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Sunday, 29 June 2014

"The Socinian Challenge to Nicea" by Alan Spence: food for Christadelphian thought

Christology is the discipline within theology which seeks to understand and explain the person of Christ. In his book Christology: A Guide for the Perplexed (2008, T&T Clark), Dr. Alan Spence gives an introduction to historical christology.

Spence begins by describing the paradox which gave rise to the discipline of christology: that Jesus, a human being in history, was considered worthy of divine honour by Christians "from around the time the first churches came into being" (p. 5). Spence explains that the church sought to explain coherently why Jesus is worthy of this status while preserving his true humanity, which was seen as vital to his redemptive work.

He takes us through the subsequent christological developments and controversies which led to the crystallization of orthodoxy in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (4th century) and later the Chalcedonian Definition (5th century). These classical christological formulations remained unchallenged until the 16th century. Even the most prominent theologians of the Protestant Reformation, such as Calvin and Luther, raised no objections to orthodox christology. Others, however, "offered a far more radical critique of established theology" (p. 78). Following the execution of the Spanish anti-Trinitarian Michael Servetus, anti-Trinitarians sought refuge in Poland and became known as Socinians after their eminent theologian Faustus Socinus.

Spence's chapter on Socinian christology, entitled "The Socinian Challenge to Nicea", is highly relevant to Christadelphians because Socinians are the truest known forebears of Christadelphian christology down through the ages.1 The Socinians held that Jesus was merely human by nature. Spence points to the Racovian Catechism, first published in 1605, as the definitive presentation of Socinian theology (including christology).

Spence's discussion of Socinian christology features the same measured approach found throughout his book. While he does not think Socinian christology can account for the biblical testimony concerning Christ's incarnation and pre-existence, he does not shy away from identifying strengths in their arguments or weaknesses in the arguments of their orthodox opponents.

Spence notes with interest the controversy that erupted between Socinians concerning whether or not Christ should be offered divine honour in worship. A dispute which arose in 1574 led to the condemnation of the teachings of a leading Socinian theologian, Francis David, who "argued publicly that Christ could not with propriety be addressed in prayer since he was not God by nature" (p. 81). While the Racovian Catechism firmly supported the appropriateness of addressing Christ in prayer, Spence asks whether Socinians "have provided an explanation of Christ's being which can properly account for the worship that they believe is his due" (p. 82). He expresses sympathy for Francis David, whose "argument that it was inappropriate to offer prayers and worship to a Christ who was not truly God appears to be far more logical than that of his fellow Socinians" (p. 82). This could serve as a discussion point for Christadelphians, among whom I have perceived a certain ambiguity about the propriety of offering worship and prayer to Christ.

The Racovian Catechism describes the position of classical christology that Christ had a divine and a human nature as "repugnant to right reason and Holy Scripture." Spence says this suggests "the Socinian methodological principle that theology ought to be determined by the examination of Scripture and the application of right reason” (p. 83). This entailed taking the post-Reformation watchword sola scriptura to such an extent that "no authority should be granted to the voice of tradition" and indeed that the creeds and other historical formulae of the Church "were deemed to have no value or place in theological construction other than as the false position of an adversary" (p. 83).

Spence makes an important observation concerning the Socinians' sola scriptura approach:

“Now the laudable idea that the text should be allowed to speak for itself can sometimes be a cover for a certain sleight of hand that is so deceptive that even its practitioners often fail to recognize it.” (p. 83)

He gives a fictional, illustrative example which is worth quoting in full:
“A Unitarian evangelist passes a copy of the Racovian Catechism to a seventeenth-century friend who worships in an English village church. She encourages him to read the book, and carefully look up all the relevant texts, so that hi view of Christ might be shaped directly by the Scriptures and not by the liturgy, hymnology or recited creeds of his local worshipping community. He is attracted by the eminent reasonableness of the proposal and looks forward to studying a theology that is unencumbered by ancient church dogma and tradition and determined only by Scriptures. But the book that he has just been given as a guide is itself a well-developed interpretive theory of what the Bible actually means. It has been formed by 50 years of vigorous intellectual discussion within the Socinian community and refined through sharp debate with Protestant and Catholic theologians. The young Anglican’s reading of the relevant scriptural passages at the book’s recommendation will be mediated by what is in effect a carefully honed Socinian theology. There is, of course, always some form of mediation taking place whenever the Scriptures are studied in that there is always some interpretive framework, conscious or unconscious, that is being brought to the text and which plays a part in shaping our understanding. The mediation described in the story above is a ‘closed’ mediation in that it does not allow or suggest other mediating voices and disguises its own mediating function. And this is the congenital difficulty with any theology which purports to be wholly shaped by Scripture – it fails to acknowledge the mediating traditions that have determined its own construction and it often struggles to listen with any attentiveness to what other Christians might have discovered about the truth of the Bible. And these failures are, one could say, the besetting weaknesses of all sectarian theology.” (pp. 83-84)
Besides being very incisive, this illustration closely parallels Christadelphian evangelistic methodology using literature such as The Great Salvation or Bible Basics.

He notes that the Socinians have bequeathed a heritage to modern christology, namely “a propensity to discard all past christological achievement or dogma and to begin the whole project anew with scant regard to the work of others” (p. 85). One detects the same propensity in the writings of John Thomas, the founder of Christadelphians.

Spence also discusses the Socinian appeal to the idea of 'reasonableness'. Spence acknowledges some merit in the Socinians' critique of self-contradictory and even nonsensical statements from orthodox theologians. However, he challenges the Socinian claim that the concept of a person who is truly both divine and human is repugnant to right reason. He very astutely points out that
“Christians have historically believed the incarnation to be a unique, foundational event. They have used it to reinterpret both their understanding of the manner of God’s being and their assessment of what it is to be truly human. The person of Christ, as one who is both fully human and fully divine, is in this sense the Church’s key hermeneutical principle. In a context where Christ is considered as the central interpretive reality, there is no weight to the argument that he does not satisfy some pre-existing criterion of what it means to be a person. The task of the Church is rather to submit to Christ as he is made known by the Spirit through the witness of the Scriptures and to bring its understanding about existence, the future, meaning and personhood into some sort of conformity to its mature reflection on the reality of Jesus.” (p. 86)
Spence's observation can be brought to bear with equal force upon Christadelphian dismissals of orthodox christology as illogical. Those making such arguments have not properly appreciated the uniqueness and definitiveness of the Christ-event.

In concluding this chapter, Spence writes that the Socinians posed theological questions which many of their contemporaries were ill-equipped to answer. However, in Spence's view, "In their critique of the orthodox understanding of Christ [the Socinians] were unable to provide a coherent alternative christology to that of Nicea" (p. 88).

In his conclusion to the book, Spence criticizes two extremes: on the one hand, “the hubris of the theologian who would begin theology completely afresh without regard for the tradition of the Church” and on the other hand, “those who, looking only to antiquity, would close their minds to the insights gained from modern theological discussion” (p. 155). He instead advocates a humble approach which includes "a willingness to recognize the significant accomplishments of both the ancient and the more recent and to build on them with both care and responsibility” (p. 155).

In building an ecumenical christology for today, he declares, "We must insist with the Socinians that Jesus was a man wholly dependent on the Holy Spirit in every aspect of his life but deny that this precludes him from being the eternal Son of God made flesh” (p. 159). This does not require that we repudiate classical, Nicene-Chalcedonian christology because “The tradition has within itself the theological resources to integrate these two perspectives in a coherent way.”

I think Spence's measured critique of Socinian christology provides Christadelphians with a good deal of food for thought.

1 (Earlier heterodox christologies such as Ebionitism and Arianism are less compatible with Christadelphian doctrine since the former apparently denied the virgin birth and the latter affirmed Christ's personal pre-existence).

26 comments:

Jonathan Burke said...

The scholarly consensus in favour of the Christadelphian understanding of Christ, gives you a good deal of food for thought.

‘That the earliest Christians did not consider Jesus God is not a controversial point among scholars. Apart from fundamentalists and very conservative evangelicals, scholars are unified in thinking that the view that Jesus was God was a later development within Christian circles.’, Ehrman, ‘Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth’, p. 231 (2012).

‘Jesus is never called God in the Synoptic Gospels, and a passage like Mark 10:18 would seem to exclude a preserved memory that Jesus used the title of himself. Even the Fourth Gospel never portrays Jesus as saying specifically that he is God. The sermons that Acts attributes to the beginning of the Christian mission do not speak of Jesus as God. Thus, there is no reason to think that Jesus was called God in the earliest layers of NT tradition. This negative conclusion is substantiated by the fact that Paul does not use the title in any epistle written before AD 58.’, Brown, ‘Introduction to the New Testament Christology’, p. 190 (1994).

‘Dunn finds that Jesus held to Jewish monotheism and that although he saw himself as a prophet empowered with God’s Spirit (see Holy Spirit) and as having a close relationship with God, he did not understand himself as a divine figure.’, Evans, ‘Christianity and Judaism: Partings of the Ways’, in Martin & Davids (eds.), ‘Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments’ (electronic ed. 2000).

Jonathan Burke said...

‘In the LXX it frequently translated “Yahweh,” but nowhere in the letters did Paul call Jesus “God.” 1 Cor. 11:3 makes clear the line of origin that subordinates Jesus to God.’, Roetzel, ‘Paul’, in Freedman (ed.), Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, p. 1020 (2000).

‘It is striking that none of our first three Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—declares that Jesus is God or indicates that Jesus ever called himself God. Jesus’s teaching in the earliest Gospel traditions is not about his personal divinity but about the coming kingdom of God and the need to prepare for it. This should give readers pause. If the earliest followers of Jesus thought Jesus was God, why don’t the earliest Gospels say so? It seems like it would have been a rather important aspect of Christ’s identity to point out. It is true that the Gospels consistently portray Jesus as the Son of God. But that is not the same thing as saying that he was God.’, Ehrman, ‘Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth’, p. 231 (2012).

‘The glory of completed redemption cannot literally be possessed until redemption is complete. If now the pre-existence of Jesus, according to the seventeenth chapter of John, is clearly ideal, this fact confirms the interpretation which has been given of the other passages which are less clear. We conclude, then, that these three passages in John [6:62; 8:58; 17:5] in which Jesus alludes to his pre-existence, do not involve the claim that his pre-existence was personal and real. They are to be classed with the other phenomena of the Messianic consciousness of Jesus, none of which have to do with metaphysical relationships with the Father.’, Gilbert, ‘The Revelation of Jesus: A Study of the Primary Sources of Christianity’, p. 222 (2009).

‘A large number of scholars think that the passage does not imagine Christ existing as a divine being with God in heaven, coming to earth to die, and then being exalted even higher afterward. They think instead that the passage is talking about Christ as the “second Adam,” one who was like the first man, Adam, as described in the book of Genesis, but who acted in just the opposite way, leading to just the opposite result.’, Ehrman, ‘Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth’, p. 231 (2012).

Jonathan Burke said...

The list of passages which seem explicitly to identify Christ with God varies from scholar to scholar, but the number is almost never more than a half dozen or so. As is well known, almost all of the texts are disputed as to their affirmation—due to textual or grammatical glitches—John 1:1 and 20:28 being the only two which are usually conceded without discussion.’, Wallace, ‘Granville Sharp's Canon and Its Kin: Semantics and Significance’, p. 27 (2009).

‘Although the later church fathers spoke of Jesus as God, the New Testament is very restrained in this regard (see clearly Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:8-9; other possible instances not as clear: Rom. 9:5; 2 Thess. 1:12; 2 Pet. 1:1; 1 John 5:20).’, Boring & Craddock, ‘The People's New Testament Commentary’, p. 359 (2004).
Scholars disagree on exactly when Jesus became known as God, but the earliest proposed date still post-dates the apostles. The two main positions are represented by Maurice Casey, and Larry Hurtado. Casey argues for a date near the end of the first century, whereas Hurtado argues Jesus was already being elevated to equality with God as some kind of divine figure, though not as God Himself.

Hurtado’s position has been controversial among evangelical Christians, since he acknowledges the earliest Christians were not Trinitarians, and that binitarianism (traditionally regarded a heresy by ‘orthodoxy’), was the earliest form in which Jesus was given divine worship.

Tom said...

Jonathan, thank you for sharing these quotations. If you're claiming that there is a scholarly consensus that the New Testament uniformly reflects a low (Christadelphian) christology, you're sorely mistaken.

As you seem to hold Ehrman in high regard you'll no doubt be aware of the positions espoused in his most recent book "How Jesus became God". He there acknowledges that Jesus makes divine claims in the Gospel of John and that this Gospel portrays him as God. Ehrman also argues that Paul teaches Jesus' personal pre-existence, although he thinks Paul held an angel christology.

Thus, the scholar you've quoted most frequently above hardly reflects a Christadelphian understanding of Christ! Hurtado indeed has many positive things to say about Ehrman's book in his review.

Moreover, much of what you've quoted above focuses on texts which explicitly call Jesus 'God', which is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of high christology in the New Testament, as you're no doubt aware.

Chester writes:
"whereas for much of the twentieth century the dominant view was that high Christology represented something that emerged relatively late and under Gentile or pagan influence, more recently it has been seen as coming about at an early stage and within a Jewish setting." (Chester, Andrew. “High Christology — Whence, When and Why?” Early Christianity 2 (2011): 22-50.)

I have no problem with diversity or development within early christology. Nicea didn't happen overnight.

Fortigurn said...

I wrote a detailed reply to your last comment. Will it be posted?

Tom said...

All comments received have been posted. I haven't received a reply to my last comment.

Jonathan Burke said...

When I posted it I received a message saying it had been received and would be reviewed for moderation.

Tom said...

Jonathan, I'm sorry for your experience, which must have been frustrating. When someone posts a comment I get an email notification and can then log in to approve it. In this case I didn't get an email and there are no other comments awaiting moderation, so it seems the comment got lost in cyberspace.

I searched Google for similar situations others have faced and found this:
https://productforums.google.com/forum/m/#!topic/blogger/qXgN-GQ4Q5U

No one has previously reported such an issue to me about commenting on my blog. You might check whether you have any filtering software/add-ons/etc. which might have stopped the comment from getting through.

I have changed the blog settings slightly so the comment box is no longer embedded; hopefully that might also help.

You're welcome to post your comment again. Perhaps you can copy your text to a text file and save it before posting just in case the issue recurs.

Jonathan Burke said...

Tom,

1. "If you're claiming that there is a scholarly consensus that the New Testament uniformly reflects a low (Christadelphian) christology, you're sorely mistaken."

I made no such argument. Strike one for lack of intellectual honesty and failing to address what I did say.

2. "As you seem to hold Ehrman in high regard you'll no doubt be aware of the positions espoused in his most recent book "How Jesus became God"."

I am well aware of the position Ehrman espouses in that book. You are cherry picking by not representing his entire case.

Ehrman says of his own book "What I argue in the book is that during his lifetime, JESUS HIMSELF didn't call himself God, didn't consider himself God and that NONE OF HIS DISCIPLES HAD ANY INKLING AT ALL that he was God".

Strike two for lack of intellectual honesty.

3. "He there acknowledges that Jesus makes divine claims in the Gospel of John and that this Gospel portrays him as God. Ehrman also argues that Paul teaches Jesus' personal pre-existence, although he thinks Paul held an angel christology."

Please, let's be very clear about what he says in the book about the gospel of John. Here it is.

"Scholars have long held that the view of Christ in the Gospel of John was a later development in the Christian tradition. IT WAS NOT SOMETHING THAT JESUS HIMSELF ACTUALLY TAUGHT, and it is not something that can be found in the other Gospels. In John, Jesus is a preexistent divine being who is equal with God. THE EARLIEST CHRISTIANS - JESUS'S' DISCIPLES, FOR EXAMPLE, - DID NOT BELIEVES THIS. And there are clear historical reasons for thinking they did not." (p. 185).

You claimed Ehrman says "Jesus makes divine claims in the Gospel of John", but Ehrman says the opposite. He says 'IT WAS NOT SOMETHIGN THAT JESUS HIMSELF ACTUALLY TAUGHT'. Speaking specifically of the statements in John which appear to represent Jesus as God, Ehrman also says explicitly 'they SIMPLY CANNOT be ascribed to the historical Jesus' (p. 96).

So while you claim Ehrman says "Jesus makes divine claims in the Gospel of John", Ehrman himself says the exact opposite; that even in the gospel of John, those claims do not belong to Jesus, and he delares them unhistorical.

Strike three for lack of intellectual honesty.

4. "Thus, the scholar you've quoted most frequently above hardly reflects a Christadelphian understanding of Christ!"

Irrelevant. I did not cite him as a scholar reflecting a Christadelphian understanding of Christ.

Strike four for lack of intellectual honesty.

5. "Moreover, much of what you've quoted above focuses on texts which explicitly call Jesus 'God', which is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of high christology in the New Testament, as you're no doubt aware."

No, most of them make it clear that Jesus was not even understood, inferred, or spoken of as God by his earliest disciples, and they address specifically passages from which it is only INFERRED that Jesus was viewed as God (such as Phililpipians 2, and pasages in John).

* Ehrman, "A large number of scholars think that the passage does not imagine Christ existing as a divine being with God in heaven"

* Gilbert, "We conclude, then, that these three passages in John [6:62; 8:58; 17:5] in which Jesus alludes to his pre-existence, do not involve the claim that his pre-existence was personal and real"

* Brown, "The sermons that Acts attributes to the beginning of the Christian mission do not speak of Jesus as God"

* Evans, "Dunn finds that Jesus held to Jewish monotheism and that although he saw himself as a prophet empowered with God’s Spirit (see Holy Spirit) and as having a close relationship with God, he did not understand himself as a divine figure"

Strike five for lack of intellectual honesty.

Jonathan Burke said...

6. "Chester writes:"
What Chester writes doesn't help you at all. Let me remind you of what Ehrman says.

‘That THE EARLIEST CHRISTIANS did not consider Jesus God IS NOT A CONTROVERSIAL POINT AMONG SCHOLARS. Apart from fundamentalists and very conservative evangelicals, scholars are unified in thinking that the view that Jesus was God was a later development within Christian circles.’, Ehrman, ‘Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth’, p. 231 (2012).

And of course his other comment,

"What I argue in the book is that during his lifetime, Jesus himself didn't call himself God, didn't consider himself God and that none of his disciples had any inkling at all that he was God". These scholarly views are incompatible with the evangelical view of Jesus.

I'll let you off a strike for this one, even though it was a fail.

7. "I have no problem with diversity or development within early christology. Nicea didn't happen overnight."

Not only did Nicea not happen overnight, it didn't happen until centuries later. And that's the point. If you're happy with accepting doctrines made up by Christians centuries after the apostles, that's your business.

But you need to be honest in making it clear that's what you're doing, and not ascribe them to the inspired writers.

In your view the Old Testament writers were ignorant of satan and demons, and the uninspired Jews of the intertestamental era figured it all out by themselves. And you seem to take the same approach with the New Testament; once again it takes centuries of uninspired writers to figure out what Christ and the apostles were ignorant of.

The key difference between you and Christadelphians is becoming clear; it's a matter of a high (us), or low (you), view of Scripture.

Tom said...

Jonathan,

Although you are clearly well read, you seem to ignore basic rules of decorum in an exchange of views. Your comments are dripping with condescension. You seem incapable of respectful disagreement but feel compelled to launch personal attacks at every turn. It's really not healthy, spiritually or psychologically.

Now let's look at the five occasions where you've accused me of intellectual dishonesty.

On Strike One:

Notice first that I said "If you're claiming..." which acknowledges that you had not explicitly claimed this.

Your three earlier comments consisted almost entirely of quotations. At the end you have two paragraphs summarizing the views of scholars in your own words. The one sentence which articulates your own personal view is this: "The scholarly consensus [is] in favour of the Christadelphian understanding of Christ."

Now, the Christadelphian understanding of Christ is what scholars would call a 'low' christology, and Christadelphians (in line with their high view of Scripture as wholly inspired and inerrant) believe this christology is uniformly reflected in the NT.

Thus, it was reasonable for me to infer from your assertion that you think the scholarly consensus is that the New Testament uniformly reflects a low (Christadelphian) christology.

If my inference did not represent your view, then instead of hurling accusations at me I would ask you to explain how the scholarly consensus is "in favour of the Christadelphian understanding of Christ" if it does NOT, like Christadelphians, affirm that the New Testament uniformly reflects a low (Christadelphian) christology.

If the scholarly consensus is that some parts of the NT reflect a high (incarnational or divine) christology, then in order to be in line with that consensus Christadelphians would need to either elevate their christology, lower their doctrine of Scripture or redefine their NT canon.

On Strike Two:

You accuse me of intellectual dishonesty for cherry-picking and not representing Ehrman's entire case.

I did not claim to represent Ehrman's entire case. Rather, I was pointing out that you had not represented Ehrman's entire case. You provided three substantial quotations from Ehrman on christology but neglected to mention other views of his which are inconsistent with "the Christadelphian understanding of Christ" - for instance that Paul believed in Christ's personal pre-existence (within an angel christology) and that the Gospel of John contains a divine christology.

Furthermore, to represent Ehrman's christology you only quoted from his book on the historicity of Jesus and not from his book on christology itself (How Jesus Became God). This would be excusable if you weren't familiar with this more recent book, but you've admitted that you are well aware of the position he espouses in this book.

Thus, by your own admission, you have knowingly neglected to represent Ehrman's entire position on the subject of christology -- the very thing you accuse me of doing!

Tom said...

On Strike Three:

You've again accused me of intellectual dishonesty, this time for allegedly making Ehrman say the opposite of what he really says about the Gospel of John, when I had him saying that 'Jesus makes divine claims in the Gospel of John'.

Now, consider the following quotation from Ehrman:

“Moreover, when put in these black-and-white terms, it is relatively easy to say, as I used to say before doing the research for this book, that the early Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke – in which Jesus never makes explicit divine claims about himself – portray Jesus as a human but not as God, whereas the Gospel of John – in which Jesus does make such divine claims – does indeed portray him as God. Yet other scholars forcefully disagree with this view and argue that Jesus is portrayed as God even in these earlier Gospels. As a result, there are many debated over what scholars have called a ‘high Christology,’ in which Jesus is thought of as a divine being (this is called ‘high’ because Christ originates ‘up there,’ with God; the term Christology literally means ‘understanding of Christ’) and what they have called a ‘low Christology,’ in which Jesus is thought of as a human being (‘low’ because he originates ‘down here,’ with us). Given this perspective, in which way is Jesus portrayed in the Gospels – as God or as human?...
“One of my theses will be that a Christian text such as the Gospel of Mark understands Jesus in the first way, as a human who came to be made divine. The Gospel of John understands him in the second way, as a divine being who became human. Both of them see Jesus as divine, but in different ways.” (Ehrman, How Jesus Became God, pp. 4-5, emphasis added)

It is clear from the above that my alleged misrepresentation was taken almost verbatim from Ehrman's book. You will note that I did not say that Ehrman attributed these claims to the historical Jesus. I had him saying that Jesus makes divine claims in the Gospel of John. I further clarified by saying that for Ehrman "this Gospel portrays him as God."

Now, you've expanded on Ehrman's views by making it explicit that he does not consider the divine claims made by Jesus in the Gospel of John to be historical. In the first place, this does not change the fact that the scholarly consensus is not in favour of the Christadelphian view of the christology of the Fourth Gospel.

Secondly, Ehrman's denial that the Jesus of the Fourth Gospel corresponds to the Jesus of history is irrelevant for our discussion, because presumably you and I agree that the Jesus of the Fourth Gospel does correspond to the Jesus of history. I say "presumably" because, in order to deny this, you would have to repudiate the foundational article of the Christadelphian Statement of Faith (BASF).

If you acknowledge the historicity of the Fourth Gospel, it is difficult to see how you could take refuge in Ehrman's views about Jesus' self-understanding since these views self-destruct if the Fourth Gospel accurately depicts Jesus and his teachings.

On Strike Four:

You accuse me again of intellectual dishonesty, this time for highlighting the discrepancies between Ehrman's views on New Testament christology and Christadelphian views on New Testament christology. You call this observation irrelevant because you "did not cite him as a scholar reflecting a Christadelphian understanding of Christ."

You cited him three times in a string of quotations cited in support of the claim of "The scholarly consensus in favour of the Christadelphian understanding of Christ." So the observation that in several important ways his views do not favour a Christadelphian understanding of Christ is highly relevant!

Tom said...

On Strike Five:

You accuse me of intellectual dishonesty for stating that passages which explicitly call Jesus "God" are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of high christology in the New Testament.

If you are familiar with scholars who favour a 'high christology' in the New Testament outside John (e.g. N.T. Wright in The Climax of the Covenant, Bauckham in Jesus and the God of Israel, Neyrey in Render to God: New Testament understandings of the divine, Hurtado in Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity, Lau in Manifest in Flesh: The Epiphaneia Christology of the Pastoral Epistles, Lee in From Messiah to Pre-existent Son, Grindheim in God's Equal: What can we know about Jesus' Self-Understanding, etc.), you will be aware their arguments don't depend on texts which explicitly call Jesus "God". They rather focus on things like the application of OT YHWH texts to Christ, early Christian cultic practices, and the use of Hellenistic 'true god' terminology for Christ.

It is unclear why you think that by making this point I am guilty of intellectual dishonesty, or this charge is proven simply by referring to some scholars' views on Philippians 2:6ff, three pre-existence texts in John, the christology of Acts, and Jesus' self-understanding.

Point Six:

You summarily dismiss Chester's testimony as not at all helpful, though you don't explain why.

It appears you take Ehrman's quotations as contradicting Chester's assertion regarding the consensus on early high christology (and you also appear to assume Ehrman is right and Chester is wrong).

However, as your upper case words emphasize, Ehrman's quotations are not about high Christology per se but about Jesus being regarded as God. These are not the same things, at least according to Ehrman's own definition of 'high christology' quoted above. According to Ehrman's definition a 'high christology' (Christ as a being who originated 'up there') is already present in Paul's writings, which is in line with Chester's statement that a high christology is seen as coming about "at an early stage and within a Jewish setting."

This is obviously something that Christadelphians cannot accept.

How very forbearing of you to let me off without a strike here.

On Point Seven:

I did not say these doctrines were "made up" centuries after the apostles, so your insinuations here misrepresent me.

On the other hand, I do -- with overwhelming scholarly support, including that of Ehrman -- ascribe a high christology to some of what you've acknowledged to be the inspired writings.

I see 'high christology' as more pervasive in the NT than Ehrman does. However, I agree with Ehrman that belief in Jesus' resurrection was a decisive step in christological development - one that "changed everything" (How Jesus became God, p. 6). Furthermore, I am prepared to engage in systematic theology where Ehrman is not. Later orthodox christology arose precisely from the observation that the NT writings affirm a high christology while also affirming Christ's humanity.

In your comments about post-apostolic Christians, it doesn't appear to have occurred to you that non-inspired believers might, by studying the Scriptures as a whole, legitimately arrive at theological syntheses that are more systematic than any explicit statement in an individual biblical text.

Finally, I will reserve judgment on who has a higher view of Scripture until after I've heard whether you believe (contra Ehrman) that the Fourth Gospel's depiction of Jesus is historically accurate.

Jonathan Burke said...

Tom,

1. "Notice first that I said "If you're claiming..." which acknowledges that you had not explicitly claimed this."

That's precisely why it was intellectual dishonesty. You knew I hadn't made such a case, yet you attacked a strawman anyway, instead of addressing what I actually wrote.

As I have made clear, the scholarly consensus is in favour of the Christadelphian understanding of Christ because the scholarly consensus agrees that neither Christ, nor his disciples, nor his earliest followers, believed or taught he was God. Do you accept that consensus or not?

2. I didn't fault you for failing to identify Erhman's entire case, I faulted you for quoting only his interpretation of the gospel of John and Paul, as if Ehrman was saying the earliest Christians believed Jesus was God, when you should have said that Ehrman believes that neither Christ, nor his disciples, nor his earliest followers, believed or taught he was God,and that later Christians came to this view and interpolated texts into New Testament with their doctrine. This is particularly ironic since you cited Ehrman against the Christadelphian view, which is that neither Christ, nor his disciples, nor his earliest followers, believed or taught he was God.

3. I stand by what I said on this point. You represented Ehrman as saying that Jesus himself was making those claims. You should not have done that, since Ehrman says the opposite. You could have said 'Ehrman believes that the writer of the gospel of John falsified the historical record by making it look like Jesus made divine claims'. That would have been factual.

4. No, I did not accuse you of intellectual dishonesty for 'highlighting the discrepancies between Ehrman's views on New Testament christology and Christadelphian views on New Testament christology'. I charged you with falsely claiming I had cited him as a schoolar reflecting the Christadelpian understanding of Christ. Every time I quoted Erhman in support of the statement 'The scholarly consensus in favour of the Christadelphian understanding of Christ', I was quoting Ehrman's own statements identifying the scholarly consensus that neither Christ, nor his disciples, nor his earliest followers, believed or taught he was God, or his statements indicating arguments held by a large number of scholars.

* 'scholars are unified in thinking that the view that Jesus was God was a later development within Christian circles'

* 'If the earliest followers of Jesus thought Jesus was God, why don’t the earliest Gospels say so?'

* 'A large number of scholars think that the passage does not imagine Christ existing as a divine being with God in heaven, coming to earth to die, and then being exalted even higher afterward'

None of those quotations relied on Ehrman; they are all majority scholarly views independent of Ehrman.

Jonathan Burke said...

5. 'You accuse me of intellectual dishonesty for stating that passages which explicitly call Jesus "God" are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of high christology in the New Testament.'

No, I accuse you of intellectual dishonesty for claiming that 'Much of what you've quoted above focuses on texts which explicitly call Jesus 'God''. That's why I said 'No, most of them make it clear that Jesus was not even understood, inferred, or spoken of as God by his earliest disciples, and they address specifically passages from which it is only INFERRED that Jesus was viewed as God (such as Phililpipians 2, and passages in John)'. You really aren't doing your reputation any favours here.

6. 'You summarily dismiss Chester's testimony as not at all helpful, though you don't explain why.'.

I did explain why. I pointed out that Chester's statement does not change or even challenge the scholarly consensus that neither Christ, nor his disciples, nor his earliest followers, believed or taught he was God. Although the date for a high christology has been lowered, there's still a strong scholarly consensus that neither Christ, nor his disciples, nor his earliest followers, believed or taught he was God. So throwing Chester triumphantly at Christadelphians and expecting them to roll over and accept Jesus is God, is an exercise in futility.

7. 'I did not say these doctrines were "made up" centuries after the apostles, so your insinuations here misrepresent me.'

You said 'I have no problem with diversity or development within early christology. Nicea didn't happen overnight'. If you weren't referring to the doctrines agreed to at Nicea, what were you referring to? If you didn't want me to believe you were referring to Nicea, I suggest you shouldn't have cited it.

Yes it has occurred to me that 'non-inspired believers might, by studying the Scriptures as a whole, legitimately arrive at theological syntheses that are more systematic than any explicit statement in an individual biblical text'. I believe that's entirely possible.

You believe a high christology is more pervsive in the New Testament than Ehrman does. I believe the gospel of John's depiction of Jesus is historically accurate, but contra Ehrman I agree with the scholars who accept that it does not depict Jesus as God, or depict him as claiming to be divine.

Finally, complaints about condescension are ironic coming from an individual publicly purporting to 'open the minds of Christadelphians to better understand the Scriptures, particularly in areas where the author deems Christadelphian doctrine to be deficient'.

Tom said...

Jonathan, I'm not particularly interested in discussing my reputation or whether your allegations have succeeded in tarnishing it. I would much rather talk about Jesus.

I'm sorry that the purpose of my website offends you but that is my objective, undertaken in love for Christadelphians and in service to the Lord. Thankfully, not all Christadelphians respond with hostility. Also, stating that a doctrinal position is deficient is hardly comparable to attacking the intellectual honesty and reputation of an individual person.

Your appeal to a consensus that Jesus and his earliest followers did not believe him to be God/divine is internally inconsistent. This consensus is built on another consensus - namely that the christology of the Gospel of John does not reflect the views of Jesus and his earliest followers - which you reject!

Furthermore, the scholarly consensus is that the Gospel of John reflects a high christology - a consensus that you reject.

Dunn (notable for his relatively 'low' christological interpretive tendency) writes that in the Fourth Gospel, we have "a full blown conception of Christ's personal pre-existence and a clear doctrine of incarnation" (J.D.G. Dunn, 1980, Christology in the Making, p. 258, italics his).

For Dunn, "There is no indication that Jesus thought or spoke of himself as having pre-existed with God prior to his birth or appearance on earth" (p. 254). This is not contradicted by the Gospel of John because Jesus' elevated christological self-assertions there "presuppose substantial developments in christological thinking which cannot be traced back to Jesus himself" (Christology in the Making, p. 254).

So you are appealing to a scholarly view of Jesus' self-understanding that, by your own admission, omits a significant chunk of the evidence - evidence that most scholars regard as reflecting a high christology!

Furthermore, your quotation that a 'large number of scholars' do not think Phil. 2:6-11 contains the idea of a pre-existent divine being does not indicate that this is a majority view, which in fact it isn't.

"From the ancient church to modern times there have existed two different interpretations of Phil 2:6-11. One sees the passage as making reference in vv. 6-8 only to the human existence of Jesus. The other regards vv. 6-8 as referring both to Jesus' pre-existence and to his earthly life. In spite of its obvious difficulties, it is the latter view which dominates modern exegesis. R.H. Fuller summarizes consensus today when he says: 'The attempts which have been made to eliminate pre-existence entirely from this passage...must be pronounced a failure...'" (C.H. Talbert, 2011, The Development of Christology during the first hundred years, p. 45; Talbert himself holds the 'human existence' view).

It is a disputed question to be sure, but you've not correctly represented the consensus.

While there are some aspects of christology where the consensus does favour the Christadelphian view (such as Jesus' self-understanding), a Christadelphian appeal to this consensus is flawed since Christadelphians reject one of the key premises on which it is based - i.e. that the christological claims of the Johannine Jesus are unhistorical.

The scholarly consensus, reflected in the source you appealed to (Ehrman) is that some of the New Testament writings reflect a high christology. Inasmuch as Christadelphians view the New Testament in its entirety as inspired and authoritative, this does indeed provide food for Christadelphian thought.

You're welcome to challenge the scholarly consensus on these points, but your claim which started this discussion - that of a "scholarly consensus in favour of the Christadelphian understanding of Christ", stated without qualification, is factually false.

Fortigurn said...

1. I am not offended by your blog, I have never said this, and disagreement with your views (however rigorous), cannot be dismissed as simply hostility.

2. My charges of intellectual dishonesty on your part have always been substantiated with evidence. Not only that, but your habit of avoiding an opponent's argument and addressing a straw man has been brought to your attention several times by other Christadelphians with whom you have corresponded; my brother David, Dave Olsen, and Ken Gilmore. This is is something you need to work on.

3. The scholarly consensus that neither Christ nor the earliest Christians believed he was divine is not based on the idea that "the christology of the Gospel of John does not reflect the views of Jesus and his earliest followers". On the contrary, the idea that " the christology of the Gospel of John does not reflect the views of Jesus and his earliest followers" is based on the overwhelming evidence from the rest of the New Testament that neither Christ nor the earliest Christians believed he was divine. Scholars such as Dunn spell this out plainly, making the point that John's gospel is dated late specifically because of perceptions of its more developed Christology, and its perceived interpolation by even later Christians with an even higher Christology.

So the reality is that there is a scholarly consensus that neither Jesus nor the earliest Christians believed Jesus was divine, and that THEREFORE the few apparent references to Jesus' divinity in books such as the gospel of John are the product of much later Christological development, or interpolation into a text which originally preserved a low Christology. You even quote Dunn saying this; the references in John "presuppose substantial developments in christological thinking which cannot be traced back to Jesus himself".

4. I have not misrepresented the consensus on the Philippians passage. I simply quoted Ehrman saying "A large number of scholars think that the passage does not imagine Christ existing as a divine being with God in heaven, coming to earth to die, and then being exalted even higher afterward". I made no claim or even suggestion that this is the scholarly consensus, or even a majority view, so once again you are misrepresenting me.

5. The scholarly consensus that only some of the New Testament texts represent a high christology is a vast difference from the original consensus that the New Testament ONLY represents a high christology. In particular, the conclusion that Christ and the earliest Christians did not believe he was divine, is a complete vindication of what Christadelphians have always taught. This is a massive shift, and marginalizes your view; you are left with a view of Christ which is confined to post-apostolic Christians who had departed from Christ's own self-understanding and the beliefs and teachings of his earliest followers, which was later interpolated into the New Testament. And at best you end up with a dualist view of two divine beings, compromising Biblical monotheism.

As with other subjects on which the scholarly consensus used to be 100% against us and now supports us, I look forward to further developments in this area, and a move towards a consensus that the New Testament does not regard Jesus as divine.

Tom said...

Thank you Jonathan. I take note of your criticism regarding straw man arguments and will be sure to heighten my awareness of the need to address opposing views head-on in the future.

On the Philippians passage, you say,
>>>I made no claim or even suggestion that this is the scholarly consensus, or even a majority view, so once again you are misrepresenting me.<<<

In your previous post on 22 July, directly after three quotations including Ehrman's about Philippians, you said, "they are all majority scholarly views independent of Ehrman.

On your point #3:

"The differences between John and the synoptics have led scholars to question the usefulness of John as a source for evidence of the historical Jesus" (Painter, J. 2010. Johannine Literature: The Gospel and Letters of John. In Blackwell Companion to the New Testament, p. 351).

The explicitly high christology of John is one aspect of these differences but not the only one.

Painter holds that "the Jesus of John speaks with the voice of the evangelist." He goes on to say:

"The dominant voice of the evangelist reminds us that there is no historical narrative that is not, at the same time, interpretation. But there are degrees of interpretation in balance with the events that are interpreted. John represents a higher level of interpretation than the synoptics. That need not mean that John is any more or less valid an interpretation of Jesus than the synoptics." (Ibid., p. 352)

Later on, he observes that "John's thoroughgoing interpretation of the tradition has a strong theological drive. One ground for this is the evangelist's theology of the incarnation." (p. 353)

It would be possible to reconcile the apparent christological differences between the Synoptics and John by observing that while the Synoptists tell us what Jesus said (with minimal theological interpretation), John (as an early, divinely inspired commentator) tells us what Jesus meant. John is more explicit about the theological significance of Jesus' words where the Synoptics leave this to the reader.

Anyway, your argument is still disjointed here. On the one hand, you've stated you have a high view of Scripture and that the Gospel of John's depiction of Jesus is historically accurate. On the other hand you point to the scholarly consensus that the apparently high christological statements in John are much later developments, even interpolations, which don't go back to Jesus.

Based on your stated view of Scripture and of John's historicity, you clearly reject this scholarly consensus. How then does it help you to establish that the historical Jesus had a low christology?

There is no question that there have been massive paradigm shifts with respect to early church christology over the past couple centuries. Many of the developments have indeed been favourable to the Christadelphian understanding of Christ. However, it has by no means been a one-way street. High christology interpretations of John, Paul, Hebrews and Revelation have withstood challenges and remain majority views.

My hope is that instead of keeping their own christology static and stagnant and waiting expectantly for scholarship to vindicate it, Christadelphians will also undertake a review of their Socinian position. Hence I believe my call for Christadelphian reflection in light of Spence's essay remains valid.

Jonathan Burke said...

Tom,

1. Yes I said they were all majority scholarly views independent of Ehrman. I did not say all of them were consensus views.

2. You provide a number of quotations from scholars saying John's gospel is interpretive more than it is historical, but that this doesn't mean it isn' UNhistorical. I agree. So what?

Claiming that the synoptics wrote what Jesus aid while John wrote what he actually meant, is simply question begging. It is also contradicted by the record of Acts, in which the apostles consistently teach what the gospels said; that Jesus is a man appointed and authorized by God, through whom God worked. There isn't a word of him being an immortal divine being who existed before he was born, pretended to be a man, pretended to die, and then returned to be with the other god in heaven. There's no evidence for the suggestion you're making, which is a transparently motivated reading.

3. It helps me to point to the scholarly consensus that the historical Jesus and the earliest Christians had a low christology, because that's what Christadelphians have always believed. That supports our understanding of Jesus, and excludes yours.

4. Yes I reject the scholarly consensus that the gospel of John reflects a high christology in which Jesus is a divine being (separate from God). You say this makes my argument disjointed. But you reject the scholarly consensus concerning the synoptics and earliest Christians, whilst accepting the consensus concerning John. So if my argument is disjointed, yours is equally disjointed.

5. The massive paradigm shifts over the last 100 years, especially those favourable to a Christadelpian understanding of Scripture, give us good confidence that these shifts will continue. The number of passages in John which are though to be teaching a high christology has fallen, and I don't expect it's going to be rising any time soon.

6. Let's be clear on this; do you believe Jesus, his disciples, and his earliest followers believed he was God? You are consistently non-explicit about your own christology, but it appears to be Arian. Would you care to be more explicit?

7. If you want us to review our Christology you need articles much better than this. Spence simply assumes his case, argues from tradition, and claims without evidence that "In their critique of the orthodox understanding of Christ [the Socinians] were unable to provide a coherent alternative christology to that of Nicea". This is not going to convince Christadelphians to rethink their christology. Why don't you rethink your christology in the light of the scholarly consensus that neither Jesus, nor his disciples, nor his earliest followers, believed him to be God?

Tom said...

Jonathan, this has gone far enough.

You accused me of misrepresenting you regarding your statement about the majority view of Phil. 2:6-11. I then quoted your words back to you to show that you had referred to a majority view.

The correct thing for you to do at this point would have been to admit your mistake and apologize. For instance, you might have said, "I see now that I did say this was a majority view. I'm sorry I accused you of misrepresentation and I'll try to show more restraint with my accusations in the future."

Instead you reverted to your original statement that it was a majority view. You thus contradicted yourself for the second post in a row, but more importantly you avoided any admission of error or fault on your own part.

It impossible to engage in constructive dialogue with someone who is unwilling or unwilling to concede one iota in even a relatively trivial matter. There is no value in continuing this discussion, and frankly I regret the time I've put into it thus far.

One final point. It is very disappointing to see you caricature orthodox christology as Christ pretending to be a man and pretending to die. Even a cursory reading of the creeds reveals this is not the case. This statement reflects either inexcusable ignorance or willful misrepresentation. In either case you're creating a straw-man, the very thing you chided me for doing.

Given your intellectual stature in the Christadelphian community, you have a responsibility to correct misconceptions about orthodox doctrine, instead of perpetuating them.

You are a person who has been gifted with considerable knowledge and intellect. It is my prayer that God will do a work in your life so that you are able to use these gifts in a way that is more edifying and brings more glory to the name of Jesus Christ. May the Lord bless and keep you.

Jonathan Burke said...

Tom it's predictable to see you resort to tone trolling when the questions become difficult.

1. Let's start with this.

"You accused me of misrepresenting you regarding your statement about the majority view of Phil. 2:6-11. I then quoted your words back to you to show that you had referred to a majority view."

Yes, and I then acknowledged I had indeed said that; I said specifically "YES I SAID THEY WERE ALL MAJORITY SCHOLARLY VIEWS independent of Ehrman". So you corrected me, I acknowledged the correction, then you claim I'm refusing to acknowledge the correction!

2. You think I'm caricaturing "orthodox christology" (I'll remember you used that term), as Jesus pretending to be a man and pretending to die. This simply shows an ignorance of scholarship on your part. More than one mainstream scholar has acknowledged that the "orthodox christology" is essentially Docetic; an immortal divine spirit being clothed temporarily in a body of flesh. If Jesus is divine he is immortal; if he is immortal then he did not die. If Jesus existed before his birth, then the human body in which he was seen was simply a mass of flesh he entered and possessed temporarily; it was not really him. This is unavoidable.

* 'Matthews maintains that, despite its insistence that Jesus was fully human, POPULAR EVANGELICAL CHRISTOLOGY IS ESSENTIALLY DOCETIC', Lindsey, 'Shailer Mathews's Lives of Jesus: The Search for a Theological Foundation for the Social Gospel', p. 189 (1997)

* 'In order to preserve the true humanity of Jesus, some reformists are advocating an adoptionist or kenotic form of Christology. They argue that EVANGELICALISM IS IN DANGER OF BECOMING DOCETIC by placing too much emphasis on the deity of Christ', Pierard & Ewell, 'Evangelicalism', in Ewell (ed.), 'Evangelical Dictionary of Theology', p. 409 (2001); how ironic that they seek to avoid Docetism by turning to alternative heresies such as adoptionism and kenosis

* 'In a paper given to the Fellowship of European Evangelical Theologians in 1980, R.T. France pointed out that 'at least in popular [evangelical] piety THERE IS A STRONG TENDENCY TO A FORM OF UNACKNOWLEDGED DOCETISM', Runia, 'The Present-Day Christological Debate', p. 88 (2001)

I recommend to you the following blog by Dale Tuggy.

http://trinities.org/blog/

Although he is a non-trinitarian, he has been repeatedly published on the subject of the theological and philosophical aspects of trinitarianism and high christology, and is far more academically published and recognized than many popular and populist trinitarian writers (such as Rob Bowman), and even more than some evangelical academics. His repeated exposure of the various heresies into which mainstream trinitarians blunder as they attempt to defend their theology is most entertaining. And half the time, as he points out, it's orthodox theologians who are criticizing each other for falling into error. The doctrine is such a complete mess, heresy is impossible to avoid.

A good read of Christie's 'Ordinary Christology: Who Do You Say I Am? Answers From The Pews' (2012), demonstrates just how wildly varied the views are within 'orthodox christology', and how many of them are utterly incoherent (not to mention Docetic).

Jonathan Burke said...

3. As the self-appointed teacher and corrector of over 60,000 Christadelphians, you can expect to be held to a high standard. Given this self-appointment, your pious sounding words of apparent humility ring very hollow.

4. Finally, I will remind you of the questions of mine which you avoided. This was most telling.

* Let's be clear on this; do you believe Jesus, his disciples, and his earliest followers believed he was God? You are consistently non-explicit about your own christology, but it appears to be Arian. Would you care to be more explicit?

* Why don't you rethink your christology in the light of the scholarly consensus that neither Jesus, nor his disciples, nor his earliest followers, believed him to be God?

Let me put it frankly; your theology is a mess. You are dogmatic on just one subject, satan and demons, and even on that your dogmatism extends little further than to their existence; on almost every other topic concerning them you retreat into vague hand waving.

Your theology is a paradigm of opposition; you don't seem particularly concerned about coming to conclusions, as long as you avoid whatever it is Christadelphians believe (because it's automatically wrong).

Where exactly did you go wrong? Was it a consequence of being part of a scrappy little fundamentalist fringe in our community? Were you raised on Unamended literature? Did you get an evangelical girlfriend? There's just no underlying intellectual coherence to your arguments. They're utterly fragmentary.

Tom said...

Jonathan,

On the majority view of Phil. 2:6-11. From the way it was worded it wasn't clear to me that it was a correction, and I hoped you might have offered an apology for the false accusation. But enough about that.

It may be that popular Evangelicalism is in danger of adopting a docetic Christology; I still fail to see how this justifies your caricature of orthodox Christology.

I don't pretend to be the teacher of over 60 000 Christadelphians. However I'm glad and indeed grateful to be held to a high standard.

To answer your first question about my Christology:

To say Jesus was "God" can be open to misinterpretation since, in New Testament language, "God" is mainly used as a personal name for the Father.

Nevertheless, in ontological terms I do affirm that Jesus believed he was God. This may be a minority position among NT scholars, but then, as discussed earlier, most NT scholars regard the Gospel of John as unhistorical, and also doubt the historicity of some of the most Christologically significant sayings of Jesus in the Synoptics (e.g. the Johannine thunderbolt).

I think Grindheim's book God's Equal (which is based entirely on the Synoptic Gospels) has made a very good case for Jesus having had a high christology/self-understanding which, however, he expressed implicitly rather than explicitly.

As to Jesus' earliest disciples, I think it took time for the full implications of Jesus' claims, deeds, resurrection and exaltation to set in. Hence we don't immediately see a full-blown high Christology but then we also don't see anything that contradicts such a view.

I'm in full agreement with Bauckham's "Christology of divine identity" in which ontological/functional categories are viewed as less important than "identity" in a first century Jewish context.

I believe creedal orthodoxy provides the best systematic explanation of the biblical evidence in ontological terms. I must confess that I'm not much of a philosopher and prefer biblical theology to systematic theology; however I think Oliver Crisp's recent books (for example) show that classical orthodox Christology retains its relevance and explanatory power.

I believe Christology is a paradox in which Christ's divinity and humanity must be held in tension. It is unfortunate when divinity is emphasized at the expense of real humanity. On the other hand, I don't think dropping the divinity is the answer. I think my Christadelphian background has given me a greater appreciation of the importance of Christ's humanity and I'm grateful for that.

I hope I have now been more explicit and I think I've also answered your second question.

There are a number of doctrines which I am dogmatic about; happily, most of them I share with Christadelphians (see, basically, everything in the Apostles Creed). I'm dogmatic about the present availability of the Holy Spirit (but not dogmatic about charismata); fortunately this is also a position I share with many contemporary Christadelphians.

I'm not dogmatic about Satan and demons in the sense of regarding it as a matter of salvation. However, I know where I stand and am fully persuaded that Christadelphians are not in line with the Bible on this particular issue.

My theology is a work in progress but it's not a mess. Moreover, it's not a paradigm of opposition. I can see how you would get that impression from my blog and website, but my blog is not a reflection of my whole theology; it is specifically devoted to engaging with Christadelphian theology.

The irony here is that there is probably no other Christian sect whose theology is more a paradigm of opposition than Christadelphians. What other group has a Statement of Faith with more articles in the "Doctrines to be Rejected" appendix than in the main document?

Jonathan Burke said...

Tom,

1. The aspect of christology identified as docetism in the quotations I provided, is the essential aspect of orthodox christology; a supernatural divine being who places himself inside an unsouled body of flesh. That's why the Lutherans and the Calvinist Reformists both charged each other with docetism; it was unavoidable whichever way you tried to reconcile the traditional 'godman' doctrine.

A real human being is a body and and an independent consciouness with independent rational volition (a will), with one nature; traditional orthodox doctirne also used to argue that a real human being has a soul. Unless Jesus had this, he was never a real human being.

The Monophysites argued Jesus had one nature, but this contradicted the orthodox doctrine that Jesus has two natures (which means he is not a real human being).

The Monothelites argued Jesus had two natures but only one will, but this contradicted the orthodox doctrine that Jesus has two wills since he has two natures, human and divine (which means he is not a real human being).

The Nestorians argued Jesus was two persons, which is the logical consequence of two wills and two natures, but this was rejected as denying the incomprehensible unity of the natures.

A supernatural being inhabiting a physical body which was never theirs in the first place, and which is discarded at a later point without any affect on their self-identity, is docetism whichever way you look at it. The only ways around this are a descent into mysteriansim, or theological strategies which have traditionally been identified as heresies themselves.

2. You do present yourself as the teacher of 60,000 Christadelphians when you start a blog with the title "biblical doctrine for Christadelphians", hosted on a website the explicit purpose of which is "to open the minds of Christadelphians to better understand the Scriptures".

3. So you at least agree with the scholarly consensus that Jesus' disciples had no concept that he was God. Don't you think he would have given them a hint after his resurrection, while he was explaining everything else which they didn't understand during his ministry? We never see any change of view from them; indeed, in the gospels and Acts, some of the latest New Testament documents, they continue to differentiate Jesus from God, and we are told they preached Jesus was a man.

4. If you're in agreement with Bauckham's "Christology of divine identity", then you should read this.

trinities.org/dale/OBB-preprint.pdf

It's mere handwaving.

5. When you say "I believe Christology is a paradox in which Christ's divinity and humanity must be held in tension", you're giving the game away. You have introduced a paradox which is found nowhere in Scripture; the paradox is one of your own making. And it's not just a paradox, it's a flat out contravention of the law of non-contradiction.

Jonathan Burke said...



6. You claim "My theology is a work in progress but it's not a mess", but it is a mess; your christology requires a logical fallacy, your satanology is incompatible with reality and your own personal experience (not to mention an unapologetic contradiction of the Old Testament), your pneumatology is likewise totally devoid of the empirical evidence it is supposed to manifest.

7. You claim your theology is "not a paradigm of opposition"; is it just a coincidence then that so much of your theology (in fact most of what you're sure on), is just a direct contradiction of what you used to believe as a Christadelphian?

8. You claim "The irony here is that there is probably no other Christian sect whose theology is more a paradigm of opposition than Christadelphians". On what basis do you make this claim? The orthodox churches have pages of rejected doctrines, enshrined in numerous articles of faith, creeds, and council decrees. Additionally, the list of doctrines which the average church rejects is far greater than ours. Ironically, many modern Christians today would reject most of the same doctrines that we do; 1-12, 14-29, 31-33 are common to many modern Christians.

Tom said...

You've raised a large number of new issues and I'm really not inclined to expand the discussion at this point.

I suggest further reading in New Testament Christology. On the christology of Luke-Acts, see for instance Rowe, Early Narrative Christology; Turner, The Spirit of Christ and 'Divine' Christology; Buckwalter, The Character and Purpose of Luke's Christology.

The bottom line is, you're not willing to allow for Christology to be paradoxical, whereas I am. That's the key difference. You say this paradox is of my own making, but it can hardly be disputed that "the Word became flesh" (John 1:14) is a great paradox.

>>> The orthodox churches have pages of rejected doctrines, enshrined in numerous articles of faith, creeds, and council decrees.<<<

I said no other Christian sect.

>>>Additionally, the list of doctrines which the average church rejects is far greater than ours.<<<

Proof?

Can you please refrain from suggesting that you know my motives? Thanks.