welcome. why "weak on sanctification"?

this accusation is often made about lutheran christians. because we focus so strongly on god's justifying grace in christ, and our continual need, as "sinner-saints," to receive god's gifts of grace through word and sacrament, people say we are "weak on sanctification." i prefer to say we are strong on jesus, whose sanctifying work in our lives is the fruit of the gospel all along our lifelong journey. i would much rather focus on what he has done than on anything i might do.

the weekly discussion

each week I set forth a topic to promote discourse about some aspect of Christianity, the church, or the spiritual life. i would love to hear your perspective and thoughts on each week's subject. these discussions are usually posted on mondays, so if you missed this week's post and would like to catch up on the conversation, just scroll down and join us.

November 10, 2009

the weekly discussion—november 8

theology class time, friends. time to do your best "how many angels on the head of a pin" thinking. today's subject: the man christ jesus.

an interesting discussion is taking place on a site where i am a member. it involves christ's two natures, and particularly his humanity. in the athanasian creed christians confess:
For this is the true faith that we believe and confess: That our Lord Jesus Christ, God's Son, is both God and man.

He is God, begotten before all worlds from the being of the Father, and he is man, born in the world from the being of his mother -- existing fully as God, and fully as man with a rational soul and a human body; equal to the Father in divinity, subordinate to the Father in humanity.

Although he is God and man, he is not divided, but is one Christ.
in summary, jesus is both truly divine and truly human. one of the earliest heresies about jesus was the denial of his humanity (docetism). we still struggle today with grasping how god could "empty himself" (philippians 2.5-11), take on human flesh, and live among us as a full human being while at the same time remaining fully divine.

here are a few questions that michael spencer asked the group today to consider. how would you answer them? how do you conceive of jesus' human nature?
  1. How did Jesus’ brain develop? Did the development of his brain impact his understanding of himself and his world?
  2. Jesus lived in the social thought-world of the ancient near east. Did he transcend that thought world or did his incarnation place him completely in the boundaries of that thought world?
  3. Did Jesus miss any questions on the test? Did he have to study?
  4. Did Jesus use tools to measure in his carpentry work? Or did he just know what to do?
  5. Did Jesus, in his incarnation, know things about biology, astronomy and cosmology that were completely ahead of his time? For instance, did Jesus know that the sun did not orbit the earth?
  6. Did Jesus understand diseases and conditions from within the understanding of a first century man or did he know the actual medical/biological nature of diseases and conditions that were commonly blamed on demons or God’s punishment?
  7. Did Jesus know about viruses and contagious disease? Did he know the nature of mental illnesses like schizophrenia? Did he understand brain tumors, etc? If so, did he explain these things or did he respond to them within a first century understanding?
  8. Were Jesus questions real questions? Or were they all rhetorical?
  9. If Jesus did not have exhaustive divine knowledge as a human being, does this impact our view of him as God incarnate?
  10. If the Father reveals to Jesus some things that other men did not know, does this mean that Jesus had, available at any time, exhaustive knowledge of the future, science, geography, etc?
makes you think, doesn't it?

i'd love to hear your contribution. you don't have to be a theologian to participate. just talk to us how you think about jesus as the god-man, fully human and fully divine, and what that meant for how he thought, grew, and lived while among us.

today's van gogh
ward in the hospital in arles, 1889


  1. To tell you the truth, I don't feel comfortable asking or answering questions like these. I'm not anti-intellectual; I guess I'm content that the "how" of the Incarnation remain a mystery -- it seems safer that way and less likely to lead to nuttiness and heresies. I don't know that I'm right about this, it may just be my personal bias or weakness.

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  3. damaris, for the most part i'm with you. but i do think it would be interesting to get a glimpse into some folks' minds on this, I thought, was an interesting questions to measure the status of theologicial thinking among evangelicals today.

  4. I agree that these are not questions that can be answered without a host of disclaimers essentially repudiating the answer. We try to answer these questions pinched between two unknowns: what does it mean to be fully man, and what does it mean to be fully God? I reach an impasse at the first question--thankfully, almost, because I can't approach the second.

    However, I don't think it is at all a question of angels dancing on heads of pins--this is where angels fear to tread. It's quite a serious matter. I think that if Christians do not examine this question, they run the risk of believing the Incarnation the way most of us believe in the French Revolution--by rote, as a clash of abstract ideologies--or worse, not really believing in the Incarnation at all. The Incarnation is a mystery, but it also happened.

    Believing in the Incarnation demands a belief that some of these questions could be answered by some people, whom we hold to be historical figures. Mary, for instance, knew the answer to question #1: she watched her son grow up, learn that the doggy is not a kitty, etc. And, knowing a little bit about cognitive development, it doesn't really make any more sense to suppose that Jesus came into the world with full (and flawless) mental faculties than it does to suppose that he had adult strength when he was born, or that he wasn't really struggling under the weight of the cross as he carried it to Calvary. There are, of course, those times when Jesus exhibited supernatural knowledge, as with Nathanael under the fig tree and his prediction of Peter's denials and his own death, but was his knowledge constant? Why would Jesus know the etiology of disease? Even if he knew leprosy was caused by a bacterium, I think we all agree he wasn't treating it with Clofazimine.

    More fundamentally, though--isn't ignorance a defining characteristic of humanity? Adam and Eve were innocent in ignorance. The usual inclination in talking about Jesus being fully man and fully God is to consider him God and fill in the gaps with little patches of "man-ness," but that's not orthodox, nor is it orthodox to say the Jesus had intermittent Godhood (selective omniscience).

    So there it is, a total mess. I'm with Demaris insofar as I won't make conclusions, nor defend any of it as more than an exercise--there is room for contention on just about every point I've mentioned. But I think it ought to be thought about, if for nothing but a glimpse of the complexity of our creedal claims.

  5. I agree, Anna, but all the speculation should be attended with reverence and humility and should take place only within the fence of the historic creeds. I think that's what you're saying, too.