It is just amazing how the same heresies crop up in different ages in history – only repackaged, re-branded, polished, and using different wording. But under the hood it’s still the same absurdity than when it initially showed its ugly face.
I am referring to a response from our friend from the Emergent Movement, Tony Jones. He is running a blog series called “Questions That Haunt.” Nothing ghostly about it, except maybe the answers scares the daylights out of you if you’re not careful. A recent post, titled “Jesus Had a Brain (and Other Organs)”1, he attempts to answer the question as to what it means that Jesus had a divine and human will. This issue was raised by a question referring to the human thought as “really just neurons firing”.
To answer this question, Jones goes back to the whole controversy over the two natures of Christ that was settled effectively at the Council of Nicea (325 AD) and the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD).
This controversy was sparked by a man named Arian who decided that Christ was not of the same substance of God and therefore inferior to God. In fact, Christ was not God. This spurred Athanasius to oppose him on this, as according to Athanasius, Christ was truly God and truly Man, in the same person. Accordingly, the church confessed the two natures of Christ in the God-man. This was truly a remarkable confession, that either marked you as a lunatic or a devout follower of a teaching that is literally out of this world!
So, the first issue is the concept of “substance” or “essence”. Jones argues that the early dudes argued as per Plato and Aristotle, who “believed in things like essences and substances and natures and the will and…the soul” and following this line of argument, the logical location for the two natures of Christ would have been the soul but according to Jones “the soul doesn’t exist. You don’t have one, and neither do I.”
He proposes a rather physical or material view on man when he states “there’s no soul — there’s just the material that makes you up.” So, he is in fact moving away from the biblical teaching of Genesis 2:7 which clearly states:
“And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”
And Paul that so earnestly prays for the Thessalonians:
“And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23)
These passages are clear. Man is a unity made up of parts (not spares or pirate parts, please – it’s all genuine parts). God did an amazing job of building a clay model and giving it life. So the physical was never the ultimate, but the combo of all the needed parts is what counts. Well, these Scriptures clearly shows that man “became” a living soul, so man’s existence are characterised by that. But it also says that the Word cuts through to separate “spirit and soul” to get to the heart of man (Hebrews 4:12). So man does “have” a soul that can go into Bible surgery to get to the very place of his motives.
Although the Bible does not downgrade the body to elevate the soul and spirit of man, it does teach that it is a body that’s going to die and will be no more – that is until Resurrection Day! So the Bible has a view on man as many-in-one and one-with-many. And a soul is part of this view.
Now, how does Jones then attempt to explain the spiritual side of man – and with that the divine nature of God? Well, man has a mind, that is not synonymous with the brain. “The mind is more than the brain.” We don’t get a very good idea of what he understands the mind to be in Jones’ mind, except that it seems like some sort of metaphysical, esoteric concept that extends further than the physical man himself. Try to wrap your brain around these statements:“This blog post, for instance, is an extension of my mind …”, “My hard drive and iPhone are both parts of my mind. Every sweet nothing that I’ve whispered in Courtney’s ear and every lesson I’ve taught my kids are likewise extensions of my mind. My mind has become dispersed, almost infinitely so, and it will live on after my physical death, albeit in a hazy and always diminishing way.” Now, sit down when you read this one: “Thus, although my children are material beings, just like me, they have absorbed some of my mind — it has become one with their minds. Our minds are overlapping Venn diagrams. The same thing goes for your mind and mine, since you read this blog.” Are we maybe seeing a glimpse of all becoming one here? Some sort of pantheistic mind-fusion?
Obviously this view of man, as it were sucking up and absorbing the minds all over the place, has an impact on the view on the two natures of Christ, and this is how Jones resolves this:
“Jesus of Nazareth had unique access to the mind of God, so much so that he shared God’s mind; he was one with God. Indeed, he was God.”
His Christology flows from this view:
“Jesus shared the hermeneutical horizon of God [as per Gadamer to whom he references]. Not the omniscience of the triune God, but the horizon of the logos, of one of the three members of the Trinity. Jesus was unique among all human beings every in this. It enabled him to avoid sin. It allowed him to know the movements of and partner with the Holy Spirit in a way that no one else ever has.”
So, to follow his argument: man does not have a soul, so Christ did not have a soul which could hold the divine nature. Man is a material / physical creature, with something called a mind that extends in some inexplicable way beyond man and impacts everything and everyone around him. So Christ must have had the same as He was fully human. Now the twist: God’s mind extends beyond Himself and the mind of Christ was able to absorb the mind of God in such a unique way as to render Him God, although he grew in that knowledge while being human. I hope you see the problem. The divine nature was never really part of the man Jesus, but it was a fusion of two-minds, namely the mind of Christ and the mind of God. He concludes that “Jesus was God by sharing God’s perspective. God indwelt Jesus of Nazareth uniquely, enabling him to see and do things that only God could do.” So was He not God by the mere fact that He was God from eternity? Sharing God’s perspective does not make you god. If that was true, all people sharing His perspective would then be gods. There is ‘n distinction in Jones’ view of Christ the man and God. According to him God indwelt Jesus the man. So there was no nature of God becoming one with the nature of man in the God-man, it was the indwelling of God that made the difference.
Let’s look at what the “orthodox” church really meant when the confessed the two-natures of Christ. Nicea confessed that He was “very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.” The Athanasian Creed states it as follows:
“For the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man. God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man of substance of His mother, born in the world. Perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood. Who, although He is God and man, yet He is not two, but one Christ. One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of that manhood into God. One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ;”
Whereas the Chalcedonian Creed confesses:
“the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body; consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ;”
What is interesting about these confessions is that none even attempts to explain the location of the divine nature in Christ as if it should have one that we could pinpoint and say “there it is!” That’s absurd. There is no platonic notion here, just straight forward acknowledging of truth as they saw it in Scripture and as it was taught. The message is clear. Jesus’ total being was taken up by both “godness” en “humanness”, without mixing or fusing as to the distinct properties. There is no esoteric, mystic magic involved.
You see, once you start confusing issues, you start inventing arguments to make your confusion look acceptable, even to the point of venturing on the level of God’s wisdom. Obviously it is nothing but a miracle that the two natures could come together in such a perfect unity. But, if you do not believe in the miraculous abilities of the Almighty God, then you will utilise metaphysics, mysticism, and science to try and explain what is clearly not within your power to even comprehend with your human mind.
What we have in Jones’ argument is nothing else than the same Arian heresy resurrected, only repackaged. This time allowing for the “two natures”, but denying that in Christ both was so wonderfully and miraculously combined in His physical being. Jones alludes to Christ’s mind connecting with the mind of God which effects the divine nature. Scripture says He was born with both natures united and grew up with it, and died the same way. Obviously he knew the Mind of God, because he was God, but this was not in any esoteric, pantheistic or panentheistic sense. It was the Son of God knowing the Father and knowing the Spirit.