A Little History on Christology

The “Search for the Historical Jesus” began as a reaction to what many perceived as over-theologizing by Paul and the apostles, which moved Jesus from the man he was to the man that they wanted him to be. This thinly veiled attempt to demystify anything supernatural about Jesus ultimately did not get to the heart of the true Jesus. The most famous of these theologians Adolf von Harnack argued vehemently that this was not a matter of reducing Jesus, but in denying miracles as fact. He stated that there were no such things as “miracles,” because to those living in the first century everything was a miracle. After someone died, all seemingly “miraculous” things were attributed to him or her, whether they caused them or not. This appears to be completely contradictory to the gospels. Critics of this movement were many and agreed that the idea of this study, and its findings, was completely dependent upon the researcher.

In reaction to this liberal theological movement, two groups became increasingly popular. The “Christology from Above” theologians emphasized the risen Jesus, favored Paul and the apostles’ accounts over the Synoptic gospels, and argued that there was no proof needed for faith. Those who subscribed to “Christology from Below” believed that historical inquiry was not only possible but necessary in providing a clear basis for faith in rationality. Their basis for this was a belief in history as unitary; it could not be separated into the physical and the spiritual.

The inevitable problems with these two views are that they appear to be mutually exclusive. Those who argue Christology from Above rely heavily on feelings, and in their arguing for faith, rather than rational means, creates a sense that it cannot be known definitively if they have placed their faith in the wrong person. Their ignoring of the historical Jesus, especially the world in which He lived, makes understanding the words in the gospels difficult. The Christology from Below theology is no less problematic. It is hard to establish authority for Jesus before His resurrection. Continuously through the gospels He talks about the Father, claiming His authority. It is only after the Father intervenes and resurrects Jesus that it is obvious that Jesus receives the same level of authority through His connection to the Father. Furthermore, it is nearly impossible to determine completely the historicity of Jesus’ life. There is little information on His early life, and what is known of His ministry is from the gospels.

Ultimately, “faith is a gift of the spirit, not entirely based on reason.” Erickson offers an unlikely solution in his “Alternative Approach.” He suggests merging the two christologies by agreeing that revelation is made possible both by the historical events as they happened, but also by the interpretation of them. This makes it possible to have the Living Word as we know it. This allows theologians to pursue faith as a starting point to greater knowledge of God through reasoned search and revelation.

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