Who is the Christ We Are Following?

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TylerR's picture

Editor

I am becoming more and more convinced churches should offer regular "doctrine classes," where a competent teacher (not necessarily the Pastor - the poor guy is already busy) walks through the confession or statement of faith in a systematic way over a set period of time (say, 10 weeks, for example), and covers the high-points of every area of systematic theology. It could be offered once or twice per year. A 200-level class stretching, perhaps, 15-20 weeks, could delve into these topics in much more detail. It could be offered one per year, as well.

I know Christians are not being taught basic doctrine. That is too bad. There is a way forward. Use the local church statement of faith (or confession, if you're a confessional church) and make a start of it. You don't have to buy everybody a copy of Ryrie's Basic Theology and begin at page one. Just start small, and use the statement of faith, and ask proving questions to get people thinking. For example, springboard off the Christology paragraph from your statement of faith:

  • Why do we care that the incarnate Jesus was conceived by the Spirit?
  • Was Jesus really tempted?
  • Why did Jesus have to die?
  • Why is it important that Jesus was sinless?
  • What does "penal, substitutionary atonement" mean?
  • Why was penal, substitutionary atonement necessary?
  • What did it achieve? 
  • Why does the resurrection matter?
  • What is Jesus doing in heaven now for His elect?
  • Is Jesus a created Being?
  • Is Jesus equal to the Father? Is he eternally subordinate?

Use the statement of faith, the probing questions you develop, and the answers - and bind the whole thing together for every area of systematic theology and you have a catechism for your local church. Train somebody else to teach the class and begin work on the 200-level course. Repeat.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

I once had the privilege of walking through the Fundamentals and the Solas....not sure whether people absorbed the importance of them, but it was fun to put it together.  (back to Dean Taylor's wisdom for teachers now!)  I would summarize a few of Tyler's points as "TRINITY".  We do, IMO, an extremely weak job of teaching the Solas and the Trinity in Fundamental churches--and then we wonder why non-Trinitarian cults like the Mormons or JWs take about a church or two each day from us in terms of equivalent numbers.  Well, duh.

And (sorry) to climb on a soapbox I use often, part of the deal the article addresses is our relative lack of logic.  The example given in the article is that 83% of evangelicals affirm the Deity of Christ one way, but then 63% turn around and deny it by saying He is a created being.  

OK, so how did we get there?  Pushing logic out of college curricula half a century ago certainly doesn't help, nor does the historic (sorry) suspicion of academic institutions among "fundagelicals".   As a result--and partly as a result of our own laziness in learning to boot--we all too seldom "throw the flag" when obvious genetic fallacies are introduced as "evidence", and we fall for obvious nonsense(there's that Mormonism again).

So I'd argue that if we want to grow in our faith this way, we could do no better than to teach people how to recognize the basic fallacies of informal logic--pointing out that if we are people of the logos, we can do little better than to care for our logic.   It'll take some time, because a lot of the nonsense arguments out there are part of our churches' cultures, but if we want to really apply the Fundamentals and the Solas, it's necessary.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Mark_Smith's picture

It is lack of information and intellectual curiosity. People know very little. Worse, they don't care that they don't know. Teach 8 years at a university and you will realize this.

Bert Perry's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:

It is lack of information and intellectual curiosity. People know very little. Worse, they don't care that they don't know. Teach 8 years at a university and you will realize this.

Does it count to be a TA?  I have about 5 years with that. 

No argument that there's a lack of curiosity and knowledge--I'd just suggest that it goes hand in hand with a lack of thinking and logic.  Why bother accumulating knowledge if you don't know what to do with it?  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Bert Perry's picture

Mark, let's illustrate the power of logic using the article's text.  Now if knowledge, or information as you say, is the solution, we should find Biblical passages that specifically note that Christ is not among the created order, right?

Now, look it up.  Do you find such a passage?  Neither did the article.  Rather, the eternality of Christ follows as such:

1.  Jesus Christ is God (John 1, elsewhere)

2.  God is eternal (1 Timothy 1:17, elsewhere)

3.  Therefore Christ is eternal and not created.

In the same way, you cannot establish the Trinity without logic, nor can you establish the Solas or the Fundamentals.  You will not find them in Scripture as such.  Information without logic is really gelded that way--it's not unimportant, but it simply lacks the power of knowledge assisted by right ways of thinking.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Mark_Smith's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

 

Why bother accumulating knowledge if you don't know what to do with it?  

There's your problem right there, Bert. Today's college student (and church pew sitter) isn't "accumulating knowledge." They are occupying space. They are punching a card to get a piece of paper so they can get a mindless job that pays well and requires no thinking. I could count on one hand the few students who actually want to "accumulate knowledge."

ScottS's picture

It seems to me the survey sets the users up for (what it deems) a failure. So call me a heretic if you will, but if I were reading this question (#9 on the survey)—

Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.

—the first question I would have in my own mind while answering it is whether we are talking about pre or post-incarnate Jesus? Because it does make a difference, in my opinion, for answering the question. The Person of Jesus is eternal, divine, and uncreated; but that Person through the incarnation took on the flesh of the creature designed by God to be like Him (i.e., became one with the created), and by doing so, then He made this statement true (#10 on the survey):

Jesus is truly God and has a divine nature, and Jesus is truly man and has a human nature.

So as the incarnated Son of God, Jesus in his "truly man" form with "a human nature" was (in part) "created by God." To be deemed any other would mean the incarnated Him was not really truly man nor really having a human nature, since humans are creatures. But equally so, He was, is, and always will be eternal and uncreated in relation to the divine essence of Who He is as a Person.

Now whether He, if deemed to be in His incarnation, is the "first and greatest being created by God" then hinges on how one takes "first" in this statement. If "first" is temporally taken, the answer is still false—Christ did not incarnate before other creatures were made and the pre-incarnate Christ was in no way created. But if the incarnated Christ is the subject and "first" is read as "preeminent" (i.e., "first and greatest" either being essentially synonymous to each other for added rhetorical effect or the former term speaking of His rank within mankind and the latter term speaking to His being unique even within the category of mankind because of His divinity), then I would have no issue with one answering true to the statement.

The problem is, the semantics of the statement are too vague to be useful in knowing how those taking the test interpreted it. So we may be dealing with a bunch of heretical theology or we may be dealing with people that understand that Christ, in His incarnation, is also now the preeminent human creature of God's creation.

Scott Smith, Ph.D.

The goal now, the destiny to come, holiness like God—
Gen 1:27, Lev 19:2, 1 Pet 1:15-16

Bert Perry's picture

Scott, isn't the proper term, Biblically speaking, for how Christ came to earth as a man is that He was "begotten", not "created"?  I'm open to being proven wrong, and quite frankly at one point I think I would have made the error the article refers to, but this isn't the most subtle of errors.

We also ought to be wary of saying "it's just semantics", as very often that's a casual way of dismissing the differences between categories that are very real.  Word to the wise, brother.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I think theologians can get too "theological" when they write questions. They could be written better. I think they're really asking about Arianism. They could have just asked:

  • Has Jesus always existed? Yes or No.
  • Did Jesus "begin" at some point in time because God created Him (NOTE: we're not referring to the incarnation)?

This is a lot simpler. It takes two questions, but I think you'd get better answers.

They also asked this:

Jesus is truly God and has a divine nature, and Jesus is truly man and has a human nature

They're going for two-nature Christology from Chalcedon. They could have just asked this:

  • Does Jesus have:

    • (a) a divine nature
    • (b) a human nature
    • (c) a divine AND human nature

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

TylerR's picture

Editor

"Begotten" is referring to the eternal generation of the Son, which is misty and difficult to grasp - but important. I think the term "begotten" is unfortunate. See, for example, my own translation of the Nicene-Constantinople Creed (381 A.D.) into modern English. I dropped "begotten" and other anachronistic terms which only create confusion. I used "brought forth" instead of "begotten."

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

ScottS's picture

Bert, I agree the points of distinction are very real. But that is also why, in my opinion, the semantics of how it is asked becomes the more important. Especially when dealing with people from a variety of backgrounds who will not have the same basis behind what the questioner is asking. 

So yes, Christ was begotten (that is a good, biblical term, 1 Jn 4:9). But He is begotten into the family-line of a creature (David) through a creature (Mary) and begotten as a creature (human). So unless one considers His incarnate flesh to also be eternal (somehow), that part of Him is part of creation and thus created.

But Tyler's reply is along the lines of my point. The question about Christ's created nature (or not) could have been worded in a much better way to indicate that the eternal Person is in view, not the incarnate Person, so that one could better distinguish heresy from orthodoxy through the survey. 

And Tyler's other reply is also true, the idea of begotten has to be clarified itself, for theologians do tend to consider the term as referring to the eternal Sonship of Christ; yet it cannot be denied that He was also "begotten" in the virgin Mary by the Spirit (in a more human, normal sense of the term).

Scott Smith, Ph.D.

The goal now, the destiny to come, holiness like God—
Gen 1:27, Lev 19:2, 1 Pet 1:15-16

TylerR's picture

Editor

In the context of the ecumenical creeds, Bert's reference to "begotten" does not refer to generation. The next clause of the Creed hedges this by clarifying "begotten, not made."

When the NT speaks of "begotten Son" in reference to Christ, it also isn't referring to generation. It's referring to uniqueness. This is why, in my opinion, this is a bad, bad English word. As Trump would say, it's a "bad hombre." It is too confusing to retain when the context is Christ.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

TylerR's picture

Editor

This mini-discussion on "begotten" is proof that survey questions for ordinary Christians about Christology need to be written clearly! Just look at us . . .

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

ScottS's picture

I just edited my answer to refer back to both your comments, and I agree, "begotten" (in the context of where it is used for translation) becomes challenging to clarify the meaning well and is probably best avoided.

Scott Smith, Ph.D.

The goal now, the destiny to come, holiness like God—
Gen 1:27, Lev 19:2, 1 Pet 1:15-16

Bert Perry's picture

We need more catechism.  :^)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

josh p's picture

Yes our church uses the Heidelberg catechism during the service and we are about to start the 1689 (not my first choice) on Wednesdays.

Hugely beneficial in my opinion.