Thursday, August 14, 2008

Which Jesus?

Recently I completed an essay for a Christology paper. It was all about reconciling the Christ of the gospels with the Christ of faith. Some of the thought processes really engaged me. Here's a slice of some of the thoughts.

The quest for the real Jesus is influenced more by contemporary understandings of sources of truth than it is through any particular allegiance to ‘Jesus figures’. Every culture offers both catalytic and corrective impulses towards Christological insight. In some cases these insights bring important correctives on the back of cultural correctives where the pendulum swings back from a position of extreme rigidity. In other cases they catalyse new ways of thinking that enrich an accumulated Christology without subtracting from the historical Jesus. On occasion, these new insights reach too far and become the basis for future correctives. However, every culture needs a freshened (Note: freshened does not mean ‘new’) Christology to redeem its particular fallenness. Culture is not neutral however – so the danger is inherent where the fallen nature of culture creates God in its own image. In so doing, the historical Jesus is fatally redrawn as something less than the incarnate God. But just as Christ is the redeemer of culture, so our ‘Christologies’ must engage with cultural currents. We cannot avoid it.

What then are the limits of these freshened Christologies?

First, the response of culture in the formation of contemporary Christology should never seek to subtract from the incarnate Jesus of Nazareth - that is the Jesus who walked the earth. It is never acceptable to sideline him as a figure of myth, nor attribute a disconnection from the pre existent Word. In this respect, scholars such as those who sit within the Jesus Seminar are in serious error, with their serious flaws in methodology and a seemingly democratic method of determining truth
that seems to drink too thirstily from the modernist stream which waters its imperatives. In other words, there must be no discontinuity with Jesus of Nazareth.

Second, we should embrace local Christologies that give meaning to Christian experience and dignity to pre Christian culture. This dynamic can be seen vividly in relation to African culture and some other premodern cultures. But there is also a tendency for cultural expression to give way to cultural obsession. Whenever culture captures our Christologies in a way that leads us away from the redemptive power of Christ into the fallen world of cultural idolatry we risk nominalism and syncretism. This applies to post modern cultures as much as it applies to pre modern and modern cultures.

Finally, we must remain aware that Jesus of Nazareth, not only did things, he said things. If we understand him as the pre existent Word then what Jesus said then, must resonate with what we perceive him as saying now to us. Just as we must guard against being in relationship with a solely doctrinal Jesus, we must also be wary of the “Jesus in my head” who speaks in conflict with Jesus of the Gospels. This offers a warning for emergent theologians who seek redemption of their cultures by Christ AND the new conservatives who often seem to seek an homogenising of culture and belief.

Ultimately, the relationship between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith is held in creative tension by the doctrine of the incarnation. The incarnate Word has been active in the redemption of cultures, societies and individuals since the Fall. Every culture, be it covenantal Israel, first century Palestine, enlightenment Germany or post Christian New Zealand is the focus of Christ’s redemption. We should expect our Christology to speak out of and to the need for the redemption of our culture. Indeed we must embody a fully-orbed approach to the distillation of truth that synthesises the Jesus of Nazareth found in the scriptures, with the Christ of faith that we experience, alongside the Christ who emerges from the tradition of the great Councils and creeds of the Church and the reason of those who seek for greater missionary impact in our cultures.


Anonymous said...

Slightly off topic, but hey:
Do you ever find that the more you study, the more you question? As in question the very validity of your faith? I'm really struggling with that. Not because I do question the validity of my faith, but because this annoying voice in the back of my mind keeps trying to undermine anything I'm learning. As a rational / analytical person, how do I entertain that to the point of disproving it, without entertaining it so as to make it continue? If that makes any sense?

BJ said...

For me, so far, the answer is "no", but I know exactly how you feel as I had a similar experience at Law School. I do think its common experience to have some kind of reaction to deeper study particularly in the theological area. But HOW it happens, I suspect has a lot to do with prior experience and temperament. For me, my conversion was so dramatic, I've never been one to doubt, in the wake of that. Also I am a synthesist by nature which means I wander throuh life collecting information and adding it to my evolving paradigm, so I guess new information doesn't impac me in a revolutionary way - it excites me but more because of how it expands the emerging framework of ideas and values that is my brain!

On the other hand, different people with different experiences can experience major dissonance. I've known people to throw faith away rather than wrestle with it(I'm not talking about people who make considered changes in worldview). I've seen people engage intensely in fresh ideas and give the appearance of wild swinging. I've seen others become entrenched with an existing worldview to the point of fanaticism rather than engage the new one. Sometimes these things settle as new realities. Other times they are steps. All this to say: I think its normal, it happens different ways for different people, temperament is a factor and so is prior experience.

On the prior experience one, I will own the fact that I have had a negative experience of a radically liberal church - that drives me towards orthodoxy that is smart enough to resist rampant liberalism. That environment was also intensely inward looking and irrelevant - that drives me towards creating an inclusive and relevant space for people to hear the Gospel. So, I tend towards learning things that engage that journey. I try to be more open than that of course!

stephy said...


BJ said...


BJ said...

Actually, I should say my marker for this paper says I show "promising theological ability"...

Shows how much he knows!