Careful How You Talk About Jesus–Unless You Want to Fight

Posted: October 12, 2013 in Uncategorized

FighterI am no expert in liberal theology, but much of what I read concerning it makes me want to vomit.  There are certain ways of talking about Jesus, about the gospel, and about the Bible that get under my skin and make me want to throw a few punches; or at the very least turn a few tables over. All in the name of Jesus.

I am almost finished reading John D. Hannah’s chapter on the Person of Christ in his book Our Legacy: The History of Christian Doctrine. In the last hour I have slowly read his section tracing the doctrinal development of Christology in what he calls the Late Modern Churches (1750-Present). This section introduces the reader to men like Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834), Albrecht Ritschl (1822-1889), Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976), Emil Brunner (1889-1966), and Harry Emerson Fosdick (1878-1969). None of these men that I just mentioned (and Dr. Hannah mentions a few others) are men who I think I would want to share a mid-night stroll with and talk theology. Well, unless I wanted to get into a good ol’ fist fight.

Why do I say that? Listen to some of what they say about our Lord Jesus and see if you wouldn’t want to join me in a back ally with these guys.

  •  “Christ is everywhere distinguished from God, for He appears only as a deputy with full power, and hence His power is represented as resting in the Father.”—Friedrich Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith
  •  “Those who are familiar with my writings will recognize that it was from the teachings of my father that evolved my own conception of Jesus Christ, not as God and man mysteriously joined together in a being who represents neither what God is nor what man can become, but God in man.”—Lyman Abbot (1835-1922).
  •  “There is no reason to suppose that the early Jewish disciples deified Jesus, or thought of him as anything more than God’s servant and anointed.”—Arthur C. McGiffert (1861-1933).
  • “Have done with your theological Christ and give us back Jesus the ethical teacher”—Harry Emerson Fosdick
  • “Jesus is God…that statement alone is not orthodoxy; it is heresy.”—Fosdick

There are more quotes we could list, but that should suffice. Although the flesh in me wants to rise up and punch somebody, which would probably be wrong, we must recognize that the inclination to fight isn’t wrong. It’s just that punching somebody isn’t the fighting that needs to take place. Instead, deep and profound, careful and pointed, passionate and clear-headed theological reflection and writing should be the way in which we engage in battle.

J. Gresham Machen was a man who rose up to fight during the early part of the 20th century. He would put pen to paper and take on the best and brightest of the liberals. And his punches would land with force. One quote from him should suffice. What follows are a few of his comments on the prologue of The Gospel of John.

“These things have been despised as idle speculation, but in reality they are the very breath of our Christian lives. They are, indeed, the battle ground of theologians; the church hurled anathemas at those who held that Christ, though great, was less than God. But those anathemas were beneficent and right. That difference of opinion was no trifle; there is no such thing as ‘almost God.’ The thought is blasphemy; the next less thing that infinite is infinitely less. If Christ be the greatest of finite creatures, then still our hearts are restless, still we are mere seekers after God.”—Machen, What is Faith.

Machen is right. If we reduce Jesus to less than God, then he was less than infinitely worthy to pay the infinite debt that we owe due to our sin against an infinitely holy God. May it never be. Jesus is God of very God and man of very man. To say that he is less, well, those are fightin’ words.

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