Saturday, June 16, 2007

Christology 101 (or why I'm not Unitarian)

I HAVE been exercised of late on the issue of Christology. By "Christology" I mean that set of questions such as Who was/is this Christ Jesus fellow anyway? or Is/was he really God incarnate? and What do we really mean by God Incarnate anyway? and Why does it matter? And what tense should we be talking about the guy (was/is)?

This isn't to say that I think there is one and only one TRUE answer to any of those questions or that where you stand on any of them should in any way mark you as a good Quake or a bad Quake or even as a good Christian or a bad Christian. But I think I might say there is a range of responses to those questions which we might say are more appropriate expressions of Quakerism and of Christianity than other possible responses. In other words I think our answers to such questions may actually be helpful in the formation of our communities and in the making of corporate (and even personal decisions. I think that may define me outside the "liberal" fold.

And here it gets REALLY technical. I think that this hypothetically appropriate range of responses needs to include the Theopaschite amendment to the Council of Chalcedon: Unus ex Trinitate passus est (meaning "One of the Trinity suffered in the flesh").

Gaak! What am I saying? I'm saying Jesus was a child of God in a way we are not. In traditional language, he was the only begotten son of God while we are God's kids by adoption.

And its important because? Because when they nailed him to a tree Jesus suffered and when that happened it was God suffering in Jesus because they are One. And God continues to suffer and be vulnerable.

The liberal Quakerism I know doesn't think this is important. In fact the notion this might be important is down right threatening to a whole mess of folks who without office or election or recording are pretty much setting the tone for what Quakerism is and is becoming. It is also pretty much irrelevant (ironically enough) to conservative Christians who if not in profession certainly in practice prefer the conquering Messiah returning on clouds of glory to the notion that God Almighty is vulnerable and suffers.

But for me certainly, the notion of a vulnerable and suffering God is at the centre of any hope that Christianity might be relevant in this world. More important than those gospel formulae about how we're saved by his sacrifice. And if Quakerism is to be relevant in this world, it needs either to embrace a Chacedonian kind of Christianity or it needs to jettison the whole Christian enterprise and find an entirely different way of engaging this world.


forrest said...

So what about "a low Christology and a high anthropology"? Which would say (as I do) that God is vulnerable, and suffers, in-&-as each human being?

Is Jesus a Unitarian? That would be a mystical sort of Unitarian, certainly--what a Hindu would describe as an Avatar, or as having been "God-conscious."

More "a child of God" than us? We don't get, so far, to say things like "I and the Father are one." Which Jesus might well have said, and said truly, although the style of his speeches, in the Gospel of John, is far far different from that in the synoptics--and the things he says about himself would be downright weird (if he were talking about his personal human ego)

Christianity is relevant in this world to whatever extent that God is a Christian. Its relevance, that is, is directly related to its truth. And so with "Quakerism."

From Rabbi Smelke of Nikolsburg (via Martin Buber in Stephen Mitchell's _The Enlightened Mind_) on why we should love even the Wicked:
"Love your neighbor like something which you yourself are. For all souls are one. Each is a spark from the original soul, and this soul is wholly inherent in all souls, just as your soul is in all members of your body. It may happen that your hand makes a mistake and hits you. But would you then take a stick and punish your hand because it lacked understanding...? Don't you know that the original soul came out of the essence of God, and that every human soul is a part of God? And will you have no mercy on Him, when you see that one of His holy sparks is lost in a maze and almost stifled?"

Anonymous said...

“I’m saying Jesus was a child of God in a way we are not. In traditional language, he was the only begotten son of God while we are God's kids by adoption. …”

Hmmm. By your leave I’ll roll that down the sidewalk a bit, with the caveats 1. in sixty-odd years I’ve never been a parent and 2. (most) theology REALLY hurts my head. I suppose it all comes down to what sort of parenting, divine or human, we’re talking about.

Assuming I already have a flesh-and-blood kid or kids, and my partner and I elected to adopt one or more others, prior to the adoption process I think I would say to the f&b something like this: OK, Love(s) of My Life, understand and agree to the following. Your new sibling(s) will, when and if they join our household, be your equal(s) in EVERY respect, including but not limited to our love, respect, attention, and equal shares or our estate should we leave you any. If you’re down with that, let’s make it so.

(Alternatively, you have the not uncommon situation of centuries past, especially amongst the nobility, where illegitimate offspring were not infrequently lived on the estate ane were raised, cared for, educated etc., and sometimes distinguished themselves in their adult lives — composer Alexander Borodin is one example — but they did not assume the family name or inherit a portion of the estate.)

p.s. Forrest said, More “a child of God” than us? We don’t get, so far, to say things like “I and the Father are one. …” Well, friend Forrest, I don’t think I would make so bold either, and perhaps our modesty does us credit, but according to something I chanced on a while back, at least a few of the Great Ones in the first generation were not as shy as thee and me. From

“Art thou the only Son of God?” asked the magistrate.
“I am the Son of God,” replied James Nayler, “but I have many brethren.”

“Art thou equal with God?” asked the magistrate.
“My Father and I are one,” replied George Fox, “and as he is, so are we in this present world.”

Could be this whole issue is just too much for my poor old head so I take the lazy way out and make optimistic instead of pessimistic assumptions. Maybe, as someone said to me years ago, We’re all God’s pets but only some of us get to sleep on the couch. :o)


Francis Drake

Anonymous said...

Should have typed (F)riend Forrest. Crave pardon.

— Ibid.

forrest said...

Okay, a much belated response... God's bastards, and frequently acting like it!

Since a "bastard", traditionally, was kept out of the inheritance, and often resented that & other slights, & was sometimes justly suspected of plotting to rectify that oversight by nefarious means, there is a certain reputation for bad attitudes & misbehavior associated with the word. Which fits much of human conduct amazingly well.

There's also a Sufi story (lifted from the Hindu's) about a king's son, who goes mad and imagines himself to be a lost orphan. When the King's servants discover him, living in utmost hunger, squalor, and degradation, he is terrified at any thought of being brought before the King. And so it takes a long time and elaborate means to lead him, quite gradually, towards knowing his true self.