Thursday, July 19, 2007

Christological Confessions

I've been studying christology intensively for about 7 or 8 years now. It is a hard subject, since most statements made both by popular writers and even scholars are shallow, content-empty, or closetly heretical. Also, if the party line (whatever the individual heresy hunter defines that line as--it is frustratingly flexible) is not toed (or towed), then you are liable to come under some sort of judgement, whether personal or ecclesial. Thankfully, I've had good friends come along side me during this journey who have been patient and attentive, while still holding to their own views. To all of you, many thanks, especially as I went through the whole spectrum of both 'orthodox' and 'heretical' views (those words are especially tricky to define, and impossible to enforce).

At its base, who Jesus is is simple. Jesus is the human being anointed by God to be the means by which he would set the world to rights. However, from here either speculation or nuance usually takes over. I remember when I first started this study how I balked at speculation (and still do). I read in a premier church history that the Fathers had based their doctrine of the Logos (the 'word' from John 1) on a Greek, mostly Platonic, understanding. In other words, due to what I surmised as the anti-semitism of the post-apostolic church, the Fathers effectively threw out the Old Testament in order to co-opt pagan Plato (this is a gross oversimplification, I realize). I opted to go the way of nuance instead, even though I didn't know it.

Christology becomes nuanced when the themes and images of the Bible start to be allowed to play through the interpretations of Jesus offered by the apostles and other New Testament writers. You have Incarnational imagery, which is a broad category, encompassing Logos ("the word became flesh"), Torah ("I am the way..." see my second post on this blog), and Temple ("dwelt/tabernacled among us" "the fulness of God dwelling in him", etc.). You have Davidic imagery ("Son of David" and "Son of God"--meaning the king of Israel, the one who represents Israel, who early in Exodus is called the "son of God"), this encompasses the Messianic themes ("Son of Man", the Servant from Isaiah). You have, as NT Wright points out in his The Climax of the Covenant, Incorporative themes: (Jesus sums up Israel's destiny by taking the Torah's curse, the new people of God--made up of Jews and Gentiles--act as the resurrection body of Jesus on earth, so to speak of them is to speak of what "Jesus continued to do and teach", also note how Temple themes work so well with ecclesiology). Lastly, you have Agency themes: Jesus having the role of God himself, which is what led to later developments in Trinitarian thought. Jesus did what God said he himself would do. All of these things are interconnected. It is difficult for me to separate them into these "neat" categories. It is much like a tapestry, beautifully woven to lead to worship and imitation.

Which brings me to what I think is the biggest christological insight: what God did in Jesus, he intends to do in the renewed human race. The glorified man Jesus is the prototype, or new Adam, of what the human race is supposed to become. I think you can go so far and say that this was God's plan all along, but that might be more speculative. That is the genius of Incorporative christology: Jesus was filled with the Spirit, so should/will we. Jesus was delivered from the clutch of death, same eventually for us. Jesus glorified in his physicality, so also we. Obviously, though, as the book of Hebrews might point out: he is preeminent because he is the pathbreaker, the author and finisher, and great high priest. The renewed humanity is "of the Messiah" and will always be known that way. In other words, even Incorporative christology allows for demarcation. The many (the people of God) are not collapsed into the one (Jesus), even though the link between them is hard to fully define. Same with classical trinitarian thought according to the council of Chalcedon.

"I believe in Jesus of Nazareth, God's Son..."

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