Sunday, May 22, 2011

Son of God?

This may seem like an odd question to most Christians, but what do we mean when we say 'Son of God'?

In what way is/was Jesus God's son?

I had a look at the dictionary at what 'son' means, and it says this:
  1. a male child or person in relation to his parents.
  2. a male child or person adopted as a son; a person in the legal position of a son.
  3. any male descendant.
Which doesn't help much. If sonship requires parents (plural) then option 1 is discounted. If sonship requires adoption then option 2 is discounted. If sonship requires a line of descent, then option 3 is discounted. So in what way is Jesus the 'son' of God?

Contemporary theology (and this goes back at least 1800 years) views Jesus as co-eternal with God the Father. So in what sense is Jesus the 'Son' of the 'Father'? If there was no 'time' in which God was and Jesus was not, then the Son is not and cannot be the descendent of the Father.

Sometimes sonship refers to inheritance - perhaps Jesus is the heir to the Father in some way? But this only works if the Father is going to die or otherwise pass on the inheritance, and I don't see that in Christian theology.

Or maybe it refers to authority, somehow? Perhaps the Father has authority over the Son?
But I thought the Son was given the name above all names? Surely that means he has the ultimate authority?

Basically where I'm at is that I can't see how Jesus can be both part of the Trinity and the Son (in any meaningful way) of God. If he's part of the Trinity, then surely 'brother' would be a better human analogy. If he's the 'Son' in some rational way, then he cannot be part of the Trinity.

It would appear that in the OT times, 'Son of God' was a phrase taken to represent God's human representative on earth - generally the king, although I think it may also have been used of Moses, Elijah and a few others.

Why don't/can't we see Jesus in the same way?

Did the early church turn the human Jesus into a God? (But keep the 'Son of God' terminology and just ignore the contradictions it brought with it?)

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Rob Love Bell Wins... or something

Sitting on my bedside, ready to be read is a copy of Rob Bell's 'controversial' new book 'Love Wins'. I am not going to pre-judge it, so I can't really pass comment on it yet.

However, I have just listened to Rob Bell 'defending' his book/viewpoint on the Unbelievable podcast, with Justin Brierley and 'Christian blogger' Adrian Warnock.

Some observations:
  1. Rob Bell does the classic apologist thing of answering a question with another question. Which gets a bit annoying after a while as there is never any resolution to any line of questioning. At the end of the podcast Rob Bell had never actually stated what it is that he believes, he had merely questioned the issues around 'conventional' belief.
  2. He had a very good point to make about the Greek and Hebrew words translated as 'eternal' in English. And this point was entirely lost on the others in the studio with him.
  3. Fundamentally, I think, the issue boils down to this: does the Bible paint a single, coherent picture of God, or does it actually paint a multi-faceted picture of him, which contains discrepancies and even contradictions? Both Rob and Adrian seem to hold to the former option, but both are viewing different facets of the picture as their starting point. I would argue that the former opinion is a belief that is forced onto the text, not a conclusion from reading the text at face value.
Anyway. I'll read the book soon and let you know my opinion on it after that, for what its worth.

Monday, May 02, 2011

The way and the truth and the life.

John 14v6 is one of those verses I have known all my life:
"Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
This is one of those 'but what does that actually mean?' verses. What does it actually mean for me, here, now? In what way is Jesus 'the way'? In what way is he 'the truth' or 'the life'?

I've been reading (and listening on podcasts) a lot recently about the 'evolution' of the Christian message and how you can track developments in belief from the early writings (letters of Paul), through the early gospel accounts (Mark and 'Q'), how they change in the later synoptics (Matthew and Luke) and how there is another change in belief before the final canonical gospel is written (John), perhaps four or five decades after Paul. Basically, this is all part of the 'synoptic problem'.

Scholarly consensus seems to be that Jesus never spoke many of the words attributed to him in the 4th Gospel. The evidence seems pretty compelling. I am convinced.

So, Jesus never spoke those words. They were put - fictively - into the mouth of Jesus by the writer (or editor) of the 4th gospel, and relate to his interpretation of the message of Jesus, not necessarily going back to anything Jesus himself actually said or did.

So what of 'the truth'? If this statement is fiction, who is the Jesus who is the truth? Certainly not the one described in the 4th gospel.

What about the Jesuses described in the synoptic gospels, are any of them 'the truth'?

Here's the problem, if one of the accounts is blatantly non-historical, is there any reason to believe any of the others are historical? It seems not. The gospels contain the beliefs of their authors (who may represent specific communities) about Jesus, but not necessarily the history of Jesus. The 4th gospel writer put words into the mouth of Jesus to suit his purposes, is it not also likely that the other three did too?

So if there is/was a Jesus who was 'the truth', then he is forever lost to history. Thus the statement that he is the truth is fairly useless to us here and now.

And where does this leave the way and the life?

Pretty much in the same boat.

Where I find myself now is confused (as usual) and coming to the realisation that many of the good things associated with 'the way' (i.e. the Christian life) are not unique to Christianity. Indeed, some aspects of Christian belief might actually be hindering some people having 'life in all its fulness' (John 10v10) rather than promoting it (thinking here - for example - about the ongoing homosexuality debate, which I am not about to go into now).

The more I think about these things, the more baggage I see that can be stripped away from the Christian life to get to the essence of what 'the way' is about. Unfortunately (and I really, really, didn't want to get to the conclusion at the outset, but I can't - in all honesty - escape from it), this leaves me questioning the divinity of Jesus. There is good evidence that there was a man, revered by many, in 1st century Palestine, who preached a message of peace, repentance and simplicity, and who did not believe himself to be God. He was crucified in Jerusalem about 1981 years ago. After his death, his followers began to consider him as messiah, sometime after that they believed he was in some way divine, and eventually they elevated him to full godhood. But believing that was not part of the original 'way'.

The original 'way' was about this:
"He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."
Micah 6v8. Prayer, worship, being a blessing to others, putting others as more important than yourself, investing time in relationships, standing up for the needs of the oppressed, etc., etc. This is 'the way'.

But where, these days, can you practice all that when you're unsure if Jesus is God?