After reading a number of comments on several of my articles, I am convinced that the doctrine of Christ is widely misunderstood especially by those who are not sympathetic with Christianity. The term “Christ” is thrown about as if it really has no specific historical or theological point of reference. The identity of Jesus is perceived differently, often according to one’s particular belief or religion. Some call him a unique individual with unusually high morals and ethics. Some see him as one saviour among others. Some say he is a man who was full of the “Christ spirit.” Others believe that he is a man who progressed to godhood. Still others say that he is divine-like, a lesser god than Jehovah. Of course, Christian’s believe that he is both human and divine, the God-Man; the second Person of the Holy Trinity.
Christology is the theological term Christian’s use to refer to the orthodox, biblical view of the person, nature, & work of Jesus Christ. By orthodox we mean that certain statements accurately embody the revealed truth content of Christianity and are therefore normative for Christian’s at large. By biblical we are referring to doctrine agreeing with or faithful to the teachings of the Bible. Christology, then, is a study of who Jesus is. It refers to his life, his human/divine nature, and the work that he accomplished through his death and resurrection. It is so important that the cornerstone of Christianity hangs on just who Jesus Christ is; it is the centrality of the Gospel itself! Indeed, the virgin birth, the Incarnation (God assuming a human nature in the person of Jesus), his vicarious atonement for sin, and his bodily resurrection are doctrines unique to the Christian faith. However, because some religious traditions speak of an incarnation or manifestation of God, they must be understood in the historical and theological contexts in which they originated. Ony then can we appreciate just how unique and important they reallly are in the history and development of Christian doctrine!
Obviously, some cults and new age philosophies have well-developed Christologies of their own. Of course, their doctrine differs significantly from Christianity and is the primary reason why the scriptures admonish true believers to refrain from joining unbelievers in matromony, and from having spiritual fellowship with them (2 Cor. 6:14-18). Needless to say, the Christology of the cults stems from their heretical view of Jesus Christ. That is, they either emphasize his true humanity at the expense of his true divinity (or deity), or emphasize his true divinity at the expense of his humanity. It took the great ecumenical councils of the church (Nicea in 325 and Chalcedon in 451) to put to rest the controversy regarding Jesus’ true nature. Indeed, these councils declared that the Son was homoousios (coequal, consubstantial, and coeternal) with the Father, and that his two natures (human and divine) were unmixed, unchanged, undivided, and inseparable.
With this in mind, notice the following Christological heresies and how they deviate from the historic Nicene and Chalcedonian definitions:
- Adoptianism: Jesus, merely human, and was made divine, hence he was adopted as God’s Son.
- Apollinarianism: Christ’s human will was replaced by the divine will of the Second Person of the Trinity.
- Arianism: Christ was God’s first and greatest creature, divine, but not God Almighty.
- Baha’ism: Jesus was one of a line of prophets, ending with Baha’u’allah.
- Christian Science: Christ is God’s Son as we all are; As with the material world, Christ’s humanity was unreal, an illusion.
- Deism: An anti-supernaturalistic philosophy which denied that God was in any unique or real sense in Jesus Christ.
- Docetism: Christ, a divine being less than God, could not touch the material world which was inherently evil, seemed to be human.
- Ebionism: Jesus was the Messiah, but not God. He did not pre-exist at all.
- Eutychianism: The human nature of Christ was absorbed by the Logos.
- Faith teachers (E.W. Kenyon, Copeland, et. al): Jesus took on Satan’s nature; was born-again in the pit of hell.
- Gnosticism: Christ was a divine being who came to bring us the secret knowledge (gnosis) of how to be freed from the evil world of matter.
- Islam: Jesus was a prophet, not God’s Son, and not as great as Mohammed.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses: Jesus is a god, mighty, but not the Almighty God.
- Judaism: Jesus was a false Messiah, is now the Gentile God.
- Kenoticism: Christ’s self-emptying (kenosis) was, in part or in full, a temporary ceasing of his Deity.
- Liberalism: Christ was an ideal, an example, a personification of God’s love, but not God, not unique.
- Modalism: The Father became the Son, who later became the Spirit.
- Modernism: Christ is interpreted to conform to “modern” anti-supernatural, historicist presuppositions.
- Monarchianism: Christ was God the Father incarnate (also called Patripassianism)
- Monophysitism: Christ had one nature, not two; the divine absorbed the human.
- Mormonism: Christ was one of God the Father’s inummerable spirit sons who like his Father, became a god.
- Nestorianism: The son of Mary the human nature of Jesus only; the two natures are separated.
- Orthodoxy: Formulated explicitly in the 4th and 5th centuries, viewing Christ as the Second Person of the Triune God; fully God and fully man in the Incarnation; one person having two distinct natures.
- Unification Church (“Rev. Moon”): claims to be Christ returned.
- Unitarianism: Christ was a great man, not God. He is God’s son only as other men are God’s sons also.
- The Way International (Wierwille): Teaches a form of Adoptianism; Jesus Christ is not God.
- New Age: Jesus is a god-realized man; a Christ-conscious master. Christ is a cosmic principle.
The Apolostic Fathers (A.D. 90-140) all spoke highly of Christ. For example, Ignatius emphasized both the true deity and humanity of Christ and referred to the “blood of God.” Melito of Sardis spoke clearly of Christ as both God and man; Irenaeus, in meeting the challenge of Gnosticism, viewed the person of Christ always in close connection with his work of redemption and revelation; Tertullian also made contributions to Christology in his combating Gnosticism and the various forms of monarchianism. Origen had a decisive influence in the development of Christology as well, using the term homoousios to describe his nature. Athanasius, in his long struggle against Arius, sought to uphold the unity of essence of the Father and Son by basing his argument not on a philosophical doctrine of the nature of the Logos, but on the nature of the redemption accomplished by the Word in the flesh.
The theologians of the Middle Ages accepted the authority of patristic Christology with due influence of Augustine’s stress on the real humanity of Christ in his atoning work, on his example in humility, and on mystical experience. At the time of the Reformation, Luther’s Christology was based on Christ as true God and true man in inseparable unity. Calvin also approved of the orthodox Christological statements of the church councils.
Since the early nineteenth century the tendency has been to try to depart from the Chalcedonian doctrine of the two natures on the ground that it could not be related to the human Jesus portrayed in the Gospels (Schleiermacher, Ritschl, etc). However, the middle of the twentieth century has seen a return to the use of the Chalcedonian doctrine of the two natures, particularily as interpreted in the Reformed tradition. In a post-modern world where the abosolute truths of Christianity are being challenged on every side, Christian’s must emphasize the importance of the doctrine of Christ as it bears directly on the centrality of the Gospel. One can ill-afford to be mistaken on the two most important questions of our day: who is Jesus Christ and what has he done for the world?
Jesus once asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am? They answered, “…some say that you are John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” Jesus responded: “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” While others were mistaken, Peter was correct. He recognized that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, in the flesh! The Gospel of John agrees: Jesus is the Word that became flesh and dwelt among men (John 1:1; 14). He is the “only begotten God” (John 1:18). Paul states, “In him [Jesus] all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.” (Colossians 2:9). Jesus himself claimed to be God (John 5:17; 10:30; 8:58) and said that “Unless you believe that I am who I claim to be, you will die in you sins” (John 8:24).
The question that Jesus asked his disciples is just as applicable now as it was then: “Who do you say that I am?” However, before answering this, be careful, investigate the claims of Christ; examine his life, death, and resurrection and then, pray that your heart and mind agrees with the Word of God. Above all, be very sure as your response will determine where you go after you die! For, as someone once said, a person may be right on every doctrine and wrong on the doctrine of Christ and lose his soul for all eternity!