Bruce McCormack makes an incisive observation in his essay on ‘The Ontological Presuppositions of Barth’s Doctrine of the Atonement’ (The Glory of the Atonement, pp 347-348):
Where the person of Christ is abstracted from his work … we tend to flesh out the meaning of the chief terms – “hypostasis” and “natures” – along the lines of a priori definitions of general classes of things, rather than attending to the historical particularity of Jesus Christ, the incarnate God, whose “person” was actualized in and through his work. And where the work of Christ is abstracted from his person, our understanding of that work is severely attenuated and we are left without adequate answers in the face of challenges that are today being brought against traditional evangelical teaching on the subject.
Now, it’s interesting to ponder what theologians have actually made of the person of Christ in His ‘historical particularity’ — ie. His incarnate life and ministry — rather than simply His ‘work’ narrowly conceived as his death. In On the Incarnation, Athanasius stresses Jesus’ teaching ministry by which He renews us in knowledge in the image of God. For Athanasius this sits alongside Christ’s sacrificial death to deal with the penalty of our sin and bring us from death to life.
By contrast, Protestant scholasticism (in typically baroque mode) suggests that Christ’s active obedience — that is, His life of perfect obedience to the law of God — combines with His passive obedience in giving Himself over to death to ensure that we are not only forgiven but also counted positively righteous.
Not only do I recall more occasions in the Gospels on which Jesus breaks laws (like the Sabbath) than occasions on which He obeys, but I find the implicit downgrading of forgiveness deeply unsettling — isn’t being forgiven by God just the same as being considered righteousness? Or is it some sort of ‘intermediate state’?
Of course I’m probably caricaturing. But can anyone help me out? What is the significance of Jesus’ life?