Christology Revisited

Having grown up as a part of the Oneness Pentecostal movement, I have been instructed in a particular christology. The basic idea is that Jesus Christ is God the Father manifested or incarnated in the flesh as a human being and that he has two natures, one human and one divine. This is the essence of modern “oneness christology” and the christology of ancient “modalistic monarchianism“.

It was not until I left the church in which I grew up the first time that I began to really question this view. For a while, I was comfortable calling myself a trinitarian but then I returned in my thinking to oneness.

Today, I don’t think either of those options are right. I lean toward what has been called “socinianism” and is often referred to by those who vehemently reject it as a “mere man christology”. Today, this view is probably best known as “biblical unitarianism“. In agreement with these views, today I believe that Jesus Christ the Lord was born of the blessed Virgin Mary by the supernatural power of God and that, like all other human beings, he had his beginning at his conception. I do not believe that prior to his conception he was either God himself (as in oneness pentecostal christology), or a distinct divine person (as in trinitarian christology), or a lower supernatural being (as in Arian christology).

In my upbringing as a Christian apostolicity was of the utmost importance. This is something about which I think the oneness pentecostals who instructed me were right. To be apostolic in theology and practice should be the goal of every person who names the name of Christ and who considers their self to be a Christian. Jesus appointed his apostles to be the ones through whom his gospel would enter the world (John 17:20) and to whom he gave the responsibility to be the founders of the New Testament Church (Ephesians 2:20). Given this foundational supposition of my theology, I am very interested in what the apostles and the apostolic church believed and did.

Something else that was very important in the theology of the group in which I was raised was the primacy of the Book of Acts for understanding what the apostles thought and did. This is another thing about which I think they were right. The Book of Acts should be the first place a person looks to discover what apostolic theology and practice was. This book is the only Spirit-inspired history of the Church and it gives us a narrative of the formative years of the New Testament Church as led by the apostles themselves. Given this additional foundational supposition of my theology, I am very interested in what we can learn from the Book of Acts about what the apostles and the apostolic church believed and did.

Thus, it was very impactful for me when a friend brought my attention to the Book of Acts, invited me to consider what is found there with respect to what the apostles believed about Christ, and noted that you don’t find any kind of “Jesus is God” or “Jesus has human and divine natures” christology there. What you do find, on the other hand, is a proclamation about Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, who is explicitly said to be “a man” distinct from God (Acts 2:22-23).

When I read through Acts and realized that the notions that “Jesus is God” or that “Jesus is both man and God” are never stated, implied, or assumed by the apostles, I knew that I had to change my view. Thus, as I said, I came to believe in a christology which I think is found in the thinking of the apostles.

To be sure, I do not have a comprehensive christological account of all of the scriptural data. I can understand how some would be driven to except that Jesus existed as a divine person or a lower supernatural being before his human existence by some of the things said by John, Paul, and the author of Hebrews (John 1:1-18; Colossians 1:15-20; Hebrews 1:1-3).

I am willing to consider that there is more to the story of Christ than what we see simply and clearly stated in the Book of Acts and I am constantly studying and thinking about this and other issues. However, it seems to me that whatever else that could be said about Christ that didn’t make the cut for the Book of Acts must not have been of the utmost importance to the apostles. Therefore, for the time being, I feel in good company to simply settle on what I see was believed and preached in the Book of Acts.

My prayer is that we would all be led to complete knowledge of God through his Son and his Spirit. “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (2 Corinthians 13:14).

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