Theological Docetism and the Postmodern Turn

One of my pastors (that guy listed as an author on this blog, you can guess which one right?) is doing a Sunday School class this year entitled “Foundations of Systematic Theology”. This morning he dealt with the two natures of Christ in one Person. He began with a brief survey of early errors in Christology regarding this subject. One of them, Docetism, stuck with me today as I thought about facts and appearances. What do I mean?

Docetism is the belief that Christ was divine, but only appeared human. We discussed in the class why this view is problematic. If Jesus only appeared human, then he didn’t really suffer on the cross. If he only appeared human, then he couldn’t be our represententative as the second Adam, couldn’t have experienced (and resisted) temptation in our stead, couldn’t have bled and died in our place.

I started thinking of a postmodern form of Docetism. What would that be, you might ask? The belief that the Bible only appears to record historical events and persons (i.e. Adam and Eve, Noah’s Flood, the extermination of the Canaanites, etc.) but in reality contains a boat load of myth and metaphor. Is there a historical narrative in Scripture you can’t stomach? Simple. It’s a myth. Maybe the early chapters of Genesis got you down? Easy. Metaphor.

It’s all in the appearances anyway, isn’t it?

Except that the Christian faith is based on actual historical events that are all tied together and cannot be separated. Consider 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul defends the resurrection on historical grounds, tracing sin all the way back to Adam. Verse 13 and following, “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.” Vs. 17, “and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” Seems like this historical event is important in the apostle’s view, doesn’t it? Vs. 21-22, “For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive.”

But, wait a minute (says the postmodern mind), Adam is a myth. A figurehead meant to illustrate a theological point. Hmmm. How can I assert a historical Jesus now?

Not sure. I’d like to know that myself.

Have an answer? Chime in…

C.M. Granger

Abiding: A Rich Theological Concept

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“Abide in Me…..abide in my word…..abide in my love”  (Jn. 15:4,7,9)

Certainly these words of Jesus are worthy of quiet and thoughtful meditation.  I have heard the concept illustrated by the example of staying under an umbrella during a storm.  God’s wrath against sin falls like rain upon the unbeliever, but the one who puts his faith and trust in Jesus abides under the protection of the only Savior and Redeemer.  This is a popular way of presenting the gospel, but is it accurate?

Not exactly.  Perhaps it’s a useful illustration, as far as it goes, but the biblical concept of abiding in Jesus is much more profound.  As believers, we are united to Him.  The scriptural imagery is that of the vine and the branch, not the rain and the umbrella.  It is vibrant, organic. living, deeply intimate.  

Abiding in Jesus means abiding in a relationship.  When used with the preposition “in” and a personal object, it points to the relationship of mutual indwelling of the Father, the Son, and the believer.  Just as the Father has loved Jesus, so Jesus has loved his disciples, and they are to abide in his love.  His life will manifest itself in their lives as they bear fruit, even as his works were the work of his Father.  Apart from him the disciples can do nothing, just as Jesus could do nothing apart from the Father (5:19, 30).  Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, pg. 2

We could put it this way, now that you’re in Christ as a believer… stay there.  We shouldn’t look back and forth as if something or someone better may come along.  We should be supremely satisfied with our Savior and find our peace resting in him.

Secondly, abiding in Jesus means abiding in what he has revealed.  We should stay in his word.  Never let the Bible become a dull book.  Never let the words of Jesus become distant memory.  Scripture is not simply words on paper, it is living and active.  It is a book that weaves knowledge and experience together, i.e. we gain additional light as God works in our hearts and lives to better understand the text.  Reading the Psalms as a new believer is a much different experience from reading them as a tried and tested saint, for example.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a verse over and over, only to come to a trial in my life in which I understand the same verse like I never have before. 

Thirdly, abiding in Jesus means abiding in the love with which he has loved us. That sacrificial love which the world cannot understand, and the believer cannot fully comprehend. Stay in that love which is so beautifully displayed in the cross, is characterized by self-denial, and shines forth in service to others. Rainy days and umbrellas are too mundane to illustrate such glorious concepts!

C.M. Granger

Jesus and Goats?

Jesus and Goats?

What is the Book of Leviticus All About Anyway? Part III

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  When you think of a goat, what is the first thing that comes to your mind?

For some people, goats conjure up images of curry and feasting.  Others may think of farms and sacrifice; or stubbornness and gluttony may come to mind.  If you are familiar with the deep-seated things of Satan, then ‘riding the goat’ may bring back fond fraternal feelings.  If you’re the type of person who associates goats with the words of Jesus, then you certainly want to be named among the sheep and NOT the goats.  But are we ever biblically justified to associate Jesus Himself with goats?

In the 16th chapter of Leviticus, Moses writes about how Aaron the priest is to enter the holy place with a bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.  Aaron had to offer the bull as a sin offering for himself and for his house.  But Aaron was also commanded to take two goats.  The first goat was to be killed for the people and he had to sprinkle its blood over the mercy seat – this was to make atonement for the people.    Aaron had to lay both hands on the second goat and confess all the iniquities, transgressions and sins of the people.  The goat was sent into the wilderness.  The Bible declared, “The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area.”

Again, lets not get lost in the minutia of the rituals.  Remember that in many ways, the book of Leviticus points to Jesus.  We can biblically justify associating Jesus with these goats in Leviticus.  Both goats point to Him.  Like the first goat, He died on the cross for our sins and the prophet Isaiah said that He bore our grief and He was crushed for our iniquities. His blood was applied to the mercy seat of God and we have been set free from the penalty of sin.  Like the second goat, He has removed our transgressions far from us.  BUT unlike those priests with his natural goats, who had to do this ONCE every year, He did this ONCE AND FOR ALL!  Praise God!

Next time you read Leviticus, keep Jesus in the forefront of your mind.

Brian L. Spivey