinctly, fully God, or if He is not distinctly, fully Man, then He cannot be our Mediator. If He was not distinctly both at once, then He is neither one at all, and our faith would be undone on every imaginable level. He is 100% human. He is also 100% divine. It does not compute with our finite minds how this union could work, but this is when faith takes over and must believe what Jesus has said about Himself. We assume the position of Job, with our mouths in the dust, confessing that the depths of the nature of God are beyond our limited understanding (Job 42:2-3)
The scriptures which point to this truth are largely the ones already mentioned. There are clear scriptures pointing to Jesus’ full humanity as well as His full divinity, and all of them are simultaneously true. Two of the clearest would be John 1:14, where the Word (who is God) takes on human nature, and Philippians 2:4-8, where the One who is by nature God takes the form of a human bondservant.
- Principle #4: Jesus is one unified Person. At first glance, this may seem to contradict point #3. If Jesus is one Person, how does He have two natures? What does this even mean?
Perhaps the easiest way to define this is also to look at the only alternative. Jesus did not have multiple personality disorder. It’s not like His human-self would have to consult with His God-self to decide what to do from moment to moment. Nor was He a human body being remotely controlled by a distant divine being. Again, we run into salvific implications when we consider the utter ineffectiveness of a human body being offered on a Cross while His detached divine soul spectated the ordeal from heaven. If that human body who died on the Cross was not simultaneously God, the mediation never took place. If that human body was not truly part of the Godhead, then God never really came near to us, and we still have no way to see or relate to Him.
Again, the scriptures which indicate this truth mostly rest on the ones speaking of His full divinity and humanity. In every place, Jesus is described as a unified Person. We never hear accounts of the spiritual Jesus being at odds with the physical Jesus. There is not an earthly Christ who is different than the divine Christ. Jesus, the Person, is God. Jesus, the Person, is Man. He has reconciled God and Man together in Himself, and if we attempt to divide up His Person, we deny that reconciliation and unity. His unified Person is part of His indescribable beauty, and if we meditate on it, it will cause us to love Him more as we allow ourselves to be amazed at who He is.
I would definitely recommend that everyone study out Christolgy — not just because it is a good theological discipline, but because it is an amazing springboard into knowing Jesus and becoming fascinated with Him, becoming compelled to worship Him. This post is just the tip of the iceburg of Christology. There are a couple of great resources for studying the Person of Christ:
Excellencies of Christ Syllabus, and the class on the FSM e-school. In my opinion, this is the best place I know of to start, as the main themes of Christology are examined in a very devotional, worshipful way.
Another great FSM class is Steven Venable’s “Christology II,” but you’ve got to be in Kansas City to take it. It’s more in-depth as far as the theological background and implications of Christology, although it is also still very devotional.
The book, Word of Life by Thomas C. Oden. Thus far, this is my favorite in-depth Christology book. It’s a bit of an intense read, but very scripturally founded. In my experience, it’s not needlessly heady or techincal, and maintains a good sense of devotion throughout.
Study Jesus Christ. Fall in love with Him. Get anchored in who He is and what He’s like, and watch what it does to Your prayer life. Christology is not just about smart-sounding theological arguments. It’s about knowing Jesus. It is at the very core of true theology… the study of God. This is not just for the post-grad theologians. This is for all of us.
Let us know, Let us pursue the knowledge of the LORD… (Hosea 6:3)