This post started as a comment and ballooned out of control… Anglicat is a conservative comrade who keeps us updated on Anglican doings in the Land of a Thousand Lakes (um yah yah!) and posted an exchange questioning the theology contained in a sermon by her bishop. Specifically, the question was whether his sermon on last Sunday’s text (the Canaanite woman) betrayed Arian tendencies.
While the bishop may be guilty of Christological errors (I’ve not seen the sermon) there’s not enough here to convict. Chalcedon says it’s a both/and, not an either/or. See–here’s the problem… Orthodoxy walks the line between Arianism and Docetism: the first, of, course being the notion that Jesus is a creation (perhaps the first, perhaps the best, but created none the less). The second is the notion that Jesus was, in fact so God that he only seemed (Grk: dokeo) human.
In my experience liberals will, consciously or not, not tend towards the first while conservatives often tend toward the second. One of the key problems with Docetism is that it leads to what Luther calls a Theology of Glory that fundamentally misses a Theology of the Cross (I’m thinking Heidelberg Disputation, nicht war?).
Whenever we get creeped out by an overly human Jesus—a Jesus who sweated, got stinky, took craps, etc.—we should fear that we’re wandering towards docetic territory.
I completely affirm Jesus’s full divinity. And I affirm his full humanity received through his ever-blessed mother. And that’s why I’m not ready to pounce on the bishop yet. If, as Holy Scripture affirms, Christ emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, did he access the divine foreknowledge within his divine nature or did he take the Incarnation seriously enough to truly set that aside in order to actually experience life as one of us? What I suggest in no way diminishes or compromises his nature, but instead explores the depths of his humility.
Speaking from where I sit (completely human), I don’t have foreknowledge. I don’t know how things will work out. I live in anxieties and hopes and consider these to be a fundamental part of what makes us humans human. I live in a body flawed by a fallen nature and hemmed by limitations of the flesh. The first is sin and is a defect caused by man’s disobedience; the second is not–it’s a by-product of created reality. The Incarnate Christ was without sin–but by its very definition Incarnation means accepting limitations. That is, created matter forces me to be localized in time and space. I sit in my basement; I can’t at the same time be standing outside because my physical body simply doesn’t allow it. (A resurrected body is an entirely different matter and is way outside the scope of this post…) So, what limitations came with the Incarnation as a consequence of taking on human flesh? Did Jesus choose to access the full knowledge of God proper to his divine nature or did he accept the limits of his senses and experience in line with the limitations of his human nature?
Where the rubber hits the road is the cross. Did Jesus know with complete certainty that God would raise him on the third day or does he provide us with the greatest example of faith—trust that God would fulfill his righteous promise? I as a frail human cling to the hope that Christ was acting in true faith, true hope, true love, and not as an actor who already has the full script and knows with certainty how it all comes out. A Jesus who knows with certainty that all he must endure is a day or so of pain, some rest, then the return to glorious splendor seems more docetic and less human to me than a man who—through trusting completely in God—faced torture and execution for what was good, true, and holy without certain knowledge of his exaltation.
All that is a long way to say this: Chalcedon gives us a Jesus who is completely human and completely divine. What did Jesus (fore)know and when did he know it? I don’t think Scripture tells us. My rule of thumb is that if the Scriptures, Creeds, and Councils don’t tell us, then we may acceptably hold positions that remain within those bounds, suitably guided by the writings of the Fathers. In that regard, I don’t personally have a problem with a “racist Jesus”. Indeed, I think I might even prefer a racist Jesus because the episode would once again reiterate the humility of our Master: a man sent from God (to use Johannine language–not denying his divinity…) who is willing to engage, listen to, and learn from an unclean foreign woman.