Down with Enlightenment!

Alister McGrath, in his Christian Theology, spent the last two chapters discussing the doctrine of God and of the Holy Spirit.  It stands to reason that his next chapters discuss the doctrine of Christ and Christ in history.

Christology, the doctrine of the person of Christ, seeks to understand what Christ reveals in an historical context.  It also attempts to evaluate the implications of Jesus as savior, as a man fully human, and as a being fully divine.  Before McGrath delves into the various aspects of Jesus’s nature, he points out the rationalist approach to Christ: Jesus had nothing new to bring to the table of moral and reasonable human interaction and therefore had no true value.  Arguing against this rationalist approach, Ritschl stated that what Jesus did exemplify was, “a new and hitherto unknown relation to God” (267).  Man could know God differently than before the incarnation because of the incarnation.  McGrath briefly defines New Testament terms given for Jesus: Son of God, Savior, Lord, Son of Man, and Messiah (268-271).  Within the idea of Jesus as God, Arius posited, “as a creature, the Son was changeable and capable of moral development, and subject to pain, fear, grief, and weariness.  This is simply inconsistent with the notion of an immutable God” (275).  Thus, two opposing schools of thought arose:  the Alexandrian and the Antiochene.  These schools debated the extent of the duality of natures within Jesus (271-279).  Theological concepts of Christology and soteriology gave rise to kerygma or the “proclamation of Christ” that will transmit the soteriological content of the Christ-event” (284).  How Christ responds is how God is revealed to us and how He bears the Holy Spirit to us (286-291).

Next, McGrath posits the problems of historicity, namely the Enlightenment movement in the 18th century.  The Enlightenment saw no purpose for history in that it was inherently flawed by perspective and subjectivity.  The incarnation, divine miracles, the resurrection, and even the person of Jesus Himself were called into question (295-304).  Theologians and philosophers questioned the life of Christ from three aspects: chronology, metaphysics, and existentialism (297-299).  Gotthold Ephraim Lessing stated: “What can the relevance of such an outdated and archaic message be for the modern world?” (299).  This “life of Jesus” movement  attempted to reshape the values Jesus proposed to fit with new evolving generations.  However, Martin Kahler refuted this historical approach to the person of Jesus.  The gospels were not to be read as historical documents, but rather as “accounts of the faith of believers” and, “Christian faith is not based upon this historical Jesus, but upon the existentially significant and faith-evoking figure of the Christ of faith” (304-305).  As Strauss, Bultmann, Barth, and Pannenberg debated the validity of the resurrection, McGrath concludes, “it must be appreciated that the resurrection of Jesus serves an additional function within Christian theology.  It establishes and undergirds the Christian hope.  This has both soteriological and eschatological implications” (310-314).

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