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Friday, September 12, 2014

Too Hot to Handle: The “Divinity” of Christ

In which two of our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

Our friend Michael Gungor is at it again, doubling down on his statements to the effect that “Genesis is a poem if I’ve ever seen one”.

Which would be fine, as mere opinions go, but now he’s brought Jesus Christ into it:
“... even if he was wrong, even if he did believe that Noah was a historical person, or Adam was a historical person, and ended up being wrong, I don’t understand how that even would deny the divinity of Christ,” he continued. “The point is it wouldn’t freak me out if he was wrong about it, in his human side.”
— Michael Gungor
To catch us up here, the problem for Mr. Gungor is that in his original declaration that the Flood and the garden of Eden are myths rather than history, he apparently failed to take into account — among many other things — something I pointed out in a couple of posts last month: that both the Lord and the apostles reference Adam and Eve and Noah as clearly historical.

Or maybe he took them into account after all ...

Tom: We should define terms first, Immanuel Can, don’t you think? Mr. Gungor refers to the “divinity” of Christ. How is “divinity” different from “deity”?

Divinity and Deity

IC: Well, of course, I know you won’t be unaware of the subtleties of language choice there. “Divinity” is a more general adjective, like “heavenly” or “angelic”. It just means that the person in question belongs somewhere up on the scale between ordinary people and the Supreme Being. “Divinities” is a plural noun that was used to refer to multiple gods and goddesses, who were, of course, not supreme, just special and superhuman. In contrast, “deity” marks its referent as God Himself, the one-and-only Supreme Being. Christ, then, had not merely “divinity”, which is praise far too low: He was “deity”.

Tom: I appreciate the nod to equality there (“I know you won’t be unaware”). I actually asked because while I’ve read a bunch of stuff on the Internet comparing the two words, that is one of the more lucid explanations I’ve heard, and I suspected you’d cough something like that up with a little prod. Which is actually my function here: I lob the softballs and you hit them out of the park …

Kidding.

But seriously, let’s give Mr. Gungor as much credit as possible and say that Christ, while being (of course) deity, was naturally also “divine” since he proceeded out of the Godhead. In fact, we read of “his divine power”, which has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, for instance.

The Humanity of Jesus Christ

So Mr. Gungor will not deny that Christ proceeded from God. Good for him. Shall we talk about his humanity?

IC: Yes, let’s do that. What does he think “humanity” involves?

Tom: Well, fallibility, for one thing. Among other possible scenarios, he thinks it’s possible the Lord was unaware that — in Mr. Gungor’s view — Adam and Noah were not actually historical people. So he talked about them like they existed even though they didn’t.

So we have a “divine” being with less knowledge of human history than, say, Michael Gungor. How do you feel about worshipping that on a Sunday morning?

IC: That’s funny. Not too good. 

Given what we know about human beings today, it’s hard not to imagine that the ability to make mistakes and even to sin isn’t an essential part of what it means to be human. But, of course, Adam was once not a sinner — and yet he was always fully human. And again, in the Coming Age, we shall be as fully human as ever, but also free from sin and not prone to mistakes or misapprehensions. 

Fallibility, errancy, sinfulness, ignorance — these are all traits of *fallen* mankind, but nothing tells us they are essential to being genuinely human. So to say the Lord was “human” does not in any way require these, as foreign to our current human experience as living without them might seem to be.

Tom: Which is where the virgin birth comes in, does it not? “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you”, says the angel to Mary. He was the “seed of the woman”, but not of Joseph. So human, yes; fallen human, absolutely not. But if you reject Adam and Noah as unhistorical, isn’t the next step the rejection of the virgin birth too?

Differentiating Between the Two Sides

But I’m interested in this phrase Mr. Gungor employs, when he talks about the Lord’s “human side”, as if he is able to identify which bits of his behavior and teaching proceeded from his relationship to God, and which from his relationship to mankind.

IC: It’s almost like when a mother says to her son, “You get that from your father’s side”. She says it because she thinks she has the ability to recognize definite genetic indicators. Such judgments are imperfect, of course, but are formable because the mother knows her own family traits and those she perceives in her husband’s side as well. But Mr. Gungor — is he really saying, “I know when Jesus is acting like His Father and when he’s acting like a human”? Where would the esteemed Mr. Gungor get such wisdom and insight on the essential nature of the Supreme Being, let alone such perspicuity on genuine human nature?

Tom: It comes back to the same drum we’ve had to inadvertently beat for a couple of months now: the whole subjectivity issue.

Once you decide you are qualified to be the judge of which Scriptures are acceptable to you and which need to be explained away, even once, you’re done, toast, over. You may as well scrap the whole thing. I’m amazed — astounded even — that more Christians don’t grasp this.

I mean, how badly do you want to indulge in your pet sin — whether that sin is a desire to be liked and respected by the world for your coolness and edginess, or just a desire to move in with your girlfriend without being thought of as ‘bad’ — to junk your entire Bible over it? That’s what these guys are doing.

IC: Well, and it’s not just junking the Bible. It’s that Mr. Gungor is willing even to impugn the character of the Son of God Himself, right? He’s not just setting himself up as the key interpreter of the words of Scripture, but presenting himself as having the inside track on the authentic nature of the Living Word incarnate.

I have no doubt we all have egos … but yours and mine, I trust, are not that big.

Tom: Oh, they’re pretty big. Not that big though.

The Importance of Deity

Can I ask a totally Theology for Dummies question then: Why is the “deity” of Christ so much more important than his mere “divinity”? Or is Mr. Gungor making that way too obvious?

IC: Well, the Scribes of ancient Israel thought it was. They pointed out that it is God alone who can forgive sins. If Christ was not God, then how could he promise us such forgiveness and be sure it was delivered? “Divinity” is all very nice, but lesser god-like beings (“divinities” or superhumans) have no right to forgive sins. So that’s one thing, for sure.

Tom: What about a mere “divinity” dying for our sins? Coming to do, not “my own will, but the will of him who sent me” is something that could, legitimately, be spoken by a mere divinity. But “I and the Father are one” — to give just one example — is a bit more problematic.

Is it fair to say that unless Christ is actually God in the flesh and not just another in a series of messengers that could be said to be ‘divine’, his sacrifice on our behalf is essentially meaningless, or at least it fails to fully do the job?

IC: Yes, I think that’s quite right.

3 comments :

  1. Is this also not the fundamental error that the JW's base their theology and false gospel on, that Jesus was "divinity" but not deity? Also, was this not the error addressed in Colossians 2: 18,19 with Chp 1 declaring the Deity of Christ so clearly and distinctly?
    WiC

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    1. Agreed. I am always astounded when people mysteriously "can't find" the plain, oft repeated, crystal clear confession of the deity of Christ in the NT. John and Hebrews do it for me, but the Colossians passages you cite are very much on point. I can only conclude that either (1) such people want you to to believe they speak authoritatively about the NT when they have not in fact read it, or (2) they HAVE read it but don't want you or their acolytes to look at it too closely.

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  2. Can I ask where Mr. Gungor believes the literal "beginning" started, because if John 1:1 is true then Jesus was present at Genesis 1:1? It's very hard to accuse (S)omeone of being mistaken or deceitful about a piece of history they were present for. Is Mr. Gungor delusional or just spiritually blind?

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