My preparation for our next Doctrine Study Day on the incarnation (details here) has involved reading texts in the Chalcedonian tradition from 5th – 7th centuries and from modern analytic theology – the likes of Maximus the Confessor, Thomas Morris (okay, not quite Chalcedonian), Oliver Crisp, and Timothy Pawl. As I work through this material I am asking myself what to include in the study day itself. Some of the argumentation is very technical and it is easy to imagine someone asking ‘Why are you inflicting this on us?’, at least inside their heads and on their faces if not aloud. Why indeed?
Around the same time, I saw an article online advocating fitting our language to our audience when we preach. That makes a lot of sense, but I’m not entirely convinced because part of a preacher’s job is surely to stretch his hearers in their engagement with good teaching, and that sometimes means expanding their vocabulary, as ours has been expanded and is being expanded. Becoming a Christian does mean learning a new language and we should not presume that someone who is less formally educated cannot grasp it and so leave their language alone by simply mirroring it. Nevertheless, the prep and the article (and the looming first outing of the day) have got me thinking through how I can explain the point of teaching technical Christological material. Why, we may wonder as we read about enhypostatic humanity and the reduplication of predicates, should we bother with such obscurities?
In the midst of reflecting on that question I have been greatly encouraged (in a sad way) by stumbling across an article by a minister that quotes some verses from Philippians 2 and then states that in the incarnation Jesus emptied himself of his power, wisdom, omnipresence, and ‘other divine attributes’. This is heresy, because it means that Jesus was not fully God. With teaching like this at large we desperately need to go deeply into Christology.
On a more positive note, Christology matters because it is a description of the Jesus we worship. Do we care who he is? God certainly does: it is the will of the Father that we honour the Son, not any old Son however we might fancy thinking of him, or some Son cobbled together when we summon up a modicum of mental energy to do a bit of desultory thinking toward a half-baked Christology. Whether on a study day or from the pulpit, we have a responsibility to plumb the depths of the best Christological work that we can find and to convey as much of it as we can – even daring to stretch ourselves and others beyond the words we already know and the concepts we already understand.