Why belief in the deity of Jesus Christ is crucial for Christian identity

If Jesus was not God…

Recently here I talked about the importance of the incarnation and the deity of Jesus Christ for Christian identity. In light of our more recent discussion of atheism and the use of transcendental argumentation to demonstrate the rationality of belief in God, I’d now like to put forth some thoughts about the deity of Jesus Christ in the same way: viz., What if Jesus was/is not God? The reason for this is the phenomenon of people often within Christian churches and organizations who deny the deity of Jesus Christ, and thus the incarnation, or redefine it so radically that it isn’t really “there” anymore. As anyone knows who has come here often, I believe belief in the deity of Jesus Christ, that the man Jesus Christ is also eternal God, of the same substance as the Father and the Holy Spirit, is definitive of real Christianity (when by “real Christianity” we are meaning cognitively). Even the World Council of Churches agrees because it requires member denominations to affirm “Jesus Christ is God and Savior” which is why some denominations have never joined it.

The way I’d like to go about this today is to ask (in the style of the transcendental argument for the existence of God) what would be the case if Jesus were not God? What ought someone who denies the deity of Christ also believe precisely because they do not believe that? (The form of the transcendental argument for the existence of God is that a person who denies it ought to believe in nihilism but few do so they fall into inconsistency with themselves. Or, alternatively expressed, the reality of objective meaning and values require the existence of a supreme being such as God [not necessarily the God of the Bible].)

First, a person who denies the deity of Jesus Christ ought not to worship him; worship belongs only to God. At best, such a person should reasonably only venerate him as a saint or prophet. However, in my experience, many people who say they do not believe in the deity of Jesus Christ participate in worship that includes worship of Jesus—especially perhaps at this season of the year.

Second, a person who denies the deity of Jesus Christ will have to come up with some explanation for why early Christians treated him as God. The anti-Christian orator Celsus, in On the True Doctrine (by which he meant a common Roman quasi-religion that mixed Stoicism and Platonism) ridiculed second century Christians in the Roman Empire for worshiping a man as God. To be sure some religious scholars have posited explanations for this, but others have pointed out how difficult that would have been (to elevate a mere man to divine status) so quickly and in such a cultural milieu (synagogues and Roman culture). If second century Christians were that wrong about something so important, then perhaps what we know as Christianity itself is based on myths and legends.

Third, a person who denies the deity of Jesus Christ will have to explain the resurrection of Jesus or deny it. As my mentor theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg so famously put it, the resurrection was God’s confirmation of the claims of Jesus Christ which amounted to deity (e.g., ability to forgive sins not on someone else’s behalf but by his own authority). If a person denies the resurrection, then Jesus is still dead and/or a ghost. Almost no one denies that the resurrection, including the empty tomb, was the cause of the rise of Christianity among the disciples (a category here not restricted to 11 or 12 but including all the first generation Christians in Palestine). If the empty tomb was a myth or legend (a la Bultmann’s and Tillich’s restitution theory) it is difficult to explain the rise of the Christian church and the martyrdoms of the disciples.

Fourth, a person who denies the deity of Jesus Christ will have to answer C. S. Lewis’ “Liar, Lunatic or Son of God” argument in Mere Christianity. Jesus claimed to BE the presence of the Kingdom of God among people. He claimed to have God’s own authority to forgive sins. He claimed to be “one with the Father” (as well as distinct from him). He did not deny the charge that he made himself equal with God. (Etc.) If he was not God, he was a blasphemer or a megalomaniac.

Fifth, a person who denies the deity of Jesus Christ will have to redefine “salvation” away from any recognizably orthodox Christian notion of it toward Pelagianism (for example). If Jesus was only a man, then he could only have been (at best) a prophet, a revealer of God’s will, an example to follow, but Christians have always believed that we need more than that. We need a mediator, a reconciler, a God-man, because of our alienation from God. We need a God-man for “divinization” (2 Peter 1:4).

Sixth, a person who denies the deity of Jesus Christ will have to explain why other men (and possibly women) could not have surpassed Jesus in terms of whatever Jesus was. If Jesus was just a man, even the greatest prophet of God up until his time, there is no good reason to suppose there have not been other equally great men, equally great prophets and even ones surpassing Jesus. This is, of course, the Bahai approach to who Jesus was and who other prophets were and are. In other words, a person who denies the deity of Jesus Christ should be a pluralist with regard to saviors.

Seventh, a person who denies the deity of Jesus Christ will have to also deny the Trinity (and most already see that and do deny it!).

I’ll stop with seven reasons why the deity of Jesus Christ is crucial to Christian identity. After all, seven is the perfect number!

Of course, IF someone is willing to do all those things, there is little I or anyone else can say to dissuade him or her from denying the deity of Jesus Christ. The only question then becomes “Why do you still call yourself ‘Christian’?” And then the question to that person’s church becomes “Why do you allow this?”

I have met Baptists who argue that they MUST allow deniers of the deity of Jesus Christ among them, as full members, because of the Baptist “doctrine” of “soul competency.” I believe that is a complete misinterpretation of soul competency. It cannot mean “anything goes.” And it rarely does mean that. What if a member revealed he or she is a White Supremacist? Or what if a member openly declared he or she thought genocide is a good thing? Or that abuse of children is good? Most Baptist churches (that make use of the concept of soul competency) would suddenly discover there are limits to soul liberty and competency when it comes to being a member. Now, I’m not comparing a person who denies the deity of Jesus Christ with White Supremacists or defenders of genocide, etc. I’m ONLY saying that “soul competency” has its limits; it did not mean to E. Y. Mullins (who was probably the first person to make use of that term if not that concept) that being Christian or Baptist is compatible with anything and everything. No church I know would allow absolutely anything—even Unitarian ones. Why do some Christian churches then allow members, if not leaders, to deny the deity of Jesus Christ—a doctrine so absolutely central and crucial to Christian identity?

One reason is that most self-identified Christians who deny the deity of Jesus Christ express their denial in such a subtle manner that it’s difficult for the theologically untrained to know quite what is going one. There is, for example, such a thing as “functional Christology.” In fact, that broad category pretty much covers most of the denials of the deity of Jesus Christ in modern theology. The idea is that Jesus “functioned” as God among people—by being the perfect revealer of God’s character and will (John A. T. Robinson’s “The Human Face of God”), or God’s “deputy and representative” among people (Hans Kung). The first formulator of functional Christology among Christians was Friedrich Schleiermacher who reduced Jesus’ deity to his intensity of God-consciousness that he was able to communicate to others.

Functional Christology is extremely clever and sometimes difficult to discover as such. People who actually believe in it will often talk about Jesus’ divinity, but, of course, they don’t mean he was/is ontologically one with God. All seven of my points apply to their functional Christology just as much as to outright denials of the deity of Jesus Christ (e.g., blatant adoptionism).

In my opinion, Christian churches have become wimpish about this matter. That is, with the exception of fundamentalists (who may themselves have a defective view of Jesus’ humanity!) and hyper-orthodox creedalists who would probably excommunicate someone for much less than denying the ontological deity of Jesus Christ! When I say Christian churches have become wimpish about this, I mean churches in the broad mainstream of Christianity including many evangelical churches. Many don’t even ask candidates for membership anything about their belief about Jesus Christ. So long as they say they “believe IN Jesus Christ” they’re included. Sometimes this arises out of naivety (about the prevalence of Christological heresies) and sometimes it arises simply out of desire to be inclusive. In either case it’s something that needs correcting. Here’s the question every church should ask of every candidate for membership and especially every candidate for leader (deacon, elder, pastor, board member, etc.): “Do you believe that Jesus Christ is God and Savior?” The World Council of Churches asks that of every candidate denomination so why don’t Christian churches ask it of candidates for membership? They should start.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Theophile

    Hi Roger,
    Doesn’t the opening of John’s Gospel describe Jesus to be God’s word in the flesh?
    If we keep that in mind as we read Christs words: “Moses and the prophets they testify of me”, and in another place “If they will not believe Moses they will not believe, even though one should return from the dead”, things like And God said… , or the Lord said… , take on new meaning; God is a spirit, and His word is His Intention, His laws, commandments, statutes, ordinances, charge, and salvation.
    Maybe we should stop looking for the man Jesus in Moses and the prophets, and instead look for God’s word made manifest in the man. That would make Jesus’s words in His letters to the churches “I have overcome the world, and to him that overcometh I will grant..”make a lot more sense.
    When Jesus said to take up our cross and follow Him, He meant that literally. Proof of this is recorded in Foxes book of Martyrs** where having God’s word in your heart, your forehead(Mind), or your hand(Bible), is traditionally not tolerated by the world.

    ** http://www.gutenberg.org/files/22400/22400-h/22400-h.htm

  • John C. Gardner

    Good posting. Have you written anything about functional Christology that I might be able to read and further digest?
    Thanks and God bless all.

    • rogereolson

      Not except in several chapters in 20th Century Theology: God and the World in a Transitional Age (IVP, 1992) co-authored with Stanley Grenz. There I mention it with regard to Schleiermacher and some other modern theologians. I may have talked about it some in The Mosaic of Christian Belief–in the chapter on Christology.

  • Patiently Waiting

    I am sorry to say that I find this post lacking, which is disappointing because I was very much looking forward to your views on the issue. I personally believe Jesus was God, but I have some sympathy for the ideas behind Pelagiansim and Bahaism. I would love to have a logical response for why those ideas are not preferable to a more traditional view of Christianity, and I do not think you offer that response here.

    First, I think your seven reasons mostly assume that everything in the Bible is true, which is fine, but is not a reason for why belief in Jesus as God is required to be considered a Christian. For example, the C.S. Lewis line makes the assumption that what the Gospels tell us Jesus said was in fact what he said, which is, of course, not something we can prove but something you are assuming. Other scholars have suggested a fourth option to the Lewis trilemma: legend. Maybe he was not liar, lunatic, or Lord. Maybe people just told his story that way when they wrote the Gospels years after Jesus’s death. Perhaps Jesus never said any of those things, but instead his followers later attributed them to him. The same could be said for the resurrection, for example. Maybe it did not literally happen. If you deny the resurrection though, can you still be a Christian? That should be the question, not whether a person does believe these seven examples that make Jesus sound divine.

    I assume that is why you move on to the question, “Why do you still call yourself a Christian?” The fact that “soul competency” has limits is a fine point, but again, then it seems you are just saying that there should be limits, and you would like to draw the line at Christ’s divinity. That’s a fine belief for you, but it is not an objective argument by any means. It is fine that you want to draw a line in the sand that defines Christian identity, but if you start suggesting where the line is, is your reason just, “Because we need lines somewhere?”

    Your discussion of the confusion that goes along with doctrines like Functional Christology does not answer the question either. All you are saying is that sometimes we do not know whether people are saying that Jesus was God or not. Fine, but again, that is not a reason why divinity of Christ is a requirement. That is a reason why Christian churches have become “wimpy,” as you say.

    The best reason you give seems to boil down to tradition, which is certainly something we should take into account, but I hardly think it should be the primary basis of your argument. I suppose the question I would ask back is, “Why SHOULDN’T a person call herself a Christian even if she believes Christ is not divine?” If a person believes Christ to be the ultimate prophet, the person to whom God was closest, is it possible for this person to follow Christ and His teachings and still call herself a Christian?

    I understand you do not want this person to “worship” a non-divine Christ, but let’s assume she participates in Church services by saying creeds and such but takes a less literal view than a more traditional Christian does, e.g., when she says “Son of God,” she means it in the more traditional Jewish sense as someone blessed by God. In other words, let’s assume she does not “worship” Jesus in a way that you would find offensive, and let’s assume that tradition cannot be the only reason that divinity is necessary for Christianity. Can she still be a Christian? Why or why not?

    I look forward to your thoughts.

    • rogereolson

      Most even critical biblical scholars believe Jesus really did make the claims about himself that I mention (e.g., forgiving peoples’ sins by his own authority). But, you’re right, I am assuming also that an authentic Christian will give the New Testament the benefit of the doubt and not cave in to ridiculous criteria of authenticity (of the sayings of Jesus) such as Norman Perrin’s infamous “dissimilarity principle” (which is not used on any other ancient writings). But every tradition-community has some basic beliefs. For example, we don’t question whether the U.S. Constitution is the right basis for our common law in the U.S.; we simply assume it. Anyone who suggests otherwise is almost universally considered not patriotic and perhaps not really an American at all (except in the most formal sense of having U.S. citizenship). As Christians we can and do question some things in the Bible, but until the rise of Enlightenment skepticism and the invasion of the churches by a secular spirit, no Christians rejected the gospels’ accounts of Jesus’ sayings and actions as completely false. I think you overlook my quotation of the World Council of Churches, one of the most liberal and inclusive Christian ecumenical groups in the world: “Jesus Christ is God and Savior.” That’s the bedrock confession that defines Christianity. To disagree with it is to put oneself over against the Christian consensus and scripture.

      • Patiently Waiting

        Thank you for your response.

        I do not disagree with your suggestion that every community has some basic beliefs, and Christianity surely must as well. The question simply becomes where you draw the line. You clearly believe that divinity of Christ is where you draw that line, but it seems that your reasons for picking that issue amount simply to tradition and general consensus. My issue with those reasons is that they change.

        The general concensus for centuries was that the Pope was the head of the church. All services were done in Latin. There was disagreement even among the earliest followers of Christ as to these issues (see, e.g., Arianism). Just because in the 5th century, a bunch of people agreed on something does not seem like enough reason for the rest of us to exclude others from membership today. Traditions and consensus change. What is your reasoning for why this tradition (belief in Christ’s divinity as requirement for membership) can’t also change?

        Do you have any other reasons (beyond tradition or consensus) why Christ’s divinity is so important? Perhaps it is an impossible question to answer. Perhaps tradition and concensus are the only reasons we have for any of these definitions of what it means to be Christian. I just wish there were reasons that weren’t capable of change over time. If you or your readers have any other ideas, I would love to hear them.

        (Also, I’m not sure your Constitution analogy quite works. The Constitution is the basis for U.S. law because the states whose representatives signed it agreed that it would be the basis for that law, not because “we simply assume it.” There were many people who did not agree with the signing of the Constitution. They were outvoted, but they were still allowed to call themselves Americans. An analogous Christian situation would mean that the people who disagreed with the core tenants as described by you/the WCC/the Pope/whomever (those who were outvoted) would no longer be Christians, which did not happen in the creation of the United States. You could disagree with the core tenants and still call yourself American.)

        • rogereolson

          You could, but most others would say you are a traitor to America. I do believe Jesus’ divinity is revealed in scripture. I’m sorry you don’t agree. I see it there as did the early church fathers and most Christian theologians throughout history up until much modern theology decided to accommodate to modernity with its anti-supernatural bias (thus making belief in pre-existence mythological).

          • Patiently Waiting

            Let me be clear. I personally do believe that scripture reveals Christ’s divinity, and I find it a truly beautiful and wonderful aspect of Christianity. I know it is key to my own faith.

            My issue is simply that I do not think your reasons are terribly helpful in describing why it is so important to believe in Christ’s divinity if you were talking to a non-Christian. Essentially, your reason boils down to, “It is this way because that is the way we have always done it.” That’s fine, but I hope that you recognize that it would not be terribly convincing to a non-believer.

            What if, during the Reformation, Martin Luther came to you with his wild ideas? Would your response to him simply be that he is not a true Christian because the ideas he espouses go against history, tradition, and consensus? I would hope not. I would hope that you would keep an open mind but also make him back up his assertions using scripture, logic, and any other relevant data. I simply ask the same from anyone who seeks to define Christianity as one thing or another.

            The question is why not allow someone to call herself a Christian, even if she doesn’t believe in something that seems so core to you and me? If your only reason is because the WCC says so, then I fear we are dodging the question. Christianity is not an easy thing to define, and believing in the divinity of Christ seems like a reasonable place to draw the line, but it still just amounts to arbitrary line-drawing. I am simply disappointed that all we have is arbitrary line-drawing in something so important as the definition of Christianity. I was hoping for more from this blog, which I usually find so insightful on big issues.

            (Also, regarding your Constitution analogy, I do not believe that at the time of the Founders people were called traitors for not agreeing with everything in the Consitution or the existence of the Constitution itself. In fact, history books show that many people disagreed with the idea of the Constitution. They were still part of the states which ratified it though and thus still Americans. If today, you disagree with the idea that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land, I would say you do not understand how our system works, but how does that make you a traitor? I think it just makes you ignorant. You are still American.

            The difference between the the U.S. and Christianity is that in the U.S. we do have methods for determining what the Constitution means, and we delegate that authority to the president, Congress, and the Supreme Court. In Christianity, we do not have a group of people we deem the arbiters of all things Christian. You could argue that the WCC acts in that role, but the difference is that the states could elect delegates to vote on the issue of the Constitution, and the states’ authority was clearly defined by the people living within those geographical boundaries. There is no clearly defined group of all Christians to give the WCC the authority to make a similar ruling. I will grant you that the WCC is the closest thing to it, but I still think the analogy isn’t quite right. It’s a minor point, but I thought you might want to adjust your analogy if you planned to use it in the future.)

          • rogereolson

            I’m sorry you’re disappointed, but I’m not sure what could satisfy you on this score. I am a Baptist and each Baptist church is autonomous. My hope is that my Baptist church and every other one will exclude from membership (or at least leadership) any person who denies the deity of Jesus Christ. On what grounds? Well, I gave several that I believe, taken together, add up to a strong case that Christian identity includes affirmation of Christ’s deity and that denial of it is tantamount to a radical break from historical, classical Christianity including the implicit, if not explicit, teachings of the apostles and their immediate successors.

  • Terry

    Good post Roger. I agree that it is crucial to Christian identity, and the church must stand firm. However, must one believe that Jesus is God to enter the Kingdom of Heaven and be “saved?”

    • rogereolson

      That I don’t know. It sure couldn’t hurt! I am not going to make any doctrine a criterion for salvation. Who will be saved is completely up to God and to say any particular person will or won’t be saved is, I believe, to usurp his prerogative. The problem is, it seems to me, that American evangelicals are quick to say who is saved and who is not (using various criteria) but reluctant to say who is a Christian and who is not! Anyone a person thinks is probably saved is counted as “Christian.” That is what I object to. I think there must be criteria for being “Christian” just as there are criteria for being “Baptist” even for those Baptists who use the Baptist principle of “soul competency” to defend the authentic Christian status of rank heretics!. There’s the great irony. I know Baptists who will quickly condemn anyone (like me) who dares to suggest someone might not be a Christian because of their denial of the deity of Jesus Christ but themselves turn around and condemn as non-Baptist someone who, in their estimation, violates a “soul competency.”

      • Terry

        Roger, I appreciate your thoughtful reply and the distinction you are trying to draw. Perhaps that is a distinction I’ve been trying to find. I too am unsettled by our declarations of salvation to this person and that. But it doesn’t leave the unanswered questions satisfied. The questions that then begin to pile up: can you follow Jesus and not be a Christian?, can you follow Jesus and not enter the Kingdom?, etc. Humility is certainly no small key to all this. Very thought provoking.

        Again, great post. A blessed Christmas to you and to yours.

  • CarolJean

    I believe that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh BUT did Jesus forgive sins because he was God or was he given authority from God to forgive sins? I think the Mt 9 passage isn’t clear cut and could either way. But in conjunction with the things Jesus said in the gospel of John, then I lean toward Jesus receiving authority from God the Father to forgive sins.

    Matthew 9:6 – 8 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – he then said to the paralytic – “Stand up, take your bed and go to your home.” And he stood up and went to his home. When the crowds saw it, they were filled with awe, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to human beings.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Hi Roger! I’ve posted a reply to this post over on my blog. We haven’t interacted all that much yet, even though we’re neighbors here at Patheos, so that you for posting on this topic of longstanding interest to me, and giving us a chance to converse! :-)

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2011/12/the-divinity-of-christ-a-response-to-roger-olsen.html

  • Scott Gay

    ….on a person not really believing Jesus Christ as God and this being subtle….

    One has to look really close to those pushing pluralism, progressiveism, and pragmatism to see where is the focus( that is the center). I’m commenting here as one who loved Newbiggin’s “The Gospel in a Pluralist Society”. However, much of the three “p” pushers have Schliermacher credentials. Notice that they want to (1) reclaim Christian experience (2) reclaim Christian language (3) turn you toward creation spirituality(as opposed to the supposed destructive spirituality of original sin). The focus is always you(me).

  • gingoro

    “Why do some Christian churches then allow members, if not leaders, to deny the deity of Jesus Christ—a doctrine so absolutely central and crucial to Christian identity?”

    The trite answer is that some churches have become social clubs where by habit members occasionally congregate. Often their ministers could not find employment in other spheres.
    Dave W

    • rogereolson

      There is a denomination for those who deny the deity of Jesus Christ and the Trinity: The Unitarian-Universalist Association (and perhaps its recent offshoot the American Unitarian Conference). If only all those who deny those cornerstone Christian beliefs would abandon orthodox Christian denominations (virtually all have statements of faith that include affirmation of the deity of Jesus Christ) and, if they want to belong to some religious-spiritual organization, join the UUA. I have nothing against the UUA (and its offshoot) or its members except insofar as they claim to be Christian. But many do not. However, even if they do claim to be Christian, real Christians know the truth of the matter and the false Christians are at least quarantined there. I applaud the UUA and am exceedingly glad for its existence as a refuge for non-Christians who still want to think they are Christians in some vague, non-traditional and unorthodox sense.

      • Nan Bush

        Smug is running all over the floor after that last comment. Nice for you, that God has appointed you gatekeeper.

        • rogereolson

          Not at all. What I wrote is the consensus of Christians throughout two millennia. Only in the last couple centuries have people within mainline Christian denominations been freely allowed to deny the deity of Jesus with impunity. It’s a pernicious development and that’s not just my idea. In this I agree with the Pope, the Patriarch of Constantinople and the founders of all the mainline Protestant denominations as well as most of the so-called “sects” of Christianity. Even during my own lifetime groups that called themselves “Christian” but denied the deity of Jesus Christ were called “cults” by the vast majority of Christians. Then deniers of Jesus’ deity began to become leaders of churches and denominations within the mainstream–to the shame of those churches and denominations.

  • Ivan A. Rogers

    Dear Roger: I was once the pastor of an evangelical Christian congregation that included an “orthodox” Jewish gentleman who came to services every Sunday. Everyone of the members loved Ol’ Samuel. He loved me, loved the fellowship, and sang “The Old Rugged Cross” with gusto. In fact, I would have to say he was one of the best “non-Christian” Christians in the entire congregation. I never asked Ol’ Samuel to satisfactorily affirm that “Jesus Christ is God and Savior” (he never heard of the World Council of Churches requirement). I just loved and accepted him without prejudice. Ol’ Samuel died many years ago and had a traditional Jewish funeral service with a rabbi officiating. Somehow I am convinced that our loving Savior who died for “the sin of the world” accepted him into heavenly membership and that Ol’ Samuel is once again singing “The Old Rugged Cross.”

    • rogereolson

      Question: Did you extend membership in your congregation to “Ol’ Samuel?” I can’t imagine it. My objection is NOT (I’m not yelling but underscoring which I can’t do with this program) against loving non-Christians and even allowing them to attend our churches and even worship with us. What I am against is extending voting membership to people who deny the deity of Jesus Christ. Whether they will end up in heaven is a separate issue entirely.

  • http://soapboxsuds.blogspot.com Corey

    You’re essentially saying that your position should be accepted because the other position is harder for you to explain. It’s only harder within evangelical circles that accept the claim a priori. In any other circle, the burden of proof shifts quite dramatically.

    Like C.S. Lewis, your post presents the questionable dichotomy of “merely a man” vs. God with skin on. Doesn’t the NT itself afford many other options and interpretations? Jesus’ language, even in the gospel of John, creates quite a separation between himself and “the Father.” The problem is that we immediately explain this using an unbiblical word (Trinity).

    • rogereolson

      I categorically deny that my position is that Jesus was “God with skin on” and I can’t imagine where you got that from my post. And, no, we don’t “immediately explain” Jesus unity-in-distinction relationship with the Father using “Trinity.” That is a development over the century after the New Testament was written. And it was a valid development because it is the only way to make sense of what the New Testament says about Jesus and the Father and the Holy Spirit and the only way to ward off gospel-destroying heresies.

      • http://soapboxsuds.blogspot.com Corey

        Where I got it from is your opening statement: “If Jesus was not God…” I’ve always felt that the three simple words “Jesus was God,” if left unqualified, are very problematic. He prayed to someone. And no, the Trinity is not the only way to explain it, not least because the gospel writers clearly didn’t think of the relationship in that way. It is guarded as the only explanation. As you adequately illustrate, anything else is rejected outright as a “gospel-destroying heresy.” It only “destroys the gospel” if you define it in terms of correct belief, which Jesus did not, at least in the synoptic gospels. Concepts such as “Trinity,” “God-head,” etc. were manufactured in the philosophical ivory towers of the third century, far removed from the dirt roads Jesus walked and the illiterate peasants whose lives he transformed.

        • rogereolson

          Sorry, you’re wrong. “Trinity” was coined in the second century by Theophilus of Antioch which doesn’t mean he invented the concept. We could have been content with the concepts of the “dirt roads Jesus walked and the illiterate peasants whose lives he transformed” (although I don’t think any of the apostles were illiterate) if only the gnostics and Ebionites and other second century heretics hadn’t come along and challenged the gospel of Jesus Christ.

  • William Huget

    The Deity of Christ and resurrection of Christ (physical) are salvific, essential truths. Faith in Christ is the condition of salvation/receiving grace (Jn. 1:12; Jn. 14:6; Acts 4:12; Rom. 10:9-10; I Jn. 5:11-13) and faith is only as good as the object we put it in. Faith must be in the real Jesus, real gospel, not a worthless counterfeit (New Age christ, generic jesus, Muslim Jesus who was not Deity, did not die, did not rise again 2 Cor. 11:4; Gal. 1:6-9; Jude 3).

    Unless one can worship with Thomas in Jn. 20:28 (see Jn. 1:1; Jn. 5:18; Jn. 10:30-33; Jn. 8:58, etc.), they should not call themselves biblical, historical, orthodox Christians, but pseudo-Christian cultists (JW, Unitarian, Mormon, Christian Science, etc.).

    • rogereolson

      “Essential” for being Christian, yes. “Salvific,” no. We are not saved by beliefs but by God’s grace alone.

      • CarolJean

        How do you explain this verse if doctrine doesn’t play a part in our salvation?

        Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. 1 Tim 4:16

        • rogereolson

          I interpret it as the gospel. “Doctrines” (in the way I use the term, anyway) are human constructions always more or less faithful to the gospel. Our salvation is by believing IN the person of Christ, not IN believing a doctrine about him. However, believing IN him is normally dependent on believing something ABOUT him. Still, people are prone to confusion, doubt and uncertainty and God is merciful.

      • William Huget

        We are saved by grace through faith in Christ (person and work). Trusting the counterfeit christs of New Age, Islam, JWs (Arian), Mormon (polytheism) is not saving faith in the real, existent Jesus. We cannot blur distinctions between true and false Christs, Gods, gospels. I might agree if one comes to Jesus for salvation with understanding catching up later, but to knowingly reject the Deity of Christ in favor of a cultic/pseudo-Christian view is not salvific in my mind.

    • AFB

      My problem with this post is not “the deity of Christ,” I have no problem with that, but what do you mean by “D/deity”? You cite John 10:30-33, yet you don’t consider the implications of the of Jesus’ response to the charge “You, a man, make yourself G/god.” Is it not significant that he responds with a quote of Psalm 82:6, which says “I said you are gods, all of you, sons of the Most High”?
      Jesus’ claims to the “Son of God” that “the Father consecrated and sent into the world” (ESV), using a text that treats “gods” and ‘sons of God’ as synonyms. Likewise, in John 17:3 Jesus addresses the Father as “you, the only true God.” Without assuming that Nicaea was the background for the New Testament (which it wasn’t), how do you explain that John wanted to show his readers that Jesus was “true god of true god”? One would expect that John would explicitly articulate something along those lines repeatedly; instead, his explicit articulation of Jesus’ realtionship to monotheism is to the contrary.

      • rogereolson

        Clearly Jesus wanted to distinguish himself from the Father. John also wanted to identify him with God (John 1). I take Jesus’ response to the charge use of irony. I do not see any way to interpret John, overall and in the whole, without thinking that he thought of Jesus as one with God. Jesus’ whole “high priestly prayer” in John 17 implies it (e.g., “Glorify me with the glory we shared before the world began”).

        • AFB

          Thanks for your response!

          However, when you say: “Clearly Jesus wanted to distinguish himself from the Father. John also wanted to identify him with God (John 1).” I’m not sure what mean by ‘identifying Jesus with God.’ You’re probably referring to John 1:1 and 1:18, but I don’t see how that is the case with either. The Logos is distinguished not from “the Father” but “the God” in 1:1. Whether or not it is legitimate to infer inferiority of nature based use and non-use of the Greek article, it stands that John distuinguishes between two divine “beings” and not just “persons.” John 1:18 can be viewed in the same light, if, indeed theos is the original reading.

          As for your quotation of John 17:5, “Glorify me with the glory we shared before the world began,” I am not aware of any clear basis for “we shared” as a translation of “I had with/alongside/in-your presence.” As far as I know the preposition para with the dative case refers to location (see the entry in LSJ). Interestingly enough, the preposition and case combo is used Prov 8:30, referring to Wisdom (“I was before him arranging all things”). Thus, I think the best translation is: “Glorify me, Father, beside you, with the glory I had at your side before the world was.” There is no idea of “sharing glory” in the sense you want to compare with Isaiah 48:11.

          Respectfully,

          • rogereolson

            Are you a Jehovah’s Witness? Come clean, now. I recognize those exegetical gymnastics as defenses of the New World Translation.

  • TerryJames

    Is it proper/orthodox to continue to refer to the Son as fully human and fully God i.e., after the ascension? Is his resurrected body still considered a human body and will it be so for eternity? I guess what I’m asking is is the glorified body considered human?

    • rogereolson

      See my Christmas post “For God So Loved the World…”

  • Craig Wright

    Wow, Roger, you really know how to pick ‘em. First, atheism, and then the divinity of Jesus Christ. I entered into a whole new world than I am accustomed to when I answered James McGrath’s link and presented two passages (Jn. 5:18-23 and Rom. 10:9-13). He answered with esoteric reasoning about a “Rebellious Son” and his concept of Yahweh using an agent that can receive divine names, in the Jewish thinking of the day. I thought I had sharpened my skills in dealing with Jehovah’s Witnesses on the subject of the divinity of Christ, but I was surprised by the effort of contemporary Protestant scholars to disavow the divinity of Jesus. Help me out.

    • rogereolson

      I doubt anything will convince the gentleman in question, for your own edification I suggest you read Putting Jesus in His Place: the Case for the Deity of Christ by Robert M. Bowman, Jr. and J. Ed Komoszewski (Kregel, 2007).

      • Craig Wright

        Thanks, I just purchased it. Because of your recommendations this year, I have been reading Thomas Oden’s “The Transforming Power of Grace”, Donald Boesch’s “Jesus Christ”, as well as your “Arminian Theology” and “Against Calvanism”.

      • William Huget

        A most excellent book on the Deity of Christ (like most from Roger Olson on Calvinism, etc.).

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

        Hi again Roger. I left a comment which seems not to have appeared yet, and I don’t have the impression that you censor out differing viewpoints. Can you check and see what has happened to it? Thanks. Also, is there a way to subscribe to comments?

        • rogereolson

          I don’t know about subscribing to comments. This is a moderated blog, so all the comments I approve show up. I approve the vast majority of comments even when I disagree with them. Some I filter out because they simply repeat what has already been said or in some other way fail to enhance the discussion (or violate the rules I set forth a few weeks ago).

  • Josh Plant

    Agree entirely. There must be some church discipline to keep spiritualists from overtaking orthodoxy in the church, otherwise we lose our identity entirely. It’s almost as if those who would deny this are (using a metaphor here) letting kids raise themselves with no parental involvement or guidance.

    I am curious, though, how you would respond to someone (with regard this subject) who separates the deity and the humanity of Christ, though never denying either.

    • rogereolson

      I would tell them they are confused and explain why that doesn’t work IF they are intending to affirm and understand Jesus Christ as God incarnate.

  • Gary

    I agree with you, with one exception. I read something about “voting membership” in a congregation. That is totally irrelevant to the subject of Jesus and his divinity, and if a person accepts the principle. I personally think a pastor should accept the people in his congragation, regardless of their acceptance of any particular doctrine. Voting member implies a club, defined and established by the pastor. I will take it a step furhter. From a partical side, if a person drops money in the collection plate, he is a voting member, from my standpoint….this indicates support of the actual church under consideration, even if the person doesn’t believe in all the doctrines defined by the pastor. Jesus lets the people into heaven, not the pastor…and the church, whatever it defines as doctrine, is defined by man, not Jesus. I pay full tithing to my church, but I do not agree 100% with the particular doctrine. As a pastor, I would say he/she should just ask, politely, why the person in question may not accept the divinity of Christ….but in the end, the pastor must back off and let Jesus handle who exactly worships him, and why. Or even shows up at a church, even if not to worship Jesus’s divinity.

    • rogereolson

      Well, you raise a very interesting point for discussion. Does it really work to just throw open the doors of membership of the church to anyone who wants in? I once was assistant pastor of a church that was invaded by members of a cult that believed in an Asian “messiah.” Their only purpose in attempting to join our church was to infiltrate it for their “gospel.” Fortunately we recognized them for what they were and rejected their applications for membership. Every church has some kind of membership whether they call it that or not. It may only be “the staff” or some inner circle of elders or something, but whatever it is, I don’t think it can be open to anyone regardless of their beliefs.

      • Gary

        Per your comment “Every church has some kind of membership whether they call it that or not. It may only be “the staff” or some inner circle of elders”…I guess I am referring to the entire congregation as membership, and those that attend to worship, more than the “inner circle”. I would assume the inner circle is necessary in most churches to run day-to-day business, and make over-arching decisions regarding the church, which is a necessity. I guess I don’t like the idea of a “general” membership application. Then the process of voting to reject or accept a member becomes necessary, and then you are accepting or rejecting a person that, at least in theory, wants to worship in your church….then it becomes “your” church, not Jesus’s church….seems like the “inner circle” could handle conspiracy take-overs, by not appointing the suspect people into teaching or advising positions….but whatever, just my opinion. But luckily, we all have the opportunity to “walk”.

  • Gary

    I should add, I pay what I consider a lot of tithing. From a practical point of view, if a pastor of my church came to me and said I had to, for instance, take Genesis as literal, and I shouldn’t believe in evolution and the Big Bang, I would politely say there are other fish in the sea, just like there are other churches under Christ…thank you very much, and goodbye. I am sure he would miss my tithing more than he would miss me. A little advice for pastors out there. And I do believe in the divinity of Christ.

    • rogereolson

      So would I, but if I were pastor of any Christian church and a member said “I don’t believe in the deity of Jesus Christ” I would consider that an entirely different matter than saying “I don’t interpret Genesis 1-11 literally.” There’s a difference between “dogma,” “doctrine,” and “opinion.” See my comments on that in Who Needs Theology? and The Mosaic of Christian Belief.

  • AFB

    Are you a Jehovah’s Witness? Come clean, now. I recognize those exegetical gymnastics as defenses of the New World Translation.

    Maybe I am, maybe I’m not. While I’m at it, your arguments remind me of a certain Dr. James R. White.

    • rogereolson

      Some folks who have come here (and may still be lurking here) will be very surprised to hear it! I can’t imagine why you don’t want to admit to being JW if you are or deny it if you’re not.

  • Pingback: Elsewhere (12.31.2011) « Near Emmaus

  • Mikael Stenhammar

    Very helpful! I will make use of these arguments in my teaching compendiums (with proper credit, of course :)).
    I would also love to read seven reasons why the humanity of Christ is crucial to Christian identity! When you have time, that would be great.

  • Margaret

    I certainly believe in the deity of Christ. He is what his Father is – no surprise.

    I also believe in the Trinity that is described in the Bible: God, God’s Son (or Word) incarnate, and God’s Spirit.

    The Problem of God was written by Fr. John Murray – a Jesuit scholar and teacher who is obviously familiar with both Hebrew and Greek. His interpretation of Exodus 3:14, based on both the immediate and the general context, is marvelous.

    He also knows church history. In the second chapter of his book he gives a very clear summary of the problem that faced the Catholic bishops in the fourth century. He begins by describing “the doctrine of the Pantokrator – that the one Lord God is the supreme, universal, actively ruling Power over all things.” Then he explains:

    First … the doctrine of the divine Monarchy – that there is one Pantokrator – is to be maintained as the true teaching of the Church. Second, also to be maintained as true, is the teaching that Jesus Christ is Lord, that is, he is the Pantokrator. Third, no less to be maintained, is the truth that is evident on every page of the Gospel, that Christ, the Pantokrator, is the Son; he is from the Father and therefore is other than the Father, who is the God, the Pantokrator. … How is the ancient doctrine of the Monarchy to be maintained so as to leave intact the new doctrine that Christ, the Father’s Son and Word, is equally Pantokrator, as the Father also is? This was the Nicene problem of God.

    So it was a new problem, based on a “new doctrine” – that Christ, the Father’s Son and Word, is equally Pantokrator, as the Father also is.

    Murray does not suggest that the word Pantokrator (translated Almighty or Omnipotent) is ever used in relation to Christ. It is not. The word is used once in 2 Corinthians 6:18, and nine times in Revelation, where the Lord God Almighty/Omnipotent is consistently seen as being separate and distinct from the Lamb.

    The new doctrine is based on the fact that “Jesus Christ is Lord”.

    But 1 Corinthians 8:6 makes clear that there is a difference between the “one God” and the “one Lord”. All things come FROM the one God, THROUGH the one Lord. So the one Lord is not equally Pantokrator with the one God.

    In other words, the fourth-century problem was a man-made problem, requiring a man-made solution.

    Murray admits that the creed agreed upon at Nicea went beyond what Scripture says. [The later creeds are even worse, I think.] That is no problem for a Catholic, who believes that the “Fathers” had ultimate authority in deciding doctrine, without being limited to the text.

    For Protestants, though, I wonder what happened to the idea of sola scriptura.

    • rogereolson

      Anyone who has read second and third century church fathers knows the Trinity was not invented in the fourth century.

  • Jeff

    I said therefore unto you, that you shall die in your sins: for if you believe not that I am he, you shall die in your sins.(John 8:24-KJV)
    And he said, Take heed that you be not deceived: for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and the time draws near: go not therefore after them. (Luke 21:8-KJV)
    It’s not in doubt that there is enough proof in the scripture to prove the Deity of Christ Jesus. John 8:24 quoted above is just on of the reasons why belief in this is critical. Luke 8:24 quoted above, to me, sheds more light on the emergence of many “Jesus’”i.e the Jesus of Islam who never was the Son of God, never died, of Jehovah’s Witnesses who never was God e.t.c. Isn’t it all this pre-told in the Bible that many would come claiming to be He, and here they are deceiving many that He who was the I AM never was.
    Secondly, if Jesus of the Bible was/is never God, what makes Him different from Adam, Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist e.t.c in terms of Him being the only Savior/ Way/ Truth/Life. Even angels sinned(fallen angels), so its critical that Jesus was/is God, so among other implications, HE WAS WITHOUT SIN and therefore able to make all of us righteous, otherwise someone would find him unworthy to BE a PERFECT sacrifice once and for all!

    • rogereolson

      Well, as you no doubt know, Jehovah’s Witnesses, like their Arian precursors throughout church history, believe Jesus differs from the prophets you mention in that he preexisted his human conception and birth. He preexisted as the Logos of God, the Son of God, the first creation of God, but not as the second person of the Trinity. Some semi-Arians have tried to merge that Arian belief with trinitarianism by arguing that the preexistent Logos, Son of God, was a member of the Trinity, but of course they do not mean eternally or ontologically equal with the Father. It’s a subterfuge, in my opinion.

  • Hani

    I don’t believe Jesus believed in his own divinity, he saw himself as light to the world, not as deity. His followers called him teacher, not God. Only the pagan Romans could not accept swaping their pagan beliefs and their Emperor-god for a faith system propagated by a carpenter. Their pride would not let them, so they made Jesus divine.
    “And Jesus cried out and said, ‘Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in Him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees Him who sent me. I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment – what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say therefore, I say as the Father has told me,’” Luke 12:44 to 12:50.
    Note: Jesus says ‘the father’ not my father. Jesus was a prophet and a learned teacher sent by God to save mankind from darkness, but we seem to relish the darkness!

    • rogereolson

      Please. Jesus did say “my father” and asked the Father to restore to him the glory he shared with the Father before the world was. And he forgave sins–blasphemy if he was not God. I don’t think you’ve studied the subject in sufficient depth. Jesus made many claims that, if false, would make him a blasphemer.

      • Maurice Harting

        True Roger, and even Thomas said of Jesus: “my Lord and my God” (John 20: 28)

  • Tommy

    Our “problem” in believing in Jesus Christ as God is not an intellectual one. Jesus Christ being God is a threat to our own deity, our own godhood, our own PRIDE. We realize NATURALY that to admit that Jesus Christ is very God, means to admit that we are helpless sinners. When we admit who WE are, then we can confess who HE is.

  • matej

    Distance between man ad God is – infinity.
    Sin can be seen as infinite distance between man and god.
    That distance of infinity can be over come only by God From God to man – cross), or if Christ is rejected as God then it is logical that man has to overcome that distance to God witch can’t be done.
    So what to do when someone rejects God? Love him, care for him, pray for him. Only thing in this life that matters (for christians) that everybody is saved, so what should worry us is not what someone is wrong about, but what we as a Christians can do for that person. Is he/she guilty if he/she doesn’t grasp the concept or theology?

  • Maurice Harting

    There is a huge difference between heresy and error, and I agree with Roger E. Olsen here that the denial of the diety of Christ as the second Person of the Godhead being God is a heresy and places on outside of a state of justifying grace. In contrast, an error would be believing in the Arminian view of faith before regeneration as opposed to the correct view of regeneration before faith as seen in the Bible and expressed by the Reformers of old.
    Sorry Roger … I could not resist lol

    • Roger Olson

      I don’t believe heresy automatically places one outside of justifying grace. It places one outside of Christianity. There’s a difference there and I’ve discussed it much here in the past.

      • Roger Olson

        That’s your assertion and I disagree with it. God’s grace is greater than our intellects and his mercy is wider than our cognitive understanding. He judges by the heart of a person and not the person’s doctrinal confessions.


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