Posts tagged ‘Christology’

Pope Francis and What’s Most Important

Credit: AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards

Credit: AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards

The New York Times may have called him “the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Catholics,” but it seemed nearly impossible for journalists and pundits to filter Pope Francis’ visit to the United States, which wrapped up last night in Philadelphia, through anything but a political lens. After an obligatory nod to his spiritual status, the Times went on to report about the Pope’s address to a joint session of Congress:

While he checked boxes in calling for religious liberty and defending the family, the heart of his address, and the most time, was dedicated to aspects of Catholic teaching embraced by progressives, especially the overriding need to help the poor and destitute. He was at his most passionate in embracing immigration, alluding to his own family’s history of moving from Italy to Argentina, where he was born …

He also warned of the excesses of globalization, though in far more measured tones than he has in the past, when he used fiery language and the memorable phrase “dung of the devil” to describe unbridled capitalism.[1]

“Religious liberty.” “The excesses of globalization.” “Unbridled capitalism.” Though these things certainly have theological implications, as the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed would remind us, in our society, they are cast first and foremost as political concerns. Indeed, the Times ultimately concluded:

In the end, both sides could walk away citing parts of his message. But the liberal agenda items in his speech were explicit and clear while the conservative ones were more veiled.

Apparently, the real value of Francis’ speech, according to the Times, lies in how politicians will be able to leverage it and not in the theology that was contained in it.

Filtering theology through political policy is fraught with danger. In such a system, orthodox doctrine all too often gets sacrificed to Machiavellian expediency and a Savior who died gets turned into a political operative who just happens to hate all the same people we do.

On the one hand, Francis seemed to defy such bare politicization of the papacy, as Peter Johnson points out in his article for The Federalist, “10 Stories The Media Won’t Tell You About The Pope’s USA Visit.” Mr. Johnson explains how the Pope has taken on both liberal and conservative concerns – everything from climate change and immigration to government overreach and the dangers inherent in the Affordable Care Act. Such political schizophrenia is inherent in Christian ethics, which has the pesky habit of refusing to conform to both the liberal and conservative party platforms. Christianity can, at times, annoy both the left and the right.

On the other hand, it’s not too difficult to understand why the Pope’s address to Congress has been interpreted politically rather than theologically. After all, in a speech that lasted for nearly an hour before a joint session of Congress, the Pope, while covering a whole range of geopolitical and ethical issues, failed to mention Jesus – even once! This seems odd and, honestly, downright disturbing for the leader of a body of whom the apostle Paul noted is at its best when it resolves “to know nothing … except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).

In one sense, the domination of the geopolitical and the ethical at the expense of the Christological in the Pope’s words is understandable both in terms of the ecclesiology and the soteriology of the Roman Catholic Church.

Ecclesiologically, popes have historically laid claim not only to spiritual authority, but to temporal power as well. Such power was crystalized in 800 on Christmas Day when Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne as the emperor of Rome. A spiritual authority, on that day, crowned a political one. These days, though the Pope’s temporal power formally extends only as far as Vatican City – and even that authority is largely titular – the papacy’s interest in and influence over temporal affairs lingers. So it comes as no surprise that Francis would seek to shape geopolitical events.  In some ways, I welcome such an effort.  Our geopolitics needs all the sanctified wisdom it can get. But when geopolitical concerns drown out any mention of Christ in a major address from a man who claims to be the head of Christ’s Church, I begin to get a little nervous.

Soteriologically, Roman Catholicism’s view of righteousness and its relationship to salvation lends itself to Francis’ deep concern over ethical issues. As a Lutheran Christian, I will often speak of two kinds of righteousness. The first kind of righteousness is that which is imputed to me from God in Christ by faith. In the words of the apostle Paul:

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. (Romans 3:21-22)

Christ’s perfect righteousness is a righteousness that leads to my salvation quite apart from anything I have done or ever will do. This righteousness is not an ethical task, but a sheer gift, not based on my actions, but based on Christ’s action for me on the cross. The second kind of righteousness involves the good deeds that I do for my neighbor. I am called to love, serve, and help my neighbor, as Jesus explains forcefully in His Parable of the Good Samaritan. When I do these things, I am acting in the way of righteousness. But such a righteousness does not save me. It simply helps others.

In the Roman Catholic system of theology, these two kinds of righteousness are collapsed into one. The righteous acts we do for our neighbor are righteous acts that are also taken into account when we receive salvation from God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes this clear enough:

Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life.[2]

The Catechism baldly asserts that my righteousness cooperates with Christ’s righteousness so that I may attain eternal life. All the good things of which the Pope spoke in his speech, then, pertain to salvation because our good works on these good things aid in our salvation. It’s no wonder, then, that Francis would be especially concerned with our good works, even as the good work of Christ went missing in his words to Congress.

For all the excitement Francis’ visit and words generated, I fear that we managed to overlook what is the most important business of the Church:  to proclaim Christ’s forgiveness for sinners. This, to borrow a phrase from Paul, is “of first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:3). All of the things the Pope addressed in his speech to Congress are important and should be discussed, but they are not most important.

Mollie Hemmingway puts the situation well when she writes:

It’s wonderful that some people say that Francis makes them feel the church is more welcoming to them. But if it’s just making people feel more comfortable in their politics, instead of making them feel the comfort of absolution, communion and strengthening of faith, that’s not much to get excited about.[3]

This is most certainly true. We can get excited over and become passionate about geopolitical issues. We can strongly advocate for ethical issues. I do all the time on this very blog. But our deepest commitment must be to Jesus. Our first proclamation must be of Him. For long after the concerns of this age fade way – indeed, long after this visit from this Pope is forgotten – Jesus will remain. The best thing this Pope can do, then, is invite us to turn our attention – and our hearts – to Him.


[1] Peter Baker & Jim Yardley, “Pope Francis, in Congress, Pleads for Unity on World’s Woes,” The New York Times (9.24.2015).

[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church (Collegeville, MN: 1994), § 2010.

[3] Mollie Hemmingway, “The Pope Francis Effect: Enthusiasm, But To What End?The Federalist (9.25.2015).

September 28, 2015 at 5:15 am 6 comments

On Edge…About Everything

FearLast Wednesday morning was an unexpectedly frenzied one. Within the scope of a few hours, all United Airlines planes were grounded, the website for the Wall Street Journal went dark, and trading at the New York Stock Exchange grinded to a screeching halt. The problem in each instance? Computer glitches.

It didn’t take long for people to begin to fear that we under some sort of cyber attack. Lester Holt, anchor of NBC Nightly News, opened the newscast that night with an honest acknowledgement of the anxiety so many were feeling:

A lot of us got that uneasy feeling today when within hours of each other separate computer outages grounded all United Airlines flights and halted trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

Uneasy feeling, indeed. What happened was so startling, it got the attention of Homeland Security.

In the end, it was discovered that United’s problems stemmed from “a failed computer network router that disrupted its reservation system.” Trading on the New York Stock Exchange went down because of a “botched software upgrade” the night before. As for the Wall Street Journal, though no definitive explanation has been offered for its problems, some are speculating that the trouble at the Stock Exchange drove people to the Wall Street Journal for updates, which, in turn, crashed the website. Cyber terrorism had nothing to do with anything. We had no need to fear. But we did.

Fear is plentiful these days. It doesn’t take much to make us apprehensive. Sadly, fear is just as prevalent – if not more so – in the Church as it is in wider society. I have talked to Christians who are wringing their hands over what could very well be an erosion of our religious liberty. I have talked to Christians who are terrified by what is happening oversees – and, for that matter, close to home – with ISIS. I have talked to Christians who are anxious about our nation’s economic path. I have talked to Christians who are frightened by just about everything.

For Christians who are full of fear, this description of who we are as the Church from Pope Benedict XVI strikes me as timely:

Is the Church not simply the continuation of God’s deliberate plunge into human wretchedness? Is she not simply the continuation of Jesus’ habit of sitting at table with sinners, of His mingling with the misery of sin to the point where He actually seems to sink under its weight? Is there not revealed in the unholy holiness of the Church, as opposed to man’s expectations of purity, God’s true holiness, which is love – love which does not keep its distance in a sort of aristocratic, untouchable purity but mixes with the filth of the world, in order thus to overcome it?[1]

This is an impressively clear, cogent, and, I should affirm, broadly, even if not comprehensively, correct ecclesiological statement from the former leader of the Roman Catholic Church. The Church, Benedict reminds us, is incarnational in her character and missional in her charter. She goes to places no one else would dare to darken – filthy places, impoverished places, wicked places, sinful places. As the Church ministers in sinful places like these, she, like Jesus, in the words of the former pope, can “actually seem to sink under [sin’s] weight.” But, of course, when Jesus sank, He didn’t sink for long. Three days is all sin got of Him. So it is with Christ’s Church. “The gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18), Jesus promises. Sin may attack the Church, but it will not overcome her.

When we, as the Church, become afraid of the sinfulness in our world, we stop acting as the Church should for our world. We become so scared of sinners because of what they might to do to us that we forget to love sinners as Christ has loved us. The fearfulness of the faithful, it turns out, can be just as dangerous to the Church as the sinfulness of the world, for it stymies the Church in her mission.

In 1931, Swedish theologian Gustaf Aulén published Christus Victor where he wrote of how Christ “fights against and triumphs over the evil powers of the world, the ‘tyrants’ under which mankind is in bondage and suffering.”[2] To this day, his book is a standard-bearer for discussions about Christ’s work and accomplishments on the cross. But we must always remember that Christ’s victory is also our victory. Christus Victor is the promise of Ecclesia Victor.

Do not, then, be afraid. Instead, be the Church. The world needs us.


[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Introduction to Christianity, Second Edition (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 342.

[2] Gustav Aulén, Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of Atonement, A.G. Hebert, trans. (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2003), 4.

July 13, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Truly God, Truly Man

"Adoration of the Children" by  Gerard van Honthorst, 1620.

“The Adoration of the Shepherds” by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622.

During the Christmas season, it is important to focus not only on the birth of Christ, but on the person of Christ.  That is, it is important for us to remember not only that Jesus was born, but who Jesus was born as.  For it is not the simple fact of Jesus’ birth that gives the Christmas story significance.  After all, people are born all the time.  But Jesus’ identity as it is revealed in the Christmas story makes Jesus’ birth significant even 2,000 years later.

In Matthew’s Gospel, we get a clue concerning Jesus’ identity beginning with Mathew’s opening line:  “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1).  From here, Matthew goes on to give an extensive genealogy of Jesus’ family tree, going all the way back to Abraham.  The genealogy in Luke’s Gospel goes back even farther – all the way to Adam (cf. Luke 3:23-38).  These two genealogies, it should be noted, are quite different from each other, making Jesus’ family tree look quite disparate.  Indeed, over the years, scholars have debated the differences between the Matthew and Luke’s genealogies of Jesus.  Most often, scholars have conjectured that Matthew presents the royal genealogy of Jesus through Joseph, his stepfather, while Luke presents the biological genealogy of Jesus through Mary, His mother.  What is often left out of such discussions and debates, however, is that there is actually a third Christmas genealogy that all too regularly goes unnoticed.

Where is this third genealogy?  Beginning in Matthew 1:18:  “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.”  The Greek word for “birth” is genesis, from which we get our English word “genealogy”  In fact, this is the same word Matthew uses in 1:1 when he introduces his “genealogy [in Greek, genesis] of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham.”  Thus, in just one chapter, Matthew presents two genealogies.

So how are to understand these two genealogies?  In Matthew’s first genealogy, we read of Jesus’ human origin.  He is the son of David and the son of Abraham.  In Matthew’s second genealogy, we read about Jesus’ divine origin. He is of the Holy Spirit.  Thus, Jesus is truly man, the son of Abraham and David; but He is also truly God, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.

Ultimately, Jesus’ status as truly man and truly God is what gives the Christmas story its significance.  For as a man, Jesus can identify with us men – our weakness, struggles, and trials.  But as God, Jesus can save us from our sin.

Truly man.  Truly God.  All of this wrapped in a manger.  What an incredible story!  And what a terrific reason to say, “Merry Christmas.”

December 23, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Jesus – More Than Just God

Jesus 1Was Jesus really human?

These days, this question does not get asked a lot.  Rather, people wonder whether or not Jesus was God.  And time and time again, people come to the conclusion that Jesus is not, was not, and, indeed, could not have been God.  Take, for instance, Reza Aslan, author of the bestseller Zealot:  The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.  In an interview with NPR about his book, Reza summarizes his position on Jesus’ divinity:

If you’re asking if whether Jesus expected to be seen as God made flesh, as the living embodiment, the incarnation of God, then the answer to that is absolutely no.  Such a thing did not exist in Judaism.  In the 5,000-year history of Jewish thought, the notion of a God-man is completely anathema to everything Judaism stands for.  The idea that Jesus could’ve conceived of Himself — or that even His followers could’ve conceived of Him — as divine, contradicts everything that has ever been said about Judaism as a religion.[1]

There’s no way, Reza says, Jesus’ followers could have considered Him to be divine.  He was only a man who led a failed revolution as a failed run-of-the-mill Messiah.

In my studies for a class I’m teaching on Galatians, I came across some terrific commentary from the second-century church father Tertullian on Galatians 4:4-5.  The apostle Paul writes in these verses: “But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.”   Tertullian comments on Paul’s phrase “born of a woman”:

To what shifts you resort, in your attempt to rob the syllable “of” of its proper force as a preposition, and to substitute another for it in a sense not found throughout the Holy Scriptures! You say that He was born through a virgin, not of a virgin, and in a womb, not of a womb.[2]

In Tertullian’s day, there were people trying to rob Jesus not of His divinity, but of His humanity.  A group of called the Docetists considered everything corporeal to be evil while holding anything non-corporeal to be good.  They thus denied that the non-corporeal God of the universe would ever dare to take on corporeal human flesh.  This group taught that though Jesus may have been born “through” Mary, he was not born “of” Mary.  In other words, He did not take on human flesh as a genuine offspring of a genuine human mother.  Rather, He merely passed through Mary as an immaterial God and received nothing concrete from her.  Indeed, the Docetists taught that though Jesus may have appeared to be a physical being, He was not.  In fact, the very name “Docetist” comes from the Greek word meaning, “to appear.”  Jesus, then, was simply an apparition – divine, yes, but certainly not a corporeal human.

Tertullian has no time for such teaching concerning Christ.  He says that Docetists “murder truth”[3] and vigorously makes the case for Christ’s humanity.  Thus, the problem in the early Church was not that some denied Jesus’ divinity, but that many denied His humanity!  Reza has the problem exactly backwards.

Ultimately, to deny Jesus’ humanity or His divinity is to deny Him.  Paul is crystal clear concerning the person of Christ:  He is God’s Son and He is born of a woman.  He is both God and man.  Any other or lesser confession of Christ simply will not do.

[1]Christ In Context: ‘Zealot’ Explores The Life Of Jesus,” NPR (7.15.2013).

[2] Tertullian, On the Flesh of Christ 20.

[3] Tertullian, On the Flesh of Christ 5.

November 11, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Whole Christ

"The Crucifixion of Christ" by Gerhard Remisch

The other morning, I was reading 2 John as part of my devotions, when I once again came across a verse I have reflected on many times:  “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh.  Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 John 7).  Though these words may strike us as harsh, they are true and necessary.  For theology – the study of God – and Christology – the study of Christ – are inextricably connected.  If one has an errant view of Christ, he will inevitably have an errant view of God, for it is precisely through Christ that God is revealed.  This is why, especially in the early centuries of the Christian Church, there were so many creedal formulations concerning Christ.  The early Christians wanted to make sure they accurately and faithfully confessed their Lord and Savior.  Alister McGrath notes, “The history of early Christian doctrine is the basically the emergence of the Christological.”[1]

Martin Luther offers three ways in which Christology can go askew:

The devil has work to do and attacks Christ in three lines of battle. One will not let Him be God, another will not let Him be man, and the third will not let Him do what He has done. Each of the three wants to reduce Christ to nothing. For what does it profit you to confess that He is God, if you do not also believe that He is man? Then you do not have the whole, real Christ with that, but only a phantom of the devil’s. What does it profit you to confess that He is man, if you do not also believe that He is God? What does it profit you to confess that He is God and man, if you do not also believe that He has become everything and done everything for you?[2]

Luther’s insists that, in order to believe in Christ, we must believe in His humanity, His divinity, and His work on the cross.  If we deny one part of this confession, we deny the whole Christ.  Why?  Because the person of Christ as true God and true man cannot be separated from the work of Christ, which is salvation.  Notice how the Nicene Creed confesses Christ’s person and work all together in one eloquently integrated sweep:  “For us men and for our salvation, [Christ] came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.”  Here we read that Christ “came down from heaven,” a reference to His divinity, He was “incarnate,” a reference to His humanity, and “was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate,” a reference to His salvific work.  This is Christ.  He can be nothing less and He can do nothing less.

John’s tirade against those who deny “the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh” is due to the fact that he cannot bear to think that someone would miss out on all that Christ is and all that He has done.  After all, why would we want something or someone less than the whole Christ?  For the whole Christ is one with God and, at the same time, in solidarity with us.  And whole Christ saves us wholly, without any worth or merit on our parts.  John can’t dream of settling for anyone or anything less.  I can’t either.  How about you?

[1] Alister McGrath, Iustitia Dei, 3rd ed. (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2005), 33.

[2] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, vol. 34 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 210.

March 19, 2012 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?

One of my favorite lines from the movie “Talladega Nights” comes when Ricky Bobby says a prayer.  He opens, “Dear eight pound, six ounce, newborn baby Jesus, in your golden, fleece diapers, with your curled-up, fat, balled-up little fists pawin’ at the air…”  At such a sappy, sentimental, and wholly inaccurate conception of Jesus, Ricky’s friend Chip is mortified.  He says, “He was a man!  He had a beard!”  Ricky responds, “I like the baby version the best, do you hear me?”

Ricky’s response to Chip, though humorous, is all too seriously indicative of the way many people treat Jesus.  Jesus is fine with the world, as long as the world is allowed to make Him over in its own image, rather than the people of the world being made in His image.  The precedent set in Genesis is reversed:  “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27).  But we want none of this.  So we change the text to read, “So we will have god in our own image and on our own terms.  A macho god, a feminist god, a baby god, a senile, grandfatherly god, we will make him and make him over.”  This, of course, is rank heresy.  But it is widely palatable and even widely peddled.  After all, who doesn’t want a god who always agrees with them?  As Anne Lamott quips, “You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

But the real God has a funny way of resisting the efforts of those who want to make Him over.  Just ask the Israelites what happened to their golden calf.  It is with this in mind that I found this quote from Michael Horton to be especially salient:

The Gentiles love wisdom, so show them a Jesus who is smarter at solving the conundrums of daily living and the church will throng with supporters.  Paul says that his Jewish contemporaries love signs and wonders.  So tell people that Jesus can help them have their best life now, or bring in the kingdom of glory, or drive out the Romans and prove their integrity before the pagans, and Jesus will be laureled with praise.  Give them some moral wisdom from your own faith tradition that might help them be better parents and spouses, and they might listen – as long as your provide suggestions and not commands on the basis of which God will judge on the last day.  But proclaim Christ as the Suffering Servant who laid down His life and took it back up again, and everybody wonders who changed the subject.  But the church exists in order to change the subject from us and our deeds to God and His deeds of salvation. (Michael Horton, Christless Christianity, 141)

Now certainly, the Scriptures give us much fine and even transcendent guidance on how to live our lives. Indeed, the Scriptures are replete with ethical concerns. But the Scriptures to do not stop at and with mere ethics. No, the Scriptures find their goal in Christ. And the Church’s job is to proclaim Christ, God’s Son, as He wants to be proclaimed: as the Savior of the world.   For finally, He will be proclaimed as no one less and in no other way.  And finally, we can be saved by no one less and in no other way.  Praise be to God for that.  Praise be to the real God, that is.

July 28, 2010 at 7:56 am 2 comments

CHRIST.ology – Part 3

In 1971, a delicatessen opened in Austin that became instantly popular among college students for its delicious sandwiches.  From its humble beginnings on South Congress Street, Schlotzsky’s has since become a national franchise with hundreds of stores scattered over thirty states.  Their slogan is simple, yet to the point:  “Funny name.  Serious sandwich.”

As I wrap up my three-part series on Christology based on a class that I taught at Concordia’s Men’s Bible Breakfast, Schlotzsky’s slogan provides an apropos starting point for this blog:  “Funny names.  Serious Christology.”

In last week’s blog, I surveyed a few of the different ways in which, historically, people have gotten the two natures of Christ wrong.  Arianism denied that Christ was true God.  Docetism denied that Christ was true man.  Nestorianism asserted that Christ not only had two natures, but was two persons.  Monophysitism said that Christ had only one nature – a composite God-man nature.  All of these Christologies were declared by the Church to be heretical.

So if these Christologies are wrong, then what’s right?  How do we properly understand the relationship between the two natures – divine and human – in the one man, Jesus Christ?  Enter the funny names.

The Church has regularly used three genera (singular, genus) to describe how the two natures in the one man Jesus Christ relate to each other.  Genus is a Latin word meaning “type,” or “kind.” It is regularly used in biology as a taxonomic unit.  Thus, these three genera have been used by the Church to explain the types of ways in which the two natures in Christ relate to each other.  Be warned, however, for these three genera have funny names.  But don’t let that throw you.  For they present some serious Christology.

The Genus Idiomaticum
The Genus Idiomaticum seeks to uphold the distinction between the two natures of Christ by declaring that each nature in Christ “has its own peculiar essential or natural attributes, which it retains even in the union, yet without conversion or confusion…The difference of the natures [is not] abolished because of the union, but rather the property of each nature is preserved intact and takes part in forming the one person” (Martin Chemnitz, The Two Natures in Christ, 172).  In other words, even though we cannot divide the two natures into two Christs, we can make distinctions between these two natures as they work together in the one Christ.

A biblical example of the Genus Idiomaticum comes in Romans 1:3-4: “God’s Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, but through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God.” Here, Paul clearly distinguishes between the human and divine natures of Christ.  On the one hand, Jesus, according to his human nature is the Son of David.  On the other hand, according to his divine nature, Jesus is the Son of God.  The Genus Idiomaticum says that it is acceptable and even important to make these kinds of distinctions as long as one does not divide Christ’s two natures.

The Genus Majestaticum
This genus is explained well by Martin Chemnitz: “The divine nature of Christ in itself has received nothing from the hypostatic union, but…his human nature has received and possesses innumerable supernatural gifts and qualities which are contrary to its nature and which are above every name and also above, beyond, and exceeding its own essential properties, which still, however, remain unimpaired” (The Two Natures in Christ, 244).  In short, Chemnitz says that the attributes of Christ’s divine nature affect and enliven the attributes of his human nature.  For example, because Jesus was God, Jesus – as both God and man – could walk on water.  Or because Jesus was God, Jesus – as both God and man – could heal the sick.  Or because Jesus was God, Jesus – as both God and man – could rise from the dead.

Interestingly, this genus proved to be a flashpoint of contention between the Lutherans and those who were Reformed.  The Lutherans properly maintained that this genus allowed Christ to be physically present with his body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper.  After all, because Jesus was God, Jesus – as both God and man – can be omnipresent, even in Communion.  Those who were Reformed did not hold to this genus and so, at best, they asserted that only Christ’s divine nature, and not his human nature, could be present in the Sacrament.  For Christ’s human nature could not be present on an altar while also being present in heaven, even as humans cannot be in two places at once.  Proper Christology, then, affects many different areas in the broader discipline of theology.

The Genus Apotelesmaticum
The Genus Apotelesmaticum asserts that even though distinctions can be made in Christ’s two natures, the whole person of Christ, and not one of his natures individually, saves us.  Again, Martin Chemnitz explains: “The union of Christ’s two natures took place in order that the work of redemption, propitiation, and salvation might be accomplished in, with, and through both of His natures” (The Two Natures in Christ, 218).  Thus, when we speak of our salvation, we say, “Christ saved me.”  We do not say, “The human nature of Christ saved me when he died on the cross,” or, “The divine nature of Christ saved me when he rose from the dead.”  No!  All of Christ – his birth, his ministry, his death, and his resurrection – effects our salvation.

From time to time, I will see bumper stickers on the back of vehicles with a simple two-word confession:  “Jesus Saves.”  Besides being a nice way in which Christians can share their faith, these bumper stickers also represent a proper understanding of the Gensus Apotelesmaticum.  For they are a good reminder that it is Jesus – all of Jesus – who saves us.  It is good Christology wrapped up in two words.  And this is why Christology is not only incredibly intricate, it is also blessedly simple.  For this confession of “Jesus saves” is a confession we can all carry in our hearts and on our tongues no matter how young or old, how theological trained or theologically novice we may be.  Carry it to someone else today.

February 11, 2010 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

CHRIST.ology – Part 2

This blog is part two of a three part series I am writing on Christology, based on the Tuesday morning Men’s Bible Breakfast series I am teaching at Concordia.  In part one, I spoke of Christ’s two natures as truly God and truly man.  Sadly, over the centuries, these two natures have regularly been disparaged and misrepresented by heretics.  So that we do not make the same mistakes as these heretics of old, it is worth surveying some of the historical mistakes made concerning Christ’s two natures.

Broadly speaking, Christological heresies have fallen into one of two categories:  those which deny Christ’s two natures on the one hand, and those which confuse Christ’s two natures on the other.  Let’s look at some examples of each.

Heresies which deny Christ’s two natures…

Arianism rose to ascendancy in the third and fourth centuries.  This heresy taught that though Jesus was a god, he was not the God.  That is, Jesus was indeed divine, but he was not “of one substance with the Father,” as the Nicene Creed confesses.  A letter that Arius wrote to Eusebius of Nicodemia, the bishop who baptized Constantine, succinctly states the Arian position: “Before Christ was begotten, he was not…The Son has a beginning, but God is without beginning.”  The Arians taught that Jesus’ was God’s first creation and not eternal.  John 1:1 firmly refutes such a notion:  “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”  Jesus, the Word, was in the beginning.  He is uncreated and without beginning because he is in the beginning.  Thus, he is not a god, he is the God.

The heresy of Adoptionism surfaced at the turn of the second century.  The Adoptionists taught that Jesus was not just declared God’s Son at his baptism, he was made God’s Son (cf. Luke 3:21-22).  To back up this claim, the Adoptionists used Psalm 2:7:  “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.”  According to Acts 13:33, this Psalm is fulfilled in Jesus.  The Adoptionists pointed to God “becoming” Jesus’ father as proof that he was adopted.  However, their reading of this passage is woefully mistaken.

The Hebrew word for “become” in Psalm 2:7 is yalad, a word classically translated as “beget.”  This word can either denote cause or relationship, depending on what Hebrew mood is used.  That is, sometimes this verb can denote cause – one generation giving rise to another through procreation.  Other times, however, this verb is used to denote relationship, describing the love and affection that two people have for each other.  In Psalm 2:7, this verb, according to its Hebrew mood, is used to denote relationship and not cause.  That is, this verb is used to speak of the Father’s loving relationship with the Son and not the Father’s causation of the Son.  Thus, Psalm 2:7 is not meant to say that the Father adopted to Jesus to make him his Son, but that the Father loves his Son, even as many fathers love their sons.

The name “Docetism” comes from the Greek word dokeo, meaning, “to seem.”  The Docetists taught that though Jesus looked, or seemed, human, it was merely an illusion.  He did not truly become a man and he did not truly die on a cross.  The Docetists based their position on the philosophy of the Gnostics who taught that the spiritual was inherently good while the physical was inherently evil.  Therefore, the Docetists taught that God, who is spiritual, would never become a man because a man is physical and the physical is evil!  John refutes this heresy again and again.  For instance, the evangelist writes in 2 John 7: “Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.”  John is unequivocally clear:  If a person does not acknowledge that Jesus became true man, he is a deceiver.

Heresies which confuse Christ’s two natures…

Even as Arianism and Adoptionism denied Christ’s nature as God and Docetism denied Christ’s nature as a man, there were other heresies which affirmed both natures, yet confused them.  To these we now turn.

Nestorianism became especially prevalent in the fifth century and taught not only that there were two natures contained in the one person of Christ, but that there were actually two Christs!  That is, although Christ may have looked like one person, he was actually two persons.  Thus, there were some things which the human Christ did which the divine Christ did not participate in and vice versa.  For instance, the Nestorians taught that only the human Christ died on the cross, for God cannot die.  This is in direct contradiction to Philippians 2:6, 8 which teaches:  “Christ, being in very nature God…and being found in appearance as a man, humbled himself and became obedient unto death – even death on a cross.”  Paul clearly teaches that Christ, who was in his very nature God, died on the cross. Thus, God died on the cross contra Nestorianism.  Christ is one person with two natures, both of which participate in everything Christ, the one man, does, including his life, miracles, ministry, death, and resurrection.

In reaction to Nestorianism, there arose yet another heresy called Monophysitism. Monophysitism taught that Christ was one person with only one nature.  That is, Monophysitism so desired to keep the two natures of Christ unified rather than radically separating them into two Christs as did Nestorianism that it melded Christ’s two natures into one hybrid nature.  Eutyches explains Monophysite theology thusly: “Christ’s human nature was dissolved like a drop of honey in the sea.”  Thus, Christ’s human nature, though still theoretically present, is not in any way distinct from his divine nature.  Biblically, this is problematic because Scripture speaks of Jesus’ two natures as distinct, though not separate.  For instance, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prays, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).  Here we see both Jesus’ human and divine natures.  As a human, Jesus does not want to die.  As God, he surrenders himself to his Father’s will.

Pope Leo the Great wrote against Monophysitism in a declaration known as The Tome of Leo:

The proper character of both natures was maintained and came together in a single person…The birth of flesh reveals human nature; birth from a virgin is a proof of divine power. A lowly cradle manifests the infancy of the child; angels’ voices announce the greatness of the Most High. Herod evilly strives to kill one who was like a human being at the earliest stage the Magi rejoice to adore on bended knee one who is the Lord of all. And when he came to be baptized by his precursor John, the Father’s voice spoke thunder from heaven, to ensure that he did not go unnoticed because the divinity was concealed by the veil of flesh: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Accordingly, the same one whom the devil craftily tempts as a man, the angels dutifully wait on as God. Hunger, thirst, weariness, sleep are patently human. But to satisfy five thousand people with five loaves; to dispense living water to the Samaritan woman, a drink of which will stop her being thirsty ever again; to walk on the surface of the sea with feet that do not sink; to rebuke the storm and level the mounting waves; there can be no doubt these are divine.

There is hardly a finer confession, explication, and affirmation of Christ’s two natures than the one penned above.  Pope Leo clearly confesses that Christ has two natures, yet he is only one person.  And indeed, this confession of Christ is sorely needed – not just because it is good Christology, but because it is good soteriology, a word which refers to the doctrine of our salvation. Christ must be human so that he can identify with us in our struggles, temptations, and sin.  He must be human so that he can die.  But he must also be God so that he can lead us, guide us, and redeem us.  He must be God so that not only does he die, but he also rises again.

Truly man.  Truly God.  Truly Jesus.  Truly our hope and salvation.  Don’t settle for anything or anyone less than him.

February 4, 2010 at 4:45 am 1 comment

CHRIST.ology – Part 1

Today begins a three-part series of blogs I plan to post on Christology.  These are based on a three-week Bible study I am leading at Concordia’s Men’s Bible Breakfast on Tuesday mornings.

“Christology” is a compound word.  The suffix “-ology” means “the study of” and the word “Christ” means, well, “Christ.”  Thus, Christology is “the study of Christ.” And indeed, there is no important topic – or, more accurately, there is no more important person – to study.  Martin Luther explains:

I have perceived and noted in all histories of all of Christendom that all those who have correctly had and kept the chief article of Jesus Christ have remained safe and secure in the right Christian faith. Although they may have sinned or erred in other matters, they have nevertheless been preserved at the last. For whoever stands correctly and firmly in the belief that Jesus Christ is true God and man, that he died and has risen again for us, such a person has all other articles added to him and they firmly stand by him…On the other hand, I have also noticed that all error, heresy, idolatry, offense, misuse, and evil in the church originally came from despising or losing sight of this article of faith in Jesus Christ. (AE 34:207-208)

If we lose a proper Christology, Luther argues, we lose all of theology and quickly lapse into rank heresy and wickedness.  Therefore, Christology is foundational for everything we believe, teach, and confess.  This is why it’s so important.

Classically, theologians have talked about two natures in Christ – a divine nature and a human nature.  And yet, even though there are two natures, there is one Christ.  Over the next two weeks, I will write about how people have gotten the two natures in Christ wrong as I survey the historical heresies that have plagued Christology.  I will also write about how the two natures in Christ relate to each other.  But in this blog, I just want to briefly comment on two passages of Scripture which I believe are foundational to properly understanding Christology.  The first passage is Matthew 16:13-16:

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Two things are especially notable about this exchange between Jesus and his disciples.  First, the answers of the people as to Jesus’ identity are notable, especially when considered in light of Mark 6:14-15: “King Herod heard about Jesus’ miracles, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, ‘John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.’ Others said, ‘He is Elijah.’ And still others claimed, ‘He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.’” These answers to Jesus’ identity of John the Baptist, Elijah, and one of the prophets were apparently stock answers.  Herod Antipas believes that Jesus is John the Baptist come back to life to haunt him because he had earlier beheaded him.  Peter however, has a different answer, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  Peter defies all the stock answers and affirms Jesus’ divinity as “the Son of the living God.”  He confesses good Christology.  And this leads to the second especially notable thing about this passage.  When Jesus asks, “But what about you?  Who do you say I am?” the “you” is plural.  It’s “y’all.”  In other words, even though Peter is one who answers Jesus’ question, Jesus is positing this question others as well.  Indeed, this is a question that Jesus asks every disciple, including you.  And this means that every disciple must answer for him or herself, including you.  Thus, Christology is vital because Jesus himself asks us to confess who he is.  Do you have an answer to Jesus’ question?

The second passage that is especially pertinent to Christology is 2 John 7-11:

Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.

In Matthew 16, the Christological problem is that those outside of Christ’s church are being deceived as to Christ’s identity.  In 2 John, the problem is that some inside the church are trying to deceive others as to Jesus’ identity.  And interestingly, they do this not so much by denying his divinity as they do by denying his humanity:  “Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming into the flesh, have gone out into the world” (2 John 7).  This heresy seems to be rooted in a philosophy called Gnosticism, which denied that the eternal God could or would ever want to become human.  Thus, there were teachers who taught that even though Christ seemed human, his humanity was merely an illusion.  We’ll look at this heresy more in-depth when we study the Docetists.  For now, suffice it to say that John thunders against such people:  “Do not take these people into your house or welcome them” (2 John 10).

But doesn’t this seem a little harsh?  After all, isn’t Jesus known as a man who “welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2).  Yes, but those “sinners” were people outside the faith who Jesus was evangelizing so that they might believe.  In John’s case, there are people inside the faith – supposedly, at least – who are, through their false teaching, seeking to drag faithful Christians away from Christ.  To them, John responds the same way that Jesus responded to the religious leaders of his day who also supposed themselves to be in the faith while leading people astray: “You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good” (Matthew 12:34)?

Thus, in these two passages, we read of the heart and soul of Christology.  Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).  That is, Jesus is true God.  But Jesus has also “come into the flesh” (2 John 7).  That is, Jesus is also true man.  True God.  True Man.  This is Christ.  And this is Christology.

Christology.  Yes, it’s a big word.  But it’s also central to everything we believe.  I hope that this blog has helped you understand why.  So, until next Thursday, I’ll simply leave you with these questions:  Who do you say Jesus is?  What’s your Christology?  I hope that you can confess along with Peter and the church, “I believe, teach, and confess that Jesus, true God and true man, died and rose again for my forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.”

January 28, 2010 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

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