John Vest who wrote Jesus, Bloody Jesus at the Presbyterian Youth Triennium, has now written a clarification on his first posting, Further Thoughts and Clarifications. I wrote about the first at A high Christology and will address his clarification with this posting.
Here are two understandings Vest has concerning Jesus with which I agree.
1. “Any Jesus that can be reduced to a soundbite, slogan, t-shirt, or four spiritual laws is neither Jesus nor God. That Jesus is an idol.”
2. “In general, I am critical of any portrayal of Jesus that presents him as a magical solution to all of life’s problems, as if believing in Jesus (or a particular set of doctrines about Jesus) makes everything in life okay.”
But, to me, those are simply straw men.
There are two things Vest believes which I think are right but incomplete and confused:
1. Vest believes the incarnation is not simple and that is true. And yet it is so simple that even a child can believe. A thing that is complex or even mysterious need not be difficult to comprehend. And for the Christian the Holy Spirit illuminates the heart and mind as they read and study scripture. Vest writes that the incarnation is so complex that it took “the church four centuries of convoluted theological and philosophical wordsmithing to develop a formulaic doctrine that most followers of Jesus still find confusing.”
The truth is the church did not take four centuries to develop the Nicene Creed. Rather the church affirmed, with the creed, what it had held as true for those four hundred years. And the beauty of that creed is such that a poet can delight in it. “We believe … in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made …”
2. Vest writes, “Jesus Christ is the definitive revelation of God, God’s will, and God’s way for me. I follow God in the way of Jesus. I fully experience God in the way of Jesus.” Yes Jesus Christ is the definitive revelation of God, but there is something more then following the way of Jesus. Instead Jesus is the way. Scripture as well as the Theological Declaration of Barmen states it:
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me. (John 14: 6) Truly, truly I say to you, he who does not enter the sheep fold by the door but climbs in by another way that man is a thief and a robber … I am the door; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved.” (John 10: 1,9)
It isn’t Jesus’ way we follow, although we do follow him. Instead we receive, by the invitation of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the life that Jesus gives. We are united to him. And our very life is the life of Christ. As believers we have no life outside of Jesus. We don’t experience God because we follow a certain way, not even the way of Jesus. We experience God because in our adoption as children of God we are united with Christ and enter in to fellowship with the Trinity.
As the Westminster Confession states, "All saints being united to Jesus Christ their head, by his Spirit and by faith, have fellowship with him in his graces, sufferings, death, resurrection and glory: ... "(6.146) And the Confession gives on to lay this as a foundation for our unity with one another. Jesus Christ is the foundation of our unity.There are several things that Vest believes that I believe are simply wrong.
1. He writes that “there is something undeniably divine about the mystery of the incarnation and the revelation of God in Jesus of Nazareth. But, I don’t believe that the incarnation is as simple as YHWH, the God of Israel, taking on human flesh and walking among us.”
There is, in fact, nothing divine about the ‘mystery’ of the incarnation. We do not worship a concept or an ideal, but rather a real person who is nonetheless God. He is the God who loved us so much that he condescended to take on human flesh in a particular place and time. He is the God who with real joy faced the cross for our broken humanity.
2. Vest writes, “There is a disconnect for me between the way Jesus lived and died in humility, servanthood, and weakness and the way he is exalted in worship in ways that would make a truly humble person uncomfortable at best. There is a disconnect for me in exchanging the worship of YHWH with the worship of Jesus, no matter how we conceptualize the incarnation.”
Through all of Vest’s writing I find a total disregard not only for high Christology but also for the Trinitarian view that is both biblical and creedal. Jesus Christ is not simply a humble human. He is that but he is also God. God the Father lays before us the glory and the joy of worshiping the Son. And the Bible presents this In such a way that we dishonor the Father when we fail to give glory to the Son:
“Being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross. For this reason God also highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:8-11)
It is in our worship of Jesus Christ that we worship the Trinity. It is through Christ that we know and our known in intimate relationship by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If we deny that Jesus is God, the eternal Son we deny the Trinity as well as the incarnation.
There is so much more that could and undoubtedly should be said. Is the Bible a book of diverse theologies, as Vest puts it? He writes that it is “a richly diverse array of theologies and perspectives on God and how God interacts with humanity.” Perhaps, but the true unity of the Canon is Jesus Christ, from cover to cover. It is really only one story. The story of how God redeems his people through the incarnation, the life, death and resurrection of the eternal Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.