Some of our questions are hard! Questions about life. Questions about faith. Questions about fear, doubt, worry, guilt, sin, chaos, eternity, the trinity, Jesus… It is the hard questions that we need to answer if we are going to really pursue God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. One of the hard questions that I think we need to consider has to do with Jesus. And it is a hard question partially because it will challenge some traditional views about his nature.
How we answer this question about Jesus will shape our Christology.
Merriam-Webster defines Christology as the “theological interpretation of the person and work of Christ.” They define systematic theology as “a branch of theology concerned with summarizing the doctrinal traditions of a religion (such as Christianity) especially with a view to relating the traditions convincingly to the religion’s present day setting.”
Wikipedia moves the definition into layman’s terms saying, “Systematic theology is a discipline of Christian theology that formulates an orderly, rational, and coherent account of the doctrines of the Christian faith.”
You might wonder why I would spend time defining systematic theology when I’m writing an article on Christology. What we may not understand is that our system of theology is what we use to try to develop our understanding of Jesus. In other words, as we try to make sense of Jesus, too often we try to fit him into a box that fits our present day circumstance and fits neatly within our own systematic theology (even if we didn’t know we had one).
I suggest that having a systematic way of understanding, defining, and interpreting theology as a whole is a good idea. But I also suggest that the same system can sometimes get in our way. What if our systematic theology discourages us from seeking to ask questions when we get answers that just don’t seem to be complete? What if our systematic theologies help us answer “what” questions but they don’t help us answer “why” questions?
What if we haven’t asked hard questions as often as we should, because our systems don’t really like hard questions? (see the opening paragraph)
What if, rather than relying upon some structured process, our primary method of defining our theology came from a deeper study of Scripture? Not that we want to throw theologians out with the bathwater, but what if we consulted Polycarp, Irenaeus, Augustine, Francis of Assisi, Thomas Aquinas, Wesley, Calvin, Arminius, Bonhoeffer, and Begg only after we had done our own study of God’s Word?
I believe that traditional Christology forces us to try to understand Jesus logically. I also believe this is the reason that we sometimes have unanswered theological questions (a lot of unanswered theological questions). Logic and faith are not always easily balanced, but that is a rabbit trail for a different day.
Today let’s consider our understanding of who Jesus was and let’s recognize our need for that understanding to be logical; to make sense; to be balanced. How do you understand one that “did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being”? How do we understand someone that offers forgiveness to the ones that have beaten him and hung him on a cross to die? How do we make sense of one that is born without a human seed and is brought back to life after death?
How do we make sense of that which doesn’t make sense? The short answer, we have decided that Jesus must have been something special. He must have been different [from us]. He must’ve had the ability to identify fully with God and fully with humanity at the same time. We say that he had a dual nature and say that he was fully human and fully divine at the same time.
If I am honest, I struggle with the phrase “fully human/fully divine.” Hear me out for a minute…
Doesn’t Scripture teach that a house divided cannot stand? That a man cannot have two masters? That unity between Jesus and the Father was complete? That human nature and God’s nature are at odds with one another? How could Jesus have two natures?
Matthew records for us that “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1). James 1:13 says “God is never tempted to do wrong.” If God cannot be tempted, and Jesus was God, why bother with a trip into the wilderness and a 40 day fast? Can I suggest that when Paul wrote that Jesus “gave up his divine privileges,” when he was “born as a human being” that means he sat his divinity aside? I know, I’m treading on thin ice for sure now. But keep reading and hear me out.
I believe that Jesus was, in fact, tempted. That he had the capacity to sin. Otherwise why did satan bother tempting Him in the wilderness (Matthew 4)? If it was not possible for Jesus to sin, then His life without sin really isn’t much of a victory (Hebrews 4:15).
So here’s the “dual nature”/Christological problem: If Jesus was tempted while He was on earth (and Scripture says He was), and God cannot be tempted (and Scripture says He can’t), then Jesus could not have been God while He was here…
Perhaps that gives us new insight into what Paul wrote in Philippians 2:6-7-8. Rather than trying to understand how Jesus could have had the nature of man and the nature of God at the same time, let me suggest that while Jesus was on the earth, he was fully human. Period.
Now we are immediately confronted with the idea that our theology requires us to declare that Jesus is God. What if Jesus (as our example) was fully human, but was also filled with the Spirit? What if, instead of being God while he was on the earth, he really did take the full nature of man? What if he really was just as frail and “human” as we are? What if all of the miracles He performed were through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? What if all the miracles he performed were done by way of the Holy Spirit, not just because of His own abilities?
What if, since Jesus said that the disciples (and, by implication, all who come after them) would do greater things than He did, we have the exact same availability to live in the fullness of the Spirit and allow God’s full power to flow through each of us?
What if this is what Peter meant when he wrote, “And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires” (2 Peter 1:4)
I believe that the church would be much better prepared to serve as the hands and feet of Jesus if we have a fuller understanding of who he was. If we recognized how complete an example he was for us. Scripture teaches that Jesus “gave up his divine privileges” when He came to earth. I believe that He did so in order to show us that we can all live as he lived…if we are willing to live “in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16-26). As we allow the Holy Spirit to work through us, as Jesus did, we will see the greater things that Jesus promised.
Let’s quit trying to put Jesus in a box and realize the power of the statement that we can do all through Christ! Rather than trying to make Jesus logical, let’s allow our Christology to reveal the nature of the King of kings and Lord of lords so that we can serve as his empowered hands and feet.