What God Learned from Women?

What God Learned from Women? April 1, 2021

Let me start by highlighting that my WFYI radio appearance yesterday is now available on their website for you to listen to. I am in the second half of the show.

Next, and directly related, Andy Cassler has voiced some objections to my book or at the very least expressed dissatisfaction coupled with curiosity because I do not address the divinity of Christ in my book. I would point out that the matter of concern is not something that we see in the Synoptic Gospels or in the preaching of Paul as indicated in his letters or Acts. The earliest church does not go around, according to our sources, saying “accept that the divine is encountered in and through the human life of Jesus in this specific way.” On the contrary, they focus on calling people to have that encounter. I remember the way John Macquarrie, in his book Jesus Christ in Modern Thought, burst my bubble as an undergraduate hoping to figure out these mysteries. Macquarrie surveys the kinds of language and formulas, the anhypostasis and enhypostasis, the terminology and hair-splitting that the church engaged in and developed for centuries, and then asked a simple yet profound question. How could any mortal hope to know such things? To ponder them and even speculate about them is understandable. To believe that some particular formulation is required seems to advance that theological exposition as though it were itself divinely revealed truth.

As I wrote in a comment on Andy’s blog, I’m the sort of person whose instinctive inclination is to say, humbly, that my testimony as a Christian is that I have encountered God in and through Christ, and that I have not had revealed to me metaphysical secrets that explain what was at work behind the scenes of that. I understand why the church in the past felt the need to engage in debates and discussions of the hypostatic union in very detailed and technical terms. My avoidance of the issue is primarily due to my (1) not having anything much to add after having discussed aspects of Christology in several other books and articles, (2) not feeling that I could say much with certainty, (3) not feeling that it is appropriate to start with ideas of Jesus’ divinity as though we have those somehow independently of the first Christians’ encounter with Jesus and experience of the divine in and through his human life, and (4) knowing that saying anything even slightly wrong on this topic (from a reader’s perspective) might cause them to dismiss or think differently about the matters the book actually focuses on. I knew that not addressing these things leaves questions unanswered, but with this having turned out to be my longest single-author book, I felt like I was saying enough that was risky and controversial and required extensive argument that adding anything further wouldn’t help my case!

Ultimately, I think that those who respond to my book by saying either “yes, but” or “how dare you suggest that the divine Son of God learned from anyone?!” are failing both to adequately affirm the humanity of Jesus as full, complete, and real, and to accept what the Gospel of Luke says about him learning. To say as one Amazon reviewer did that Jesus learned from Mary but quickly surpassed her does not in fact address the issue or defend historic doctrine, either with respect to the divinity of Christ or with respect to his humanity. God as normally defined wouldn’t need to learn from Mary at all. Making the adult Jesus outpace all other human beings doesn’t make him omniscient all along. Either accept his genuine humanity throughout his life or deny it. But don’t pretend that having him no longer have anything to learn in adulthood makes you an adherent of classic orthodox creedal orthodoxy. It is debatable whether anyone has ever come up with a formulation of Christology that satisfies perfectly and equally all the constraints imposed by the Creed of Chalcedon. Trying to do so was not my point in this book, and if I had spent my time trying to do so, I would undoubtedly have failed, and the things I did try to do would be waiting a second sequel volume because my attempt to do that was too long already. I set such matters aside, explicitly and deliberately.

If you are simply interested in Jesus as a historical figure, I write in a way that focuses on that. If you affirm Jesus as the center of your faith, as long as you do not deny his humanity (not just in theory but in practice) then my book should address at least part of what you affirm about him. If you find it unbearable that I discuss the human Jesus as one who learned and don’t help you reconcile that to your assumptions about Jesus, I would invite you to seize the opportunity to ask and reflect on why that is, as well as whether your assumptions are compatible with the unambiguous biblical statement, “Jesus grew in wisdom…” If not, I am happy to talk with you about what you should do about that.

Also related to this topic, this sermon by Jo Saxon focuses on Mary of Bethany:

In my book I point out that Jesus’ response to Martha is to affirm what Mary has chosen to do, not to accuse her of neglecting what he had taught women to do. I thus see the story of Mary and Martha as about how these women influenced Jesus and not just the reverse.

See too the Center for Hebraic Thought’s collection of articles on gender in the Bible and its world. And just because Women’s History Month has ended does not make this round-up of articles about women in Christianity any less interesting or timely. Finally, these thoughts on Jesus and humor end on a relevant note:

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