I’m preparing a six-week course on Christology (expect more on this in coming weeks). For the moment, I’m doing some background reading. Where I came across this fascinating attempt to come to grips with (i) what’s going on in John’s Gospel as it speaks about God and Jesus, and (ii) why the Fourth Gospel was more readily received on early Christianity’s speculative fringe than at its ‘orthodox’ core:
[P]erhaps what we see in John is the clarification of the nature and character of God which Christ afforded brought to the point where the available categories of human language are in danger of simplifying the conception both of God and of Christ too much. It is a danger inherent in any writing which can speak so effectively to the simple believer and yet in the same words provide such resonant symbols and images as to exhaust the perception of the most sophisticated intelligence and religious imagination. Indeed, it is a danger inherent in any talk of God: in order to be understood one must run the risk of being misunderstood; in order to open windows of insight in the understanding and awareness of others one must often use language which causes the hearer to blink and question.
(Christology in the Making, Second Edition, p 264)
There’s a lot to like about Dunn’s magisterial study. And there’s obviously a lot underlying what he says here. Not least being his reconstruction of a gradual evolution of the language of ‘God incarnate’ — with John’s Gospel at the conclusion of this process.
But I’m not entirely sure how this sits with me. I wonder whether the (risky) stretching of language in order to speak of God in Christ might actually be a feature of every New Testament writing about Jesus. That is, couldn’t what Dunn says about John just as well be said about Paul and the synoptic Gospels (and the letter of Hebrews, etc) — with appropriate variations of accent and nuance?