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Systematics Response Paper #6
“Christology” is a word in the language of theology signifying a specific discussion, inquiry and reflection about Jesus, namely, his “messianic character” (Norris, 2). By this definition, Christology necessarily has to do with both the divinity and the humanity of Christ, or, as Norris puts it, “on the one hand, to ask about his relation to God and, on the other, to seek a way of expressing his representative character as a human being” (Norris, 2). According to Norris, the apostle Paul presents the first developments in Christology in his writings to the Corinthians, Galatians, and Philippians. The starting point and “essential paradigm” of Paul’s Christology is the “portrayal of Jesus as having a dual character- as embodying in himself the unity of two ways of being, spiritual and fleshly, divine and human.” (p. 4) The reading selections for this week in the Norris anthology trace the development of Christological thought in original texts through the first five hundred years of Christianity.
If only God can forgive sin, and Jesus is the Messiah, the logical step (to which Norris alludes but does not spell out) is that we are committed to both the full humanity and full divinity of Christ. Early Christian writers and thinkers grappled with the many questions this duality presents. Some views, including Docetism, Gnosticism, Marcianism, and Arianism, were deemed heretical because, in one way or another, they rendered Christ’s salvation incoherent. One fascinating part of the story begins with the debate about the appellation of Mary, mother of Jesus. To me, the snowball effect resulting from the debate over the distinction between theotokos and theodochos is amazing. The church divides at the Council of Ephesus in 431 over the language of two natures versus one nature, and both sides excommunicate each other! This is a good example of another botched attempt to resolve a duality that probably could just be left alone as paradox, were it not for our human need to wrap up into tight little bundles of linguistic certainty and exactness things that are poetic, figurative, and mystical. If paradox is left open, it becomes a source of contemplative richness, a living spring of fresh water. I am not taking a position of “anything goes” relativity here. Interpretations have consequences. But can we not have various perspectives on Jesus? And might not these various and changing perspectives offer to us a living quality, a freshness and newness, the life giving, thirst quenching quality of the not-so-completely-well-defined? Jesus is human. Jesus is divine. Perhaps today I look for divine splendor, perhaps tomorrow, human kindness and friendship. I am happy to find both in a three-dimensional, paradoxical God who surely smiles on my over-thinking seriousness. Could we consider the possibility of simultaneously and gently holding opposing views under the same roof, or will the church just keep dividing itself into oblivion?
Ed Gabrielsen, Systematics, Abraham and Marshall, Perkins School of Theology, October 7, 2016