A Paradigm Shift in Christian Theology: What It Means to Say “God is Jesus”

August 6, 2018
Posted in Blog
August 6, 2018 Editor

A Paradigm Shift in Christian Theology: What It Means to Say “God is Jesus”

Please click on audio of post. NOTE: only main text read; no links, text markings, images, videos, footnotes, etc. read aloud.

That “God is Jesus” is commonplace for Christian peace theologians/peacemakers of every era. The “paradigm shift” I suggest is really therefore with two kinds of believers:

  • those throughout Church history who have refused to read the New Testament as God’s final or ultimate self-revelation in Jesus may in fact feel confronted to genuinely wrestle with this (though this is nothing new);
  • and those unwilling to wrestle to apply the implications of such a patently manifest theology to the realpolitik of whatever era and place may feel challenged to do so. (Okay this too is nothing new!)

In this writer’s view, there is no finer study on this at a profoundly exegetical level than Mennonite New Testament theologian Willard Swartley’s magnum opus: Covenant of Peace: The Missing Peace in New Testament Theology and Ethics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006).

The above said, the reality simply is this: a vast majority of theologians of every stripe for the greater part of two thousand years of Church History have been doing an end-run around the New Testament teaching — with all its implications — that “God is Jesus”. Given the track record, I ask: “Is that likely to change?My cynical answer is built into the question…

Even for those like Thomas Merton who refuse(d) the self-designation “pacifist” yet wrote lots on peace, one has to wonder: When then would Jesus as Ultimate Exemplar — and God — put on a flak jacket as it were, grab an AK47, and under sway of any kind of patriotic national call — in Christian love of course — “light up” whatever enemies (pace Saint Augustine just for starters)? Or would we ever imagine Jesus’ disciples posing the question, flak jackets donned: “Just how many enemies may we ‘love‘ in this special (Augustinian) way?” We know rather that we are to “put on (enduo in Greek) Jesus Christ“. My evident answers are built into the questions…

So I would caution against undue enthusiasm about the article highlighted below. Or have I missed something?

I really do like this quote’s insightful suggestion however:

My point is simply this: This paradigm shift in modern, contemporary Christian theology toward thinking through logically and without restraint the principle that Jesus is the perfect revelation of the character of God has precursors and profound implications. One of those might be that our Bibles should begin with the New Testament! (emphasis added)

The article is well worth a read.

Finally, I do wonder why Brad Jersak’s and Brian Zahnd’s excellent work on “God is Jesus” receives no mention.

excerpts:

Recently I published here an essay entitled “Who Is God?” In it I quoted German theologian Jürgen Moltmann as answering that question “Jesus.” Now, as a reminder, anyone who knows Moltmann’s theology knows he is not a “Jesus Only” or “Oneness” or “Modalist” with regard to the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity has been one of his specializations; it pervades everything he writes about. He has written entire books about the Trinity. And, if anything, he has been accused of tritheism rather than modalism.

So what could he have meant? As I explained in that recent blog post here, he meant, and many contemporary Christian scholars agree, that Jesus is the perfect revelation of the character of God. (Of course, Moltmann also believes that Jesus is the second “person” of the Trinity, ontologically divine in a perichoretic “oneness of substance” with the Father and the Holy Spirit.) But his answer to the question means there is no “hidden God” lurking behind Jesus with a different character, disposition, than the one revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.

As a scholar of the history of Christian theology I can confidently say that this emphasis is new in the history of Christian thought even if not entirely novel. That is, hints of it can be found in the church fathers, medieval theologians, reformers (especially the so-called radical reformers) and post-reformation Christian thinkers. However, it does not seem to have become a major theme and emphasis about God until the 20th century. What I mean by “theme and emphasis” is an idea traced out to its logical conclusion and not left as a mere notion that does not permeate the whole body of belief.

Here is the fascinating statement found in Chapter VII (“The Manifestation of Christ”) on page 27 of the first volume of The Ante-Nicene Fathers: The Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325 (Eerdmans, 1985). “Violence has no place in the character of God.” The immediately surrounding context indicates strongly that this strange statement is based on the person of Jesus Christ as the perfect manifestation of God.

I offer this in support of Greg Boyd’s project without endorsing his whole project (viz., in The Crucifixion of the Warrior God which I reviewed here last year).

Clearly this ancient, very early Christian writer believed, at least at the moment he wrote that sentence, that God is as Jesus was—a person of peace. Does that mean, am I claiming, that the author of the Epistle to Diognetus was a pacifist? That’s a different question and I’m not “going there” here. Some early Christian writers were; some weren’t.

My point is simply this: This paradigm shift in modern, contemporary Christian theology toward thinking through logically and without restraint the principle that Jesus is the perfect revelation of the character of God has precursors and profound implications. One of those might be that our Bibles should begin with the New Testament! I have gone so far as to encourage my students to “read the Bible backwards.” Some of them look at me strangely, but I ask them this question: If you could only translate one book of the Bible for a people group without the Bible in their language, which book would it be? The majority of them answer “The Gospel of John” and then I tell them that “when I was young” Christians frequently handed out “gospel tracts” to total strangers. (I always carried some to school—as we were expected to!) If those gospel tracts contained a portion of the Bible it was always The Gospel of John. Why? Because that gospel portrays (portrait, not biography) Jesus most clearly as the perfect revelation of the character of God.

My argument is that many evangelical Christians have always believed this principle in principle but have not worked it into their theology systematically. This is the task taken up by (among others) Taylor, Moltmann, Jüngel, and Boyd.

There is far to go, much more work to be done, and some of it will be challenging and even uncomfortable for many conservative Protestants. (I think Pope Francis is making it less uncomfortable for Catholics! We know, for example, that Francis’s favorite theologian is Walter Kasper who I consider a Catholic example of this principle. Read his magisterial volume The God of Jesus Christ [Continuum, 2012].)

Please click on: God Is Jesus

 

  1. [1]Please see my "Christianity and the Subversion of Just About Everything!" for development of "put on/clothe yourselves with Jesus Christ". Please look at several articles as well on American/Western will to world domination by clicking on "Selected Articles: Western Aggression Backed by Western Media”. The series of articles is introduced thus:
    The Western allies never run dry of resources to support their global war of terror and aggression, ostensibly an integral part of their foreign policy. They dynamically legislate laws lest the people awaken. They have the unbending support of the corporate media, which skilfully distorts reality. When will they ever back down from their destructive quest for colonies? Read our selection below. Please see my “Christianity and the Subversion of Just About Everything!” for development of “put on/clothe yourselves with Jesus Christ”.
  2. [2]It continued:
    ‘For seven months, Tiger Force soldiers moved across the Central Highlands, killing scores of unarmed civilians – in some cases torturing and mutilating them - in a spate of violence never revealed to the American public,’ the newspaper said, at other points describing the killing of hundreds of unarmed civilians. ‘Women and children were intentionally blown up in underground bunkers,’ The Blade said. ‘Elderly farmers were shot as they toiled in the fields. Prisoners were tortured and executed - their ears and scalps severed for souvenirs. One soldier kicked out the teeth of executed civilians for their gold fillings.”   The New York Times confirmed the claimed accuracy of the stories by contacting several of those interviewed.  It reported: “But they wanted to make another point: that Tiger Force had not been a ‘rogue’ unit. Its members had done only what they were told, and their superiors knew what they were doing. “Burning huts and villages, shooting civilians and throwing grenades into protective shelters were common tactics for American ground forces throughout Vietnam, they said. That contention is backed up by accounts of journalists, historians and disillusioned troops… ‘Vietnam was an atrocity from the get-go,’ [one veteran] said in a recent telephone interview. ‘It was that kind of war, a frontless war of great frustration. There were hundreds of My Lais. You got your card punched by the numbers of bodies you counted.’ Current likely Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry was also quoted giving evidence before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971.  He reported that American soldiers in Vietnam had “raped, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country. Nicholas Turse [later author of: Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam], a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, has been studying government archives and said they were filled with accounts of similar atrocities. ''I stumbled across the incidents The Blade reported,'' Mr. Turse said by telephone. ''I read through that case a year, year and a half ago, and it really didn't stand out. There was nothing that made it stand out from anything else. That's the scary thing. It was just one of hundreds.'' Yet there were few prosecutions.
  3. [3]Historian John Coatsworth in The Cambridge History of the Cold War noted:
    Between 1960, by which time the Soviets had dismantled Stalin's gulags, and the Soviet collapse in 1990, the numbers of political prisoners, torture victims, and executions of nonviolent political dissenters in Latin America vastly exceeded those of the Soviet Union and its East European satellites. In other words, from 1960 to 1990, the Soviet bloc as a whole was less repressive, measured in terms of human victims, than many individual Latin American countries [under direct sway of US Empire] ("The Cold War in Central America", pp. 216 - 221).
    What was true for Latin America was true for around the world: massive human rights abuses, assassinations, regime changes of democratically elected governments, etc., etc., etc. orchestrated by US Empire. Yet Americans invariably have wanted it both ways: to be seen as the exemplary "City on A Hill" that upholds universal human rights and democracy, while operating a brutal Empire directly contrary to all such elevated values, and a concomitant rapacious Empire market economy that takes no prisoners. This began of course even before the founding of the United States of America and continued apace, in its mass slaughter and dispossession of indigenous peoples, in its brutal system of slavery on which its obscene wealth in the textile industry in the first place was built. "The Land of the Free" conceit was a sustained con job on the part of America's leaders. It was also apotheosis of hypocrisy. American exceptionalism was/is true in one respect only: it was brutal like no other Empire in its eventual global reach.
  4. [5]
  5. [4] The highlighted article about renowned whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg points to again what is utterly chilling, horror-filled, exponentially beyond immoral, American (hence the world's) reality: "Daniel Ellsberg: U.S. Military Planned First Strike On Every City In Russia and China … and Gave Many Low-Level Field Commanders the Power to Push the Button". [5]He has since written The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. Of it we read:
    Shortlisted for the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist for the California Book Award in Nonfiction The San Francisco Chronicle's Best of 2017 List In These Times “Best Books of 2017” Huffington Post's Ten Excellent December Books List LitHub's “Five Books Making News This Week” From the legendary whistle-blower who revealed the Pentagon Papers, an eyewitness exposé of the dangers of America's Top Secret, seventy-year-long nuclear policy that continues to this day. Here, for the first time, former high-level defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg reveals his shocking firsthand account of America's nuclear program in the 1960s. From the remotest air bases in the Pacific Command, where he discovered that the authority to initiate use of nuclear weapons was widely delegated, to the secret plans for general nuclear war under Eisenhower, which, if executed, would cause the near-extinction of humanity, Ellsberg shows that the legacy of this most dangerous arms buildup in the history of civilization--and its proposed renewal under the Trump administration--threatens our very survival. No other insider with high-level access has written so candidly of the nuclear strategy of the late Eisenhower and early Kennedy years, and nothing has fundamentally changed since that era.
  6. [6]A classic instance of this aligning with "just war" is the United States' "war on drugs" as subset of "war on crime", while at the same time the CIA was a major worldwide drug dealer in league with other drug cartels -- all done to enhance American Empire during the Cold War -- and continues to the present. The four-part series mentioned below connects American Empire drug dealing to the current War on Terror, in particular in Afghanistan. This of course is colossal hypocrisy as well. Worse: the series posits American federal government administrations over many decades as the Ultimate Drug Cartel, with Blacks, Latinos, and generally the poor directly being knowingly poisoned en masse. Then they have been primary targets of the Drug Enforcement Agency, and thereby become victims of America's too often savage prison system that oppresses and brutalizes them all over again... See: "The War on Drugs Is a Failure, So [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions Is All for It". A citation from the article reads:
    In June [2017], the History Channel aired a four-part documentary series called America’s War on Drugs.” The series asserts that the war on drugs was actually a war of drugs—and that the CIA was essentially a partner in spreading drugs and drug use. The series follows how the U.S. intelligence agency, in an obsession with fighting communism, allied itself with U.S. organized crime and foreign drug traffickers and includes firsthand accounts from many involved. In an interview with Truthdig columnist Sonali Kolhatkar on her radio program “Rising Up With Sonali,” the series’ executive producer, Anthony Lappé, explains why the CIA got involved:
    It’s actually a pretty mind-blowing story when you look at the extent to which the CIA was involved with drug traffickers and drug trafficking throughout the Cold War. … If you look at Cold War policy against the Soviet Union, we were locked in a global battle for supremacy, where we have lots of proxy wars going on. … We needed to team up with local allies, and often the local allies we were teaming up with were people who had access to guns, who had access to underground networks, to help us fight the perceived threat of communism. There are actually a lot of similarities between what drug traffickers do and what the CIA does.
    Lappé elaborates by saying the hypocrisy of the war on drugs has been evident from the start: Secret CIA experiments with LSD helped fuel the counterculture movement, leading to President Richard Nixon’s crackdown and declaration of the war on drugs. The series also explores the CIA’s role in the rise of crack cocaine in poor black communities and a secret island “cocaine base.” In addition the documentary makes the connection between the war on drugs, the war on terror and the transformation of Afghanistan into a narco state and contends that American intervention in Mexico helped give clout to Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and the super cartels, making it easier to send drugs across American borders. Watch Kolhatkar’s full interview with Lappé by clicking here. Please also see the now classic: The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, by noted American historian Alfred McCoy. Of it we read:
    The first book to prove CIA and U.S. government complicity in global drug trafficking, The Politics of Heroin includes meticulous documentation of dishonesty and dirty dealings at the highest levels from the Cold War until today. Maintaining a global perspective, this groundbreaking study details the mechanics of drug trafficking in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and South and Central America. New chapters detail U.S. involvement in the narcotics trade in Afghanistan and Pakistan before and after the fall of the Taliban, and how U.S. drug policy in Central America and Colombia has increased the global supply of illicit drugs.
    To be noted as well is Johann Hari's Chasing The Scream, which tells the tragic tale of America's long-standing offensive against drugs, and the way to end such a war worldwide -- that several nations are successfully embracing.
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Editor

Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

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