Sunday, January 22, 2006

To be "like" Jesus...

Ever the effusive blogger, Anti-Blog provoked no small amount of thought with his most recent post (his 6th in only two years!). This is the kind of reflection that gets me out of bed in the morning - this is good stuff. So I have wrestled with Anti's thoughts for two weeks now, and I'm ready to respond with an opening salvo - hopefully something worth thinking about. I want to focus on one tenet of Anti-Blog's message: the assertion that, as human beings (qua human), we are created to reign and to rule, and called to follow the example of Christ in the exercise of this authority today.

This idea is not intrinsically unique - indeed, it is found in the very first chapter of the Bible, Genesis 1:26-28 - but it is often overlooked in more general conversations about what it means to bear the imago dei. Anti extends his idea to Jesus, invigorating Jesus as a "Second Adam" to include the idea that Jesus' authority over sickness, disease, and even the natural elements is not divinely derived (at least not immediately), but is rather a measure of his properly-ordered humanity. Anti asserts, "The authority Jesus wields is not Divine authority, in the sense of immediate Divine authority, rather, Jesus comes wielding mediated Divine authority, Adam’s authority, the authority that is the imprint, the Image of God."

Anti appeals to the famous Christ Hymn of Philippians 2 to exhort us to the same pattern - accepting our inate authority to rule and reign through an emulation of Christ and submission to the Will of God. With few qualifications, this is very standard Vineyard theological doctrine, and I myself articulate similar points in a recent paper on "loving as Christ loved." However, I was pressed by my professor to articulate more clearly what it means to "love as Christ loved," and it is this articulation that has caused me some concern. My professor's reservation is that failing to make proper distinctions between ourselves and Jesus risks blurring the distinctions between our roles and actions in the world and those of Jesus Christ. We are not Christ - we are not called to save the world from sin through the sacrifice of our blood, we are not innocent, we are not without sin, and we do not posess the Divine Word - the second person of the Trinity - in hypostatic union with our mortal flesh.

For my professor, this is not intrinsically a theological concern. As an ethicist, he is worried that we may seek to "love as Christ loved" by subverting ourselves in a manner that we are ultimately incapable of. We would be inappropriately submissive to others (a concern of feminist theologians that I share), or end up on a "cross" inappropriately and ultimately inefficaciously. Alternately, we may set ourselves up as "Christ figures," attempting to love as Christ loved, and in return, desiring the affection that only Jesus deserves.

If we are to emulate Jesus in all things, then why don't we all end up dead on a cross? I mean that quite literally. Would that be right? Why didn't all of the apostles follow Jesus in this? Why is it inappropriate for us to follow Jesus in the very act which gives us the freedom to follow him in the first place - His saving death on a cross? As I have meditated on these ideas over the past few weeks, I keep coming back to a central question: what does it mean to be like Jesus?

You see, while Anti-Blog (and many others) may be right, there are several things we must continually remind ourselves of when seeking to understand and emulate our Saviour. We are not Jesus. We will never be Jesus. We are not divine, we are not sinless. In Eden we may have been created to rule and reign, but we forfeitted our right to that crown in our disobedience in the Fall. It would be inappropriate (and likely sinful) for us to attempt to exercise authority we have ceded. Of course, part of this authority may be restored to us through redemption in Christ. But this is not following in Christ's footsteps - it is a response to Him. Jesus exercised this authority throughout His life. We may only (poorly) reflect it after the cross. As simul justus et peccator, we ought not attempt to exercise this authority until we are tranformed in the eschaton. Revelation 22:5 emphasizes this point when it speaks of us reigning with God in the end. That authority is not for today. Our theosis is only cosummated in the resurrection. While Christ reigns today and forever, only in the end will we join him and exercise the authority we were meant to have in Eden.

All of this is not to say that Anti-Blog is inherently wrong, or that the Bible does not speak in ways that suggests his assertions. But I keep running in to the concerns of my professor, and others from from my theologically conservative colleagues, who are quite concerned about the idea of attempting to literally "be like Jesus" in all things. My professor suggests an ethic that emphasizes learning to love because Jesus loved rather than constantly trying to love as Jesus loved. Since we are not God, we cannot (ontologically) loves as He does. I simply don't know how to respond to these concerns. Seriously reflection is needed to articulate an overarching hermeneutic of what it means to follow Christ. I think it is important. I think it is right. I think the Vineyard is onto something great when it emphasizes these things. But I think the concerns are right too, and I think they merit our attention and concern.

This is open call for ideas. I'm thinking about it too, but no solutions just yet. Contributions to the cause?

Grace & Peace

(You can hear Anti-Blog's sermon delivery of this piece here.)