How can so many people look into a portrait of a man, written by 4 different scholar and commoners who portray the man in very similar fashion, and come away with such diametrically opposing viewpoints that the man is rendered almost meaningless? When the man is Jesus Christ and those looking at his portrait are scholars and theologians who do not believe that the biblical claims of Christ are true or an accurate reflection of the man, then the question has found its own answer. The reasoners have come to the table with their own agenda's rather than a scholarly and faith filled attempt to discover the biblical and authentic Christ.
The picture of Christ painted for the world by theologians across the centuries has changed from age to age. After another generation of New Testament scholars has produced its portraits, Jesus has become many things to many people including an eschatological prophet, "marginal Jew," magician, secular sage. No portrait is more radical and disturbing to traditional Christian belief than that put forth by the theologians and philosophers in Stephen T. Davis' book Encountering Jesus" a debate on Christology.
This a group of scholars met to sort out what they considered historically valid from the invalid in the New Testament narratives. Their picture of Jesus is disturbing because the supernatural elements have been stripped away. The Jesus presented by these writers is neither God, nor Promised savior. He is another great religious leader like Buddha, or Mohammed. According to the christologists, Jesus Christ was a godly man, upon whom the spirit of the Christ / God came to rest, and the resulting portrait resembles more closely a distorted reflection from a carnival house of mirrors than the Jesus which is portrayed in the scriptures. The resulting Jesus is unlike that of the Gospels. The common claim is that the early church expressed its response to Jesus by ascribing supernatural status to him. Because of their overly ambitious desires for a savior, the church is responsible for the belief that Jesus Christ was totally God, totally man, and gave his life as a ransom for the sins of men. The christologists believe that the church has preserved an utterly false picture of him.
The book claims to be about Christology, which according to the author Davis "is a branch of Christian theology, perhaps its chief branch" (Davis, p. 1) as the word Christology suggests, it deals with Jesus Christ, and can be defined simply as systematic theological thinking about Christ. The study asks questions about the life and teachings of Jesus, about the person of Jesus, about his work, and his significance. This field carries so much weight because without a living Jesus there is no reason for Christianity. Davis' book is combination of essays regarding the nature, substance and work of Jesus Christ. The conclusions, as well as the questions which are left unanswered, vary greatly because a great variety of approached are taken. The writers differ markedly in thinking about the life of Jesus, about the authority and reliability of scriptures, and about the continuing relevance of ongoing theological orthodoxy.
The first essay, by John Hick, is an example of theological studies gone horribly wrong. Like a high school science experiment that creates a smell so awful that the entire building has to be cleared, Hick's Christology begins on a shaky foundation, and then looks for sand rather than bedrock to lay the next course of bricks. The word 'Theology' means the study of God. However, Hick has become lost son the trail, as his essay is about the study of - the study of god, which we could more appropriately call theology-ology. Hick states in his first paragraph that the historical, space time Jesus Christ who lived, ate, and moved amongst the lives of first century Jews is a different person than was represented on the pages of the scripture. Hick says: "there is a dilemma here. On the one hand, it would seem that an incarnational faith, rooted in history, must go back to the historical Jesus' yet the modern study of New Testament documents has shown how relatively little certain knowledge we have of him. The idealized Christ, on the other hand, is unaffected by the defects of the historical evidence, so that we can glorify him without limit." (Hick, p. 5)
Hick agrees that the person identified in the New Testament must have been a real space - time person, he continues in true existential theory and asserts that because we are not present with Jesus, we are left to only imagine what he must have been like, and what his message must have been. In short, Hick does not believe that Jesus Christ was God in the flesh. He believes that this idea was created by the early church and their enthusiasm. One is left to wonder why so many of the early church would have gone to a martyr's death holding onto a self delusionary image of Christ. The extent of Hick's enthusiasm for the gospel seems to be limited to these short sentences; the rest is only theorizing, and theology-ology. "I envisage a first - century encounter with Jesus as having this deeply challenging and disturbing quality, demanding a radical reordering of one's existence."
Davis' article, Jesus Christ, Savior of Guru chases the same question through the early churches writings. Was Jesus God, come in the flesh of only a great teacher who modeled an exemplary and radical lifestyle? After giving the reader an example of Christological philosophy form hick, Davis sorts the range of Christological thought into two camps. He calls them minimal and maximal theology. The minimal Christology does not presuppose, or accept the notion that Christ was a dual nature being, being at the same time completely God and completely man. The minimal theologians have one of these six points in common.
The bible completely, or at least in part a human book.
A great variety of distinct and inconsistent Christology's can be found in the New Testament.
The classical doctrine of the incarnation is incoherent, and on logical grounds must be rejected.
There never has been a universally accepted Christology in the Christian church; therefore nothing can be called the doctrine of incarnation.
Because the classical doctrine of the incarnation creates an exclusivity regarding Christianity in regard to other world religions, it must be rejected.
Therefore whatever the New Testament writers were trying to say, it must be interpreted through the minimal lens. (Adapted from Davis, p. 41_
Maximal Christology is only willing to say that Jesus lived a perfect representation of the qualities and character of God. He was uniquely chosen, uniquely gifted, and able to show love and self sacrifice which are godly characteristics, but the idea of a divine Christ is still not included in a maximal Christology.
The story is told of four blind men traveling along a jungle path when they encounter a peaceful elephant grazing at the side of the road. They stop for a while to investigate, and as they travel onward, they discuss and describe the elephant to each other. The one who handled the trunk said that the elephant was like a huge snake. Another who tried to get his arms around one of the elephants legs disagreed with the first, and said that an elephant must be like a tree, strong and stiff? The third had felt the beast's great torso. He told the first two that they were sadly mistaken, because an elephant was like a great wall. The fourth blind man, after a long silence, spoke about an elephant in terms of a thin and strong rope, for he had handled the pachyderm's tail. Their argument continued for miles and ultimately the men parted company, each wondering about the experience of the other.
For theologians to disguard the central teaching of the gospel, that Jesus was God and man, because it does not agree with their preconceived notions of what the gospel 'should' say to people is to abrogate their responsibility as theologians. If men wish to study theories about what others say about Jesus Christ, they should say that this is their intent. But to study scripture with the dark glasses of personal preference and social expectation blurring one's vision is no different than blind men trying to comprehend an elephant.
The remaining essays follow the same arguments. Of the five, the essay which I agreed with most completely was by Rebecca Pentz. An avowed feminist, Pentz discussed her trouble with the churches stand that tended to minimize women, and I believe that she is correct. The communicated message by much church denomination is that women do not have a place in the church order, and this is neither the teaching of Christ, nor the example of the early church. The first messenger of the risen Christ to the apostles was a woman. Jesus went out…