Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Is Jesus God?

Is Jesus God? I would like to answer this baldly stated question in the manner of that great preacher, Reverend Lovejoy: "No with an if; Yes with a but."

The answer to this question must be "no" if we mean that God, simply stated, is the human being named Jesus. Jesus is not God if we understand the identity of God to be exhausted in the history of the human Jesus. Jesus is not God if we mean God has no choice but to become a human being in order to fix his out of control creation. Jesus is not God if we claim to worship and serve a human being as such. Jesus is not God if it is implied that God had become incarnate in order to become that which he is not already in eternity. Jesus is not God if we understand God to already be a creature named Jesus before there even was a created order.

Nevertheless, the answer to the question "Is Jesus God?" must also be "yes." Yes Jesus is God, but as the incarnation of the eternally begotten Son of God. Yes Jesus is God, but on the basis of the fact that there already is in God's eternity a fellowship of persons. Yes Jesus is God, but only if we remember that God becomes human as an outpouring of his divine life as Father and Son in the Holy Spirit. Yes Jesus is God, but as the unfolding of a plan set in eternity by the triune God. Yes Jesus is God, but Jesus can pray to the Father without suffering from multiple personality disorder since the Son has been praying to the Father throughout eternity. Yes Jesus is God, because the Trinity logically precedes and therefore grounds the Incarnation.

In other words, the Trinity is the divine line of credit upon which the Incarnation draws. The Triune life of God in eternity is the condition for the actuality of temporal incarnation of God in the man Jesus. This is why, historically speaking, the doctrine of the Trinity had to be established first (4th century: Nicea & Constantinople), before the church turned its face fully to Christological problems (5th century: Ephesus and Chalcedon). This may seem counterintuitive, for as this post shows it is precisely the Christological question which leads one to the Trinitarian formula. Yet the order of discovery does not always correspond to the order of reality. Christology leads to Trinity, but only the Trinity has the resources to ground Christology. The key of course is that they remain inseparable. For the Trinity without Christology is meaningless metaphysical mathematics. But Christology without the Trinity is ungrounded pious assertion.

So what's my point? Certainly we can confess the divinity of Jesus without all this further ado. But it pays to remember the pains with which Christians have always treaded carefully around the topic of the divinity of Jesus. It's not something we just assert and say "love it or leave it." "Jesus is God" is a mystery worthy of manifold adoration -- an act of worship which includes precise theologizing in order to block misleading implications that leave us open to all sorts of attacks. So keep saying 'Jesus is God." Or keeping asking "Is Jesus God?" But whether you confess or ask, accept or reject, give a weighty statement like that the thought it deserves.

Any thoughts?
Is this account with its distinctions accurate?
Is it adequate?
Is it coherent?
Is it useful?

13 comments:

Ken Schenck said...

Does the Trinity "gain" anything with the incarnation? If I understand right, the second person of the Trinity, while not human before the incarnation, remains fully human after the resurrection, yes? Did the human Jesus learn to speak and how to catch fish? Did he have a personality linked in some way to the x chromosome of his mother?

Idle questions to explore the natures...

Summers said...

Wow, what a question. If a gun was to my head, and I had to give direct answer to the question, I would say (with the influence of my pre-suppositions) that it is a tautological question...but of course, a split second later, I probably would have been dead :)

However, in regards to the 'one' asking and searching 'IS Jesus God', I would suggest that they are inclined to ask this, but they also must keep in mind that, on the premise of 'Knowledge', one has the right to believe things, or in some thing, without absolute proof. Which this belief through knowledge is gained: First, on the basis of testimony (resurrection, etc.); Second, experientially known and remembered (disciples, Mary, Martha, Saul/Paul, and still today); Third, sensual evidence/experience (worship, miracles, etc.) and Fourth, laws of logic, inductive and deductive reasoning (study, community, history, etc.).

…just a thought!

JohnLDrury said...

Ken,

Great question! The full humanity of Jesus is permanently in tact, and that's a good point to remember. As I put it to my students: "Stop saying Jesus WAS a Jew; Jesus IS a Jew."

My short but not uncontroversial answer: God doesn't "gain" anything by permanently taking on human flesh because the second person of the trinity was destined by character & will to assume human flesh. In other words, the eternal name of the second person of the trinity is Jesus Christ. Yet this is rooted in foreknowledge (which for God is determinative) and thus he is still God without the world, though he certainly chooses to be God with the world as the incarnation shows.

JohnLDrury said...

Summers,

You brought up the very important point of the mode of our knowing the incarnation. I agree that we cannot prove incarnation in a strict sense. The most Christians can do is remove obstacles to belief (such an objection that we are simply worshipping a man, to which this post was responding). But we certainly don't have the resources within ourselves to ascribe deity to Jesus. He'll have to find a way to self-attest through word and sacrament, to which we bear witness. All other "proofs" are only secondary aids to the Work of the Spirit. Note that after the resurrection, the disciples never recognize Jesus until he wants them to - hmmmmm....

Summers said...

Thanks for the insights. When you have some time, could you expound on the comment:
"All other "proofs" are only secondary aids to the Work of the Spirit. Note that after the resurrection, the disciples never recognize Jesus until he wants them to"...just curious.

JohnLDrury said...

Summers,
The ground of our knowledge of the mystery of Jesus Christ himself who is more than capable of revealing himself. He doesn't need our help. I believe the Resurrection stories illustrate this.

However, we might need a little help, so if we want to point to this or that evidence or argument, that's fine, as long as these factors are never regarded as the GROUND of our belief. Faith is a gift of the spirit, not the conclusion of a syllogism.

Just . Jay said...

i know that what i am about to say is often the equivalent of wearing a Yankees Cap in a Boston sports bar... but i'm gonna do it anyway...

John wrote ----> Faith is a gift of the spirit, not the conclusion of a syllogism.

I was just discussing this idea with a friend of mine who went to seminary at Regent in Canada, and once he stopped steaming about some issue regarding egalitarian this and thats we got onto the topic of... OK, I'm gonna say it now - Calvinsm vs. Arminianism (understanding that "vs" may be too strong). OK, maybe it wasn't as bad as I made it sound.

The question I have is about faith being a gift. Grace is a gift, clearly, forgiveness is a gift... IS faith truly a gift of God - or is faith just our choice? or is it both? i am asking with a lead-in to a discussion on the Trinity, so it isn't entirely off-topic.

JohnLDrury said...

just.jay,

it's all related, so no worries on pushing it.

What does everybody think? Is the "faith is a gift of the holy spirit" a commendable statement? Or is it misleading? Are there non-calvinistic ways of construing this principle? if so, what do they look like? how are we defining "faith"? how are we defining "gift"?

Keith.Drury said...

JOHN SAID>>>>In other words, the Trinity is the divine line of credit upon which the Incarnation draws. <<<

I am going to ponder this sentence for a few weeks... Delicious!

Andy said...

Interesting.

I've said it before, I'll say it again--biblical studies and theology need to talk more. The question I would raise is whether the Incarnation requires the Trinity, or whether the Incarnation COULD stand on its own. The Councils did get to Christology via the Trinity, but did they have to? Could there have been a binitarian theology just as easily as a trinitarian one? For instance, Larry Hurtado talks about a nascent binitarianism in his evaluation of early Christian worship (Cf. Lord Jesus Christ; One Lord, One God).

In some ways it is a question of method. Hurtado and those like-minded (i.e. biblical scholars) build from the sources rather than received tradition. Regardless, do we need the Trinity to explain Christology?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting we jettison the Trinity. Call me the devil's (heretic's?) advocate. Just raising the question (and pointing out the uneasy bedfellows).

JohnLDrury said...

andy,

thanks for bringing that question in. certainly the way it has been formulated in my post and these comments has left the holy spirit our entirely. note that I have been using the term "trinity" a narrow sense regarding the etneral divinity of the son who became incarnate in Jesus. This is not innapprorpiate since that was the focus of Nicaea (pre-Constantinople). Although I could make an arguement for threeness working better than twoness, it remains problematic that the spirit gets short shrift. I'll just admit that I am quite western in my understanding of the trinity, so I think of the Spirit in terms of his being the personal unity of the Father and Son, hence the discussion starts in a binitarian way (as did Nicaea, which is not truly trinitarian in the threeness sense).

Summers said...

Great discussion John,
On the argument of the resurrection, I have not heard a lot about the resurrection of life after death ‘between’ death and resurrection. My initial reaction to this is that the soul and spirit are still alive, for we retain conscious life in the spirit until resurrection (Christian Orthodox Theology)… implying that the body is corruptible, and the soul maintains conscious life (dualism). Yet in the resurrection, there is also the issue of the mind and body interaction. Where does the mind and body go after death? Is the material body capable of interfering with the natural order, outside of the rules of physics…this suggesting that we are no just natural/material physical beings (libertarian freedom)?
Looking forward to reading, your response(s)…have a great weekend!

JohnLDrury said...

"for we retain conscious life in the spirit until resurrection (Christian Orthodox Theology)… "

is this strict orthodoxy or pious common denominator?

is there really such a narrow univocal voice?

great questions summers. all I can say right now is there are a lot of ways to cut this gordian know. I personally "solve" it by stating that we have no "disembodied meantime" but rather are resurrection into the future immediately. We will be resurrected into the future, and so we will partake in the general resurrection of all at once.

I base this on a Christological firstfruits parallel: just as jesus' resurrection was a future end time event that happened int he middle of time, so our end time resurrections will happen immediately for us.

BUT, this is only one way to cut the knot. There are a numbe rof options made room for in this so-called "orthodox christian theology"