Thursday, January 22, 2015

What is Jesus?

At 9:15 a.m., Chris Morgan, dean of the School of Christian Ministries at California Baptist University, and author of Crossway’s Theology in Community Series introduced Stephen J. Wellum, professor of Christian Theology at SBTS and coauthor of the recent book Kingdom through Covenant.
"I try to meet people who are smarter than me, so I’m learning and not just chit-chatting," 
Morgan said of Wellum.

Wellum’s topic for the morning was Christology: “Jesus as Lord and Son—Two Complementary Truths.” And in a self-proclaimed approach, Wellum wanted to unite not only “Lord” and “Son” but biblical and systematic theology and pushing both  into the hands of ministers behind the pulpit claiming that “There’s nothing new here! But perhaps a richness that can be explored further,” and “that will preach.” And so we see in Wellum an attempt to bring four branches of oft-segregated disciplines together. Biblical, systematic, practical, and historical—the fourth being unstated, but ever-present in the ensuing lecture.

In light of eternity, he is Lord and Son—always. AND in light of his acts [incarnation, &c] he is Lord and Son.

Such was his thesis. Which may sound either circular or contradictory depending on your reference point, and so Wellum seeks to persuade his hearers in three steps:
1.       Present the context with a foil: The False Dichotomoy
2.       Response
3.       Integrate Ontology and Function in the biblical story

Part One: The Dichotomy

It has been common to divide discussion of Christology into two divided categories: ontology and economy—that is the essence of who Jesus is and the function/role of what Jesus does.
And within these two categories…
                The ontological tends to focus on the deity of Christ
                And the functional tends to focus on the humanity of Christ.
If stressed, both of them lead into heretical views of the person (and consequently work) of Jesus. The former can yield a gnostic dualism or Docetism, whereas the latter breeds adoptionism.
These thinkers assume the presuppositional categories by asking, “Is New Testament Christology ontological or functional?
But such a question bears unprofitable consequences; dichotomizing results…
                On the one hand in denying the divinity
                on the other hand in denying the humanity
                or in the least by those who hold them in tension, in separating biblical texts into foreign systematic categories (e.g. “here are all the divinity texts and there are all the humanity texts”), but all the while failing to see how Scripture brings them together.

But Jesus the Lord is God the Son incarnate—that’s the theme of biblical Christology. In fact, the kind of redeemer we need is fully God and fully man.

Part Two: Response

A.)   In Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the God of Israel (2008), he introduces a different categorical understanding. One not based on the ontological-functional dichotomy.

Divine Identity, Bauckham says is a better way to understand Jesus.

In divine identity, Bauckham traces divinity through the Old Testament and shows how God is…
                Providential Lord
                God of Israel
And the New Testament picks up these Old Testament themes and sees Jesus as its continuation! Jesus is the one who is creator, providential lord, redeemer, and God of Israel.

B.)   “The only reason,” Wellum says while recognizing a ‘slight, but not much’ overstatement, “this dichotomy has gained traction is because of historical criticism!” Something too many Christians are still enamored with: allegedly separating the “Jesus of history” from the “Christ of faith.”

Presuming a history-faith division imposes the categories of ontology-function upon the biblical text because the theological ontology of the authors must be neglected to acknowledge the historical function of the man from Nazareth.

And yet, divorcing Jesus from the Bible results in a false understanding of Jesus.
The Jesus of history is the Christ of faith! [Or perhaps better yet: the Jesus of faith is the Christ of history.]

Instead, if we put Jesus back into the biblical story, we see two intertwined truths.
When God chooses to save us, it then becomes necessary to become incarnate.

Part Three: Integrating Ontology and Function

1.       He is God and Son by virtue of his eternal relationship in Trinity

We must think of Jesus in Trinity. God the Son is eternally the Son in relation to the Father and Spirit.

And God is the One alone who must save. He is the one who works out the plan of redemption.

2.       He is always Lord and Son and becomes Lord and Son by virtue of his incarnation.

In other words…
                He is the Lord who becomes Lord
                He is the Son who becomes Son
by virtue of his incarnation.

He is appointed as Lord and Son. Not only is he always Lord and Son, but he is also appointed Lord and Son.

In his humanity the eternal Son fulfills the role of all previous sons: Abel, Seth, Isaac, Israel, David.

In the Old Testament it is clear:
                God must save
                God must come
                                but also
                Man must restore
                Man must reign
And so in the New Testament it clear:
                Jesus is the one who saves, he is the one who comes, he is the one who restores, he is the one who reigns. Jesus is God-Man.

At this point Wellum deals with three significant Christological passages: Romans 1:1-5, Philippians 2:6-11, and Colossians 1:15-20.

A.      Romans 1:1-5
Wellum brings attention the the phrase ὁρισθέντος υἱοῦ θεοῦ translated variously by committees as ‘appointed’ or ‘declared’ or ‘named.’

‘Appointed,’ Wellum says, is the correct term, even while understanding translation committee’s question: “Appointed? But isn’t he already the eternal son?” And yet we do not become adoptionistic either.

The solution lies in understanding the nuance of the title ‘son’. It means both…
                God the Son (ie. Trinitarian relationship), and
                The antitype of sons (ie. Fulfillment of sonship motif)

The eternal Son fulfills the types of the Old Testament ‘son’ by virtue of his incarnation and resurrection!

So the Son eternal is appointed as human-seed Son (cf.Gn.3.15-17)

Wellum further notes the phrase ‘by power of the Spirit’ and shows how this phrase delineates the state of exaltation in contrast to the state of humiliation (by the flesh), rather than describing an adoptionist ascent.

B.      Philippians 2:6-11

Wellum divides the passage from vv.6-8 as the work of Christ in the incarnation & cross and vv.9-11 as the Father’s action to the Son in exaltation.

Wellum notes the connotations of μορφῇ in this passage by explaining that ‘form’ pertains to essence and so Jesus “adds the form of man” onto his “form of God”—Jesus does not remove his Godhood.

And so it is Jesus as God-Man who becomes obedient to death on a cross.

And the Christ who is eternally Son becomes Lord.
In other words: eternal Son became Lord in time.
But he was also eternally Lord (hence the equality with God to be maintained for his singular advantage).

C.       Colossians 1:15-20

These verses are divided from 15-17 and 18b-20, with 17-18 as a transition piece.

The image of the invisible God, Wellum notes, carries both divine and human connotations It is to be understood in light of Genesis 1.26, Wellum says—drawing attention to humanities creation. But that’s not all. Paying implicit homage to Gavin Ortlund’s  JETS article, Wellum notes the likeness idea incumbent on ‘sonship’ and ‘image’ language in Genesis 5 and Luke 3.

Wellum exposited, “The Son is the original image in which humanity was created….He is the archetype. And the last Adam.”

Incarnation is possible because we are already made in his image… patterned after the divine Son. (Cp.Heb.2, role of Adam).

Jesus is the firstborn over creation, in preeminence, not in protocreation. And yet he is the image of the Triune God in whose image we were created that he might come in that human image as God-Man so that deity and humanity are united in our salvation.

Deity and Humanity. But how the Bible brings them together is significant:

Jesus is the Son and Lord from eternity who becomes incarnate because in the storyline of Scripture it is necessary for our salvation.

Wellum’s presentation was a valuable use of my time, and I hope it is for yours as well. He defended his discourse on Christology by claiming that there is no greater person [or thing] on earth worth studying and knowing. And indeed there is not. May his work serve to deepen your love of God, your gratitude to him, and your ministry to others.

You will be able to watch his actual presentation on the SCM page of CBU soon.

Be sure to check out his chapter in The Deity of Christ (Crossway,  2011) and his forthcoming book in the Foundations of Evangelical Theology Series.