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

Date: Thu Aug 30 2001 - 15:17:09 EDT

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    "Howard J. Van Till" wrote:
    > 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.

    Howard, having only read his statements I quoted in my last post and
    what he answered you on 29 Aug 2001, I should like to first ask you why
    exactly I should be disturbed - otherwise there may be too much danger
    of unwarranted suppositions on both sides.
    > > Peter Ruest: But Howard's responses make me sad. I agree with him that "the
    > Christian
    > > 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?

    I didn't exclude the first century, just the biblical authors (being
    > > 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?

    I don't know them sufficiently, but I am not suggesting they were not
    both thinking they were doing this. What I am saying is that their
    statements (as well as ours) must be measured with this same biblical

    > > 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.

    This sounds to me like an unjustified allegation - unless you know more
    of him than I do. But I agree that his response (which I read only after
    I sent my last post) is short - shorter than what I expected. But at the
    beginning of his post, he indicated that George Murphy had sort of cut
    him short. This seems to have kept him from going into details. I
    understood that you were asking him to clarify his position, but I
    assumed - perhaps erroneously - that you meant your list of suggested
    answers to be exhaustive. Please forgive me if I misinterpreted what you
    > > 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 have never claimed that there is such a thing as "'the Bible alone'
    without interpretation". But certainly, church councils cannot be more
    authoritative than the Bible. We must not be persuaded by what they say,
    unless we are first persuaded that it agrees with what God revealed in
    his Word. Church councils, as such, cannot settle anything, no matter
    how much disagreement there is concerning what the Bible requires. That
    means that there may be cases where we honestly don't know whose
    interpretation is the right one. But I am persuaded that God does not
    leave us in doubt regarding the questions He considers important for us.
    Don't you think the divinity of His Son does belong to this set?
    > > 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.

    Have I ever claimed such a thing? What I wrote just means that I would
    probably have to work for at least several days and write several pages
    to give an answer to your question (3c) which might perhaps be
    satisfactory - and even that may not satisfy some.

    > 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
    > tradition.
    > Howard Van Till

    There are fundamental differences between different propositions. I
    assume they cover the whole spectrum from quite irrelevant to absolutely
    vital for salvation. Irrelevant questions may be left aside without
    quarreling, but vital questions must be settled by each one of us
    personally (in community and dialog with others who want to follow
    Jesus) - and not just as intellectual propositions, but as attitudes of
    the heart. And again, it's not a question of "Christian tradition", but
    of God's revelation. Vince Calhoun's propositions that "Jesus was God"
    and that "we are called to worship Him" can certainly not be overstated,
    even if many people oppose them. We must not evade the question of truth
    for the sake of pleasing others (this I say as a general statement, not
    as being directed against you!).

    Peter Ruest

    Dr Peter Ruest, <>
    CH-3148 Lanzenhaeusern, Switzerland
    Biochemistry - Creation and evolution
    Creative providence in biology (Gen.2:3):
    "..the work which God created (in order) to (actively) evolve it"

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