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?