Jesus, God, and Theologial Meandering

I love Jesus.

I even love singing Holy, Holy, Holy on Trinity Sunday.

And sometimes you’ll even catch me reflecting seriously on Colossians, and the Son’s involvement in creation–the preexistent One, through whom all things were made. And I’ll think it’s really, really cool.

But the more I listen to theologians work out issues of Christology, the more convinced I am that the profit to be had in studying Jesus is to be found in figuring out what it means that he was human, not trying to explain how it is that he is God.

I’ve had a couple of encounters with theological Christology this week. One was in listening to the most recent Homebrewed Christianity Podcast. This was a phenomenal overview of recent guests, many of whom are working on Christology as progressive theologians. The worst thing about that podcast was that it added about 8 books to my reading list! I recommend listening to it for an orientation in contemporary Christological study, if nothing else.

But like so many studies of Christology, I was struck, perhaps a bit surprised, by the way that Jesus as God somehow sits front and center in all of their work–even as progressive theologians. Perhaps the reason it made such an impression was in part due to the vast number of things we can then say about Jesus, God, and Christianity. In a sense, the game is much more open when Jesus is God than when Jesus was a first century Jewish Galilean.

And in reading Barth on the eternal Son (§1.11), I again found myself slogging through material where the most compelling thing he seemed able to say was, “Well, the church said this, so even though it’s not really right, we all have to say it.”

The reason why I found the section so disheartening was that the obsession about how to articulate the son’s deity not only relegated Jesus’ humanness to the background, it also caused Barth to say some things about Jesus as redeemer that were wrong, and to misread any number of biblical passages.

When we’re convinced that the most basic thing there is to say about Jesus is that Jesus Christ is God, we render ourselves incapable of reading much of the New Testament (not to mention OT!), where this divine identity is neither argued for, nor indicated, nor assumed.

The history of Christological debate has framed the question like this: why does Jesus have to be God in order to redeem us? Or, what is the significance of Jesus’ deity for our salvation? The alternatives have been positions where Jesus’ heavenly status is not truly divine or the like.

Missing in all this is the absolutely crucial biblical notion that in order for God’s intentions for humanity, the earth, and the cosmos to be realized, all had to be done by a human entrusted by God to rule the world on God’s behalf.

The redeemer has to be Adam.

The redeemer has to be Israel.

The redeemer has to be David.

The redeemer has to be the son of man, the Human One.

Ignoring this prior necessity, we find ourselves saying foolish things such as, “To be lord, one must be none other than The Lord–the God worshiped by God’s people.” No, to be lord is to be entrusted by God to rule the world on behalf of The Lord: The Lord YHWH speaks to my lord the king saying, You are my son.”

Or, we find ourselves thinking someone is being profound, rather than abusing the text, when they say, “‘Today I have begotten you’ means an eternal generation where every day is today.” No, Psalm 2 means that the king becomes, at coronation, what he was not before–just like the human Jesus becomes at the resurrection ‘son of God’ in a sense that he was not before; i.e., as king of Israel.

In the podcast I listened to last night, one of the theologians they described was working on rearticulating what we need to say about Jesus if we want to say in the 21st century that Jesus is God. That route, it seems to me, is a better way to participate in the Nicene-Chalcedonian tradition than to say as Barth does, “Well, they used this word, nobody liked it then, we don’t know what it means now, but surely they were right in saying this!”

Barth is at his best when he is allowing the biblical narrative to infuse his theology with new life. That wasn’t what I read in his outworking of Jesus Christ (not only Christ, but Jesus!) as eternal son.

But then again, that’s my axe. How did you guys find this section?

7 thoughts on “Jesus, God, and Theologial Meandering”

  1. Your post made me think of Austin Farrar’s work on the NT and Christology. It is a historical-critical embrassing form of Barthian thought that is a little more creative with its use of the Tradition. I was recommended it and just started reading it this week. It is pretty sweet. Any way, I do think the Christological Conundrum is the most perplexing and difficult theological question today. I a way most theologians have given up on it and just reorganize the parts around some other issue they think is more pressing (ex.pluralism, Historical Jesus, science & divine action). The problem of course is you can more or less fit the tradition creatively in a bunch of spaces but in doing so it is the theologian’s question (and desired answer) that shapes what we say about Jesus and Not what God said in Christ. That is Barth’s emphasis, one I like though I try to stay away from too much Barth…now I will stop to avoid rambling.

    Ohh Thanks for listening to the podcast. You need to be on sometime!

    I will be in San Fran tuesday-thursday after Easter if you are around. I believe you could join the corn hole battle with Chad and Adam if you are free!!!

  2. I’ve disrupted several people sitting here in this rather dignified Starbucks shouting “YESYESYESYESYES!” to this post.

    In my humble estimation, the Western church has done itself a great disservice in favoring Jesus’ divinity over his humanity. Let’s be clear: no one wants to deny Jesus’ divinity, but I do desire to reclaim his humanity.

    As I’ve mused on this issue off and on, I’ve often thought in terms of practical ministry (thus, introducing the recent church-academy debate here). If we first and foremost call Jesus God, it’s all too easy to cast aside his works as being completely unique and unrepeatable in our contemporary contexts. But if we can reclaim his role as the new Adam, the true human, we can build the faith to perhaps do the “greater things” he spoke of (Jn 1:50; 5:20; 14:12) and which we saw in Acts, at least.

    I’m eager for the West to rediscover this means of introducing people to the love of God and the present reality of the Kingdom Jesus inaugurated. It’s certainly happening in many sectors of the Southern church. Thankfully, some quarters of the Western church are forging these waters as well.

  3. Great thoughts. To neglect the vital importance of Jesus’ humanity is certainly to overlook the extent to which Jesus is the recapitulation of Adam (as in Romans 5:12-21). That said, we might not want to jump too quickly to conclusions on Barth’s Christology here… perhaps we ought to wait until CD II (where Christ is more adequately understood as the elect/rejected man), CD III (where Jesus is understood as “man for God,” “man for other men,” and”whole man”) and CD IV (where Christ represents not just the condescension of God but also the very exaltation of humanity). :)

  4. Is the statement “Jesus is God,” if it must be said, more about describing or rendering an intuition, poetically so; namely the intuition of being an obedient human made in the image of a benevolent God? In similar fashion, take the statement “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” We don’t interpret that to mean in the beginning G-o-d, a grammatical unit, was floating around the formless void, without a sentence structure as of yet. No, it is attempting to describing the indescribable — God at the dawn of creation — and thus needs to have some abstraction attached to it in order to evoke a sense of awe and wonderment.

  5. I agree with you, Daniel; we’ve lost something by focussing on the idea of Jesus’s divinity.

    But I suppose that the early Church’s main issue in the christological debates was to demonstrate that Christ was fully God as well as fully human. And I dare say that we still live in an age where it’s easy enough – outside the church, perhaps – to accept Jesus as a man, but not as deity. We can’t lose this focus.

    Yet inside church circles, we definitely need to remember that all the incarnate Son of God did was done as a man.

    My own research on the doctrine of providence has left me convinced that the most important question (or one of the most important questions!) that particular doctrine can ask is this: What does it mean to say that providence is exercised by a human being, even a man?

  6. Daniel,

    Thanks for your post which give me a different perspective on this section of the Dogmatics.

    And in reading Barth on the eternal Son (§1.11), I again found myself slogging through material where the most compelling thing he seemed able to say was, “Well, the church said this, so even though it’s not really right, we all have to say it.”

    I seem to have missed Barth’s nuance if what you have written is true. I agree with Jordan that maybe Barth will deal with the humanity of Jesus in more detail later. After all, what he was trying to establish here is the revelation of God.

    I can see your point about the humanness of Jesus and the importance that a human is to be the new Adam. I believe that there must be a balance in acknowledging the humanity and the deity of Jesus.

    In Eastern religious traditions where a human being may be an avatar of a god, or a human being can become a god given the right conditions, it must be important to point out early that Jesus is already God, not God-in-becoming.


    1. Great point, Alex. Thanks for bringing in this perspective. I push the other way because the air people breath says so much about Jesus as God that folks can’t hear anything else.

      But it’s also true that we have to give folks a bit of both/and: sometimes a point of contact where we can affirm what people think about humans as gods, or Jesus as God, can be an important starting point that then develops into a surprising, fuller articulation of that idea from a Christian perspective.

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