Re: Is Jesus God? (was: Is Jonah to be taken literally?)

From: Howard J. Van Till (
Date: Wed Aug 29 2001 - 19:19:55 EDT

  • Next message: George Hammond: "How Einstein and Hammond proved God exists"

    From: Peter Ruest:
    > In a response to James Stark, Vince Calhoun asked:
    >> > > Isn't there adequate evidence from scripture that Jesus was God
    >> > > and that we are called to worship Him?
    > Howard Van Till responded:
    >> > Interesting question, especially in light of the fact that it took the
    >> > early Christian community several centuries to take a definitive stand
    >> > on precisely this question. For more of the story, see Richard E.
    >> > Rubenstein's book, When Jesus Became God (Harcourt, 1999). From the
    >> > back jacket:
    >> >
    >> > "After almost three hundred years of persecution, Christianity made an
    >> > astonishing breakthrough in 324, when Constantine the Great became the
    >> > emperor of Rome. No longer fearing for their own survival, Christians
    >> > turned to the question of how to define what beliefs identified a
    >> > "true" Christian. Led by two charismatic priests=8BArius who preached
    >> > that Jesus, though uniquely holy, is less than God, and Athanasius who
    >> > argued that Jesus is God himself in human form=8Bthe debate over Jesus'
    >> > degree of divinity escalated from heated argument to violence and
    >> > bloodshed."
    >> >
    >> > Like many episodes in the history of the institutional Christian
    >> > church, this is a sobering story. What may seem so "obvious" to some
    >> > today is itself the product of human history, complete with all of the
    >> > shortcomings of human behavior. The Christian church is a thoroughly
    >> > human institution. Its historical decisions ought not be considered
    >> > beyond question.
    > Guy Blanchet answered Howard Van Till as follows (Sun, 26 Aug 2001
    > 07:44:06):
    >> You're confusing the Church of God with the Church of Rome. The arguing
    >> over whether or not Jesus was God was simply the beginnings of what the
    >> Chruch of Rome has come to refer to as Tradition. The Bible may
    >> clearly say something but Tradition may decide to 'rephrase' certain
    >> things to widen the road and give elbow room. That's what makes that
    >> institution a 'thoroughly human institution' as you say.
    >> One example of clearly established theological issues in the Bible is
    >> the deity of Jesus: "But about the Son (Jesus) he (God the Father) says:
    >> Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever." Hebrews 1:8. And
    >> that is only one of the many strong statements on this issue.
    > And Howard Van Till replied (Mon, 27 Aug 2001 08:33:36 -0400):
    >> Before I respond, let me be certain that I understand you correctly.
    >> (1) Are you saying that, of all Christian denominations, the Roman Catholic
    >> Church is the only one that might be described as a 'thoroughly human
    >> institution'?
    >> (2) Are you saying that "Tradition" (by which I presume you mean "binding
    >> ecclesiastical decisions") do not play a role in denominations other than
    >> the Roman Catholic Church?
    >> (3) What do you mean by "the Church of God"?
    >> (a) A specific denomination or set of denominations? If so, what are the
    >> criteria of selection?
    >> (b) A subset of members from several denominations? If so, what are the
    >> criteria of selection?
    >> (c) A set of persons, not necessarily members of any institutional
    >> church, who are committed to certain tenets of faith? If so, what are these
    >> tenets?
    > Peter Ruest: I shall be glad to read Guy Blanchet's answer.

    Peter, I sincerely hope that you will be disturbed by his treatment of the
    Roman Catholic Church.

    > Peter Ruest: But Howard's responses make me sad. I agree with him that "the
    > church is a thoroughly human institution" and "its historical decisions
    > ought not be considered beyond question", although I would add that the
    > Church of Christ is not _only_ a human institution. I don't dispute the
    > fact that some early Councils like Nicaea (325) formulated valid
    > expressions about Christ's nature. But that did not originate the truth
    > of his being God, nor Christians' belief in it, as can be seen in the
    > various New Testament formulations written down by earliest Christians
    > (under the guidance of the Holy Spirit). Nor do I dispute that, in the
    > centuries following the conclusion of the NT, there was much theological
    > discussion about these questions, escalating "from heated argument to
    > violence and bloodshed". But this just demonstrates that many of those
    > "Church" theologians had become sectarian by that time.

    And was this not the case in the first century?

    > And it
    > underlines that for Christians, the authoritative source of their faith
    > can only be the Bible, never tradition (contra Roman Catholicism).
    > Whatever statements later tradition formulated must be measured with the
    > yardstick of conformity to the (original) biblical texts.

    But isn't that what both Arius and Athanasius thought they were doing in the
    fourth century?

    > Of course, each biblical statement must be interpreted, and each
    > interpretation is a "tradition", and as such unreliable. Thus, we have
    > to be humble about our "readings" of the Bible.

    That's the spirit I was asking for.

    > Howard's request to specify what is meant by "the Church of God" is
    > somewhat mystifying.

    No need to be mystified. I was merely asking Mr. Blanchet to clarify what HE
    meant. His reply that he meant whatever Jesus meant was not helpful. Without
    further specification this response would appear to be little more than a
    claim of personal ownership of the higher moral ground.

    > Sure, the questions about denominations (1),
    > traditions (2), and the nature of the Church of God (3) are very
    > important. But they have, in themselves, nothing to do with the question
    > of whether Jesus Christ is God. The Bible alone settles this, without
    > any need of "historical decisions" by church councils.

    But are not disagreements regarding what the Bible requires often so intense
    that they need to be settled by church councils? Is there such thing as "the
    Bible alone" without interpretation?

    > I would answer
    > all of Howard's formulations with "No", even (3c) which comes closer to
    > what I believe to be clear biblical teaching. In (3c), I would replace
    > "committed to certain tenets of faith" by "born again", where a detailed
    > definition of what this means implies an extended Bible study

    And is it the case that all who engage in "extended Bible study," or all who
    declare themselves to be "born again," will come to the same conclusions? I
    would suggest that the evidence points strongly to the contrary.

    My purpose in entering this discussion was not to settle the issue, but to
    voice an objection to overstatements regarding the certainty or finality of
    some theological propositions, even of some that are deep in the Christian

    Howard Van Till

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Wed Aug 29 2001 - 19:29:36 EDT