In the ancient world, there were formal ways of putting forth ideas in the academic sections of the community. An idea was proposed, it was presented and open to critical analysis where opposing solutions were suggested and then it would often eventuate in a combining of ideas that might satisfy most parties concerned. This is the dialectic. A thesis is put forward. An antithesis is the response and a synthesis or a combining of the thesis and antithesis, or a blend of ideas might be the result. It is like skiing down a hill moving left to right from thesis to antithesis but progressing forward to a synthesis. In a nutshell, Christian theology does not work like this. When it moves into this style of discussion, all it does is divide and conquer, exponentially creating disunity over time causing unnecessary confusion on the ground. Usually a thesis will begin with a set of propositions. The antithesis will challenge the propositions of the thesis. Then a synthesis will try and blend the thesis and antithesis to form a synthesis combining the two sets of propositions.
Christianity is unlike any other belief system in the world. It is not a dialectic. It is the Word of God who is in union with the Father, God of God, Light of Light of the same being with the Father as it says in the creed, who came to us as man for our sake and for our salvation. Jesus Christ is the Thesis. This is God putting Himself forward into such a way of being, that is, human being, so that God, as this human being, could minister the things of Himself to His fellow human beings. Careful human logical and deductive reasoning could not and did not match the pure disclosure of God’s self communication to us. He is the True God who ministers the Truth of Himself for which no other human being has access to. As He approached His own, the nation of Israel acted as an antithesis to God trying every way they could to undermine the credibility of the claims regarding Himself, even in the light of the extraordinary signs and wonders! It is quite remarkable that we have such clear testimony of the kind of people who opposed Jesus Christ in the Scriptures, though confronted with Yahweh Himself, through their own entrapment, could not untangle themselves from the pride of their own carefully devised knowledge and see the Truth before their very own eyes. The modern Church read the very same Bible as I do. Yet, this entrapment by the pride of their own knowledge, they are also often blinded by the clarity of Jesus Christ in the Scriptures. The only antithesis to what is portrayed through the Person and work of Jesus Christ as disclosed through the Scriptures is unbelief.
Jesus Christ plain and simply is God’s self-communication to His creatures. Jesus Christ is everything the Father is except the Father. There is nothing hidden from Jesus Christ in regard to the true nature of who the Father is. It is with the understanding that no one knows the Father except Jesus Christ and no one knows Jesus Christ except the Father who are so unique in their singular nature with one another. However, they are determined that the ways and works of God be disclosed through Jesus Christ (Matt 11.27 cf. Luke 10). There is only one Person of Jesus Christ, who is God made man. There is NO antithesis. We as creatures of the Creator are in no position to put to question who Jesus Christ declares Himself to be. The only choice we have is to repent of our own ideas of who God is and to agree with all that Jesus Christ says. The rock-solid fact remains is there is no one or no group of people who have such clarity on the true nature of God as God Himself, Jesus Christ. He is the Person among persons where no other person is internal to the Being of God. What Jesus Christ communicates in His humanity is straight from the heart, centre and is internal to the very Being of God. This is the very foundation that all Christian theology must be built from.
It is the Word of God who lays down the and so-called “propositions” regarding Himself. Now these propositions cannot be challenged. All we can do is to listen and learn from Him. If we truly declare Jesus is indeed the Son of God, the Word made flesh and dwelt in us, then we follow His lead on the things of God. With Jesus Christ, there is no other God. The one nature of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is fully disclosed in Jesus Christ. Therefore there is no other reference point for which we can obtain the ways and works of God, not even in part. When the gospel started to make inroads into the ancient world, the disciples of Jesus Christ declared Him to be the only True God. In saying so, they were met with pagan ideas regarding who God was from the Mediterranean community. To their astonishment, Christians would not buy into their ideas or even consider negotiating a synthesis that would please both parties. As far as the Christians were concerned, God came, He spoke, He acted as this Man, Jesus Christ. It was not there place to negotiate any concessions, even though the wider community could not accept that an Incarnation of a Deity was every likely to happen. Furthermore, it was ludicrous that a Deity could allow Himself to be put to death, let alone rise from the dead. Therefore, the pagans saw many flaws with the message according to their own worldview and were perhaps with all sincerity, wanted to make a few adjustments.
There are subtle tendencies to treat Jesus Christ as if He is not quite as divine as the Father or not quite as human as we are. The battle through the early centuries of the church largely centred around the divinity/humanity issue of the Person of Jesus Christ and are even raging to this day. The question that is often at stake here in modern evangelicalism is, “If Jesus Christ is truly divine, then what kind of humanity did He assume at the Incarnation?” Or, “If Jesus Christ is truly human as we are assuming with it all the faculties, emotions and feelings as well as a body and a soul, then how could the impassible God take on such passible attributes? How could the most Holy God take on that which is most unholy.” Even though this is an event in history having happened precisely as the Scriptures have testified, there is this same confusion as in Nicodemus, “How can this be?” Or, as the Jews often asked Jesus, “How can you a mere man claim equality with God?” Rather than treating the Incarnational event as the miracle of the Spirit of God displaying the mystery of His power, solutions are sought to try and address these concerns disregarding the fact that this Thesis is presented, articulated and delivered by the God Himself in Person as the man, Jesus Christ. Athanasius is correct when he says the right question to ask is, “Why have you being God, become man?”
Much of Western evangelical theology treat God as if He is not free to do certain things. That is, God is not free to go outside of Himself to become what He is not, while remaining what He is. Logic and causality suggests that if God goes outside of Himself to be what He is not, then He might forfeit what He is. Becoming what He is not without forfeiting what He is is precisely what has happened in the Incarnation. The Word of God who is of the same Being with the Father expressing His very heart and nature as a lover of humanity (φιλανθτωπία), loved us so much that He was made man as an act of His own free will, taking on all that we are in all aspects of our humanity so that we might become all that He is, adopted as children of God by grace.
But when the kindness of God our Saviour and His love for mankind (φιλανθρωπία) appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
The event of the Incarnation is of astounding utterly staggering significance. The mere fact that Jesus Christ has a scar on His belly is as significant as the scars on His chest, hands and feet. Though Christ humbled Himself and lowered Himself to the form of a servant taking on all that we are, it was only so because it was humanity that was in need of exaltation. By the exalted One emptying Himself and taking on the form of a servant, i.e. taking on flesh, resulted in our flesh being immediately exalted to share in the life of the exalted One. In the Incarnation, the Sanctifier and those who are being sanctified are all from “one” Father (Hebrews 2.9-18). All the children of the Father are being sanctified in the Person of Jesus Christ.
Let us consider another aspect of the self-emptying of Jesus Christ. The wisest of our wisdom is but foolishness to God (1Cor 3.19). So the median intellectual capacity for humanity to be wise is fairly poor. Yet God communicated to us within our intellectual disability the things of Himself giving us clarity on the ways and works of God. It is like us adults talking like a toddler so that toddlers could understand what we are talking about. That is how far He condescended Himself out of pure love for His children (φιλάνθρωπος). So Jesus Christ took on our intellectual disability and spoke through our intellectual disability the ways and works of God. In providing us with a language on our level, this language enabled us to shame those who believe they know better than the Thesis. Articulating to the world the language provided by God is to declare like God declared to us (ὁμόλογος i.e to say the same thing). Even though we are immoral and unethical, God’s mercy is such that He teaches how to be pious by teaching us to speak the things of God (θεοσεβείας i.e. godliness). I believe as we learn to speak the very same things of God as God has spoken to us as the man Jesus Christ, our fruit will be the way we treat each other. Karl Barth says grace is holiness in action. The gospel is such that our holiness and piety is more based on saying the same as Jesus Christ than our right and wrong actions (θεοσεβείας i.e godliness).
Through the subtle nuances in the language of Augustine and Tertullian due to their philosophic and legal backgrounds, respectively, the significance of the Incarnation as outlined by Athanasius was severely eroded. Instead of the utterly staggering union of God and sinful humanity in Jesus Christ, this process was shifted to external conditional clauses taking a greater prominence than the Incarnation itself. The legal judicial framework became the foundation for which theology was mapped out. Our outlook of the gospel takes on a worldview through the philosophical, legal style of ethics and morality. Instead of being declarers of the mercy of God over our morality and ethical behaviour, we become ethical and moral police over our society telling people what they can and can’t do. Redemption in its entirety, which includes all aspects of atoning expiation, priestly propitiation, and substitutionary sacrifice and victory over the forces of evil, is undertaken within the humanity of Jesus Christ from His birth to His resurrection and ascension. What we are left with in much of evangelical theology are false problems created that don’t even exist. Thus the whole range of false solutions are created usually around the sin problem. For example, pressure is often put on a congregation to undertake a process of sanctification so they may become more holy in their Christian journey. With the Spirit’s help, it is believed that we should strive to sin less and less and our relationship with God becomes closer and closer. This is an invented problem for which a false solution has been provided. We are as holy towards the Father as Jesus Christ is holy. The Sanctifier and those who are being sanctified are “one.” Thus our sanctification has been carried out in the life and work of Jesus Christ from the Incarnation and the Resurrection through to the ascension. There is nothing we can do to be any closer to God that we are right now.
If Jesus Christ is the Thesis, how on earth do we learn to conform within the boundaries of the Person and work of Jesus Christ? This is why we are so committed to the ancient church. When they had to deal with the various heresies through the first 6 centuries, the fathers had to draw on the knowledge of various people previous to them stretching all the way back to the Apostles themselves. Most heresies have a Gnostic flavour to them where the divinity and the eternal nature or the humanity of Jesus Christ was undermined. In the Gospel, God freely becomes man and dwells in us, becoming what He is not without compromising who He is in Himself. He was all God and all man. He was God with the very same being and nature as the Father while at the same time He was human taking on our being and nature and making it one with Himself. This mysterious truth had to be held together at all costs so that the integrity of the gospel message could be preserved. The heretics would try to make what they considered minor adjustments by stating their antithesis and proposing a synthesis. So they stated unbelief and proposed a mixture of belief and unbelief as a solution. These minor adjustments were in reality a severe threat to the whole gospel. When we read these documents of the ancient church fathers, we find how they dealt with each of these heresies. We also find tremendous unity in how they articulated the Thesis, the Person of Jesus Christ. This is how we can learn about Jesus Christ as He was understood in the ancient world. In my opinion, Athanasius is a great place to start. His theology is consistent with those in the second century such as Irenaeus and was upheld after him until around about the 7th century when ideas foreign to the gospel started to creep in and take hold. From here on, the gospel started to take on a shape different to that first put forward by the Apostles. These ideas foreign to the gospel become such a part of mainstream evangelicalism that when we declare such a gospel as was declared in the ancient church, what is true to the nature of God in the Person of Jesus Christ, it is looked upon with grave suspicion and this rule of Faith is considered a heresy.
Now we have Jesus Christ, the Thesis, sent directly by God, who being God Himself, to speak on His own behalf, all the ways and works of God. In Him I see all that God is, understanding the true nature and character of who God is as Father, Son and Spirit. The Rule of Faith lies in Jesus Christ who is the Truth of all Truths. It is filled out to the outer reaches of time and space and is far beyond are ability to fully comprehend, even though we apprehend Him and participate in Him. Jesus Christ is the God Incarnate (ἐνανθρώπησις) showing Himself to be a friend and lover of humanity (φιλάνθρωπος) and we need to show reverential respect to all that He says regarding Himself who is the precise representation of the Father’s being. Therefore if Jesus Christ is the lover and friend of humanity, then the Father is also equally the friend and lover of humanity. Likewise, the Spirt is the Lover and friend of humanity.
Soren Kierkagaard says as a result of the uniting of creation and redemption as well as incarnation and atonement there has been what he describes as a “teleological suspension of ethics” where the moral order is now in God Himself. It does not mean there is now freedom to be immoral and unethical. Rather, it is God in Christ reconciling the world to Himself not counting our sins against us, in spite of our sinful moral and ethical condition. It chops down the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and is replaced by Jesus Christ the Tree of Life. We are adopted children of God and given the status as sons and daughters of God while we knew nothing of what was going on. What is deemed the right ethical and moral action is completed in the Person and work of Jesus Christ who, in His humanity, He stood in the place and on behalf of every single human being and presented us as spotless before the Father. Thus, our union with the Triune God is the foundation of stone of which we are whole Christian life flows from. It comes from God to us. Trying to create an ethical and moral order is building a different foundation and to measure people against it is goes agains the flow of life.
If we truly understand the nature of Jesus Christ as the exact representation of the Father’s being, then we begin to see our union as set and sealed in His blood. We are grounded in Him with the eternal love that springs from deep within us as rivers of living waters. In addition, we start to see all human beings as grounded in Jesus Christ and they are therefore our brothers and sisters. Such is the generosity of God is that He has shown the hand of loving friendship in peace and goodwill. What we have freely received, we freely give.