Day: October 7, 2009

the relevance of Jesus Christ: a modest proposal (i)

Speaking of judicious speculation, I’ve been pondering how and why Christ is relevant today.

Now, there’s a simple and obvious answer to this — He is Lord. Case closed. But I was reading Nathan Kerr’s recent book Christ, History and Apocalyptic, and I got to thinking about what we mean when we say, Jesus is Lord.

8th Century Byzantine Coin (from CNG coins) -- with Jesus on one side and Emperor Justinian II on the other

8th Century Byzantine coin (from CNG coins) with Jesus on one side and Emperor Justinian II on the other

Classically, of course, what we mean has been tied to the intuition that in Jesus we’re not only dealing with a human being but with God. That is, that the One who ‘made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, and being found in human likeness became obedient unto death’ is the same One who enjoyed — but did not exploit — equality with God (Phil 2.6-9).

Hence, when He stepped into our history, how could He be anything but relevant?

Jesus walked around first century Palestine. A Jewish man living at a particular time in a particular location. Speaking one (or maybe two) particular languages — no doubt with an accent. Interacting with particular, historical people — people like Pontius Pilate. But His relevance transgresses the boundaries of this historical particularity and spatio-temporal ‘locatedness’. He’s not just a man. When we have dealings with Him, we’re dealing with God Himself.

Don’t we feel that we have to say this? Or something very much like it? Isn’t it more or less inescapable? (And who would even want to escape it anyway?)

Well … the problem is that this isn’t how the New Testament usually speaks of Jesus’ lordship. It can give the impression that we need to pierce the veil of Christ’s humanity in order to perceive His — fundamentally ahistorical — relevance. That His historical particularity somehow obstructs our view of His lordship. But as Kerr puts it (p 133):

[T]he dogmatic basis of the Christian faith — the confession that ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’ — is a statement concerning the most radically contingent and most thoroughgoing historical reality of all, namely, the event of the crucifixion and resurrection of the man Jesus of Nazareth.

This what I hope to unpack in my modest proposal for understanding Christ’s relevance without compromising his historical particularity…