C is for Christ (art for the series by Jesse Turri)
This is a significant distinction because it is nearly impossible to say anything about any aspect of our concept of Christ without drawing the ire of some group, tradition, or school of thought.
Having said that, it is vital to state that our concept of Christ (christology) is of central importance to any christian expression or practice.
Perhaps that is why the topic is so elaborate and potentially contentious.
Let me introduce the basics – then we will dig deeper.
Christology attempts to navigate two paths which end up overlapping in a dynamic place.
1) Jesus was a human. The way that we attempt to talk about Jesus’ ‘divinity’ – or as I prefer – the way that he participated in the divine … is vital to any understanding of who and what Jesus (the human) was.
When we speak of ‘Christ’ we are speaking of the Logos or that aspect of Jesus which channeled, hosted, or was the Divine presence on Earth.
2) The two primary ways that people have traditionally approach this conundrum are classified as:
- Christology from Below
- Christology from Above
These two approaches are a starting point and should not to be confused with a ‘High Christology’ and a ‘Low Christology’ which are ending points.
‘From Below’ means that you begin with the baby in the manger and figure out in what way this humanity embodied the divine presence of God. ‘From Above’ means that you begin in heaven with the pre-incarnate Christ and figure out how downsize/reduce/kenosis into the human form of a baby.
Technically you can start ‘from below’ and end up with a High Christology. It is just that there are a lot of steps involved – but some have made it work.
The Pocket Dictionary points out that:
“the word translated in English as “Christ” is the equivalent of the Hebrew term Messiah and means “anointed one.” Although not intrinsic to its meaning, the New Testament use of the term Christ tends to point to the deity of Jesus.”
Stanley J. Grenz;David Guretzki;Cherith Fee Nordling. Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Kindle Locations 240-242). Kindle Edition.
In the second resource, Justo González says:
“From very early times, Christians have puzzled over how to understand and to express who this Jesus is who means so much for them. In the New Testament, he is called Son of Man, Messiah, Lord, Word of God, True Shepherd, Lamb of God, for example. It is also clear that our earliest records of Christian worship place Jesus at its center. Early in the second century, pagan writer Pliny attests to this, saying that Christians gathered “to sing hymns to Christ as to God.”
Soon, however, what takes place in worship must also be expressed in theology and doctrine …
Some of the earliest answers were considered too simplistic, and were rejected by the church at large as denying an important aspect of the full truth. Thus, at one end of the spectrum there were those who believed that Jesus was a purely celestial being, an alien messenger from above who was human only in appearance. This view was called *Docetism, after a Greek word meaning “to seem.” It was held by many *gnostics as well as others … The opposite extreme, often called *Ebionism, held that Jesus was a pure man, born like all men, whose purity was such that God gave him a special standing or role. This too was rejected by the church at large. Thus, from an early date it was clear that Christians wished to affirm that Jesus was both divine and human, but little thought seems to have been given to how to understand and to express this.”
Justo L. González. Essential Theological Terms (Kindle Locations 953-988).
In class this weekend I want to present a way of understanding Jesus that fully embodies both the divine presence and the glorious humanity of this historical figure.
We will also cover some really unhelpful ways of talking about Jesus that attempt to simplify the ‘problem’ but end up creating more confusion. Two of these unhelpful approaches are the liberal cliché of Jesus simply being a great moral teacher and the Reformed/Calvinist formulation of ‘birth-death-resurrection’.
At some point, we will have to address the evolution of Jesus’ religion to a religion about Jesus … but that is later in the series.
Come join the conversation this Sunday at 9 am.