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While it probably goes without saying, Jesus Christ is
central part of Christian theology. Other faith traditions have aspects that overlap with Christianity and that are shared among many traditions. The person and work of Jesus Christ, however, are the unique focal points of Christian living. We must make claims about who Christ was and what he was doing if we are to be Christians. At the same time, we will never reach the end of our attempts to understand Christ, so what we say now (and in the future) will always be somewhat limited and provisional.
To help us understand how we talk about Christ
it is good to remember that there are many ways we can talk about Christ. Here are just
While we will keep all these other aspects of Christ in mind, it is important to remember that we are trying in this class to focus on a very specific way of talking about Christ -
the Christ of Doctrine.
This is the Christ we attempt to name and understand from within the traditions of the Church itself, and in relation to the formal categories of systematic theology we have been studying. That doesn't mean we won't ever consider the Jesus of Scripture of of History - those and many other ways of talking about Christ will overlap and seep into our conversations. But let's remember that first and foremost - at least in regard to this class - we are keeping our eye on what Jesus is doing
1. The Incarnation
Classical Christian theology has often wanted to maintain a stark difference between the Creator and the creation. This distinction is of course not unique to Christianity, but it sets the stage for Christianity's most unique claim: that the Creator chose to transcend the stark difference and enter creation as a man. This is what we call the
and it has a distictly theological flavor to it. Contrast it with history, for example. Historically we can only say "a man was born" - but the claim of birth alone does not show us the Messiah.
So, in terms of theology, the incarnation is the doctrine that says that the
of the Trinity (the Son, the Word) is completely connected and embodied in the
Jesus of Nazareth. That is:
[S] ------------------------> JESUS
Several things follow from this, theologically. Some of the things we say about Jesus
We can also say (following Scripture) that
If this was
we claimed about Jesus, however, then there would be nothing to distinguish him from any of the other "great moral teachers" of the ages, like Buddha, or Muhammad, or Gandhi. But Christians go on to claim that
2. Doctrinal pitfalls to avoid
There are also, according to the classical or "orthodox" tradition of Christianity, some things that we
say about Jesus. Here are some examples:
The reason why orthodxy has resisted such claims is that is draws into question our own salvation. If Jesus did not really take on flesh, then how can our flesh be redeemed? Moreover, such docetic claims make it easy to deny or denigrate the value of the body and to overly spiritualize the Christian life, such that oppressive or inequitable power reations here and now are not questioned or challenged.
While this is an admirable goal, it raises serious issues for orthodoxy. If our only task is to live like Jesus, is this not a form of works? Does this give enough consideration to the distorting and enslaving power of sin, preventing us from properly living like Christ? Where is grace in such a model, and what is the worth to us of Christ's dying on the cross if all we have to do is
In place of these erroneous claims, classically orthodox Christianity has maintained "the true God can accomplish the divine will in weakness as well as in might " (Guthrie 247). Fully God and fully human, Christ is the "Emmanu-el", the "God-with-us". God elects in Christ to stand with the unrighteous unto redemption. It is in Christ that we can speak
about what it means to be human and what it means to be God.
When we turn our discussions to questions of what Christ accomplishes with regard to our sin and separation from God, we have begun talking about doctrines of
Atonement can be seen as literally an
bringing two estranged parties back into unity.
Classically, Christian theology has followed the Apostle Paul on this front, claiming that, just as Adam bound us all in his sin, so Christ brings a reversal of sin for all in his works of atonement. The trick, of course, is in describing precisely
this is accomplished, both on Christ's end and on our ends. There are, as always, several options before us within the pale of "orthodox" Christianity. An introductory list of atonement models (albeit greatly simplified) might include:
These two models are familiar to us because they use images that are drawn from our daily lives. We understand debt and we can grasp punishment easily as concepts.
Each of these three models above reflects what is termed a
atonement. By this we mean that Christ substitutes for us in the place of debt, punishment, or sacrifice. Often in these models, then, we can say that
nothing in us
changes by Christ's action. We are still sinners, but that sin is "covered" by Christ and we piggyback on
righteousness, purity, or suffering. The righteousness we gain in such models is often termed
The fourth model is also based in familiar images, but it is slightly different in that it focuses on mechanisms other than imputed righteousness and substitionary atonement:
In this model it is still Christ who is doing the work, but his work changes something fundamental in us - namely our state of enslavement to sin. It must be remembered, however, that this liberation does not (if we take Paul's words seriously) free us to autonomy or independence. Rather we are freed from sin to become "slaves to righteousness" by following the Will of God.
Atonement, it must be remembered, is not a result of what
do. It is always happening "while we were yet sinners" [Romans 5:8]. It is God who acts to restore the broken relationship, and God who makes peace with us.
We must keep in mind that, both in our theology and in the "real world" - sin
it has consequences. The testimony of the Christian faith, however, is that God is greater than those consequences. While we live in the assurance of justification, we are still aware that sin, here and now, has detrimental effects. God overcomes these detriments, but the sting and the brokenness have to be accounted for in our thinking.
8.2 Cross and Resurrection / The Holy Spirit
Theologically speaking, the most unique thing about Jesus is not his birth, his life, or his death. We can find parallels - both mythic and actual - to each of these occurances. What is unique about Jesus for Christians is his
First and foremest, we must remember that the resurrection is not something that we see. There is no account of the event of the resurrection in the Gospels - no "view from the cave" as Christ is transfigured into the resurrection body. Instead, what we have in the Gospels is an accounting of the
There are some claims that have been made about the resurrection which Christian theology refuses to agree to. Two examplse are:
In contrast to the swoon theory, "orthodox" Christianity has maintained that Jesus actually and absolutely died on the cross. To use the words of one of my theology professors from seminary, "Jesus was dead, dead, dead."
In contrast to the notion that Jesus stayed dead, "orthodox" Christianity has maintained that Jesus died - but did not stay dead. The claim that Jesus lives again in the resurrection is, according to Paul, the cornerstone of our faith - the one thing we absolutely must believe.
To think about the cross
we must look beyond it, and realize that the death of Christ is (to the Christian tradition) absolutely and intricately connected with his resurrection.
The first thing to establish is the matter if the resurrection is what it isn't: the resurrection is not a resuscitation. When a doctor revives a patient who is clinically dead on an operating table, that is not a resurrection. Similarly, the moments where Jesus or one of the prophets brings a person back to life are technically not resurrections, either. In each case, these are resuscitations. Why do we say this?
First of all, because (for both Jesus and certain of the Jews living at Jesus' time) the matter of the resurrection - and how it was to occur - was pretty plainly understood. At no point do Jesus or the Pharisees (the main group of Jews who believed in the resurrection) think that the resurrection is something that will occur to an individual. The resurrection will be a one-time, general event, occuring at the same moment to all who are to be resurrected.
Second, the resurrection will involve a
of the bodies that are raised. They will have a connection to the body that died, but there will be distinct differences. Chief among these will be that
the bodies raised in the resurrection will not die.
Since everyone who has come back to life so far (save one, Jesus, of whom we'll speak in a moment) - whether in the Bible or on an operating table - has died again, this fact alone would indicate that resurrection (as Jesus understood it) has not yet happened.
Now, there is the matter that Jesus himself was resurrected, which seems to run counter to the claim made above. In fact, the matter of Jesus resurrection becomes a minor theological crisis for the early Christian tradition. So much so that Paul himself feels compelled to make an accounting of it. See, for example, 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul uses the individual resurrection of Jesus as a guarantee of the general resurrection - the "first fruits from among the dead".
The sovereign power of God is the power that even ends death. As Guthrie puts it (p. 278), in resurrection, Christ is Lord. Whose kingdom is it but Christ's, who defeats even the bondage death holds over us?
The Kingdom as "Already / Not Yet"
Christ's resurrection, theologically speaking, inaugerates a change in the cosmos. We are living, therefore, in an "in-between time" - between the bondage of sin (which we still see around us as a reality) and the hope of the Kingdom of God (which we know through faith in the assurance of Christ's death and resurrection). As-such, we can see moments in the Gospels when the Kingdom "breaks in" and transforms situations before our very eyes. To take but two examples:
In both these passages (and others like them throughout the Gospels), the Greek word which is translated here as "stand up"
is the same word used for "resurrection".
So, while theologically we hold fast to the idea that there is one
resurrection, of which Jesus is the first fruits, we can also find evidence in the text that these first fruits are at work in the world, transforming and resurrecting our
relationships and drawing the lost back into community.
In Christ's resurrection, the battle is won, but the war is not over.
is where Christian choice and responsibility finds its proper expression.
The Holy Spirit
Like the father and the Son within the Triune name of God, the Holy Spirit is a
- unique and distinct from the other two, while still remaining in unity. Very often, however, this is forgotten or overlooked. The Holy Spirit is not merely an abstract power in Christ or sent by the Father. It is with Christ, but distinct from Christ.
We must recognize that the Holy Spirit, in the theological sense, is one of many spirits which vie for our concern and attention. Part of our task as those growing in theological understanding is to begin to discern the differences between the Spirit of the Lord and the spirits of this world. What are some of the hallmarks of the Holy Spirit?
What does this Kingdom look like? Is it a gated community? Like a suburban neighborhood, or a prison? No. The mark of the Kingdom in the Spirit is hospitality - the hospitality that prompted the Samaritan to stop and help the bleeding man, the hospitality that prompted medieval Christians to take care of those (believers and non-believers alike) who were sick, the hospitality of Jesus in the general resurrection of the dead to new life.
TH 301 Week 9
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