More on the Christological Fallacy
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Wednesday, November 11, 2009 at 3:10pm
I. HERE ARE REFERENCES to the Christological fallacy taken from my systematic theology, “The Faith Once for All.” The first is from the section on “The Normative Source for Theology” (pp. 24-25): The WHOLE Bible is our norm for theology, and not just the life and teachings of Jesus. It was never Jesus’ purpose simply to be a source and norm for truth, knowledge, ethics, or theology. The main purpose of Christ’s incarnation and work was to redeem mankind from sin through the atonement and resurrection. This is contrary to a serious but common fallacy (the “Christological fallacy”) that says that Christ’s primary purpose was to be a unique source of doctrinal truth. Such an error leads to a “What Would Jesus Do?” approach to ethics. It leads to seriously erroneous statements such as this: “If Christ is truly to be preached, then every doctrine and ordinance of the faith must be dependent on Him, His nature, character, and deeds, for meaning.” Or the following: “If you have a theology, let it be Jesus. If you want someone to guide you in your conduct toward others, let it be Jesus.” To avoid such errors we must not think that the red-letter sections of the gospels have some unique significance for theology. The entire Bible is God’s inspired and authoritative word.
II. THE FOLLOWING IS FROM THE SECTION on “The Importance of Theology” (p. 33): One objection to theology arises from a misunderstanding of the common Restoration slogan, “No creed but Christ.” An article by this title in “Christian Standard” (8/18/74, 8) says, “The test of orthodoxy today should not be what a man thinks about the creation of the world, the doctrine of original sin, the resurrection of the dead, congregational cooperation, instrumental music, charismatic gifts, the eldership, or the millennium. If we follow the examples of Christ and the apostles, we can only ask what a man thinks of Christ. . . . ‘Not what, but WHOM!’”
Other such comments from articles in “Christian Standard” include the following: “We are committed to Christ, not doctrine.” “Faith is directed not to Scripture but to Christ.” “Truth is personal, not doctrinal.” “Our faith is in a person–Jesus the Christ–not in a series of propositions.” As a would-be preacher put it, “The ONLY essential is that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God. EVERYTHING else is up for grabs.”
Contrary to such ideas, the only valid application of this slogan is that no man-made theological system or statement of faith can be elevated to a norm for truth or a requirement for salvation. The slogan was surely not meant to exclude systems or summaries of faith–even creeds–when these are used only as teaching instruments and means of bearing witness to the truth. (See Charles Gresham, “Creeds, Statements of Faith, Practical Wisdom,” Restoration Herald, March 1991, 1, 4, 8.) Also, we must beware of the Christological fallacy when trying to implement this slogan.
III. THIS QUOTATION IS FROM A SECTION on “Forms of Revelation” (p. 48): Two important cautions must be observed regarding the incarnation as revelation. First, the main purpose for the incarnation was redemption, not revelation. Jesus came to redeem sinners; the accompanying revelation was secondary to this main work. Interpreting Jesus primarily as a revealer of God leads to the serious error of the Christological fallacy. Second, even though Jesus is the highest form of revelation, he is not the only revelation, nor is the incarnation as such the final revelation. God reveals himself in many ways, from Genesis 1 through Revelation 22. Other revelation from God is just as authoritative as that given by the incarnate Christ. In summary, we should not limit Jesus= work to revelation, and we should not limit revelation to Jesus.
IV. THIS FINAL SELECTION from “The Faith Once for All” is from the section of the sinlessness of Jesus (p. 229): That Jesus’ sinless life was in some sense an example for us cannot be denied (Matt 11:29; 16:24; John 13:15; Eph 4:20; Phil 2:5; 1 Pet 2:21-22). But this does not imply that Jesus lived a sinless life just for the purpose of providing us with an example, i.e., just to show us that it could be done. This is in fact a false notion, and is an aspect of the Christological fallacy. Jesus did not come for the purpose of showing us how to live a sinless life but to be the sacrifice for our sins. Some aspects of his life, e.g., his attitude of unselfishness (Phil 2:5), do provide us with an example; but the crucial aspects of his life are those things that are unique about him and that we cannot imitate, e.g., the incarnation itself (Phil 2:6-7), his atoning death (Phil 2:8), and his efficacious resurrection and victorious enthronement (Phil 2:9-11).