That Jesus Isn’t Human
Cherith Fee Nordling
Christians profess Jesus Christ as the Son of God. Scripture, the historic creedal traditions, and the church’s worship robustly intersect at this point.
However, when we examine what it means that Jesus is God’s Son, it’s not long before some common misperceptions—let’s be frank, false teachings—come to light. They center on Jesus’ humanity.
Throughout most of church history, and certainly within historical evangelicalism, the deity of Christ has been undisputed. Not so concerning his humanity. While we affirm Jesus as both fully divine and fully human, we do not take his humanity seriously, especially as his human life relates to our own.
The New Testament takes Jesus’ humanity for granted. That’s what made Jesus’ messianic claims, and the early church’s worship of him as Lord, so radical. In the words of Paul, the incarnate Son “did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage” (Phil. 2:6). He relinquished his own power by submitting to the limits of a truly human life. This means he lived (and was raised) as we are called to—through the empowering Holy Spirit.
Church leaders in the first several centuries pressed for clarity in worship and proclamation of this one person, the incarnate, preexistent Son, Jesus of Nazareth. Heresies (false teachings that tried to relieve the tension of this mystery) abounded. These false teachings prompted the creeds. The Nicene and Apostles’ creeds among others are shorthand presentations of the gospel. They declare the divine lordship of the Father, Son, and Spirit, the unity of Jesus’ human and divine natures, his place in history, and our subsequent place in the triune story.
In the face of modern challenges to Jesus’ divinity, we often fall into heresies regarding his humanity. Too often he is the divine Son who borrowed a human body in order to teach, heal, and perform the miracles that proved his divine authority and his power to save us from sin.
Embedded in this “gospel” are some utterly false implications: that the material world is evil; that the divine Son of God was and is not truly a man “sharing our humanity”; and that, because he is God, Jesus had power to be sinless and to do cool stuff. We’re not, so we don’t.
When we fail to take Jesus’ humanity seriously, the consequences are dire. Such a Savior knows nothing about our broken, tempted humanity and our need for the Spirit’s empowering presence. And we know little about his glorious cruciform power, authority, and renewed righteousness in our own experience. We have no new Adam, no mediating human high priest, no king with whom we participate in our final resurrected destiny as image-bearing children of God.
If Jesus isn’t really like us, then we are excused from being like him. Yet that is what 1 John tells us is the evidence of lives anointed by the Spirit, discerning truth from falsehood by the evidence of God’s love in and among us—that “in this world we are like Jesus” (4:17), conformed to the truly human, gloriously cruciform image of the Son.
Cherith Fee Nordling is associate professor of theology at Northern Seminary, Lombard, Illinois.
That Grace Isn’t Supreme
Presumably all evangelicals who know what the e word means affirm that we are saved by grace alone. Ask them, “Friend, are you saved?” and they know that a “yes” depends on trusting in something irreplaceable Jesus did for them at the Cross, not on their being nice. In this basic sense, evangelicals are not confused about the fundamental tenets of their faith.
The problem is behavioral denial. If the ancient formula lex orandi, lex credendi (“the law of praying is the law of believing”) can teach us anything, it is that how we behave, how we worship, and what we do eventually will be reflected in what we teach.
Consider our worship services. The preaching in many evangelical churches frequently majors in heart-rending stories in service of motivational speeches, pop psychology, and “helpful hints for happier homes”—or at best a series of “biblical principles” to apply to live better lives. What we can and should do almost wholly displaces what God has done on our behalf. A call to worship from the transcendent God is often supplanted by a cheery, entirely secular “Good morning,” repeated until the requisite response volume is achieved.
A student told me of a service at a megachurch where there were no prayers at all. Those designing the service determined that there was no time for them. No time for speaking to God in worship? And when a charge (instruction as to what we should do) displaces a benediction (blessing from God to go forth empowered to live lives worthy of our calling), we truly are shut up to our own strength.
With respect to salvation, the problem is at least as severe as our neglect of Paul’s words in Romans 6:1, urgently warning us not to suppose we may sin so that grace may abound. Salvation does not entail entire sanctification in this life. But surely it entails a reorienting of our hearts’ desires, so that we are at least grieved by our besetting sins. How is it that seminarians can vigorously defend profanity, obscenity, and vulgarity as proper evangelistic tools, as I have heard them do? How can “holiness” have become a term evoking scorn, derision, avoidance, except by confusing it with obnoxious, sticky, pretentious piety? Do we actually even want to be saved, in the sense of being freed from the dominion of sin?
Or is it that we have forgotten, or do not wish to believe, that we are the sorts of people who actually need to be saved? And who can by no means save ourselves, but are wholly dependent upon grace?
Marguerite Shuster is Ockenga Professor Emerita of preaching and theology, and senior professor at Fuller Seminary.
That Racism Is Gone
In the early church, false teachings were designated as heresies—from the Greek hairesis, meaning “choice.” False teachings were insidious because they promoted dissension within the one, holy, and catholic church.
If we want to know which heresies abound today, we should examine the teachings and beliefs that cause division in the church. To be sure, any truth claims are going to divide those who affirm and those who reject such. In that sense, Christian teachings will naturally divide.
But we might label some teachings as false if they inappropriately divide an already fragmented people of God. In a time when the body of Christ is divided along political, ethnic, and racial lines, we must work especially hard to weed out the teachings that hinder church unity.
Two false teachings are especially pernicious. The first is political correctness, which arose out of ethical and even prophetic intentions to promote harmony across ethnic divides. It has deteriorated into a stance that advances one’s racial or ethnic group’s agenda against those of the dominant culture. Political correctness presumes a zero-sum game so that the gains of “my” group mean the losses of the dominant group.
One reaction to political correctness opens us up to the second false teaching: that we evangelicals live in postracial churches and communities. This is rarely if ever promoted as official teaching or doctrine. It is much more destructive because it is communicated in so many subtle, unquestioned ways. For instance, in multiethnic and multiracial churches, and in some megachurches, visible congregational diversity is presumed as conclusive evidence that Christians have overcome the racial and ethnic divides of the past.
Yet the long-standing Euro-American cultural privilege persists in many churches. Too many times, ethnic minorities, especially blacks and Hispanics, are marginalized and then blamed for it. In contrast, as CT reported in its October 2014 cover story, Asian Americans like myself are considered “model minorities.” By naming this mindset as falsely suggesting we live in a postracial society and culture, I confirm my own (Asian American) stereotypical status as a “perpetual foreigner.” Will majority-white evangelicalism always keep the nonwhite, brown, or black on the margins?
As a Pentecostal, I embrace the incomprehensible unity of the day of Pentecost narrative. Acts 2 points a way forward between the falsity of either political correctness or postracist presumption. The voices at Pentecost speak together and yet remain distinct, showing us that perplexing harmony is possible and biblical. It is a harmony that does not require all voices, cultures, and ethnicities to be the same in order for the wondrous works of God to be revealed. May this Pentecostal message retrieve the half-truths of these false teachings and redeem their ecumenical promise for the North American church.
Amos Yong, director of the Center for Missiological Research and professor of theo-
logy at Fuller Seminary, is author of The Future of Evangelical Theology.
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