With Adams, I want to take Jesus’ humanity seriously and I agree that in the end this means affirming things about Christ that most Evangelicals aren’t likely to feel comfortable agreeing to. But attributing (willful) sinfulness to Jesus is something I’m unable join Adams in. One reason for my disagreement with her on this point is biblical. I think the NT authors did believe Jesus to be sinless and it seems to me this aspect of his humanity wasn’t incidental to their understanding of his soteriological role. The other reason involves the logic of horror-defeat as I would understand it. I don’t see that the solidarity required by his job description requires sinfulness.
Adams interprets the traditional “sinless” passages as not requiring maximization. She is methodologically committed to the proposition that human nature in its present environment is by definition inevitably subject not just to vulnerability to those experiences which may be falsely interpreted, but to actual failure in meaning-making and its existential despair (together with the sinful dysfunctions that naturally follow). Christ shares all these with us, including the debilitating effects of horror. This leaves me wondering just what it is that qualifies him to be our horror-defeater.
For Adams the sinfulness of the horror-defeater is ultimately beside the point. It’s not part of the job description. But it doesn’t follow from this that you or I qualify to be humanity’s horror-defeater. Only God can accomplish such defeat. But the defeat is accomplished not by means of an earthly career insulated from horrors. God must participate in our horrors to defeat them. Horror-participation becomes horror-defeat when God is its subject. Exactly how the defeat obtains in Jesus’ experience Adams never says except to say that it must begin by assuming that Jesus actually suffers horrors (i.e., the failure to truthfully negotiated his meaning and identity in the world and the existential despair that accompanies such failure) and not just suffers the same circumstances which we failure to negotiate truthfully but which he successfully negotiates. In short, Jesus saves not by “staring down” horrors (as I would have it) but by “surviving” the lost of personal meaning they inflict. But don’t a lot of people “survive” their horrors in this sense? Yes. Lots of us do, but this wouldn’t qualify any of us to be the world’s Savior. What qualifies Jesus’ horror-participation to be horror-defeat is that horrors are in this one human being’s case the personal property of God. God is their subject.
Granted, Adams admits we can’t have Jesus descend too far into wickedness. He can’t be a Herod or a Hitler. His meaning-making capacities have to be sufficiently functional to manage whatever prophetic and teaching ministry his vocation requires. Look at Moses, the prophets, John the Baptist and St. Paul. Their sinfulness didn’t disqualify them from prophetic or revolutionary roles. Similarly, Adams believes, Jesus needn’t be morally infallible or absolutely dysfunction-free. On the contrary, Jesus “learned obedience through what he suffered.” Adams interprets this to include Jesus growing up, for example, with the same racist attitudes toward non-Jews common to Jews of his day. The same is true for whatever common prejudices any young Jewish boy would have had to negotiate.
Each word of Heb. 5.8 is crucial. Jesus “suffers” to learn obedience. Jesus suffers to learn “obedience.” Jesus suffers to “learn” obedience. Jesus’ character emerges developmentally through the same trials and errors and within the same constraints we are naturally limited to. And this means Jesus grows morally and spiritually into the obedience which his role as horror-defeater requires rather than emerging from the womb with pre-installed supernatural upgrades that insulate him against failure to self-identify truthfully before God and the experienced loss of personal meaning such failure results in. For Adams, Jesus was non posse non peccare with the rest of us. There is simply no other way to be human in this world (prior to the final glorification of the cosmos). But these failures of personal meaning (i.e., these “horrors”) save us in Jesus’ case (and not in any one else’s case) because they are God’s failures. They’re God’s loss of personal meaning. And as I understand Adams, this saves us just because the horror which is so finally and hopelessly destructive in our case is in God’s case united hypostatically to a person who is in his divine nature an incommensurate good of infinite value which cannot suffer horror or end in personal destruction. God defeats horrors by simply experiencing them (i.e., experiencing loss of personal meaning) and surviving the ordeal and not by experiencing them without loss of personal meaning. That’s my read on her thus far.
I don’t think this a viable Christology.