Tag Archives: Christology

Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up? Part II

I pointed out in the previous post that many in the church are caught up with the spirit of the heresy hunter.

This War on Theological Terrorism is nothing more than arrogance and intolerance being passed off as “truth telling” for the sake of Christian orthodoxy.

I gave a few examples of how the real source of division is not from those proposing that Love Wins or from anyone else questioning our traditional “safe for the whole family” interpretations of Scripture. Mostly what we are seeing are the gatekeepers of conservative Christianity behaving badly.

It’s really nauseating. There have been more outcries against Rob Bell’s ambiguity regarding hell than there has been toward American greed, idolatry, militarism, and intolerance. And all of that is in the church! Excuse me while I throw up in my trashcan.

Are there real doctrinal threats? Yes. Are heretics alive today? Yes.

But before we look at what the NT qualifies as heresy, and who are true heretical threats, let’s think about the seriousness of the error made by heresy hunters.

Forsaking Love For Heresy Hunting

Let’s consider the stern warning given to Ephesus by Jesus in John’s apocalypse. I think it speaks to a certain segment of evangelicalism today.

I see what you’ve done, your hard, hard work, your refusal to quit. I know you can’t stomach evil, that you weed out apostolic pretenders. I know your persistence, your courage in my cause, that you never wear out. But you walked away from your first love—why? What’s going on with you, anyway? Do you have any idea how far you’ve fallen? A Lucifer fall! Turn back! Recover your dear early love. No time to waste, for I’m well on my way to removing your light from the golden circle. You do have this to your credit: You hate the Nicolaitan business. I hate it, too. Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches. I’m about to call each conqueror to dinner. I’m spreading a banquet of Tree-of-Life fruit, a supper plucked from God’s orchard.  Rev 2:2-7 (MSG)

Notice that the Ephesian church was commended for their love of the truth in the face of pretenders, but they were firmly warned that their very identity as lovers of Christ would soon be lost if they chose instead to be known as haters of heresy. They would lose any ability to influence the world for the good news of Jesus.

The Nicolaitans (false teachers) may be carrying on some nasty business, but the work of the church is to love Maker and neighbor.

As far as I can tell, I think the Christian fundamentalist movement of the early 20th century against extreme German (ir)rationalists and other European liberals (scholars denying the deity of Christ) has continued unabated into the 21st century against anyone challenging any conservative or reformed theological tradition deemed acceptable by the gatekeepers… no matter how peripheral the issue may be. If you oppose these men, they will write a book against you. You can count on it.

It’s time to stand up against this behavior by refusing to buy into the fear mongering, tattle telling, and name-calling that has many Christians forsaking their first love.

Who Are The Real Heretics?

I think the criteria by which we may discern false prophets and teachers from faithful followers of Christ should begin and end with the following:

1. Do they accept that Christ is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God?

In Matthew 16:15, Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” This has to be the question of the ages. Believer or pretender? How a person answers this question determines how we regard them. Faithful teachers will avow the words of Peter, “You’re the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (v. 16). Does the person in question answer in the affirmative?

And who is a liar? Anyone who says that Jesus is not the Christ. Anyone who denies the Father and the Son is an antichrist. Anyone who denies the Son doesn’t have the Father, either. But anyone who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.  1 John 2:22-23 (NLT)

Declaring “Christ is Lord” is saying something (Rom 10:9-10).  Don’t think for a second that this is not a meaningful confession. Now maybe it has in our day lost some of its original meaning, but it’s not something you should easily ignore because you don’t like the one confessing it. Get over yourself. Love demands that you take them seriously.

If they confess Christ, then consider their behavior.

2. Do they lead moral lives, and are they leading others to do the same?

The Old and New Testaments are clear that beliefs and behavior are signs of a person’s standing with the Lord. You can’t separate belief from behavior (Rom 6; Eph 2:1-9; Jam 1:19-27).

Regardless of whether not we think a person’s theology is bad, or that their prophecies are true, it’s how they live that reflects their heart in relation to the Lord. If they speak truth but live like the devil, they’re a false teacher.

If they confess Christ, does their life bear evidence of Christ at work within them (Jn 15)? Jesus said to examine the tree. Does their tree bear fruit of the gospel? Are others coming into the mystery of Christ and his eternal purpose through their ministry? Are folks being set free?

And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. Jesus, John 8:32 (NIV)

Paul spoke about what Christian evidence looks like in Galatians 5:22-23. He said it looks like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

If their conduct is worthy of the gospel of Jesus, then ask their community.

3. Are they supported by reputable members of the Christian church?

What are members in their local Christian community saying about them? And what are folks in your own community saying? What you hear matters to a certain extent (Eph 1:15-17).

You will want to check with those believers you respect who are outside of your own tradition. Let’s be honest, denominational thinking can cloud our judgment. Don’t just ask a Jew… ask a Gentile. Don’t just ask another Baptist… ask a Methodist, an Anabaptist, and a democrat.

Also, what are outsiders saying about them (1 Tim 3:7)? You may have to talk to them to get the real story. If you go to the religious leaders, they may say, “he’s a drunkard and a fornicator” as they did our Lord. Instead, what does the unbelieving neighbor across the fence say about them?

We should all put down any gossip or misinformation we hear in this process (Prov 16:28). Don’t listen to hearsay. If you can, go to the person directly (Matt 18:15-19). If you can’t, speak with those who know them. If you can’t do that, then read their book(s) or blog for yourself. Pray and ask the Lord for discernment.

Remember that many distortions and lies were told about Jesus and the early church. Imagine hearing “eat my flesh and drink my blood” out of context. That can (and did) start some nasty rumors. It was troubling enough to Jesus’ original audience.

So, don’t just get ticked off and leave the scene. Ask questions. Seek understanding. Get clarity before jumping to conclusions about another brother and sister in Christ. Always think the best and believe the best about another person. That’s how love works.

Look at it this way… you may not simply be rejecting a troublemaker, you may actually be opposing the Lord himself. If they are a believer, you’re doing just that. And if they’re an unbeliever, you should be heaping hot coals and giving cold water in Jesus’ name, not being hateful and ugly to those you deem to be a theological threat.

Confession, behavior, and community. All of these must be considered together. None of these questions should be considered apart from the others. Do they all check out? If so, embrace them in the Lord.

So What Is Heresy?

What should be considered “heresy” in the church?

While there may be some unsettling notions that challenge some of our core theological ideas, I believe we can set up a clear boundary around what should be recognized as real heresy.

Heresies are those doctrines and teachings that undermine the person and work of Christ. Real heresies contradict the testimony about Jesus that has been handed down to us by the apostles. 

Real heresies strip the incarnate Christ of his elevated position of God’s highest honor (Phil 2:6-11). Christ is the exact representation of God’s being (Heb 1:3). He himself is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by him (Jn 14:6). He is the only mediator between God and man (1 Tim 2:5). He is the divine Word made in human flesh (Jn 1:1-14).

Anyone who denies the earliest and most reliable testimony of the person and work of Jesus should be considered a false teacher propagating doctrines of demons. These teachings are meant to deceive and lead others astray. Both the NT and the early church testify to this.

No doubt, some have unknowingly been a conduit for this demonic activity. But unfortunately, many conservative evangelical Christians have broadened “heresy” and false teachers to include anyone that questions what they deem “historical” orthodox Christianity. I have found that it’s usually a critique of Western Christianity that gets you labeled a heretic these days.

But this isn’t heresy according to the NT.

For example, some believe that those claiming that Genesis 1-2 is an ancient pre-scientific cosmology (not to be read literally) are heretics. It wouldn’t be the first time. They did it to Copernicus and Galileo. Of course, now you will be considered an idiot if you don’t believe in heliocentrism. Think about it. Our history of over-reacting really needs to stop with this generation.

The gatekeepers may say it’s mere novelty that drives an emerging evangelicalism. But they need to humble themselves and remember that some things which appear new to them, others have found to be old forgotten teachings and traditions of the church. And then leave room for legitimate insights into faith, science, and biblical theology.

Remain Humble, Teachable, and Loving

Finally, let’s return to the verse we began with in the first installment.

The “teaching that you have learned” (Rom 16:17) could be used to mean what some people first learned in their 8th grade Sunday School class with Mrs. Jones. I’m sure old lady Jones may have been a godly woman who loved the Lord, but neither she nor your pastor is the final arbiter of truth.

Truth is discovered in communion with Christ and the church—even those members of the church that make us uncomfortable.

This often means that our knowledge of the truth will need to be revised and expanded after many seasons of Christian growth. The truth doesn’t change, but our perceptions of the truth will in due season.

The interpretation of Romans 16:17 that allows you to defend everything you’ve ever been taught by your mom, your denomination, your favorite pastor, and John Calvin… just isn’t what the apostles had in mind.

The apostles were referring to those things that have been clearly taught about the person and work of Christ.

Dear brothers and sisters, we must remain humble. I surmise that there is much about my own theology that falls short of God’s glory. If I knew what needed to be corrected, I would (on most days) gladly do it.

Can you say the same?

Walk in the light you have. Remain humble, teachable, and loving.

Are you getting all of your life from the living Christ, or from all of your theological opinions? Do we share Christ together? If so, all that is left is love. Without it we’re just making noise. It doesn’t even matter who is right or wrong when love is lost (1 Cor 13).

Hear the words of Jesus…

Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.  Jesus, John 13:34-35 (MSG)

Love and teach the truth. And leave the heretics to Jesus.

D.D. Flowers, 2012.


Vision for 21st Century Evangelicalism, Intro

In every generation there are books whose author seeks to give correctives to popular thinking, and offer up a new vision for the future of the church. In order to do this successfully, I believe that authors must “return to the roots” of Christian faith and practice—helping his audience to see the wisdom of the past in context, in order to discover hope for the future.

Contextualizing the New Testament—making it applicable to our own day by first understanding it in the biblical context—is absolutely essential in every season and situation of the church. As Bob Dylan has sung, “the times they are a-changing.” And we must learn to read the Scriptures afresh if we want to discern together what it means to be Christ in community.

In my experience, American evangelicals are largely unable to contextualize, unaware of Christian history, and ignorant of the broad spectrum of theology that has been appreciated by the church down through the years. There are many reasons for this, which I will not go into in this series of posts. But I think it is necessary to ask that you agree with me that this is indeed the case before you can fully benefit from reading this series.

If you agree, or you are just curious, please keep reading.

In this series of posts, I would like to share five books with you that I believe are timely to American evangelicalism. The authors of these books come from a variety of backgrounds within evangelicalism. In case you have been disconnected, or just haven’t heard, I want to bring these books to your attention and try to convince you to read them (or buy the audio book and listen) at your convenience.

Look, I know that you are busy. I also know that reading may not be your thing. If that is the case, then I recommend reading with a partner or a small group. Set a goal and be intentional about it. Whatever it takes to digest the messages in these books. It will be well worth your time.

You might be passionately wrapped up in a specific issue right now (e.g. social justice, parenting, church planting, evangelism, etc.). I humbly suggest that you can still follow your passions and make room for these books.

If you are apart of an evangelical church, the messages set forth by these authors are critical for our time. I believe they will all in some way contribute to your spiritual journey, helping to fine-tune your own calling.

All of the books that I will share with you are very readable. Each book less than 200 pages! They are all written wonderfully well at the popular level. Some of the authors are biblical scholars, pastors, itinerant speakers, and one is a church planter and personal friend.

The books will address issues pertaining to: (1) Theology; (2) the Gospel; (3) the Bible; (4) Christology; and (5) Faith and Politics.

There are many provocative authors and books that touch on other important issues that will not be included in the list of forthcoming books. Nevertheless, I do believe that the books I have selected will go to the heart of our present situation, and the implications of those messages will spill over into everything else.

Finally, there will be a drawing for a book giveaway (one of the five books of your choice) for the person who follows the entire series and shares each post on facebook or twitter. Make sure we are friends on those networks.

Let me know that you have posted each link and that you want to be entered into the drawing for a free book! You can do this by giving me a link and a personal note in the comment section at the end of this series.

D.D. Flowers, 2012.

Read the next post: Vision for 21st Century Evangelicalism, Book One


Trinity & Incarnation

Finding a Biblical Christology Within a Trinitarian Monotheism

Tertullian (c. 160-220 AD) is officially given credit for coining the term “Trinity” to refer to the triune nature of the Godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).[1] The term itself is nowhere used in the Biblical text, but the majority of Christian traditions have accepted “Trinity” as a sufficient way of describing the three-in-one relationship of God.

The Biblical text, specifically the NT, references the Father, Son, and Spirit in about 120 different passages (e.g. Matt 28:18-20; Jn 14-17; Acts 2, etc.).[2] Jesus of Nazareth began a fringe movement within a strict monotheistic Second Temple Judaism that would in time overtake the entire Roman Empire.

In the beginning, Christ’s claims to divinity set forth an early “binitarian devotional pattern” which revealed a plurality within the one God.[3] The doctrine of the Trinity would eventually arise during the patristic age in an effort to accommodate the lordship of Jesus and the experience of the Holy Spirit into a Trinitarian monotheism.

Larry Hurtado makes the following observation:

It may not be sufficiently recognized by historians of dogma or contemporary theologians that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is essentially a christologically shaped statement of monotheism. To be sure, the earliest Christian texts reflect a triadic experience of “God,” comprising the sense of “God” (“Father”) as the source and ultimate destination of all things, Jesus as the essential and unique agent of divine purposes through whom creation is now to be seen and through whom also redemption is provided, and the Spirit is the impartation and gift of “God” that is at the same time also the advocate and medium through which believers receive a filial status that derives from Jesus’ own unique divine sonship. So, if it is a bit anachronistic to speak of “trinitarian” theology in the NT, it is right to see the roots of this doctrinal development in this body of texts.[4]

Questions of Jesus’ relationship to God within a Trinitarian monotheism, while being the very God-man himself, naturally leads the student to consider the incarnation of Christ—the divine and human natures of Jesus. How can both natures coexist in one person? How can Jesus be fully God and fully man at the same time?

In pursuit of discovering the truth about the real identity of Jesus, the scholar must ask: “Can the Christ of faith and the Jesus of history be held together?” Millard Erickson concludes: “Since the Jesus of history is approached through reason and the kerygmatic Christ is seized by faith, we are apparently dealing with a case of the classic faith-reason dichotomy.”[5]

The kerygmatic Christ and the historical Jesus are the same person. Therefore, faith in the divine Christ does not exclude the use of reason, it makes it necessary.

In his Theology for the Community of God, Stanley Grenz writes:

Of the various aspects of our Christian understanding of God perhaps none is as difficult to grasp as the concept of God as triune. At the same time, no dimension of the Christian confession is closer to the heart of the mystery of the God we have come to know. In fact, what sets Christianity apart from the other religious traditions is the confession that the one God is Father, Son, and Spirit. As a consequence, no teaching lies at the center of Christian theology, if not of Christian faith itself, as does the doctrine of the Trinity.[6]

There are several historical traditions that have sought to make sense of Trinity and the incarnation of God in Christ. The purpose of this paper is to take a defendable position on the Trinity and incarnation by: (1) giving a brief critical examination of each major historical Trinitarian formulation, (2) surveying and critiquing the historical development of incarnational Christology, (3) constructing a Biblical theology that is sensitive to the Biblical texts in their original context.

This paper will conclude with a challenge to remain committed to a practical Trinitarian monotheism and faithful to a functional Christology that is rooted in the Scripture.

HISTORICAL TRINITARIAN CONSTRUCTIONS

The Eastern Orthodox Formulation

The two most historic of traditions are the Eastern Orthodox and Western views. Both of these formulations were largely constructed in response to the Arian controversy.

Arius, a deacon in the Alexandrian church, taught that the Son was the first creation of the Father. He said that God “beget” Jesus—the Father made the Son. Therefore, Arianism stated that Christ was not co-eternal with God.

Arius’ teaching was especially concerning because of the way in which he argued from the Scripture and Greek philosophy to make his case. Arius was opposed by the theologian Athanasius at the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea in 325.

The church unequivocally affirmed the NT and the full divinity of Christ.

Arianism was denounced as a heresy and Arius himself was banished as a heretic. In the Nicean Creed, the council asserted that the Son is “begotten of the Father, of the substance of the Father, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father.”[7]

Tertullian used the Latin phrase tres personae, una substantia (“three persons, one substance”) to describe the Trinity, which the Cappadocian fathers would later refine to produce the classic formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity in order to avoid tritheism and modalism.

Tertullian and the church historian Eusebius are remembered as promoters of the Eastern Orthodox view. This view is heavily rooted in Greek philosophical (Stoic Logos) thought of the second and third centuries. Proponents of the Orthodox tradition believe in “eternal procession” from God the Father—the Spirit and the Son both proceeded from God. They are merely an extension of the Father, who is the source.

The incarnation is then the generated Son invading a (Neo-Platonic) human spirit and soul. The greatest weakness of the Eastern formulation is that it relies more heavily upon philosophical rhetoric and categories than it does the Biblical text.

The Western Formulation

Augustine was a major proponent of what is known as the Western view. He expressed that the “eternal generation” within the Trinity describes ontological relationships. He believed that any distinction of persons must reside within the relationships found in Triune community.[8] Each member of the Trinity is equally God and they have always operated together according to one will.

The Western view emphasizes the threeness characteristic of God as relational. This can be seen in the use of the triangle as a symbol for the shared relationships within the Trinity. Augustine saw human beings as a triad of being, knowing, and willing. He developed several analogies to further the idea that the Trinity has implications for living.[9]

Augustine’s view was much more balanced with a concern for the relationality of God within himself and creation. He nevertheless constrained himself to philosophical categories.

This philosophical understanding of God will reach its climax with Aquinas and continue to dominate until the Reformation.[10]

The Biblical Theology Formulation

There are two modern views that seek to modify the Eastern Orthodox and Western views. Dale Moody and Doug Kennard promote a Biblical Theology view that is careful to point out that the Father, Son, and Spirit are all God, but the Son is not the Father and the Father is not the Son.

These scholars hold that the philosophical language of “eternal procession” in understanding John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18 and 1 John 4:9 is logically contradictory and not helpful in discussions of Trinity and incarnation.

Instead, Jesus should be seen as being sent by God, not as the “only begotten” Son (Jn 3:16), but as the monogenes, from mono (single) and genos (kind)—Jesus is the only one of his kind. Just as Isaac was the uniquely chosen son of Abraham, not the only son (Ishmael), Jesus is the chosen one sent by God (Gen 21:12; Heb 11:18).[11]

In the Johannine writings the word monogenes is used exclusively to speak of Jesus’ unique historical birth. From this perspective, Biblical Theology proposes that there is an economic procession of Trinitarian ministry. There are three who’s and one what. Each member of the Trinity is unique in function.

Doug Kennard believes it is best to discard the ancient philosophical rhetoric:

Since the Biblical texts used to defend the doctrine of generation emphasize monogenes to be the historical birthing of Jesus’ humanity in incarnation, it is best to reject the ancient tradition that Jesus Christ was generated before all ages in eternity. As a historical oddity eternal generation does not reflect the Bible. At this point, the unanimous voice of scholarly commentators agree, further confirming the exegetical view that the generation of the Son should be Biblically understood as an initiation of an economic ministry of the divine Word incarnating to reveal the Father through His humanity.[12]

The Social Trinity Formulation

The Social Trinitarian view has been popularized by Leonard Hodgson, Stanley Grenz, and Jurgen Moltmann. This formulation emphasizes the ontological relationships shared within the Godhead.

This view incorporates the language of “generation,” but it is more specifically concerned to preserve the interpersonal relationships within the God who binds together all things in love. God is love because he is himself a social “familial” Trinity.

Therefore, Christ is fulfilling his divine familial role within the Trinity and incarnation. The Father is the originator, the Son is the revealer, and the Spirit is the completer of the divine program.

Grenz writes, “The ontological differentiations facilitate an economic as well as an ontological diversity in the one God. Each of the three Trinitarian members fulfills a specific role in the one divine program.”[13]

THE DOCTRINE OF THE INCARNATION

Logos Christology

Since Trinity and incarnation go hand in hand, it is necessary to briefly examine a few historical views regarding the incarnation of Christ before taking a position on the best Biblical explanation for the Trinity.

James D.G. Dunn reminds the student of the great importance in the unfolding of incarnational theology within the Biblical text:

We have found nothing in pre-Christian Judaism or the wider religious thought of the Hellenistic world which provides sufficient explanation of the origin of the doctrine of the incarnation, no way of speaking about God, the gods, or intermediary beings which so far as we can tell would have given birth to this doctrine apart from Christianity.[14]

Hurtado adds to the significance of incarnational theology: “In historical terms we may refer to a veritable “big bang,” and explosively rapid and impressively substantial Christological development in the earliest stage of the Christian movement.”[15]

This development begins with the NT writers revealing the full humanity and deity of Christ, and continues through to the creeds of Nicea (325 AD) and Chalcedon (451 AD)—affirming that Jesus is both God and man.

The first major philosophical explanation employed during the second and third centuries was known as Logos Christology. John declared that Jesus is the Word (Logos) in the prologue to the Fourth Gospel. The term corresponded with the Hebrew concept davar (Word of God) and the Stoic logos (inner law which humans ought to orient their lives).[16]

As stated previously concerning the Eastern Orthodox thinkers, this means that the incarnation is then the generated Logos invading a human spirit and soul. Folks like Justin Martyr and Origen utilized Stoic concepts to make sense of the Trinity and incarnation.

Kennard points out that, “the early church comes out strongly against embracing a Stoic world view, even though a few Stoic concepts contributed to Christology.”[17] It is understandable why the apologists would make use of philosophical concepts of their day to explain and defend the doctrine of Christ, but it quickly becomes a matter of debate and confusion (Arianism).

Logos Christology is built upon Greek concepts and it is explained in philosophical rhetoric that goes far beyond Biblical language.

Nestorian Christology

There does not seem to be any agreement as to how the early church articulated the paradox of Christ having two natures in one person. Nestorius (c. 386-451 AD) proposed that the two natures of Christ should be held apart from one another.

Was Nestorius promoting the heretical idea that two distinct persons resided in Jesus? It is hard to say because of the political and ecclesiastical rivalries that involved him in the church.[18] Also, his ambiguous language was easily misunderstood among the many heresies swirling about (e.g. adoptionism, docetism, Apollonarianism, etc.) Nestorius was viewed as not fully appreciating the unity of Christ’s person.

The West resolved the debate of the two-natures at the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD):

Therefore, following the holy Fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood; truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation, the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the Fathers has handed down to us.[19]

It should be acknowledged that Chalcedon did not entirely remove the mystery of the paradox that exists in the person of Christ. At best, the Chalcedonian Creed states what the “two natures in one person” does not mean.[20]

The Eastern Church continued with a Logos Christology. And others would come along and express dissatisfaction with the older explanations.

Kenosis Christology

In the modern era of Protestant scholasticism, Sartori sought to resolve the problem of the relationship between the two natures with his interpretation of Philippians 2:7.[21]

“Kenosis” is the Greek term used to say that Christ “emptied himself” (RSV) to take on human form. This view theorizes that Christ gave up or emptied himself of those divine attributes that were incompatible with his human existence (especially omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience).

Some proponents go so far to say that Christ set aside all divine attributes. This great flaw in the theory inevitably leads to confessing that Jesus is less than God. Therefore, a modified Kenosis theory is necessary.

Grenz says the appearance of setting aside those attributes is actually the Son’s giving up the “independent  exercise of those powers.” Christ submitted his divine capabilities to the Father’s will.[22]

Since it is right to affirm that all the fullness of God dwells in Christ (Col 1:19), it is most appropriate to accept a modified Kenosis theory. Jesus emptied himself of those attributes that were incompatible with his humanity in order to be fully human. He was obedient to the Father and did not consider equality with God something to be exploited (Phil 2:5-8).

This view is preferred to all the rest.

CONCLUSION—FINDING A BIBLICAL CHRISTOLOGY

The historical views of Trinity and incarnation have laid a foundation on which future generations may construct, and deconstruct if necessary. It is likely that each generation of believers will seek to express a Christology that speaks directly to the needs of their own Christian community.[23]

As for the historical constructions, I believe it is the best of Biblical Theology and the Social formulation that combine for the strongest presentation of the Trinity. The relevant NT passages should not be read through Greek philosophical lenses of the patristic era in defense of  a Trinitarian monotheism and the incarnation of God in Christ.

Christ was uniquely born (Jn 3:16), sent into the world as the exact representation of God (Heb 1:3), and only subordinate to the Father in an earthly temporal sense (Phil 2:6-11). Christ is fully man and fully God. The NT writers do not leave this open to readers.

Jesus claimed to be divine and equal with the Father on multiple occasions (Matt 16:13-20; 26:63-65; Jn 1:1-14; 8:19-59; 10:30-33), God vindicated him through his resurrection from the dead (Jn 20), and he even received worship of himself (Jn 20:28-29). The Holy Spirit is economically sent by Christ after his ascension as the completer of God’s will (Jn 14:15-21; 16:12-15). The Father, Son, and Spirit are wholly God in a mysterious community of love (2 Cor 13:14; Gal 4:6; 1 Pet 1:2).

Oscar Cullmann said, “in the light of the New Testament witness, all mere speculation about his (Christ’s) natures is an absurdity. Functional Christology is the only kind which exists.”[24]

The church will continue to discuss and debate Trinity and incarnation. What matters most is that the church maintain a working Christology that leads to the perpetual celebration of the incarnation of the Trinitarian God, and faithful adherence to the Christ who has revealed the new way to be human.

May the continued pursuit of a Biblical Christology bless heaven and earth—until the Lord joins them together forever, and mystery gives way to perfect understanding.

D.D. Flowers, 2011.

[1] Fisher Humphreys, “The revelation of the Trinity.” Perspectives In Religious Studies 33, no. 3 (September 1, 2006): 287.

[2] Ibid., 292.; Not all of the references include the three persons together.

[3] Larry W. Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2003), 134-153.

[4] Hurtado, God in New Testament Theology (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2010), 46-47.

[5] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 689.

[6] Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 53.

[7] Henry Bettenson and Chris Maunder, eds. Documents of the Christian Church (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 27.

[8] C.C. Pecknold, “How Augustine used the trinity: functionalism and the development of doctrine.” Anglican Theological Review 85, no. 1 (December 1, 2003): 134.

[9] Grenz, 62.

[10] R.L. Saucy, “Doctrine of God” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. ed. Walter A. Elwell, 500-504 (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 503.

[11] Dale Moody, “God’s only Son : the translation of John 3:16 in the Revised Standard Version.” Journal Of Biblical Literature 72, no. 4 (December 1, 1953): 213.

[12] Douglas Kennard, Messiah Jesus: Christology in His Day and Ours (New York: Peter Lang, 2008), 503.

[13] Grenz, 67. Also see Moltmann’s The Trinity and the Kingdom. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1981; and Hodgson’s How Can God Be Both One and Three? London: SPCK, 1963.

[14] James D.G. Dunn, Christology in the Making: A New Testament Inquiry into the Origins of the Doctrine of the Incarnation (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1989), 253.

[15] Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity, 135.

[16] Grenz, 300-301.

[17] Kennard, 495.

[18] Erickson, 743.

[19] Bettenson, 56.

[20] Erickson, 747.

[21] Kennard, 505.

[22] Grenz, 307.

[23] See Daniel L. Migliore’s “Christology in Context: The Doctrinal and Contextual Tasks of Christology Today.” Interpretation 49, no. 3 (July 1, 1995): 242-254.

[24] Oscar Cullmann, The Christology of the New Testament (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1963), 326.


The Problem with Modern-Day Preaching

“Preach the Word (i.e. Christ; John 1:1-2, 14); be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage– with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” Paul, Second Letter to Timothy, 4:2-3

I write to you out of an observation of the great majority of today’s preaching from the pulpit and the pen. The pulpit may be bulky and made of solid oak, or a glass podium, or even a simple music stand… it doesn’t matter. From whatever pulpit… by whatever popular teacher or author… in whatever form… something is most definitely wrong with today’s “Christian” preaching.

In addition to bad hermeneutics and those who preach for monetary gain, there is a compromising of our faith being displayed in the sermons of many respected preachers and a capitulation to the surrounding culture.

I am writing to you from what I believe is coming out of the last few years of my life–out of an immense shift in my understanding of the centrality and supremacy of Christ. I believe this observation is born out of what I have dubbed my “renewed” Christology.

For me, it was a revolution of the heart. And this revolution has set into motion a great undoing for an even greater relearning. It has caused many curtains of culture to be lifted from my eyes. This light, I believe, is available to all that desire it. To those who knock, the door will be opened. To those that seek, they shall find (Matt. 7:7).

Let the heart of this examination be known to you who read. And together, let us seek the centrality and supremacy of Christ… especially in our preaching.

The Christian Life is Principles?

“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” Paul, Letter to the Colossians, 2:8

According to most preaching today, a person could easily make the judgment that Jesus did not come to give us his life, but to give us principles to live by. Yes, it is fair to say that Christ is not the end of popular preaching today. It could easily be deduced from your nearest pulpit that Christ was a mighty philosopher who has given us morals, values, and principles to follow that we might find happiness on earth. It is often presented that if we will learn the right formula all will be well with the soul.

Let us at least be clear about this one thing, this is not the message of Christ or the first apostles.

During the last hours of Christ’s life, he prayed, “My prayer is not for them (i.e. 11 disciples) alone. I pray also for those (i.e. you and I) who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you… I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me.” Jesus, The Gospel of John, 17:20-23

The apostle Paul wrote, “God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.” Paul, Letter to the Colossians, 1:27-29

When the Gospel of Jesus is reduced down to forgiveness of sin and going to heaven when you die… we miss the true message of the whole Gospel of Christ. When we talk about knowing Christ today and all we think of is Jesus dying for our sins, we fall short of the complete good news of God. We must move on and grow up into the fullness of Christ in us! We must commit to rereading Scripture with this as the primary concern of all of the apostles of Jesus. They understood that the message in all of Scripture was that God has given us his life through Christ Jesus his Son.

Therefore, the Gospel message is to preach that God has paid our sin debt in order that his life can reign in us. The only concern of the first Christians was to preach that the person of Jesus was the gift, not heaven. The Christian life is not a destination, it is a journey. It is not about principles, it is about a Person.

I am fully aware that today we have philosophers and motivational speakers sitting in the prophet’s chair. Clearly, these men preach human wisdom and use the Bible to polish their self-centered messages in order that they might label them “biblical.” It is very disturbing to see the multitudes that are being deceived by these men.

However, I would like to particularly focus my attention on those who preach principles while at the same time mixing Christian language in the message. They preach Christ, but through learning steps and principles… instead of learning of his Person. They do not present the message I have stated above. They speak of living Jesus’ life without first knowing his being. They see only the benefits of following Christ. They do not embrace his Person as the life force within them that will carry out his commands.

If we are honest with ourselves, much of the so-called “Christ-centered” preaching that we hear today is presented in expounding on principles taken from Christ’s life… instead of it simply being Christ’s life in us. It is an attempt to use Christ to achieve our ends, instead of knowing Christ to reach his own.

Yes, if we are honest… most Christians believe that Christianity is about following some guidelines (which translates into a particular way to eat, dress, live, love, vote, etc.)… and we never embrace the full Person of Jesus. Therefore, we attempt to sustain life by principles, fail to receive life from the Person, and we never see Christ come to full expression in our earthly lives.

Is this not evident by the bestselling books today? If you will look closely at a few of the most recent popular books you will notice that Christ is not central and supreme. In some cases, Christ is completely absent from the message. These books present Christianity as principle-filled instead of Person-filled (i.e. Christ-centered). The authors, as well-intentioned as they may be, are trading the Person of Christ for principles to live by. (Some have even denied Christ’s supremacy.) On top of that, these principles are presented in a very self-centered and hedonistic theology.

Life comes out of Christ, never out of principles.

This is what we must understand. If we desire to work out our salvation as we have been commanded… we must come to this: Christ is our salvation from beginning to end. Preaching worldly principles will clearly lead us to destruction. And preaching biblical principles that do not first come from knowing Jesus will stunt our spiritual growth.

This is why so many Christians are banging their heads up against the wall today. They are running from one pulpit to another, one book to another, and one emotion to another. They have not been taught how to grow up into Christ. It reminds me of a Credence Clearwater Revival song called, “Commotion.” There is a bunch of it going on, and seldom do we ever truly live. Let’s stop and rethink our Christology.

Trading Principles for a Person

A couple of years ago I was captivated by seeing Christ’s principles and teachings on the Sermon on the Mount in a new way. It was like I had never read them before or been taught its true meaning in all of my Christian upbringing. The Lord had opened my eyes to verses that we had ignored or watered-down for years.

I began to teach these things without fully understanding “Christ in you.” I believe that I had a brief understanding, but it was not yet articulated in my thought or life. It must have seemed impossible to my students, “How can we live this way?” I imagine this is exactly what Jesus’ audience was thinking when they heard it for the first time, “What is this man saying, ‘love my enemies’?… he is out of his mind!” No doubt, many thought he was crazy, even his own family (Mk. 3:20-21).

It didn’t take long for me to develop a renewed Christology. The Lord had been preparing the ground of my heart to receive a new revelation of his Son. It finally came upon reading Watchman Nee’s exposition of the book of Romans in his book, “The Normal Christian Life.” Nothing has been the same since. And I mean nothing.

I will not mince with words on such a critical issue. Living by principles will fail you. Your life is not found in following rules and guidelines and then waving to Jesus off to the side, saying, “Thanks for these wonderful principles my Lord! Now I can live a happy life and expect preferential treatment from the world.” Many of my readers may be thinking, “I would never say that.” Yet, we fail to see that we don’t have to say it. Our focus today and our faithfulness to these principle preachers have already condemned many of us tomorrow. We need to trade in principle-centered teachings for those that are first Christ-in-you-centered.

“But now that you know God– or rather are known by God– how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?” Paul, Letter to the Galatians, 4:9

Can we truly live the abundant life Christ gives by simply being mindful that we might die in 30 days? Will inspiration last by holding on to some cliché or our trust in 12 steps? Will legalism and ascetics save the day? Seriously, how long does that work for you?

This may help the world make it through the day, but our hope is not in worldly wisdom and things of men… our hope is in the Person of Jesus Christ. Has not Christ given us himself to be everything that we need to motivate and inspire, to fill us with purpose and a mission? Hasn’t he made a way to fulfill the law by embracing his Person? From what I am hearing today, apparently not. And I sincerely believe this great distraction of God’s people is fueled by the devil.

“How far Satan will go even in bringing about a kind of devotion to Christ, and promote a mystical, physical “Christianity” with elements of moral elevation, and yet hide within that very thing something which is of himself and, being of himself, savors of that which was in him from that time when he himself was hurled out of heaven, that thing which would take from the Lord Jesus the absoluteness of His place in the Godhead.”T. Austin Sparks, The Centrality and Supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ, p.38

If you listen closely, much of modern-day preaching is an attempt to fill the void in people’s soul by taking the back door approach to living victoriously. In the end, it undermines the absolute centrality and supremacy of Christ. Instead of preaching the depths and riches of Christ, his principles are taught in its place (not entirely of course, just those principles that fit our accepted cultural and theological ideas). To add to that… mix some new age self-help heresy in there and you completely lose anything that comes close to resembling Christ.

Christ has made a way for us to come to him directly. We should not concern ourselves with the effect (his living), until we begin with the cause (his life). Beginning with Christ will in the end give us those things that we see in his principles. We must concern ourselves with the being, instead of the doing. The doing will come naturally after we have locked on to his Person and understand that knowing Christ in spirit and in truth is our only concern.

Principles Out of the Person

About a year ago, I met a man and discussed with him that there are churches that believe there comes a time to kill enemies, despite what Jesus has said. Being Christ-centered and understanding “Christ in you”… he was befuddled and could not comprehend that there were professing believers that actually believed this.

He was so consumed with “Christ in you” he did not see an unattainable principle, he understood that the Person of Christ in him would never even entertain the thought of violating a teaching of Jesus. The same Christ that loved his enemies in the first-century was the same Christ living in him today. Although his reaction proved him to be a bit cut off from the outside world, I will never forget his reaction of complete shock.

When the Person of Christ has not been embraced and when we have missed the full message of the Gospel which is “Christ in you”… then of course, many of Christ’s principles and teachings seem absolutely ridiculous and impossible to expect adherence. This is why teaching principles without the Person can never lead us to Christ in the way he has prepared.

Ultimately, we fail to apply principles because the nature of the matter is to accomplish these things by doing in our own strength, instead of knowing and being the Lord in his strength.

When we falsely believe that forgiveness of sin is all there is to Christ, we will inevitably fail to see the world rightly through the eyes of Christ, for we have not fully realized that life within us. We must enter into his life before he can use us to manage his affairs in the church and preach the pure Gospel of salvation to the world.

We have to decide which it will be. Will we attempt to live out his principles apart from first knowing his life? Can a popular book on principles give me the life in Christ I desire? Can a sermon that says, “Principles in you, the hope of glory” save? Can this save you?

Should we not seek to understand Paul’s words, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” The later will deliver the life that is promised. The first will only sell books and gather around men a great following of religious people. Outwardly, the hype might appear as success and fulfillment, but the people who go home empty in heart know better. We simply must be willing to be honest with ourselves and the Lord.

At the end of the day… pop culture Christianity is a mirage in a desert wasteland. We must cross over Jordan to Christ in this life… if we ever wish to enjoy the fruit of the land in the next.

emerging_church1It is evident in whatever form of church you find yourself in. Something is missing in it all. Where there ought to be spiritual life, there is death. Over the last decade or so I have noticed the church drama has been building. Have you? Everyone is offering up their “new” and “innovative” ideas to blow life into the church.

Yet, it would seem that many have not noticed that Christ is absent. He stands outside knocking… he is softly saying, “I would like my church back.” He calls to us in the wilderness, “I am the river flowing from the throne of God.” We must dance in the river if we want to see his life flow from ours.

A Renewed Christology

It was all about Jesus when you were born again. If it had not been… you never would have been saved and regenerated by his Holy Spirit. It would appear that the great problem in the church today is this: Coming to Christ in salvation and then moving off of Christ to fulfill passions, purposes, ministries, and movements by substituting the person of Christ with principles.

The problem with our lives and our churches is not solved in discovering our inner potential through motivational books and sermons. In fact, these messages actually take us further away from dependence on Christ’s life in us. Apart from the Person of Christ, you have no potential.

Likewise, the church’s problems are not solvable by new emerging methods for our narcissistic ecclesiology. It is not answered in bigger buildings, louder music, and marketing degrees. It is not found in being “seeker friendly” or adopting a new program of discipleship. The answer to all of our problems is found in Christ alone. Nothing else will do.

“I myself am the way and the truth and the life.”
Jesus, The Gospel of John, 14:6

It is time for us to return back to our “first love” (Rev. 2:4) We came to Christ in the beginning and we realized the love of the Father, that our sins had been forgiven. Now, we must continue to pursue him in all things and grow up into our salvation (Phil. 2:12). We must move on past the elementary teachings of our faith (Heb. 6:1). We must commit ourselves to rediscovering the Christ of the Gospels. We must move toward revolution instead of vainly attempting to bring life through reformation.

A Challenge

Here it is straight: We cannot fully know Christ’s true principles until we have been captured by Christ’s true Person. Just as you cannot fly a plane while sitting in the terminal… you cannot know Christ by living out principles born from your own will and determination. True Christ principles come flowing from the life that is consumed with: “the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Col. 2:2-3)

I challenge you to listen to the words being taught by men today. Is Christ’s life the Gospel being preached? With all of the preaching and teaching today, you have to wonder… wonder why there is not a clear distinction between the natural faith of Christ vs. religion. If Christ was all that was being preached, I have to believe we would see a different church.

I am convinced that the Lord is setting a new stage for the churches in America. The stage is filled with suffering and heavy persecution. The right response in preparation is to put our hope and complete trust in the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ. Let it be known that Christ is the main actor in this production. It is not the church. We are but mere stage hands. We must understand the implications of this if we are to persevere through what is to come.

Let us go to the Scriptures in search of the indwelling Person of Christ, not principles that we might mold into our corrupted theology of Jesus and the church. Let us pray like Jesus in the garden. “Lord, make us one in you. Prepare us for that Day that is coming. Come Lord Jesus, come!”

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” Jesus, The Gospel of John, 11:25


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