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Beyond Religious Dogmatics

Personal Reflections

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Christology – the center of the Christian faith – became one of the most complicated topics not only in the Christian environment but secular world as well, as the appearance (whether literal or mythical) of Jesus Christ is a dramatic point in the history of the world. Who is that Jesus Christ? The person like everyone else anointed by God to reveal the way toward Him, which means that anyone of us could be in his position; or, maybe, he is a pre-existent Logos who dwelt with God and in God in the eternity without beginning and end then took on the human flesh to relate us to God and God to us, or is he someone else? Where, why and how did the paradox about Jesus’ full divinity and full humanity originate? Is it the invention of people’s mind or the fact that may not be comprehended and should be accepted by faith only? If Jesus is fully divine as he is fully human then it would be reasonable to seek him and treat him as God worshiping, obeying and praying to him… but Jesus never asked to worship him and pray to him; he only asked for the obedience and again not to him but the Father by keeping the commandments. Thus, it could mean that we shouldn’t worship Christ as God because he didn’t indicate clearly that he was the one, which, in turn means that he is not God and we are committing an idolatry by exalting him to the status of God or if he IS God, then we are NOT to worship God at all because Jesus doesn’t ask us to worship him as God…

The primary data that we’d go in the attempt to look beyond the doctrine and tradition in search for so-called historical Jesus remains a New Testament where no clearly worked out doctrine can be found. There are different perspectives in the gospels depending on the author and on how close he was to Jesus in terms of time, space and chain of witnesses and regardless of the type of the Christology they convey – lower or higher – they still remain the narratives created by humans that inevitably contain an ideology within them that is based on their personal or societal interpretation of the person of Jesus and his works. However, we have to go into the gospels to find at least the smallest hints that can shed the light on the person of Jesus Christ.

Firstly, we need to look into the concept of trinity as it establishes the relation of Jesus to God and God to Jesus and it from this peculiar notion, we are getting the idea that he is God and/or equal to God. The origination of the concept of trinity when Jesus started being viewed as of one substance with God establishing him as God seems to be a necessity at the certain point of the Christian history although there is, obviously, no such a doctrine in the scriptures themselves but a lot of points to speculate on the notion. Here, we go to the Council of Chalcedon that took place at 451 AD and became the finalization of the discourse from the time of the Council of Nicea in 325 AD at the time of Constantine’s rule. The two very powerful and influential schools – Antiochene and Alexandrian – had the on-going conflict about the nature and figure of Christ, particularly, in the accentuating the significance of Jesus humanity or divinity in our salvation and the interaction of these two natures. This conflict, in my view, didn’t rise after the life of Jesus; it was a continuation of the discourse that originated much earlier in time even before Jesus birth. The Alexandrian stand for the Word-Flesh Christology, which taught that the eternal Logos assumed human flesh, was not only influenced by Platonic theory in which “an immortal, immaterial soul is united with a mortal, physical body to form a person”[1], but it was a continuation of this particular philosophical tradition and/or movement that incorporated its beliefs into and with the Jesus teaching and life who was undoubtedly a crucial and dramatic figure for any philosophical movement of the day. Analogically, the stance of the Antiochene School, that supported a Word-Man Christology in which the incarnation is viewed as the indwelling of the Word in the man Jesus, is the continuation of the Aristotelian view of “the self as a psycho-physical unity in which the soul is the form, while the body is the matter of a person.”[2] Now, it should be taken into consideration that by the 451 AD, the Christian religion was almost inseparable part of the secular world in the Roman Empire, which means that the so-called religious or philosophical conflict was happening not only on the religious level that the authorities could just ignore; it fraught with the very serious and dangerous consequences on the political and social levels of the Empire. Another words, the authorities including Emperor Marcian who ruled during 451 AD made a very smart tactical move by “inventing” the final controversial and paradoxical formula that defined the person of Jesus Christ as fully human and fully divine bringing political unity to the Roman Empire and ending an on-going conflict between two schools, at least for a while. Thus, is the trinity another invention of the human mind, admittedly, intricate and brilliant or is it an actuality? This question raise another in turn that is more personal in nature: if my perception of Christ as a second person in trinity and God etc. is something that is true, or is the result of the human invention and needs my reconsideration, or is something that I am just to ignore and take by faith?

Secondly, trying to answer the latter question one might appeal to the scriptures where there is Jesus Christ himself talking about his relationship with the deity whom he called Father. I would like to turn to the high Christological gospel of John where he says that he and the Father are one or that he is in the Father and the Father is in him (John 14:11). If he calls deity/God his father, that would make him God’s son, probably meaning, someone who is spiritually awaken and/or aware of father’s power/nature in him and who also is aware of his own self. If we return to the beginning of the gospel we see that “to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12-13). Hence, do we become children of God in the same sense as the Jesus is the child of God making us pretty much equal to Jesus Christ or does it carry a different meaning? Further, Jesus says that “rather, it is the Father, living in [him] who is doing his work” (the statement in the support of Antochene thought) and “anyone who has faith in [him (Jesus)] will do what he has been doing” (John 14:10-12). Thus, when we become spiritually aware or awaken, can we say that we and the Father are one, too? And what did Jesus mean by believing in him – meaning believing in him as what? He’s never given a clear answer on this question even when he was directly asked by his disciples, for example, making them to state their individual perception of who he was. This is what strikes me the most: he’s never stated that he was God to be worshipped but someone who was set apart as God’s very own and sent into the world. Even more when he was accused by the Pharisees in making himself equal to God, he brings this strange citation from the Psalm 82:6, saying: “is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods?’” (John 10:35), referring to people who the scriptures were revealed to.

Undoubtedly, the Chalcedonian Creed defined orthodoxy for Western Christianity for all future centuries but its paradox inevitably gives rise to the historical consciousness at the time when people are not dependant on the religion and are not fearful to resist its psychological tools and be called a heretic whatever it might mean being driven by the desire to get behind the creeds to Jesus himself as he really was. Here we, probably, face the individual yearning for knowledge of Jesus Christ realizing the importance if this person in the life of the world and each individual in particular and the pounding question that has been nagging the individuals for several centuries is “Who do YOU think that I am?”, that is left open in the scriptures, as well.

In my view for today, the conflict of two schools isn’t over as one looks at the historical “facts” and says: “Well, if this or that happened over the course of the history, then, probably, there was God’s will for it to happen; just believe it”; and another would say: “Look at the historical “facts” and you’ll see that we’ve been under a delusion for several centuries holding on to something that might not be true”. It becomes more a conflict and struggle of faith and rationality.

My personal perception of Jesus Christ underwent certain modifications going from faith that used to make things comfortable to the attempt to find out the cause of that faith. At this point of my spiritual journey, I tend to believe, and not many can argue with it, that human beings are not that bad as the Christian religion makes them seem. The idea of the original sin becomes more metaphorical in terms that we might not be responsible for the sin of the first people; it is more that with the development of the world, we become more and more insensitive to the original voice of God in us and become unaware of our true selves putting too much emphasis on the outer things we see and making God to serve our outer needs. I would agree with Pelagius, an ascetic teacher in Rome, who was called a heretic at the later point of his career and came into conflict with Augustine. He strongly believed that human beings had the innate ability to choose good and reject evil. The ability that is in us from the very beginning and, I believe, this ability and the original goodness communicates to our minds through the consciousness that existence no one can deny. “For how many of the pagan philosophers have we heard and read and even seen for ourselves to be chaste, tolerant, temperate, generous, abstinent and kindly, rejecters of the world’s honors…? Whence, I ask you, do these good qualities pleasing to God come to men who are strangers to him? Whence can these good qualities come to them, unless it be from the good of nature? … Consider what Christians are able to do whose nature and life have been instructed for the better by Christ and who are assisted by the aid of the divine grace as well.”[3] For me, the humanity of Jesus Christ is much more important than his divinity because this is how he can relate to me and in the opposite. The realization and then discovery that I also have the same power as Jesus Christ to change my life is what gives me liberation. The realization that he did everything he did by the power of his human will gives more hope than the divine invisible promises. If everything in his life was done by the power of his divinity than it is unable to truly save me in my humanity because the salvation is not for the future only; the salvation is taking place right here and right now – the salvation not from the original sin and/or hell but from the illusionary self that brings all the conflicts, inability to sense God, and pains to the true self – the original spirit of God in human beings. Hence, Jesus was fully aware of the spirit of God and God in him, not as a remote being but the reality in and around him without attributes and names – but he remained fully human just as anyone else. I see the same tendency in the teaching of Theodore of Mopsuestia (Antiochene School) who believed that “in his human nature Jesus could have repudiated his messianic vocation at any time up until his death on the cross when he said, “It is finished.” This also meant for Theodore that Jesus could have sinned while he was on earth… but it was through his obedience, therefore performed in the power of his humanity that Jesus won our salvation. Only in this way can we be assured that our humanity experienced salvation through him.”[4] Walter Rauschenbusch, along with other theologians several centuries later also expresses “more interest in basing the divine quality of [Jesus] personality on free and ethical acts of his will than in dwelling on the passive inheritance of a divine essence.”[5] Thus, Jesus Christ becomes a prime example of normative human existence and the supreme revelation of the human will, character and purpose of God but not God.

Unfortunately, from one hand, in the world of dualism, we tend to fit God into the dual frame as we find it as the only way to fulfill our natural desire to find and cognize Him. As the consequence we start giving false attributes to God personifying him, making him servant to us who must DO something or BE something in order to fit our understanding of what God is and fulfill our expectation about him. On the other hand, having lost our awareness of our true self and awareness of God and his “voice”, concentrating on the outward, visible aspects of our life we tend to find God somewhere outside who would magically change us for the better without us making any effort and, probably, start attributing the features of God in our understanding to something or someone else who or what might not be God but just the  way to Him. No one wants or tends to know and cognize God for his own sake as he is and nothing else. We prefer to believe in convenient God – God who lead us out of the Egypt, God who sent his only son, God who died for me, God who created the world etc. forgetting that God doesn’t have to do anything in order to be God.










-         Kenneth Cauthen, Systematic Theology: a Modern Protestant Approach Volume V (Leviston: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1986)

-         John W. Coakley, Andrea Sterk, Readings in World Christian History, Vl. 1 Earliest Christianity to 1453 – Pelagius, to Demetrias (New York: Orbis Books, 2004)

-         Dale T. Irvin, Scott W. Sunquist, History of the World Christian Movement (New York: Orbis Books, 2001)

-         Walter Rauschenbusch, A Theology for the Social Gospel (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1917)

[1] Cauthen, Kenneth, Systematic Theology: a Modern Protestant Approach Volume V (Leviston: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1986) p. 236

[2] Cauthen, Kenneth, Systematic Theology: a Modern Protestant Approach Volume V (Leviston: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1986) p. 237

[3] John W. Coakley, Andrea Sterk, Readings in World Christian History, Vl. 1 Earliest Christianity to 1453 – Pelagius, to Demetrias (New York: Orbis Books, 2004) p. 208

[4] Dale T. Irvin, Scott W. Sunquist, History of the World Christian Movement (New York: Orbis Books, 2001) p. 188

[5] Rauschenbusch, Walter, A Theology for the Social Gospel (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1917) p. 151

Created December, 2007