Orthodox christology has insisted on both the full deity and humanity of Jesus Christ. In practice, however, the emphasis has fallen on the “fully divine.” Jesus’ humanity has usually been used to anchor his story in first century a.d. Palestine and to highlight his solidarity with us viz-a-viz his human energies and emotions. Liberal christologies did more justice to his humanity and its normative or at least insistently exemplary character. Unfortunately, it did so at the cost of rendering the “fully God” side of the statement opaque or non-existent. I want to suggest that if we take both the Orthodox and liberal views seriously we can fashion a more adequate and fully Orthodox christology.
The orthodox insistence on the full humanity and deity of Jesus Christ is, in my judgment, well-founded though often its execution leaves something to be desired. Liberal christologies contribute that “to be desired” element by raising the human Jesus sans or with a heavily qualified deity to normative exemplary status. If we take this emphasis and import it into both elements of Orthodox christology we can expand it to read: “fully and truly human, fully and truly divine.”
To put it coarsely, Jesus Christ is a human being who is the human being as intended by God; he is also and at the same time God as God is. Since Karl Barth a number of theologians have wrestled seriously and fruitfully with the “God as God is” aspect of Jesus. Fewer have explored the “human being as intended by God” aspect. But if he is “fully and truly human,” his life and teaching about life exemplify normative humanity.
To illustrate, let’s take the Beatitudes. These “blessings” Jesus gives his followers show the kind of people he intends to have as his people in a world still-not-yet-fully-redeemed in which they face resistance from within and hostility from without. However, if we could formulate these blessings as they would be without the elements of resistance and hostility, I believe we could capture a vision of the normative humanity God intended for us from the beginning and will bring us to in the end. Below I have given the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-11 using the CEB translation) followed by my attempt to state what kind of person God intends humans to be.
3“Happy are people who are hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
Truly human people live in radical dependence on God for everything
4 “Happy are people who grieve, because they will be made glad.
Truly human people live in joyous gratitude for the wholeness and well-being of all God’s creatures and creation.
5 “Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth.
Truly human people gladly live for God, with God, and by God’s will in everything.
6 “Happy are people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, because they will be fed until they are full.
Truly human people practice exquisite attentiveness to the well-being of others.
7 “Happy are people who show mercy, because they will receive mercy.
Truly human people are generous beyond measure with others in every aspect of life.
8 “Happy are people who have pure hearts, because they will see God.
Truly human people live with undivided hearts and indefectible loyalty to God.
9 “Happy are people who make peace, because they will be called God’s children.
Truly human people make harmony with God and others and top priority.
10 “Happy are people whose lives are harassed because they are righteous, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
Truly human people share God’s passion for right relations in every area of life.
11 “Happy are you when people insult you and harass you and speak all kinds of bad and false things about you, all because of me. 12 Be full of joy and be glad, because you have a great reward in heaven. In the same way, people harassed the prophets who came before you.
Truly human people know and relish their “family” history in God and God’s people.
This, I believe, is where God intended to take us as we grew and matured with him from creation onwards. That intent got high-jacked and turned on its head by our unfathomable refusal to be such beings and inexplicable rebellion against God. Thus Jesus came to live out this kind of humanity in that kind of world. And it looked like just what we find in the Beatitudes and, indeed, throughout his life and death on the cross. Jesus calls and empowers each of his followers to live his kind of life in our kind of world too.
When redemption is fulfilled and God’s kingdom comes, we will finally experience life as God intends it, free of all resistance and opposition. And I believe that life will take the shape outlined above. And that is what I mean by an orthodox Christology that sees Jesus as “fully and truly human”!