In this week’s video I’m addressing the fourth of my church’s fundamental beliefs: our teaching about God the Son. Or, as I like to call Him, Jesus.
The actual text of our belief statement says: God the eternal Son became incarnate in Jesus Christ. Through Him all things were created, the character of God is revealed, the salvation of humanity is accomplished, and the world is judged. Forever truly God, He became also truly man, Jesus the Christ. He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He lived and experienced temptation as a human being, but perfectly exemplified the righteousness and love of God. By His miracles He manifested God’s power and was attested as God’s promised Messiah. He suffered and died voluntarily on the cross for our sins and in our place, was raised from the dead, and ascended to minister in the heavenly sanctuary in our behalf. He will come again in glory for the final deliverance of His people and the restoration of all things.
As the video above makes clear, I’m just crazy about Jesus. More than anything else, admiration for the person of Jesus as described in the Gospels, and dedication to His teaching, define my faith. And I’m not alone in this, of course. Not only is Jesus central to the faith of many if not most Christians, Jesus also has a lot of fans in the non-Christian world. People of all faiths and people of no faith at all admire the Man from Galilee, even if — and there’s obviously a crucial question here — their interpretations of who He was differ widely.
My beliefs about Jesus are pretty basic mainstream Christian beliefs, as are those of my church. I believe — we believe — that Jesus was the divine, eternal Son of God, who took on human form in the Incarnation, was both fully God and fully human, lived an exemplary life of love and self-sacrifice, died in a way that somehow (I don’t know how) makes forgiveness and new life possible for all of us, and rose again to live eternally.
I can’t explain most of this and I will admit to taking a lot of it on faith. As a story, it makes sense to me. I want to believe in a God who becomes one of us, and so I do believe. I am not the person you want for a serious debate about Christology from a theological point of view. It makes sense to me at some basic, gut level, and so I believe it while admitting there’s much I don’t understand.
I do think it’s important to keep both those sides of the picture — Jesus as God, Jesus as Man — in balance. Jesus as only God — Divinity simply pretending to be human — loses sight of the fact that Jesus is our example; His life shows what a human life at its best can look like. Jesus as only Man, only the great moral teacher whose divinity was tacked on by overenthusiastic later followers, can be a great inspiration (and is to many) but lacks the power to show us what God is like. I am happy when people share my admiration for Jesus even if they don’t share my beliefs about His divinity, but Jesus’ divinity is key to my concept of God. Without Jesus, I don’t think I’d be able to believe in the God of the Bible at all.
Once again, though, it does all come back to the Bible. As I’ve said before, I’m inherently suspicious of Christians who claim to follow Jesus, rather than following the Bible, because what do we know about Jesus outside the Bible? If we’re to curb that tendency we all have to re-create our own Jesus in our own image – from hippie-peacelovin’-Jesus to a tough, manly Jesus who can kick your butt — we can only do it by revisiting the Jesus of the Gospels, who so stubbornly refuses to fit into our tidy definition boxes. And if we are to take from Jesus our picture of what God is like, we’d better be able to trust the documents that tell us about Jesus.
As a result, I’ve spent a lot of time over the past 10-15 years reading up on debates and research about the “historical Jesus” and the historicity of the Gospels. While, at the end of the day, I can sleep quite peacefully without knowing for sure whether the Genesis creation narrative is literal or mythical (more on that in a future week), I can’t have that same laid-back attitude to the Gospels. I have to know whether I can trust their stories — and, after a very long process, I have come to believe that the Gospels are trustworthy, but always with the awareness that I am still, to some extent, believing it because I want it to be true. Because the Gospels are how I learn about Jesus, and everything else I believe on is built on that foundation. My hope, you might say, is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
There’s so much more I could say, but I’m trying to keep these short — and as you can see, the video (which covers some of this same territory but also talks about whether Jesus is, in fact, my Boyfriend) already went a bit long this week. Comment if you’ve got something to add; I’m always happy to continue discussing these topics in the comments section.