Jump to content
Mr. Arkadin

Identifying with Jesus

Recommended Posts

In terms of theological tradition, I've been homeless for the past few years (I reached a point where I had serious concerns about Protestant theology and identity, but have not come to the point where I'm capable of embracing the Orthodox or Catholic traditions).

Ryan, not only am I homeless with you, but I think this is a growing problem for our generation. For whatever reason (at least I get this sense from my reading), the last couple generations seemed fine with either discarding theological tradition completely or with toeing the line of their particular denominational camp. I haven’t been able to do either, and I am increasingly finding parts of Protestant theology to be unjustifiably modern and the remains of the Evangelical movement to be increasingly empty. The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions are growing more and more attractive, but I’m afraid I’m being attracted more by their aesthetics and liturgy than by their theology.*

 

Jesus is the Image of God, God with us, God revealed to us. We are told to identify with Christ, to follow his example, to adore and love him. But, as far as I'm concerned, the Gospels and Church tradition has generally done a very poor job of giving us a sense of Jesus the human. The Gospels and Church tradition preserve his teachings, but when it comes to knowing who the man behind the words was, it pulls a veil over our eyes.

Are we? I’d question how old the idea of “identifying with” really is. What does it really mean to “identify with”? I don’t ask this because I don’t like the wording. I ask because I question whether it is referring to a different idea. “To identify with” means “to feel that you are similar to someone and can understand them or their situation” (Cambridge Dictionary) or “to feel that you can understand and share someone else’s feelings” (MacMillan Dictionary). I certainly do not identify with Christ in this sense.

 

Yet, in spite of how I may be feeling, I do choose to associate myself with Him and His name. We are certainly told to follow Him, to love and adore him. I don’t believe following these commands is supposed to be easy. In fact, passages like Luke 6:46-49 seem to imply that there will be quite a bit of hard work involved. If the Gospels review God to us, it is only going to be by applying Christ’s teachings into actual practice. (John 7:16-17.) In other words, the teaching seems to be that we cannot know what Jesus the man is like without doing the things that He said, or, at least alternatively, watching someone else doing what He said to do. I’m not saying I’m good at this. Far from it. But I can say that I’ve seen glimpses, and it is always when I see someone really doing the hard work of loving someone else. Church tradition seems to tell us that we can also see Jesus by looking at the saints.

 

... But this strikes me as being at odds with the sense to which I've been asked to identify with him, to accept him as my representative. But in what sense can Jesus ever be a real person to me and not just a conceptual figure? ... But I cannot shake my sense that this is nevertheless a serious obstacle for Christian theology. At the very least, it is a serious obstacle for me.

I’m not sure, man, if these sorts of questions have any kind of final or comprehensive answers. Answering how Jesus can seem more real rather than conceptual may be a lifelong process of living. Some days, hours or moments are going to be more clear and powerful than others, and those may be the rare ones. I do think you are onto something that has been discussed before. It’s not a coincidence that Karl Barth insisted that the person of Christ and the work of Christ cannot be thought of as separate. From what I’ve read so far, Dietrich Bonhoeffer spent a great deal of time thinking about this as well. Your thoughts reminded me of a quote from Ethics:

 

“Christ did not, like a moralist, love a theory of good, but He loved the real man. He was not, like a philosopher, interested in the ‘universally valid,’ but rather in that which is of help to the real and concrete human being. What worried Him was not, like Kant, whether ‘the maxim of an action can become a principle of general legislation,’ but whether my action is at this moment helping my neighbour to become a man before God. For indeed it is not written that God become an idea, a principle, a programme, a universally valid proposition or a law, but that God became man. This means that though the form of Christ certainly is and remains one and the same, yet it is willing to take form in the real man ... Christ does not dispense with human reality at the expense of the real. What Christ does is precisely to give effect to reality.” (pg. 86.)

 

Art can somewhat bridge the gap, but art is a works of imagination, not inspired testimony.

At least based on standard Christian doctrine, including the doctrine of revelation, I couldn’t divide “works of imagination” from “inspired testimony.” Special revelation is “inspired” in the sense that Scripture is inspired. True. But that doesn’t mean General revelation cannot still be personal, or that God cannot speak from the General revelation to be found in the Arts.**

 

I don’t know if any of this helps. I don’t really feel like I have advice for you as much as I feel like I “identify with” what it sounds like you are saying and feeling. And know that others of us are thinking about these things too. I’m not sure we are told to “identify with” Jesus or “to accept Him as [our] representative.” I am sure that we are told to follow Him, do what He says and to be representatives of Him to others. I do not find this easy either to do or to understand.

What still has not worked out for me is I have a suspicion that we are told to find Jesus within “the body of Christ.” And, without investing in and belonging to a church, there is going to be a problem. The fact that I have not yet embraced a single Christian tradition is a fact that bothers me, and other friends I talk to are beginning to find the same situation to be a problem.

(Thanks for starting this thread.)

 

* Although, this may be a matter of theology that I just have not yet finished thinking through.

 

** The idea that the Christian doctrine of General revelation could include the Arts is still contrary to my evangelical upbringing, but it is increasingly a reason I am finding basic evangelical churches to seem shallow and preoccupied with tangents that have little to do with Jesus.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

In terms of theological tradition, I've been homeless for the past few years (I reached a point where I had serious concerns about Protestant theology and identity, but have not come to the point where I'm capable of embracing the Orthodox or Catholic traditions).

Ryan, not only am I homeless with you, but I think this is a growing problem for our generation. For whatever reason (at least I get this sense from my reading), the last couple generations seemed fine with either discarding theological tradition completely or with toeing the line of their particular denominational camp. I haven’t been able to do either, and I am increasingly finding parts of Protestant theology to be unjustifiably modern and the remains of the Evangelical movement to be increasingly empty. The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions are growing more and more attractive, but I’m afraid I’m being attracted more by their aesthetics and liturgy than by their theology.

I can certainly resonate with this, only from a different perspective--as an evangelical pastor, who also wrestles with my own theological (and methodological/cultural) frustrations and questions. I've chosen to stay within the evangelical culture, partly due to my heritage in it, and partly as some sort of annoyingly prophetic vocational call I have towards this subset of Christianity, a to desire lead within and redeem the good of evangelicalism while remaining ecumenical and generous with my orthodoxy and praxis. This often makes me a theological mutt of sorts, never quite fitting in with the evangelicals, but also seeming to be too "evangelical" for the mainline denominations. (Personally, I'm leaning more towards an Anabaptist theological paradigm, though the methods and practices of Anabaptists have proven to be quite diverse throughout history.)

 

Ryan, it's interesting that you bring up the humanity of Jesus, as I've been recently exploring this in a Christology class I'm taking. We've been looking at the history behind the creeds and the canonization of the Gospels. What's interesting to me is that the Gospel accounts portray a very human Jesus, who walked, talked, ate food (even after the resurrection, which has all sorts of potential implications, i.e. we may *need* to keep eating for sustenance in resurrected bodies), slept, was hungry and thirsty, wept, learned, etc. He was angry, anxious, sad, even fearful--the Gethsemane experience, when explored, is an affecting look at a man experiencing deep, all-encompassing trauma. If anything, for the early church to emphasize Christ's divinity, striking these stories and human examples from the Gospels would have been helpful to make Jesus seem more like our expectations of the Godhead. I'm beginning to see Jesus as more human the more I read the Gospels (especially the Synoptics. John, ever the poet, does emphasize the esoteric and transcendent more than the human Jesus...except when he doesn't).

 

I suppose I've seen Jesus as less of a cipher or a secret, and more as a mystery. Secrets remain hidden and locked; mysteries reveal, but are nevertheless paradoxical and often beyond our grasp. That could all be semantics, but I think there's something valuable to viewing Jesus as mysterious, while also recognizing him as approachable and relatable. So to address your main concern: are we to identify with Jesus? He certainly identifies with us. And he does say, as Jeremy pointed out, that we'll experience his love through his body, through community, to see the face of Christ in the Other.

 

I wonder--when you say you don't identify well with Jesus, are you also saying you don't identify well with the church, his body? (This is a genuine question, directed to myself too).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Attica   

Ryan H said: How can I be emotionally invested in the worship of a phantom? To love someone requires some level of intimacy with them, some modest level of understanding. I'd not expect to have that fully with anyone, but certainly the gulf could be narrower than Church tradition makes it.

 

I'm not sure if these thoughts are going to be helpful or if they are just describing another sort of "phantom", but as we know the very early church called themselves "the Way" before they were called "Christians." This was of course based off of Jesus saying "I am the Way the truth and the life."  Yet Jesus was in part, responding to an understanding of "the Way" that was already floating around, especially with far Eastern thought such as Taoism.  I believe that he was more or less saying "that Way that you are picking up on - that's me."  So, when people come to the place of mindfullness of "the Way" in the created order they are picking up on something tangible of Jesus.  When developed it becomes an increased communication and intimacy.  The Way seems to be connected to the Eastern Orthodox understanding of "uncreated energies" although I'm not entirely sure of that, or if so, how the connection lies.

 

But anyhow.  Speaking of Orthodoxy, it would seem that they have retained at least some understanding of "the Way" and in this, the similarities with Taoism (that's of course not to say that there are not also significant differences.)  

 

It would also seem obvious to me that true Christians who are mindful of the Way are going to begin picking up on a tangible communication and sense of Jesus that is not as fully available to others.  In other words he isn't just the person in the scriptures, he's the "living God."

 

-

 

On a similar note.  I just finished this book from a theologian who recently converted from evangelical Christianity to Eastern Orthodoxy, which is partially built on patristics.  I found it to be excellent and plan to share it with some of my Christian friends.  The book isn't as much about knowing Jesus the person, as much as it is about conveying the idea that God is like Jesus who of course was the "full expression of God."  

Edited by Attica

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't think the early Christians regarded my concerns with the same importance that I do. If they had, I suspect there would have been a more strenuous effort to address them. But I am not a first century Greek or Roman or Jew. I am a twenty-first century American, whose sense of self and the world is fairly different than those first century individuals, and if I am required to bend to that tradition, that tradition also has to do some bend a little to me.

Does it? I ask this honestly, not to argue with you, but because I really want to know. We know that our “sense of self and the world” is different from those who lived in the past. We also know that the Christian tradition claims to offer truths that transcend these different changing philosophical and cultural assumptions.

And yet, as far as that goes, whatever assumptions are necessary for Christianity are nonnegotiable for the believer. If rejecting any of these assumptions is required to hold to the modern, post-modern or post-post-modern "sense of self and of the world", then we are obligated to resist some of what it means to be “of” the twenty-first century. To describe this from one more angle, if Ancient or Medieval believers were able to experience and love Jesus in ways that our twenty-first century sense of the world does not allow, then ought not we to question the validity of how twenty-first century thinking is different from the past?  What is it about our twenty-first century assumptions that demands any "bend" from the Christian tradition?

 

How can I be emotionally invested in the worship of a phantom? To love someone requires some level of intimacy with them, some modest level of understanding. I'd not expect to have that fully with anyone, but certainly the gulf could be narrower than Church tradition makes it.

Just using this as one example. If naturalistic or Cartesian dualistic assumptions are true (if the mental/spiritual world is separate from the material/physical world), then there is a level of intimacy and understanding that is only possible in the flesh. In other words, there is a level of love and intimacy that the disciples possessed with Jesus in their earthly lives that we will never possess in ours. (John 20:29?) On the other hand, what if the Cartesian mind/body distinction is not true? If the Medieval/Thomistic sacramental view of the world is true, then the incarnated world that Christ made (including both Special and General Revelation) can lead us to know Him personally in this life.

I don’t think this means that doubt, or a felt distance from or strangeness of Christ, was not an experience for early believers. In fact, reading the Psalms seems to be evidence that felt absence of God was experienced B.C. as well as A.D.  Feeling the distance of God is a theme many of Christian theologian has wrestled with continually.

 

What still has not worked out for me is I have a suspicion that we are told to find Jesus within “the body of Christ.” And, without investing in and belonging to a church, there is going to be a problem ...

This is the "theologically correct" response, but, it, too, is unsatisfying.

Of course it’s unsatisfying! At least it is unsatisfying for you and I, in particular, because neither of us are doing it.

I also assume there will be dissatisfaction in the doing of it, since the church is full of imperfect human beings trying, unsuccessfully, to imitate Christ. But that unsatisfying assumption is still not a good excuse for not investing in and joining a local church.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Attica   

J.A.A Purves said:  And yet, as far as that goes, whatever assumptions are necessary for Christianity are nonnegotiable for the believer. If rejecting any of these assumptions is required to hold to the modern, post-modern or post-post-modern "sense of self and of the world", then we are obligated to resist some of what it means to be “of” the twenty-first century.

 

 

But which assumptions though?  Coming from which tradition?  I mean, when you look at the Christian traditions outside of the Roman Catholic/Protestant split then your looking at a Christianity that rejected Augustine's understanding of "original sin" and from there a very different sense of self and the world.  Or if you look outside of the Western tradition, like say into Eastern Orthodoxy, you'll find a tradition that has noted being uncomfortable with some of Aquinas' thinking, whom you've just touched on.  Or if you look into the Ethiopian Orthodox you'll find a different view of New Testament canon and the church.  Or into the Syrian Orthodox which seems to have retained some far Eastern Buddhist elements.  Of if you compare Eastern Orthodoxy, whom sees "the church" as mother and the "ark of salvation", to Celtic Christianity, whom sees "the Earth" as mother.  The list goes on.

 

All of these Christian traditions have a different view of self and the world even if they all have some common ground.

 

 

So, I would expect that each tradition would be able to bend to the world's new challenges, giving a sense of self in the world, in different ways.  Of course some Christians are attempting to move into the future by grabbing ahold of the best of each tradition (or what they think is the best.)  Whether or not that is viable is another question.  

 

 

This is of course not to say that we should get our sense of self and the world from post-modernism which has its own bunch of nonsense, but I think that we are coming to a place of re-considering the relationship between self and the world which the ancient church would never have dealt with, being our relationship with technology especially when it comes to transhumanism (I really think that this is going to be a challenge for Christianity - and there is stuff about it that troubles me.)  It would have been foreign to them.

 

It's Spirit that will help guide us with some of these things that are foreign to tradition.  Not that everything that has come before is bad.

 

Of course some traditions are more open to this than others.  

Edited by Attica

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×