Monday, August 22, 2005

One-Minute Christology

I've been asked about my "take" on Christology from time to time. Now presumably those who have asked me think for whatever reason that I'm somewhat an authority on Christology.

The fact is that I'm certainly not anything resembling an authority on the details of Christological controversies, and, I greatly hope I haven't given that impression, and I don't think I have. What material I used to know was typical Church History 101 material, and much of that has long since been forgotten, though I can still drop some names of major players.

About five or so years ago, maybe farther back than that, I studied Francis Pieper's three-volume [not counting the index] Christian Dogmatics set, available through the LCMS Concordia Publishing House. [The LCMS, btw, was the church body in which I almost decided to matriculate as a seminarian.] A big chunk of the second volume [if I recall correctly] was dedicated to a formal treatment of Christology. I also purchased John Schaller's Biblical Christology, available through Northwestern Publishing House, the publishing arm of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. I even gave a good stab at Bertrand de Margerie's Christian Trinity in History volume. [IIRC, de Margerie is a Jesuit.]

Now the point of dropping these names --- and I'd like to add that unlike some people who pretentiously drop names of heavy duty books in an effort to establish their purported intellecual credentials, I actually slogged through a good chunk of the books, scratching my head in perplexity quite regularly and dozing off more than once --- is merely to establish the point that I put in the "ol' college try" on the technical points of Christology.

Speaking only for myself here, I could've used the time in much better fashion, say, reading and studying scripture or putting more time into the Hebrew. [Some might say a choice between Hebrew or technical Christology is not much of a choice!]

Devotionally, trying to ponder how, say, Christ can be both God and man did nothing to ease the conscience smitten with an ever-increasing sensitivity to sin.

The technical side of Christology didn't aid my prayer life either. When I was a young Baptist boy praying my childlike prayers, I thought of a big bad dude with a white beard as I prayed. Now, in my thirties, I still have this anthropomorphic image in my mind as I pray. This is rather silly, I know, but we all have our quirks.

When I used to be much more into Christian apologetics, I didn't run into many atheists or agnostics who made the God-man status of Christ the main objection of their case. If they wanted to be philosophical about things, they had plenty of objections along the lines of claiming that "God" is an incoherent concept. If someone claims that "God" is incoherent, then that's the cake and Christological discussions are the mere frosting. So, in the end, Christology didn't help me here either.

So, from any practical perspective I could imagine, the finer points of Christology did nothing for me, apart from accomplishing the staggeringly difficult feat of making memorizing Hebrew verb-dot patterns pleasant by comparison. Since the Holy Spirit presumably does not read Pedantic Protestant nor leave comments, I can safely say in His absence that it is all Christology's fault that I never pounded Hebrew into my head [the way I did Greek] in so thorough a fashion that I'd never forget it again. [I suppose that even if He did, he still wouldn't know who I really am --- ah, the advantages of a semi-pseudonymous blog!]

A natural question is just what my Christology happens to be. One can also ask from where I get my Christology? Answers: pretty simple and scripture, respectively.

Here's the gist of what I believe about Christ relative to his "being": call it a "One-Minute Christology" if you wish.

(1) Scripture clearly presents Christ as possessing attributes that only God can possess.
(2) Scripture clearly calls Christ "God" in multiple places, and in a few places where there are exegetical options, the probability is quite high that He is called "God" in those places as well.
(3) Scripture clearly presents Christ as being a human being. That is, the humanity of Christ is a real humanity, as real as mine and ours. Christ's humanity wasn't a mere display for our limited minds.
(4) Scripture clearly presents Christ as having a certain role in the economy of God's redemptive plan. Christ is functionally distinguished from both the Father and the Holy Spirit.
(5) Scripture clearly presents Christ as actually distinct in a hard-to-get-to sense from both the Father and the Holy Spirit.

That's it. That's my workaday Christology relative to Christ's being. I never needed any more than the above points (1)-(5) when doing my attempts at countercult/apologetics ministry to Mormons, liberal Protestants [I just call many of them "atheists" for brevity], and Jehovah's Witnesses.

I note that there isn't one exegetical pickle in my study of scripture that depends on some finer gradation of Christology than (1)-(5) above.

[Note: I have a simple Trinitarianism as well. This is demonstrated along with my complete lack of poetic ability and, um, rather unique sense of humor here.]

Now would I like more facts? Sure.

Would I be able to understand the aforementioned "more facts" ? I don't know. My guess [and nothing more] is that if Jesus were to appear at my bedside tonight and explain the ontological Trinity to me, it would be like my explaining my textbook to a newborn. [And if Jesus appears at my bedside tonight, I'll be sure to blog about it in the morning.]

If somebody wants to study the deeper points of Christology, I won't object. If somebody wants to study the deeper historical points of Christological controversies, then more power to you.

But I will object when people go beyond the scriptural texts and hold up certain deductions, councils, etc from the scriptural texts as some sort of litmus test for orthodoxy. I will also object when these extra-scriptural deductions are pompously put forward as if they're hinge doctrines, as if these points were on par with the more clearly stated doctrines.

As a side note, I think humanity could last another 10,000 years and we wouldn't be any farther along on understanding Christ's being [or the Trinity for that matter]. Now, taking an example from my own field, it took around two millenia to make precise the notion of limits, and once this was done, both the differential calculus and integral calculus were put on a rigorous footing, so one might foist this sort of counterexample on me to argue against my pessimism. I'd respond in turn that the notion of limit is probably nothing in profundity compared to God's being. But that's just me, and perhaps I'm too pessimistic here.

Also, trying to be clear, I'm not knocking philosophy. That would be strange considering (i) my name is on two pretty heavy-duty philosophy publications, (ii) I'm interested in the entire philosophy of inference in statistics, (iii) my second undergraduate major was in the humanities, which featured a lot of philosophy, (iv) I've thought [fantasized] about going to grad school a second time in philosophy, and (v) I'm interested in the entire naturalism/supernaturalism debate. But regardless of whether one is right or wrong on a fine extra-scriptural point of metaphysics, to elevate it to orthodoxy or heresy is to go a tad overboard.

So, in stream-of-consciousness form, I've stated my workaday Christology. Also, for the record, I've stated that the Bible and nothing else is my one-stop shopping source for Christology.

And, upon completing this blog entry, I shall go pray my bedtime prayer, most likely with the aforementioned image of a big bad dude with a white beard firmly entrenched in my mind.


Blogger Steve Jackson said...

Thomas Oden's volume 2 of his Systematic Theology is one of the better books on Christology.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005 4:29:00 PM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

Considering my books are boxed up for the time being as I don't have enough room for them, I don't think it would be wise to add the the library!

Right now, Romans is the rage in my life. Re-re-re-doing Cranfield, and I hope to get through Schreiner's recent commentary as well.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005 10:15:00 PM  

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