|shoeleg:: Lecture 301.05-6||[Changes] [Calendar] [Search] [Index]|
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.
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