Jesus or God?

In yesterday’ stop along the Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul? blog tour, Jim West demurred over my articulation of the ministry of Jesus. This seemed like a good, old-fashioned substantive disagreement, or at least, a place where sounding the note with the right emphasis might be important.

On p. 100 of JHILBP, I say, “Jesus came… to form that family of God around himself.” To which Jim replies:

Jesus doesn’t seek to form anything around himself- he seeks to form a people of God around God, the Father. Kirk’s (apparently Barthian) Christocentrism has led him astray. Jesus was theocentric to the core. His will was to do the will of the Father. Nothing less, and nothing more. For Jesus, it wasn’t about Jesus. It was about the Father.

Let’s get the important stuff out of the way first: Jim is the third person ever, and the third person in the past week, to call me a Barthian and/or Neo-Orthodox. You will forever be on the top three list in applying the label to me! Well done!

The difficulty in responding to the paragraph is that I don’t want to say that Jim’s wrong, that it’s not about God but rather about Jesus. However, what I want to say is that the way in which Jesus’ ministry is about God is by being about Jesus.

Jesus is the one in and through whom God’s kingdom is dawning in the world. Jesus is the King of God’s coming Kingdom (at least as that story is told in the Gospels).

Let’s bring this down to the ground level of the Biblical stories.

Jim rightly says that Jesus comes to do the will of the Father (John 6:38; cf. 4:34). But Jesus then turns, in chapter 6 of John, and immediately says, “This is the will of my Father: that everyone who looks to the son and believes in him will have eternal life” (6:40). The way in which people on earth faithfully respond to God is by faithfully responding to Jesus.

This is what I mean by Jesus coming to form a community around himself–to reject Jesus is to reject the Father, to accept Jesus is to accept the Father. This, in contrast to either everyone already being part of the people of God, in contrast to people being delineated the people of God simply by keeping Torah and faithfully worshiping according to the OT prescriptions, and in contrast to Jesus simply saying that the previously given covenant is sufficient to delineate God’s people.

Similarly, in a passage I discuss more than once in my book, Jesus says, in a statement that would seem to be to Jim’s point, “whoever does God’s will is my mother, sister, and brother” (Mark 3:34, CEB).

But how are these people worthy of the approval as those who “do God’s will”?

“Looking around at those seated around him in a circle, he said, ‘Look, here are my mother and my brothers’” (Mark 3:34, CEB).

Sitting at Jesus’ feet, following Jesus, puts one within the will of God. Jesus does form a community around himself. Following him becomes the defining marker of the people of God. Yes, it is the people of God, the Father, who are formed; yes, it is the will of God, the Father, that is done. But it is done by following Jesus.

It wasn’t about Jesus?

No, this we cannot say. Jesus places himself in the middle of everything–”Whoever hears these words of mine and does them…” (Matt 7); “Whoever is ashamed of me in this wicked and perverse generation…” (Mk 8); “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” (Lk 4); “He came to his own… To all who received him, to all who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (Jn 4).

Though each Gospel tells its own story of Jesus, each agrees on this: Jesus is the way to the Father, the one in and through whom the people of God is being reformed. It is, of course, about God, because “whoever has seen me has seen the Father,” says Jesus in John. Or, “Jesus was a man, testified to by God,” says Peter in Acts.

So while I don’t want to disagree with Jim that this mission is about the Father, I can’t see how the Gospel narratives allow for this mission to be about the Father without it being also about the son.

11 thoughts on “Jesus or God?”

  1. I am curious; I find in my prayers (following the example of the Lord’s Prayer) that it is hard for me to include Jesus, so to speak. I get your point above, but in practice, it seems hard to hold in mind. Then I wonder if my focus is weak or I know Jesus less than I should. So, does the above impact your prayers as well?

    1. Hi, Steve,

      I often have the same hang-up. I direct prayer to the Father, but in the name of / through the Son. So that same dynamic is present: it’s about God the Father, through the Son. The Father is the ultimate object of our faith and worship, but the means by which we come is to be gathered around and through Christ.

  2. To complete the Trinity in this discussion, it’s worth noting that in pneumatology it is asserted that the Spirit always points people to the Son, so being Christocentric isn’t limited to being a Barthian, it’s also very much in keeping with the broader understanding of the work of the Spirit. The Spirit remains a bit mysterious precisely because where the Spirit is, there’s always a Christo-oriented experience. Indeed, that’s why the Pentecostal event was itself so Christo-centric, when the Spirit came upon the church, they went into the streets preaching Jesus.

    As you note here, separating these three out from each other is a dangerous prospect. We indeed gather around Jesus, as the body of Christ, we don’t come before God as a headless community, but are ushered in as we participate with the Son, becoming heirs by the Spirit in Christ with the Father.

      1. actually patrick’s post is the modern equivalent of the heresy known in the early church known as ‘patriopassionism’.

        his sentence

        As you note here, separating these three out from each other is a dangerous prospect

        demonstrates a failure to appreciate that fact that trinitarianism is exactly and precisely ABOUT separating out the distinctive members of the trinity so that they retain their individuality. the mystery of the trinity is that they are THREE in one, someone.

        if the patriopassionistic heresy is followed you end up with god the father dying on the cross. but of course that makes no sense.

        1. What?! It’s not the modern equivalent. He was focusing on the “one” part of “three in one.” That doesn’t make him a heretic at all, much less guilty of patripassionism.

          Taking his, quite orthodox, statement, we might say: Jesus gives himself in the crucifixion and the Father did not spare his son, but gave him for us on the cross. We don’t separate, but we distinguish.

  3. Daniel,
    I basically agree with you. But how does this relate to your concern that the synoptic gospels are more about jesus’ humanity. It seems like you are arguing that jesus is here acting as God?

    1. No, not acting as God, but standing as the means of access to God. He’s the intermediary, representing God to the world (cf., at different points in the story, Adam, Israel, David, Paul, church).

  4. It was all about relationship. The perochortic community desiring us to come and be part of them. Desire meeting its human climax in Jesus. God is a three member family that invites us to join with them.

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