theology smorg: christology
The end may have come on time, but the middle is late, so I’m playing catchup and posting notes on the rest of last semester’s Theology Café, one per week over the next five days, in the hopes that it will be useful as we engage students around the Does God Exist? debate. Far from comprehensive, these are merely our favourite tidbits, intended to keep us mindful of the things we’ve learned. I suppose that makes this more of a theology pu-pu platter than a smorg, but I’ll leave that to you theologues to decide. (You might want to quickly review the earlier posts.)
That Christ lies at the very centre of Christianity is a thing that goes without saying (or should), but a part of the task of theology is to say things that go without saying, so there you go. What this means is that our faith, our understanding of God, and our understanding of humanity all hang on the one person, Jesus of Nazareth. This leads us to the inevitable and important question…
How can we be certain that Jesus is the Son of God?
If this was the full smorg, I’d list all the worthy but ultimately inadequate answers people often give, but in the pu-pu- platter version I’m cutting to the chase: all our hope rests on the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus combined with His teachings (Grenz 260). That’s right folks, it turns out history degrees at least have spiritual value to them. Here’s how it works.
The historicity of the resurrection is difficult to dispute. Rather than some random guy getting a vision or magic tablets or such that we’re supposed to trust on “faith,” we have multiple eyewitness accounts combined with the radically and consistently changed lives of hundreds and thousands of early Christians whose faith often led them to persecution, rejection, and execution. This can only be explained by admitting that these people were convinced that Jesus was dead, but now He was alive. An examination of how Jesus’ followers talked about Him between His death and resurrection reveals that they saw Him as a righteous martyr: a good man who had ultimately been defeated on his way to the right goal. They had wanted Him to win, but once Rome nailed Him to the cross, they all expected that He had lost. Then came resurrection, and it completely reoriented them.
Jesus’ teachings are the important other component to this because without them, we wouldn’t necessarily know what all these strange occurrences meant. The resurrection and ascension vindicate Him: they are God’s seal of approval on His life and ministry, so to understand what the resurrection really means, we have to go back through His teachings to see what He told us He was doing, and then back into the OT to find out what He was fulfilling.
Thus, as Grenz points out, the gospel is inherently trinitarian, because the Spirit confirms in us what the Son has taught and the Father has done. Without any one of these, we would be forced to doubt the witness of the gospel, but combined they are very persuasive.
The person of Jesus is the beginning of Trinitarian theology. No, the Bible never uses the term Trinity, and so we can’t say that it teaches it explicitly, but it’s also true that it never explicitly denies the Trinity either, which means that either way you must deduce your point of view based on the sum teachings of the scriptures. The concept of Trinity began with the rather surprising awareness that Jesus was in some way divine, that He said and did things that it had been prophesied that only God would do, and that He made claims to oneness and unity with the Father that nobody else could make. How can Jesus be divine and God still be One? The answer, as it was worked out with much more rigor than the last paragraph has room for, is Trinity. So, despite the accusations of its critics, Trinitarian theology is not tritheistic, nor is it polytheistic; rather, Trinitarian theology is the preservation of the oneness of God in light of Jesus’ nature. (The Holy Spirit, is, of course, an important part of this, but this is Christology. Pneumatology is yet to come).
It’s of much greater value to study the life and teachings of Jesus as the true human and revealer of God than it is to spend lots of energy on defining his nature, but you can’t cover Christology without at least mentioning it. The Council of Chalcedon in AD 451 gave us the orthodox formulation when they declared that Jesus is one person with two natures, human and divine, and He possesses these, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.