A Problem with our Christology

Christology–the study and application of the person and work of Jesus. What could be more core to Christianity than a proper understanding of the Christ Himself?! In some sense, we do a beautiful job in reformed circles of articulating, at least in our textbooks, a correct understanding of the person and work of Jesus. But I’m burdened that the latest wave of enthusiasm for ministry in reformed circles has a troubling view of Christ. That’s a loaded statement, so I will explain.

I am not burdened about how we articulate who Jesus is. I think we get that right. He is both suffering servant and avenging King. He turned the other cheek at His betrayal in the gospels and returns with a sword in His mouth in Revelation. Our problem in reformed circles is that WE MISTAKE WHICH JESUS WE ARE CALLED TO BE LIKE. We know from Romans 8 that God’s plan from before time began was to conform us to the image of Christ. That is sanctification–God roots out our sin and depravity and replaces it with His image and His example. But talk that makes it sound like we are supposed to take the sickle and sword to our enemies on a white horse with a tattoo down our leg is the sign of a warped understanding of who Christ is and what it means to be conformed to His image.

The concern some have is that emphasizing the suffering Servant of the gospels presents an effiminate Jesus that men don’t want to be like. That troubles me. It troubles me a little as a woman. My husband is a very manly man, but it’s not because he does mixed martial arts, drives a pick up truck (though he does drive a nice big, black one), or has a tattoo on his thigh. But more than troubling me as a woman, it troubles me as a lay theologian. Because even without a seminary degree, I know exactly what the Bible wants me (and my husband) to emulate when it says to be like Jesus. Because just in case you think being like Jesus means coming in white hot fury with a sword in your mouth, Paul clears it all up for us in Philippians 2.

3Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Turning the other cheek is not effeminate. Washing someone’s feet is not wimpy. Returning grace in place of vengeance does not undermine masculinity. God forbid we minimize the suffering Servant of the gospels in an effort to “reclaim” a segment of Christian ministry. And if you are a single lady reading this, I encourage you to not mistake testosterone driven nonsense for authentic Biblical masculinity. Look for a man who demonstrates Christ’s humility, returning grace for vengeance and love for retaliation. Beware of the guy who seems to think the most important act of Jesus we need to emulate from the gospels is overturning tables in the temple. Jesus certainly did it, but in context.

Who defines in your mind what it means to be a manly man? Is it Jesus? Is it the Jesus of the gospels who allowed Himself to be betrayed, mocked, and scorned because He had mercy and grace on those who could not save themselves? That, dear sister, is the definition of masculinity. And for anyone who would argue that it’s not my business as a woman to analyze or warn against this trend, I say you are dead wrong. It is crucial for Christian women to understand what authentic Biblical masculinity looks like, especially if you believe in wives submitting to their husbands and male-only pastoral leadership.  It is of fundamental importance for all of us in the church to have a proper understanding of what it means to BE LIKE CHRIST.

7 Responses to A Problem with our Christology

  1. Greg Verrall August 14, 2009 at 11:08 pm #

    Hey Wendy. I love reading your blog. You seem quite passionate about this topic.
    Now I know you don't mention any names, but I only know of one preacher who talks about Jesus returning with a tattoo on his thigh :-). As a Christian man, I see the glorified Christ as someone I can easily worship. Men find it hard to look up to someone who they don't have a healthy respect for. However I agree that there is no justification for thinking that we should be like this glorified Christ! As you rightly pointed out a Christian man's role is to follow Christ as he lived on the earth, in humility, patience, compassion etc, but also willing to “take the hits” for his wife and children and those who are being oppressed and attacked, and being willing to put the needs of others first. And so on…..

    I could keep going all day, but I think you get my drift. I just want to emphasize your warning to the Single sisters out there, look for a man that models Christ while he was on the earth – not perfectly, because you will never find him – but someone who has that kind of heart.

    Thanks again

  2. Wendy August 14, 2009 at 11:17 pm #

    Thanks for commenting, Greg. I always appreciate your perspective.

  3. jennifer August 14, 2009 at 11:57 pm #

    Thankyou for this post. I found it helpful. Following on from Greg's comment…it may not be his intention to make a dichotomy but it seemed as though by saying he can easily worship a glorified Christ as soeone he can look up to, but this is not the Christ we should be like.

    However, we see in Scripture that Jesus was worshipped on earth as the suffereing servant. In John 20:24ff we see Jesus showing his wounded hands and feet, and it was this that caused worship Jesus as his Lord and God.

    Perhaps we need to think about a why it is that a man can respect and worship a glorified Christ, perhaps it is evidence that our thinking is being somewhat skewed in this area when we make this kind of distinction. Should we not see the Suffering Servant as one worthy of our respect and worship also?

  4. Greg Verrall August 15, 2009 at 12:22 am #

    I guess this is the mystery of the differences between God's image being manifested in different ways in males and females. They are different, they look at the same situation from different perspectives, and come to different conclusions, not right and wrong, but different things appeal in different ways. But this is to the glory of God, and as we embrace each others perspective (rather than trying to convince the other sex that we are right) we will see the glory of God more fully.

  5. Wenatchee the Hatchet August 15, 2009 at 6:56 pm #

    I believe it was Bonhoeffer who wrote that Christians who do not put equal focus on the life (with incarnation), cross, and resurrection of Christ have failed to provide a true or adequate Christology. Paradoxically while the cross is central to understanding Christ's accomplishment seeing only that can cause us to see only that in the world for which Christ came to die and judge. Conversely, those who emphasize the resurrected Christ over either Christ's life or death take on a triumphalist approach that condemns others that has no basis in a true understanding of Christ.

    More and more I have discovered that the most dangerous teachings are those that are true as far as they go but are incomplete. I have personally witnessed in my own life and in people around me the dangers of what seems to be a weakness in Reformed hamartology. We Reformed can tend to define sin as knowing rebellion against God or God-appointed authority motivated by pride. Now this definition is true but it is also incomplete. Off the top of my head there are more admonitions to “do not fear” than “do not be proud” in the Bible. I would suggest that God through the scriptures has a clearer understanding of what the more common risk in human conduct is than we do. As Ecclesiastes puts it it is good to take hold of one and not let go of the other but we are fallible creatures. Holding on to the wholeness of who Christ is is no where near as easy as holding on to the parts of Him we feel familiar with (notice I didn't say 'favorite' parts because I don't think we always hold on to the parts we consider our 'favorite' due to emotional comfort).

    Er, that's so long I probably should have just written a post at my own blog.

    All that is to say I agree with Internet Monk in saying that we Reformed need to read more Lutherans so we don't forget what the Gospel actually is. We're more Law-fans than we often want to admit.

  6. Wendy August 16, 2009 at 3:50 pm #

    I've been thinking about this for a few days. I don't think Greg is drawing a dichotomy, but I do think that it's an interesting and important place for us to guard ourselves. You're right Jennifer–the suffering Servant IS God and is worthy of worship. The stumbling block of the Cornerstone is that He didn't come like the Jews envisioned. He didn't come in power. He let go of His rights as God. He didn't come to be served, but to serve and give His life a ransom for many. And THAT Jesus was rightly worshiped by His disciples. And those who rejected THAT Jesus were rightly judged for their rejection.

    On another day, we can have a friendly discussion on whether it's OK or disturbing for some men to be uncomfortable with the analogy of the church as the Bride of Christ. I find that analogy helpful and comforting. Some men not so much. (I emphasize SOME. Certainly not all real men have a problem with this picture of the church and Christ). But it would take a great deal of mutual respect among readers and commenters before we could have that discussion, especially on a blog geared toward women. 🙂

  7. Javetta September 1, 2009 at 6:20 pm #

    Wendy,

    Thank you so much for writing this post. It has cleared up a great deal of confusion that I have been experiencing about this very topic. I am coming to the realization that there is a fine line that separates the two “personalities” (for lack of a better term) of Christ, but it was NEVER the intention of the New Testament writers to make us choose one over the other. Thanks again 🙂