The New Christology
Three issues ago we quoted from the RES Newslettera report which demonstrated how a Dr. H. Berkhof from the Netherlands denied the divinity of Christ. The quotation showed how Dr. Berkhof criticized the old Chalcedonian Creed for its “Greek/Hellenistic thought”; how we must think of Christ in terms of “function”; i.e., we must ask not what something is, but what something does. What does Jesus as liberator do in our world? The article quoted Berkhof’s personal confession on the matter in these words:
You are the true man, as God intended man to be from the beginning: the true obedient Son, the man of love, the one who was willing, taking the full consequences, not to maintain his life, but to lose it for others, and who by that exceptional life of love and obedience started in our world the counter movement of resurrection.
In an article which appeared in Christianity Today Dr. Klaas Runia discussed this article as representative of “a new Christology” which was becoming more generally accepted. In this article Runia defends Chalcedon somewhat and argues forcibly against this new Christology. He particularly points out that “the crux of the matter is that those who advocate this new Christology hold a different view of Scripture.” This different view of Scripture is the approach of modern, liberal, higher criticism which “starts with the historical Jesus, as portrayed in the Synoptic Gospels.”
We have no disagreement with Runia on his criticism of this new Christology, of course. But there were two or three thoughts which passed through our minds as we were reading Runia’s article. And they seem important enough to comment on them. There is a tendency in the article to find as much good in Berkhof as is possible. This is not something unique to Runia; this is rather characteristic of many writers who offer critiques of liberal and modern theological innovations. An example of this follows:
Berkhof puts it thus. The early Church in Palestine wrestled with the question of who Jesus is. In the New Testament we see that they attributed many titles to Jesus: Son of man, Messiah, Son of God, Word, Lord, and others. But no one of the titles can say everything. Jesus does not offer a Christology; he offers himself. And He invites us to find the name by means of which we can confess what he means to us.
Runia comments on this as follows:
With much of this we can agree. It is indeed the duty of today’s Church to say in words of this day what Jesus means to us. . . .
There is, of course, no question about the fact that the Church always has the duty to express the truth of the Word of God in the current usus Zoquendi. But that is not the point here. Berkhof denies the very fundamental doctrine of Christ’s divinity and speaks only of what Christ means to us. The question of Who He is, is of no significance. Yet Runia tries to find points of agreement and seeks to put the best possible interpretation on some of Berkhof s remarks. I do not know if this common tendency is in the name of politeness, or what; but the fact remains that if a heretic denies such a fundamental doctrine, there is nothing good to say about his writings.
In the second place, Runia discusses Berkhof’s criticism of Chalcedon. He writes:
The Church has never claimed that Chalcedon was the final word. The formula of Chalcedon was no more than a feeble attempt to indicate the mystery of Jesus’ being in words and concepts that were familiar in those days. It would therefore be incorrect to assert that we may not say it differently. But we are not allowed to say less than Chalcedon. If we want to do full justice to all biblical data we cannot go back behind Chalcedon (and Nicea).
This strikes me as an incorrect appraisal of Chalcedon. There are, it seems to me, several elements which Runia has ignored. The first is that Chalcedon was not simply interested in attempting “to indicate the mystery of Jesus’ being in words and concepts that were familiar in those days.” They were very much interested in setting forth in creedal form the doctrine of the natures and person of Christ over against the heresies of their time. This they did in a beautiful and remarkably Scriptural way. The fact that the creed may have been written in language used in that day is altogether irrelevant. It was, obviously, a necessary fact. But it was not something consciously done to make some sort of testimony, in current language, of what Jesus meant to them. All their efforts were concentrated on setting forth what Scripture said.
Secondly, it is highly questionable whether it is possible for the Church today to go beyond what Chalcedon said on this doctrine. It is true we are not allowed to say anything less. But it is also true, it seems to me, that it is highly unlikely we shall be able to say anything more. There are, as I see it, two reasons for this. The first is that the very importance of the subject necessitated a decision which was all but exhaustive of the Scriptural teachings on the subject. The doctrine of Christ stands as the rock up on which the whole Church is built. Peter’s confession in Ceasarea Philippi that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God was the rock upon which Christ would build His Church. That rock had to be put into place. Chalcedon, by means of the guidance of the Holy Spirit, did that.
In the second place, history has proved that the Church has never moved beyond the creed of Chalcedon. Runia himself admits this. Many doctrines are developed throughout the whole history of the Church of Christ. The creeds of Nicea and Chalcedon have not been so developed. Not even the Reformers nor the great theologians of the immediate Post-Reformation Period could add anything to what Chalcedon has said. Any attempt over the years to add to Chalcedon has proved to be a denial of Chalcedon and of the truth of Christ. It stands yet today as the confession of the Church of Christ. It strikes one as a bit presumptuous that today’s weak theologians can even suggest the possibility of improving on Chalcedon when the greatest theologians in the history of the Church have not done so.
Finally, we are somewhat disturbed by the relative weakness of Runia’s criticism. We do not mean to suggest that he is not critical. He is. He objects strenuously to the new Christology. But the apostle John has some strong things to say about those who deny the truth of Christ. “Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father.” I John 2:22-23. “And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world?” I John 4:3. “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.” II John 9-11.
Runia speaks of the fact that we shall perhaps have to tight the battle in the defense of Christ over again. I doubt this. Perhaps it will be fought here and there. But the Church of Christ which remains faithful to her confession will not have to fight this battle — at least, not in the sense that it will be a battle for her survival, as it was in the third through the fifth centuries. Indeed, if the Church today reaches such a point where she is required to fight the battle over this doctrine within her borders, the Church is much too far gone even to engage in any kind of effective battle.
David and Goliath
(and bad eyesight)
A reader sent in the following clipping from a newspaper and suggested publishing it in this column. It reads in part:
When David slew Goliath, he had more going for him than his trusty slingshot, a physician suggests.
Young David perhaps observed that Goliath had bad eyesight, something that doctors today call “tunnel vision”. . . .
. . . the agile David could have skipped around the 10-foot-tall Philistine, heavily armored, wearing a heavy brass helmet, with Goliath never sure where the young Israelite was.
“Did David’s boldness border on youthful irresponsibility and impulsiveness” in issuing the challenge to Goliath? It is far more likely that his keen powers of observation disclosed Goliath’s peculiar movements. . . .
David therefore, would step agilely aside when he had drawn close enough to Goliath. . . .
Then as his adversary hesitated, clumsily turning his head to bring back the youth within his limited field of vision . . . David took deadly aim with the slingshot and struck the lone (forehead) spot unprotected; by heavy armor.
David won his victory by superior knowledge, skill, and agility, rather than by brute force.
How evil it is when men attempt to explain the miracles of the Bible “scientifically” and ignore the clear Scriptural data. The Scriptures make it very clear that David was not interested in a mere conflict with a Philistine, but that he was deeply concerned about the fact that this Philistine defied the armies of the living God. And it troubled him that faithless Saul was paralyzed with fear. He went out to battle confident that “The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine.” He informed Goliath: “Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied. This day will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand; and I Will smite thee . . . that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. And all this assembly shall know that the Lord saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hands.”