Needless to say, these questions have haunted the minds of Christians for centuries. Luckily, the Lord God did not leave us afloat on an ocean of mysticism – instead, He gave us the written testimonies of Jesus’ comrades and the writings of the Prophets of Old to guide inquire of curious minds.
The conclusion: Jesus of Nazareth was BOTH fully human and fully divine. He was – or rather – IS the incarnate God who came down to earth to break the hold of sin and death over all of creation. How it works is a mystery that needs not be investigated or uncovered. Instead, we are to rejoice in the tension of the God who carried enough for us that He broke the chains that bind us.
Sadly enough, some people choose not to embrace the tension of the incarnate Creator – resulting in the reduction of the mystery.
Last week we looked at the most common reduction among Western Christianity: “Limiting the Humanity of Jesus.” Today we will explore the other side of the reduction coin, the limiting of the divine nature of Jesus.
Reduction #2: Limiting the Divine Nature of Jesus
In the 18th Century, Christian European scholars started looking at the ministry of Jesus through the eyes of modern historical methods – namely they started looking at the historical and cultural context in which Jesus lived while looking at the Gospel text with a critical eye.
On a whole, this was a GOOD THING as it has opened up the words of Jesus to greater depth then every before. We now understand why Jesus used the language – i.e. word choice – that he did.
However, amongst the good, there is always the bad.
Some people took this search for the “historical Jesus” to far – throwing away huge chucks of Gospel texts as writings added after Jesus’ death. Among those verses “cut” from the Bible are those which establish the incarnated divinity of Jesus.
For these people, Jesus was simply a Jewish sage who preached a message of love and good ethics.
The “Jesus Seminar” is the most vocal and prominent group to do this – going to great lengths to publish news articles and books discounting the divine nature of Jesus. The amount of publicity this particular group gets is actually very strange considering they only have a membership of around 150 individuals. In other words, they are a small minority with the realm of Bible scholarship worldwide.
In the end, the debate about the historical Jesus had the following effect on Western Christianity:
- Distrust of scholarship – after years of listening to ‘experts’ debate each other over the divinity of Jesus, pastors and laypeople alike begin to ignore scholarship. Instead, they begin to focus on “the simple and the plain” (i.e. personal salvation).
- Social Gospel – some of the folks who listened got confused and started focusing solely one’s ethical behavioral; forgetting about Jesus’ divinity.
- Understand the Context of the New Testament – not everything that came out of this debate was bad. We now have a greater understanding of the context in which Jesus lived and ministered. George Ladd and NT Wright are two solid orthodox believers who are (or were – in the case of Ladd) communicating these discoveries to the general public.
I know that I wondered around a bit today – but I hope that it was beneficial. Sometimes it helps to know the history of why people are denying something… at least it is to me. 🙂
So what are we to do now? Well, I think it is important that we embrace the tension of the incarnate Jesus. We must have an equal focus the redeeming blood of Christ and the ethical behavioral of His people.
Jesus modeled and preached both – so should we.
Let us embrace the fact that he was fully 100% divine and fully 100% human.
May we embrace the mystery of the Creator of Heaven and Earth