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20. The Real Christ
20-1 Images Of Jesus || 20-2 Abba, Father || 20-3 The Self-Proclamation Of Jesus || 20-4 Jesus A Palestinian Jew || 20-5 Jesus And People || 20-6 The Words Of Jesus || 20-7 The Poverty Of Jesus || 20-8 Finding Meaning In Everyday Experience || 20-9 Jesus The Intellectual || 20-10 The Naturalness Of Jesus || 20-11 Perceiving Others’ Needs || 20-12 Jesus The Radical || 20-13 Radical Demands Of Jesus || 20-14 Radical Language Of Jesus || 20-15 Radical Authority Of Jesus || 20-16 Radical Acceptance Of Jesus || 20-17 Jesus A Man Misunderstood || 20-18 The Real Cross: Today Is Friday || 20-19 The Same Yesterday And Today || 20-20 The 21st Century Jesus || 20-21 How The Real Christ Was Lost || 20-22 The Humanity Of Christ || 20-23 The Divine Side Of Jesus || 20-24 Christ-centredness

20-21 How The Real Christ Was Lost

I feel I am obligated to make the point that the real, genuinely human Son of God whom we have reconstructed from the pages of Scripture is at variance with the Trinitarian perspective. The trinity grew out of Gnosticism, which taught that life comes by leaving the world and the flesh. But John’s Gospel especially emphasizes how the true life was and is revealed through the very flesh, the very worldly and human life, of the Lord Jesus. True Christianity has correctly rejected the trinity and defined a Biblically correct view of the atonement. But we need to make something of this in practice; we must use it as a basis upon which to meet the real, personal Christ. In the 2nd century, the urgent, compelling, radical, repentance-demanding Jesus was replaced by mere theology, by abstracting Him into effectively nothing, burying the real Jesus beneath theology and fiercely debated human definitions. And we can in essence make the same mistake. And I might add, it was this turning of Jesus into a mystical theological 'God' which made Him so unacceptable to the Jews. The preaching of the real, human Jesus to them ought to be more widely attempted by our ecclesias. It must be realized that the growing pressure to make Jesus 'God' was matched by a growing anti-Judaism in the church. Some of the major proponents of the Trinitarian idea were raving anti-Judaists such as Chrysostom, Jerome and Luther. And in more recent times, Gerhard Kittel, editor of the trinity-pushing Theological dictionary of the New Testament was also a regular contributor to the official Nazi publication on the Jewish 'problem'. It was Hitler who pushed the idea that Jesus was not really a Jew, suggesting that the humanity of Jesus should be de-emphasized and the divinity stressed, so that the guilt of the Jews appeared the greater (1). The point is, we have been greatly blessed with being able to return to the original, Biblical understanding of Jesus, which worldly theology and politics has clouded over for so many millions. But we must use this to build a Christ-centred life. 

The humanity of Jesus was more radical for the early Christians than we perhaps realize. Against the first century background it must be remembered that it was felt impossible for God or His representative to be frightened, shocked, naked, degraded. And yet the Lord Jesus was all this, and is portrayed in the Gospels in this way. To believe that this Man was Son of God, and to be worshipped as God, was really hard for the first century mind; just as hard as it is for us today. It’s not surprising that desperate theories arose to ‘get around’ the problem of the Lord’s humanity.

We need to keep earnestly asking ourselves: ‘Do I know Jesus Christ?’. The answers that come back to us within our minds may have orthodoxy [‘I know He wasn’t God, He had human nature….’]. But do they have integrity, and the gripping practical significance which they should have for us? Too much emphasis, in my view, has been placed upon this word ‘nature’. We’re interested in knowing the essence of Jesus as a person, who He was in the very core of His manhood and personality. Not in theological debate about semantics. Athanasius, father of the Athanasian Creed that declared the 'trinity', claimed that "Christ... did not weigh two choices, preferring the one and rejecting another". This is total contrast to the real Christ whom we meet in the pages of the New Testament- assailed by temptation, sweating large concentrated blobs of moisture in that struggle, and coming through triumphant. Trinitarians have ended up making ridiculous statements because they’ve separated the ‘nature’ of Jesus from the person of Jesus. “He permitted his own flesh to weep, although it was in its nature tearless and incapable of grief” (Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary in John, 7). “He felt pain for us, but not with our senses; he was found in fashion as a man, with a body which could feel pain, but his nature could not feel pain” (Hilary). “In the complete and perfect nature of very man, very God was born” (Leo, Tome 5)(2). This is all ridiculous- because these theologians are talking about a nature as if it’s somehow separate from Jesus as a person. And we non-trinitarians need to be careful we don’t make the same mistake. Forget the theological terms, the talk about ‘wearing a nature’; but focus upon the person of Jesus. The terms end up distracting people from focus upon Him as a person; and it’s that focus which is the essence of true , Jesus-centred spirituality. The meaning and victory of the Lord Jesus depend upon far more than simply ‘nature’. So much of the ‘trinity’ debate has totally missed this point. It was His personality, Him, not the words we use to define ‘nature’, that is so powerful.

Wading through all the empty, passionless theology about Jesus, it becomes apparent that the first error was to draw a distinction between the historical Jesus, i.e. the actual person who walked around Galilee, and what was known as “the post-Easter Jesus”, “the Jesus of faith”, the “kerygmatic [i.e. ‘proclaimed’] Christ”, i.e. the image of Jesus which was proclaimed by the church, and in which one was supposed to place their faith. Here we must give full weight to the Biblical statement that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. Who He was then is essentially who He is now, and who He ever will be. This approach cuts right through all the waffle about the trinity, the countless councils of churches and churchmen. Who Jesus was then, in the essence of His teaching and personality, is who He is now. We place our faith in the same basic person as did the brave men and women who first followed Him around the paths over the Galilean hills and the uneven streets of Jerusalem, Capernaum and Bethany. Yes, His nature has now been changed; He is immortal. But the same basic person. The image we have of Him is that faithfully portrayed by the first apostles; and not that created by centuries and layers of later theological reflection. We place our faith in the Man who really was and is, not in a Jesus created by men who exists nowhere but in their own minds and theologies. This, perhaps above all, is the reason I am not a trinitarian; and why I think it’s so important not to be.

Additionally, it seems to me that there has been a chronic and even wilful failure to realize that Divine language can be applied to a person without making them God Himself in person. There are ample Biblical examples of this. And additionally, there are even non-Biblical examples of it. The great Rabbi Hillel was fond of taking language about God and applying it to himself- but this doesn't mean that he claimed to be, nor was, God Himself in person(3).


(1) Hitler's Table-Talk: Hitler's Conversations Recorded by Martin Bormann (Oxford: O.U.P., 1988) pp. 76, 721.

(2) All quoted from T.H. Bindley, The Oecumenical Documents of the Faith (London: Methuen, 1950).

(3) David Flusser, 'Hillel's Self-Awareness And Jesus', in Judaism And The Origins Of Christianity (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1988) pp. 509-514.