Saturday, May 7, 2016

The 2016-17 Horizons Bible Study "Who is Jesus? - a continuing review- the introduction

I am beginning a review of The Presbyterian Women’s 2016-2017, Bible study, “Who is Jesus? : What a Difference a Lens Makes. Although this is a study written and published by a women’s organization connected to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and I now belong to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, there are good reasons to do the review. A large group of ecumenical women use the study, in fact, there is a copy published, in particular, for women in other mainline churches. More importantly several years ago PW officially allowed those women whose churches had left the PCUSA to still maintain their PW status within their new denominations. If they do exist they may be studying this material.

This first review will entail looking at the introduction with its basic premises about Christology and what different ways of looking at Jesus involves and produces. I also will look at some of the suggestions for leaders worksheet found in the back of the study.

In attempting to look at—not answer—the question “who is Jesus,” Judy Yates Siker, the author divides the first four chapters into the four New Testament gospels. She then, in the following chapters, looks at some of the writings of Paul, extra biblical literature not included in the canonization of the New Testament, and views about Jesus within the Jewish community and within the Moslem Qur’an. Finally she looks at contemporary cultural interpretations. The final chapter is meant to apply to the cultural views within the church.

While there is good material in the study there are two errors that cause the study to be extremely problematic. The first is Siker’s understanding of Christology in its relationship to Scripture. The second error is a failure to accept that there is a revelation of Jesus Christ in Scripture that is, taken as a whole, complete and unchangeable.

Finally although it does not contaminate the whole study there is a theological error in one of the study worksheets which may not have been intentional but nonetheless kills any correct view of who Jesus is. I will return to that at the end of this review.

Christology: Siker explains Christology in the New Testament using her understanding of a High Christology versus a low Christology. She defines those terms in this way:

“High Christology is one in which the emphasis is on the divinity of Jesus; that is, Jesus is God in human form. Low Christology puts the emphasis on Jesus’ humanity; that is, Jesus is a human in whom God chose to dwell. Most of our definitions (if we attempt to define Jesus identity at all) fall somewhere in the middle of those two extremes.”

Siker applies her definitions to the gospels. The synoptic gospels have a low Christology and John a high Christology. Siker points out that the words high & low for this are not a matter of superior or inferior and yet, perhaps she should do so. Here is the problem:

A high Christology is a Christology that is superior in that it not only emphasizes the divinity of Jesus but also affirms the humanity of Jesus. It is a balanced account of the person of Jesus, fully God and fully human. Think of the creed of Chalcedon. A fence is placed around the person of Jesus Christ and there are some things that cannot be said. A low Christology does fail to uphold Jesus’ divinity.

While the Gospel of John and the writings of Paul give a more direct and straight forward picture of Jesus’ divinity they also are very clear about the humanity of Jesus.  Matthew, Mark and Luke give very practical understandings of Jesus’ humanity, but in terms of his miracles, wisdom and even his actions they clearly picture Jesus as God. Who can still the raging waves but God? (Matthew 8) Who can forgive sin but God? (Mark 2) Who can raise the dead but God? (Luke 7)

Larry W. Hurtado, author of Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity, in a comment on his blog explains first that Mark was not writing a Christology, but then Hurtado writes these helpful thoughts:

“But certainly Mark reflects and presumes a very “high” view of Jesus. E.g., the opening lines effectively make Jesus the “Lord” whose paths are prepared for by the Baptist. And at various points Jesus is pictured as heralded by demons who (unlike the humans in the story) perceive his transcendent significance. And Jesus acts in ways that allude to YHWH in the OT (e.g., walking on the waves and calming them).”

One of the troubling aspects of Siker’s way of looking at Christology affects a worksheet in the back of the study. The worksheet divides up the four gospels under categories including “More human” and “More divine.” Readers are expected to decide which gospels see Jesus as more human and which as more divine. Nothing in this study is more troubling than asking Christian women to state whether a biblical gospel presents Jesus as more human or more divine. Jesus’ person is never divided in that manner.

The unchanging Jesus: The second error has to do with the whole biblical picture of Jesus. Siker in attempting to look at the different perspectives of the biblical writers fails to place alongside that the truth that there is a biblical picture that is whole and does not change with different perspectives. Yes, different New Testament writers did write from different perspectives but they did not change the absoluteness of the person of Jesus.

While Siker presents some very clear and devout pictures about what various writers teach about Jesus, she leaves open the possibilities of optional answers to the question “Who is Jesus.” Siker is loyal to each author she writes about, but seems to toss them aside with each new text and new author. In the last chapter on contemporary cultural interpretations Siker offers scholarship that questions Jesus’ sinless nature.   When presenting the lesson on the non-canonical gospels she praises them for their ability to teach about diversity.

The question “Who is Jesus” is never clearly answered.

Explaining Jesus: fully God, fully human:  In a worksheet meant to teach how one states the biblical understanding of Jesus as both God and human the author or perhaps the editors use poor wording. There is a list of statements one is to choose from. On another page all but one of the statements, the last one, is shown as being in error and the heresy it contains is named. The last one is meant to be correct—but this is what it says:

“Jesus is made of the same “stuff” as God the Father.”

The answer states “Yes. This is what the Nicene Creed says: “… being of one substance with the Father …”

But what else does the creed say, “And 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 …” (Italics mine.)

Yes the creed does go on to say that in His incarnation Jesus was made man but that is how and why he is fully human. We can say that in his humanity Jesus was made or in his divinity he was begotten of the Father. Or we can say that Jesus Christ was begotten of the Father and made man in his incarnation. But we cannot say that Jesus was made of the same stuff as God the Father.

There is one more problem. The sentence “Jesus is made of the same “stuff” as God the Father,” implies, unintentionally I know, that God the Father is made of “stuff.” This makes “stuff” higher then God. The creeds were worked out with great care. In most cases it is important that we simply use the words of the creed. “… being of one substance with the Father.”



SweetIncense said...

Thanks, Viola. I happened upon this review and found your insights biblically based, interesting and carefully expressed. I hope those who read Siker come across this so they can be forewarned.

Viola Larson said...

Thank you Sweetincense, I pray that they do find my review.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your commentary and insights. When I came upon a copy recently of this study, which is planned for next fall at our church, I was bothered by several of the unbiblical inferences, and the incorrect information included at times. I began to doubt my own thoughts, because several who read it, were quite pleased with the pending study. I look forward to your reviews of the individual lessons. Will I be able to access your lesson reviews at this site?

Viola Larson said...

Yes, I will post them all here.

First Mate and Skipper said...

Dear Sister in Christ,
I have just finished reading this first in your series of reviews of the Horizons study curriculum for 2016-17. Like you I have finally acknowledged (as of 2015) that the PC(USA) has left me (I did not leave it), and I am now a member at a Presbyterian Church of a different (and Biblically faithful) denomination. However, I still have many friends in my former PC(USA) congregation, and I intend to share your excellent review commentaries with them. I know that the PW circles in that congregation consistently use the Horizons curricula, and perhaps the faithful few who still remain there "contending for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3)
will be able to make a difference for the better through the use of your insightful and well-written reviews.
With love and thanks,
Marcia Slentz-Whalen
New Bern, North Carolina

Viola Larson said...

Thank you Marcia for sharing. I will pray for that congregation and the PW study.

from Lidia said...

Thank you so much for your review. When innerrancy and moral teaching are compromised, the divinity of Jesus and His words are also questioned. 'Praying for His Light to clear all paths to the only Truth.

Viola Larson said...

Thank you Lida. Yes, everything is compromised.

weaver and reader said...

I was wondering if you have reviewed the lessons in the Horizon book, "Who is Jesus?" We are beginning that study (much to my dismay!!) in January, and I would value your insights into this author's interpretations. Thanks, Cynthia

Viola Larson said...

Hi Weaver and Reader,

I have reviewed all but the last three and intend to do them also. Perhaps it would help if I placed a link to each one here.

Anonymous said...

Thank you....a link would be much appreciated for those of us who are somewhat computer challenged!

Viola Larson said...

Anonymous each of those titles at the end of the posting is a link, just click on them.

Anonymous said...

many thanks. Most helpful!

Anonymous said...

Am enjoying your reviews. Our women's group is underway with this study. Definitely, not my (nor many others') first choice. As I begin the search for future studies, was wondering if you might have any suggestions other than the PW Horizons study or could direct me to a source(s). If all goes well, our church will either be leaving Presbytery altogether, or join the Fellowship Community org. So needless, to say, we are looking for studies that parallel that line of thinking. Thanks for your work on these reviews. Very helpful and much appreciated.

Viola Larson said...

Thank you.
I don't at the moment know of good studies to suggest but I will be on the lookout for you. I do have this. I was listening to Ann Voskamp when I saw your comment. She does have a Bible study connected to her latest book, The Broken Way. Here is a link to her first video for the six sessions. I will post this on my blog so you can listen. You can get the study guide from Amazon or Zondervan.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the suggestion. I've learned it's never too early to start looking for quality studies. Many thanks.

Viola Larson said...

There was a very good Bible study I think on the Gospel of Mark that the Voices of Orthodox Women published. I thought it was on The Layman but couldn't find it. You might ask them. Teaching Elder Terrye McAnally wrote it.

Evangelist Attiqa Shad said...

Thank you for sharing. It's very helpful to me.

Viola Larson said...

Thank you for letting me know Attiqa May our Lord bless your ministry.