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  • « 2,000 Years of Jesus' Catholic Church? | Main | Philosophical & Religious Pluralism »

    Objection and Reply to "Images of the Savior"

    I recently came across an objection to my series on the “Images of the Savior”, because they evinced, in the objector’s opinion, a Christology which was not sufficiently high. The seriousness of this charge induced me to write a reply in which I defend my original statements. The further consideration that, if this objector reads a low view of Christology into my articles, then others may be inclined to as well, led me to post this reply, lest my work should in any way fall out to the propagation of an unorthodox Christology. The following is, therefore, a reproduction of the objector’s critique, and my subsequent response.

    Objector’s Critique

    I appreciate the author's literary gift 'though he makes too much of what Luke tells us regarding Jesus' Hidden Years. It causes him to say things not easily borne.

    For instance, in the second-to-last paragraph:

    perfection of favor does not exclude the growth of that perfect favor.

    and

    As Christ increasingly displayed the image of God, God increasingly loved him as a man and as an image-bearer.
    don't sit well.

    It is better to accept Luke's words in 2:52 without trying to unravel the mystery of the nature of the Incarnation expressed by those words.

    But maybe my christology is just too high to allow growth in human terms.

    My Response

    When I first came across your objection, I was inclined to let it go without speaking in defense of my assertions. But, on further reflection, the magnitude of your grievance was so great that I could not bear to hold my silence. I can accept with placidity a great many charges against myself or my understanding of certain scriptures; I can even acknowledge that, in many cases, those charges contain much of truth. But when the charge is leveled against me that my Christology fails to acknowledge the surpassing highness of Jesus the God-Man (which is the clear implication of your assertion that the highness of your Christology forbade you from accepting mine), then I feel constrained to plead the absolute orthodoxy of my doctrine of Christ our Savior. And all the more so upon the consideration that, if you read into my statements a low view of Christ, then the many others who have read this same series may be tempted to do so also. Now, as I am motivated by these pressing concerns, let me deal with your charges.

    Let me first make the point that I said nothing which was not thoroughly grounded in the scriptural witness. Your claim that, to allow the fact of Christ’s “growth in human terms” is to admit a lowness of Christology is essentially to make the claim that the Christology of the gospels is too low. I say this because Luke’s gospel account states in unequivocal terms that Jesus did grow. And it was the very highness of my Christology that prompted me to labor over this assertion with much careful consideration, lest I find in the circumstance of that clearly-taught “growth” anything which should detract from the perfection of Christ the Savior. It is imperative that we acknowledge that Christ did indeed grow, for no other reason than that the bible tells us he grew. Now as to the sense in which he grew, let us be diligent to examine.

    The very first issuance of the orthodox conception of Jesus’ unabridged deity is that he could not grow as God. To be God is to be perfect and immutable, “the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). But if Jesus could not grow as God, being always and in every way the perfectly unchanging Deity, then how could he grow (as we know from Luke’s account that he did indeed grow)? The only answer could be that he grew as a man. Therefore, your assertion that a sufficiently high Christology does not permit Christ to grow in human terms is in direct opposition to the scriptures. Now, let us consider how Christ the man could indeed grow, in a way which does not at all make less high our understanding of his person. In order to pursue this goal, I will deal with the statements which you found to be particularly indicative of a too-low Christology.

    You took issue with my statement that, “perfection of favor does not exclude the growth of that perfect favor.” Let me explain the reason for that statement. Luke clearly stated that Christ “grew…in favor with God…”. So then, given the fact of Christ’s growth in favor, would you contend that God was initially displeased with Christ, to any extent? I trust that you would not. But the only way to reconcile the two propositions, first, that Christ grew in favor with God, and second, that God was at no time unfavorable of Christ, is to assert that, although Christ grew in favor (a scriptural necessity), he still possessed, at all times, a perfect favor – but a perfect favor which was able to increase. How is this possible? The response to your second objection should clarify.

    You objected, secondly, to my claim that “As Christ increasingly displayed the image of God, God increasingly loved him as a man and as an image-bearer.” We have already established the truthfulness of the assertion that Christ grew in favor with God. We argued that this growth could only come as a result of his human growth. Now let us consider this second assertion more fully.

    It is an orthodox (indeed, the only orthodox) understanding that, when Christ took upon himself the form of man (Philippians 2:7), he was adding something “new”, something of which he had not previously partaken. He never “added” to himself the nature of God, because he was God from the beginning. But he did in fact add the nature of man. So could God ever be favorable to man? The only answer to that question must be, Yes, indeed he could. The goal of redemptive history is the establishment of a people with whom he is eternally pleased. But could God ever be favorable to man in the image of fallen Adam? The only biblical answer is that God must, by virtue of his holiness and righteousness, be displeased with all men, because they are sinners, and do not display fully and perfectly the image of God, as they were created to do. But when Christ, the eternal God, became a man, he was indeed such a man as God could have been fully favorable towards. He was the perfect man.

    This consideration leads us to the only way in which we can understand the assertion of Luke that Christ grew in favor with God without diminishing the eternal perfection of his divine nature. God was always infinitely favorable towards Christ as God. But when Christ acquired the new nature of man, because that nature was new, God’s favor with him as man was also new. How could Christ have grown in favor with God? At every stage of his life, he reflected the perfection of the divine image in that stage. So, God was fully favorable towards him as an infant, because he was the perfect, image-bearing infant. But when he became a child, that favor grew, since he had added a new element to the perfection of favor which he had won as a man; namely, he was now the perfect, image-bearing child. And so on through every step of his life. Throughout the course of his life he was growing in a favor with God which was already perfect, because he was adding new elements to his human existence, and those new elements were the cause of a new, perfect favor, to be added to that favor which was already perfect, and yet capable of growth.

    In sum, you claimed that the acceptance of Christ’s growth as a human evinced a low Christology. On the contrary, the fact of Christ’s growth as a human, and the newness of the different stages of humanity which he underwent, is both biblical, according to the gospel of Luke, and necessary, according to the orthodox understanding of Christ, who is eternally God, but only became human at a specific point in time, and grew as the perfect human in the course of his life. I would contend that, to understand Luke’s gospel in any other way than that in which I presented it is to be motivated by a Christology which is unscriptural, and hence, not high enough.

    In short, Christ has never grown as God, because God is immutable. But Christ did grow as a human, in accordance with clear scriptural testimony and necessary reason.

    Posted by Nathan on August 8, 2006 08:36 PM

    Comments

    A high Christology is always to be commended. But one's Christology can be so high that Jesus only seems human. One need not be explicitly Docetic to be functionally Docetic.

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