Muddling My Illustrations

Let us conclude with an introduction. Let us finish up Christology with an approach to Christology. If Christ is a particular man, and He is also the universal man, then it follows that we have to know how to keep it simple and how, at the same time, to prevent it from being the wrong kind of simple. We have to remember that we cannot hope to contain Christ within the scope of our puny minds, because these things are deep, and at the same time we have to keep it from becoming the wrong kind of complicated.

Take a lesson from John Donne:

“My God, my God  thou art a direct God, may I not say a literal God, a God that wouldst be understood literally and according to the plain sense of all thou sayest, but thou art also (Lord, I intend it to thy glory, and let no profane misinterpreter abuse it to thy diminution), thou art a figurative, a metaphorical God too, a God in whose words there is such a height of figures, such voyages, such peregrinations to fetch remote and precious metaphors, such extensions, such spreadings, such curtains of allegories, such third heavens of hyperboles, so harmonious elocutions, so retired and so reserved expressions, so commanding persuasions, so persuading commandments, such sinews in thy milk, and such things in thy words, as all profane authors seem of the seed of the serpent that creeps, thou art the Dove that flies.”

Particular words have a clear referent. They point to something, and do so in all simplicity. But words are also textured; they have layers. Words reveal enormous profundities. Christ encompasses both aspects of the word, for He is the Word, and if someone makes you choose between these aspects, that someone is likely enacting an audio visual demonstration of some Christological heresy. Modernists are like Docetists—particularity is an illusion and reality is to be found in the unified and abstracted knowledge. Pomos are Ebionites—all you have around these parts is particularity and situated knowledge. Jesus was just a man, and a muddled one to boot.

So one of the things we have to careful to do is avoid the post hoc fallacy conducted on a grand scale. What I mean is this. We all know that the rooster is foolish to think that the sun rises because of his crowing, even though he always crows right before it happens. That is the simple form of the fallacy. But if we commit the fallacy in sweeping historical terms, everybody thinks you are a philosopher or something. If I live sometime after Aristotle, and all on my own I notice that my toaster oven is not my pick up truck, it will be tempting for some to say that I need to reduce my dependence on Aristotle and his A cannot be not A, as though I wouldn’t think this had Aristotle never written a word on the the subject. This is like telling somebody who lives in Omaha that they need to reduce their reliance on Christopher Columbus. The same thing actually applies to those Nebraskans who live in Columbus.


And people who believe in the objectivity of truth are not necessarily following Descartes, any more than some aboriginal Nebraskan hunting a saber-tooth tiger in the very place we now call Columbus is somehow beholden to that great navigating Italian. The place was there before Columbus.

Now apply this to Christology. We preach Jesus, and in order to do this in the orthodox fashion, we have to preach Him as rooted in the Judaism of the first century and as the timeless and eternal Word of God. He is very man and very God.

It is de rigeur to descry “timeless truths,” as though Plato was the first mayor of Omaha, although it occurs to me that I may be muddling my illustrations. One of the worst of the lot in this regard is N.T. Wright who cannot come within ten feet of a timeless truth without getting out his old cricket bat and taking a swing or two.

“In the beginning” is not referring to the nanosecond when God first hit the stopwatch chronicling human history for us. No, the word is arche and includes the point of integration for all things (Col. 1:18). We were elected in Christ Jesus “before the world began” and so what does this mean (2 Tim. 1:9)? This is literally “before eternal times”—meaning among other things, that our election in Christ is a timeless truth. The Second Person of the Trinity, the eternal Word of God, is Himself a timeless truth. Timeless truth not only exists, timeless truth is an ultimate Person. Being timeless, there never was a time when He was not personal.

But as much fun as it might be to give an orthodox raspberry on this point to Nietszche the Well-Spoken Teeny One, Heidegger the Nazi, and the rest of that sorry crew, we have to be robustly orthodox. Very God and very man.

The only reason we know anything about this timeless nature of Jesus is because He entered time and tabernacled (for a time) among us. He is Immanuel, God with us. But this is God “with us,’ not God “stuck down here.” Faithful Christology rides upon how tenaciously we are holding to the and in “very God and very man.”

By seeing Jesus we have seen the Father. By seeing the one who lived in time, we may come to the Father who does not live in time. It is not the part of faithfulness to say that he who has seen Jesus does not need to see the Father. By coming to Jesus, we come to the Father. Coming to Jesus does not make coming to the Father superfluous; it makes it possible.

I, a creature who lives in time, with air in my nostrils, come in faith to the one who breathed in time and history, just as I do, and when I do this, he ushers me into fellowship with the timeless one, hallowed be His name.

Funny business on this point, and refusal to see it for what it is, is a prelude to that perichoretic atheism that I have worried about from time to time.

The Incarnation occurred in time and reveals timelessness to us. We couldn’t know it otherwise—but we do now. The Eternal One is high and lifted up, and He is objectively and eternal there. And He would have been this way even if our cousin Descartes had died of the pox when he was five.