A Tale of Two Christ(s)

Today, we have a guest post by Roy Joseph. Roy is an independent scholar who has taught previously at academic institutions in Pittsburgh and in the Chicago land area. Currently, he is working on a project on Creation and Cosmology and is deeply interested in issues of history and philosophy of science, theological aesthetics and creative writing as well. Please be sure to share your thoughts regarding “A Tale of Two Christ(s).  ~ Tom

"The Sacrament of the Last Supper." Artist: Salvador Dalí. 1955. Oil on canvas. Dimensions 267 cm × 166.7 cm (105 in × 65.6 in). National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.

An incendiary title of this nature might lead one to presume that this is a debate about the two natures of Christ; fully human/ fully divine with a heretical temptation towards emphasis on one at the expense of the other. As the New Testament so poignantly illustrates, the two natures comprising full humanity and full divinity is fully reconciled and harmonized in the person of Jesus Christ in a fashion that is quite inscrutable to our inquiring, yet finite minds. Even analogies such as wave-particle duality of light and sundry features of quantum mechanics are bound to break down after a certain point. The ‘Two Christ(s)’ here is a figurative shorthand to highlight conflicting perspectives on the person of Christ within the ranks of those who self-identify as Biblically orthodox Christians; reformed and evangelical and the like. The popular discourse of Christ from the pulpits to pews of churches surrounds Christ as Savior and comforter. When life’s travails beset us, it is natural and even necessary for every kneeling Christian to seek refuge in the fact that our destiny is safeguarded in the everlasting arms of the Father, through the atoning work of His Son and through the comfort and guidance of the Holy Spirit. A reminder of our salvation and the hope of future glory is very much part and parcel of the gospel and there is no denying that. However most Christian scholars with similar creedal commitments treat with justifiable suspicion the articulation of salvation and comfort in an entirely emotivist vocabulary. After all, there is more to the faith than feeling and the reason for the hope is a reason after all, that cannot be dissociated from loving the Lord our God with all of our heart, strength and mind.

However the Christ of Christian scholars is also very much a fractured Christ. The picture is almost indubitably that of the twelve-year old Jesus debating scholars in the Temple or the grown-up Jesus outsmarting the Pharisees in verbal jousting. The pre-pubescent Christ or the young adult Christ the intellectual debater who out-Socratized Socrates also constitute an integral part of the gospel, yet a subconscious and exclusive preoccupation with the Christ of Scholastic Debate renders Christ into a first-century Jewish Palestinian version of Winston Churchill trouncing his rhetorical adversaries with pungent wit, bon mot, and unsurpassable repartees. Such a hobby horse does come at the expense of his full humanity and full divinity. Personally, I have encountered very many smart Christians who look askance when I mention — that for Jesus to be Christ, he also has to surpass the brilliance of the likes of Einstein by both infinite degrees and Eternal kind. Couldn’t Christ discuss particle physics with Polkinghorne or phenomenology with Dallas Willard and restore them with his trademark embrace after beating them really good at their ‘own’ game? After a condescending smirk or concurrence, the focus almost instantly shifts to the parables of Christ, his rhetorical comebacks at the careerist and mendacious inquiries of the Pharisees, a theological discussion about Christ fulfilling Biblical prophecy and anodyne readings of Genesis Chapter 1. Come now, think of it.

First, if Christ is indeed the Son of God who is co-equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit, was He not present before creation and actively involved in the art of creation? Even if it were possible to reverse engineer all the biophysical and chemical processes involving the emergence of life, there is no guarantee that life would emerge. All the disciplines in the world even cumulatively speaking, come short in addressing the question of what it takes to create an extravagant universe or multiverse and populate it with extraordinary astrophysical phenomena and sentient creatures as well. Recent research in Artificial Life for once is a cartoonish illustration of the insurmountable difficulties one might encounter in trying to create something out of nothing, for humans do a better job in creating something out of something else. Hence God is the only person with the ability to create Ex Nihilo. Wouldn’t it be nice then for Christian scholars to reconcile Christ the Redeemer alongside Christ the Genius or Super-Genius as well?

Second, let us pay attention to Christ’s response to his parents after they found him:

So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Look, your father and I have sought you anxiously. And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business? But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them (Luke 2:48-50).

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, please bear with me for I am now going to shock you. Christ was indeed speaking the truth, yet his communication style (not content) at least evinced from the passage befits a twelve-year old. And one should not fault Him for that, for twelve year olds even ones belonging to the ilk of prodigious scholar savants are not held up to the highest standards of either human or divine empathy. However, if we focus on this aspect of Christ alone where He underscores the paramount nature of His Father’s business” (ergo my human parents take a back-seat) we miss out on the Christ who entrusts Mary his mother to John the apostle while He was dying on the cross. We also miss out on the Christ who wept on hearing the news of Lazarus’s death. Not to mention the Christ who grieved over Jerusalem. There was something about “My Father’s business” which includes taking care of our loved ones that is encrusted within the sentiment, yet ostensibly cryptic and obscured by the communication style.

For instance, if I were to call a Christian friend and ask him or her for a few minutes because I need prayers or comfort and this friend were to respond “kingdom concerns are more important than yours,” logically that assertion would make sense yet phenomenologically speaking, it would be utterly callow and also reprehensibly unbiblical. As Christians we are called to speak the truth, but also to speak the truth with grace, and grace if I am not mistaken, is involved in the business of comforting. We are called to worship Christ the Lord but also emulate Christ the servant. This two-fold aspect of truth with grace, reason and feeling, the doctrines of Christ with His embodied personhood make both approaches – i.e. both popular evangelicalism and Christian scholasticism (evangelical, reformed or catholic) deeply unsatisfactory or even wanting. While the Christian Church encompasses a diversity of gifts, the call to compassion, which speaks directly to our humanity and our responsibility as image-bearers of God, is never an option. The perspective about Christ in contemporary versions of populist evangelicalism has been well critiqued, but the perspective of Christ in Christian scholastic circles which is incidentally a caricature of sorts is rarely treaded upon for fear of bringing offense to an already beleaguered and besieged minority. With the first group, we may achieve comfort and with the second, we witness the scandal of the Christian scholarly mind. It is a picture of Christ without wounds and Christ without glory. ‘Christ without wounds,’ is self-explanatory in that it alludes to a lack of proper sensitivity towards a practical theology of suffering. I say ‘Christ without glory’ due to my utter dismay at the lack of awe that many Christian scholars (myself included) display towards the mysteries of creation, the gift of life, and the creative Genius that goes behind it not to mention the professionally sanitized lack of curiosity towards anything that does not pertain directly to one’s line of research. Furthermore, the tyranny of approval and appeasement of the broader scholastic community can be so paralyzing that Christian scholars even the decorated ones are wont to be utterly unoriginal. The critiques that apply to CCM (Christian Contemporary Music) equally apply to CCS (Christian Contemporary Scholarship) as well. Does faithfulness to the gospel require us to be unoriginal and insipid?

If any of what I shared either resonates or makes sense, it seems to me that the future of the faith should not lie tendentiously upon the shoulders of the preacher with a famous pulpit or the grey eminence professor teaching or researching at a Christian university. We should pray that God would raise a loose-collection and less formal gathering of faithful and intellectually curious individuals with a throbbing heart for human suffering, primed in the truths of Christ and the Church, immersed in the Living Word and living for Christ without the tyranny of appeasement. Think of Renaissance courts, pubs in London and the salons in Paris during the Enlightenment. Whether or not we agree with all or any of their ideas and morals, we cannot deny that they were indeed spaces of active conversation and intellectual energy, which surpassed Oxford and Padua. The bad news is that seminaries, Christian universities and colleges are submerging in the high-tide of careerism and all the accompanying pitfalls that make the dream of institutional reform both an oxymoron and a petering pipe dream. The good news is that there is nobody to stop you and me from getting together a group of friends and strangers and have a conversation about Christ and culture without obsessing over Niebuhr’s typology. And perhaps, this conversation might spread like a wildfire where Christians are involved in all or any topics ranging from art to cosmology and seeing these pieces fit majestically underneath the canopy of God’s glory.

What are our spaces going to be? And who are these faces going to be? I do not have the answer. Yet I believe that even emerging scholars ought to discard the idolatrous and illusory image of a fractured Christ and instead worship the actual Christ who is creator, redeemer, suffering servant, risen Lord and friend.

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Roy Joseph

Roy is an independent scholar who has taught previously at academic institutions in Pittsburgh and in the Chicago land area. Currently, he is working on a project on Creation and Cosmology and is deeply interested in issues of history and philosophy of science, theological aesthetics and creative writing as well.

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One Comment

  • adacabra@gmail.com'
    j commented on April 30, 2012 Reply

    Interesting piece. The problem though is we need motivated people to bring something about. Institutions provide a comfort level or a complacency level that most people cling on to tenaciously.

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