Mormon Christology/ies?

The New Testament writings and other LDS Scriptural texts present a variety of Christologies (i.e., understandings about who Jesus was and the purpose of his life, teachings, and mission).  For instance, the Gospel of John presents Jesus as the pre-existent divine Word (logos) that was with the Father in the beginning and who created the world only to become flesh in it in order to redeem those who should believe on his name.  The Gospel of Matthew, however, presents Jesus as the inspired Law-Interpreter whose teachings reveal the true understanding of the Law of Moses and whose life and actions fulfill the Hebrew Scriptures.  In Matthew, Jesus is born of  virgin; he is half-human, half-god.  Likewise, Luke has an infancy narrative that attributes divine sonship to Jesus, but Luke’s Gospel portrays Jesus as the greatest of the prophets ultimately destined for rejection. Interestingly, Luke does not seem to understand Jesus’ death as a substitutionary sacrifice for sins. Mark’s Gospel, on the other hand, like John’s, lacks an infancy narrative; yet, in contrast to the Gospel of John, there is no mystical reflection in this text regarding Jesus’ pre-existent divine state. Moreover, unlike Luke’s account, Mark does appear to understand Jesus’ death as substitutionary (Mark 10:45).  Suffice it to say, there are many other differences between the Gospels, and the other New Testament writings likewise portray Jesus’ life, teachings, and mission (if indeed they even directly touch on these issues) in different ways.  The Epistle to the Hebrews says that Jesus was made perfect through his sufferings (Heb 2:10) and became in every respect like humanity (Heb 2:17), and therefore he is able to sympathize with humanity precisely because he suffered temptation/testing in the same manner, although he never capitulated to sin (Heb 4:15) (Hebrews does not refer to a birth narrative, although it does appear to understand Jesus as pre-existent in some sense; see Heb 1:1–6).  (These statements, in turn, ask us to consider what exactly “sin” and “testing/temptation” is/are.)  Finally, D&C 93:1–17 states that Jesus divested himself of the pre-existent divine glory which he shared with the Father and dwelt on earth as fully human (confer also, e.g., Jn 1:1–18; Jn 17:1–21; Phil 2:6–11). He received not a fullness at first in mortality but continued moving from “grace to grace” until he received a fullness.

It is clear according to (some of) the Gospels that Jesus experienced the range of human emotions and feelings, including love, anger, thirst, hunger, etc. Moreover, some of the Christological views in the New Testament and in modern LDS Scripture suggest that Jesus was not “perfect” (again, another word in need of careful thought) at first but progressed throughout his mortality.  However, the Epistle to the Hebrews suggests that this notion should be qualified at least with respect to the fact that Jesus did not sin.

How do we navigate theologically through these various Scriptural Christologies?  In what ways is Jesus like us?  In what ways is he not? How do you answer basic historical and theological questions like: to what extent was Jesus limited in understanding, knowledge, power, etc., like the rest of us humans?  Do you think that he made mistakes and errors?  Matt 24:36 and Mark 13:32 famously suggest that Jesus did not know the time of the coming of the Son of Man.  In some sense then, according to these authors, Jesus was at least limited in knowledge at some point in his mortal life.  Similarly, Mark 13:30, part of Jesus’ famous apocalyptic discourse, apparently suggests that Jesus believed, like Paul (see 1 Thess), that the end of the age of the reign of the cosmic forces of evil would come in the lifetime of (at least some of) his disciples. (I could offer a number of other examples to underscore my point, but I think you get the idea.)  How can Jesus’ theoretical “limitations” be viewed and expressed positively and meaningfully within Mormon Christological thought and discourse?  How might Jesus’ potential limitations fit into a systematic Mormon Christological presentation, especially with respect to his redemptive work?  In short, what is your Mormon Christology?

Christological debates have raged throughout Christian history.  Mormonism, I believe, has some unique contributions to make to this field of theological inquiry.  What say ye?

  • http://bycommonconsent.com Aaron R.

    As a Missionary I suspect, unwittingly, I favoured a Johnannine Christology while over the last year I think I have become much more in tune with the Marcan.

    To be honest, though, and I am only just thinking this now; I struggle with the idea that Jesus might have sinned. I will need to think about why more carefully!

  • Sheldon L

    Gandhi, in his conversion narrative (to asceticism, Hinduism, and political activism), rejects Christianity because he didn’t like, among other things, that Jesus was the only Son of God. Gandhi insisted that we all must be sons of God and didn’t like the idea of exalting Jesus alone to this station. I think Mormonism helps with this because we do not see Jesus as having a different ontological status as humans–his is a difference in degree and glory, not kind.

    Where traditional Christianity emphasizes Jesus as God-become-man, I think the Mormon emphasis is (ought to be?) Jesus as Man-become-God. If that means an imperfect, developing Jesus during humanity, I’m perfectly fine with that.

  • Clark

    The whole idea of sin is tricky since each author’s Christology (not just in the NT but in other scriptures) sometimes have a subtly different sense of what it means to sin. Consider, at minimum, Paul in Romans. I think some look to what I’ll call a naive Christology wherein Christ’s choices always were akin to the “best of all possible worlds.” I’m not sure I buy that and it seems to go against the quasi-Johnannine Christology we find in say D&C 93.

  • http://latterdaysnark.blogspot.com/ David B

    Another couple tricky things about this are that [a] we only have imperfect access to others’ Christologies (e.g., so yeah, Matthew and John may have viewed Jesus differently, but we don’t have access to what those writers believed that isn’t written in the texts we have, and so we can’t say anything definitive about their overlap or lack of it), and [b] it may well be impossible for a human being to have a single, consistent Christology bzw. theology, anyway.

    That said, i think the whole exercise of trying to figure out one’s own (and others’) Christologies i worthwhile, as is trying to figure out different possibilities within the same framework, given different definitions. For example, if never sinning includes the possibility of sin with perfect repentance, a lot of different possibilities start to collapse together.

    (This isn’t coming out very smoothly. It all makes perfect sense in my own head, though, i promise!)

  • Latter-day Guy

    I always thought it would be interesting to look at kenosis in an LDS context, specifically as addressed by Book of Mormon authors’ “condescension of God” idea.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    Well, I have written at length on christology and provided a Mormon christology based on kenosis and human deification that is a one-nature approach. It is based primarily on insights from Mormon scripture.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/ TYD

    Blake,

    For our readers, would you mind giving a brief synopsis of your presentation? I’d like to read it as well.

    Best wishes,

    TYD

  • Clark

    It’s pretty complex the way Blake puts the issue with one or two controversial points. I’d really suggest reading the books. I don’t agree with all of his views but I’m without hesitation in recommending them.