What the heck?

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Lifeway’s new survey of the state of evangelical belief. Read it and weep.

“Seven out of 10 said [Christ] was the first and greatest being created by God (71%), an enormous jump over the 19 percent of self-identified evangelicals who agreed that Jesus was ‘the first creature created by God’ last year.”

When will it be the case that it becomes impossible to view evangelicalism as even minimally Christian?

“In fact, both Snyder and Larsen said they were impressed with the high percentage of orthodox agreement. Almost all evangelicals by belief said there is one God in three persons (97%)….”

So 97% of evangelicals believe Jesus is the divine 2nd person of the Trinity while 71% of evangelicals believe Christ was created.

There’s so much disturbing about this report I can’t even speak.

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9 comments on “What the heck?

  1. rwwilson147 says:

    As some commentators note, a lot depends on the way questions are asked; even the sequence makes a difference. Besides, perhaps bible believing culture is actually inclining back toward a pre-conciliar, more simply Jewish, and possibly philosophically naive conception of the God-man Jesus. Moreover, Jesus the Messiah is still a created person, even in his resurrected state, according to orthodox doctrine, is he not? So, just possibly, the questions in the survey (which differed from that of a year ago) asked different questions and got different answers as a result of that. Otherwise, the extreme divergence in percentages just doesn’t make sense.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tom says:

      Hello Richard, and thanks for sharing.

      I agree the framing of questions can complicate and confuse the answers. The huge increase in the particular question I mentioned doesn’t make sense. At the same time, the general, widespread ignorance of fundamental Christian truth among evangelicals, especially Christology, is quite bad.

      But no, it’s not orthodox doctrine that the person of Christ is a created person. That was Arius’ view.

      Tom

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      • rwwilson147 says:

        No doubt there is an extensive “general, widespread ignorance of fundamental Christian truth among evangelicals, especially Christology.” Not many can come close to comprehending the complexity of the Greek/Roman debates even if somewhat educated as I am. Arius no doubt thot something like he is accused of believing, but the problem part of his views would have been regarding the nature of Christ as divine/cosmic/logos rather than Jesus’ human side (if I’m not mistaken). On the other hand it ought to be sort of obvious that Jesus, as a man, was a “created being” in that as is common to all humans we have an embryonic beginning, development, and inevitable end. Except in Jesus’ case the end was a new beginning as a resurrected human person re-embodied (the first of many brethren, etc.). Or do you think it is orthodox to consider Christ to now be purely divine and without human aspect? While we do affirm that Jesus the Messiah was (and is) fully divine (fully God) the human aspect of Jesus’ being fully human still persists, does it not?

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      • Tom says:

        You suggested the orthodox position was that Jesus was a “created person.” Just going on those words, that’s not the orthodox position. The ‘person’ is uncreated. Arius’ position was that the ‘person’ was created. When you say, more carefully, that Jesus “as a man” was created, yes, that’s right. Everything about the ‘human nature’ of the God-man was created. But ‘nature’ is not ‘person’, and you spoke of a ‘created person’. Certainly the divine identity emerges in Christ through the same development stages we mature through. But in Christ’s case this isn’t the ‘creation’ of a ‘person’ as with us, since he is the incarnation of a pre-existent person and we are not.

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      • rwwilson147 says:

        I don’t always use language as precisely as I should; nevertheless, I’m fairly convinced that there is no altogether adequate way to use common language in a manner precise enough to eliminate all confusion and contradictions. Moreover, I haven’t been able to quite morph the concept of multiple _prosopon_ into our contemporary English “person.”

        If it is the case that the resurrected Jesus still has a human nature then if he is “one person” he would still have a created nature as well as an uncreated one right? To speak of Jesus as being an “uncreated person” seems to imply that an uncreated person can be tempted in every way as we are. When the scriptures speak of “the man Christ Jesus” I think of the human person; naturally enough since that is the way the apostles spoke and Jesus was the human name by which he was known.

        Personally, I tend to think that the word “person” should not be used of God despite the fact that I altogether relate to God and Jesus personally (in both directions, so to speak). “Tri-personal personality,” or “one what in three whos,” or “??” Studying the history of the socio-ideological and theological development of orthodoxy leaves me thinking that it’s adherents are prone to believe one has to have the right words in order to know God in Christ. It all seems so inadequate, a bit too much like conceptual statues, mental idols, if you know what I mean. Yes, there were and are significant issues that need to managed in some way officially and institutionally. Nevertheless, I would have preferred to have the Church humbly admit that not all the questions we pose are given answers in divine revelation and that we can’t get to those answers by human reasoning.

        Thanks so much for your responses to my mental meanderings. I enjoy it and hope the process is edifying to others as well.

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      • Tom says:

        Thanks again Richard!

        Richard: I’m fairly convinced that there is no altogether adequate way to use common language in a manner precise enough to eliminate all confusion and contradictions.

        Tom: I think that’s certainly true too. We’re never going to reach a final ‘language’ that escapes the limitations of language. But we’re talking about broad knowledge of essential Christian beliefs here (not, say, obscure or abstruse meanings of some minutia that only experts are expected to know). That these essentials are so poorly grasped, or even confidently dismissed, by evangelicals is something to mourn.

        Richard: If it is the case that the resurrected Jesus still has a human nature then if he is “one person” he would still have a created nature as well as an uncreated one right?

        Tom: Yes. Forever the God-Man. The Incarnation is the irrevocable union of divine and human being in the one person of the Son.

        Richard: To speak of Jesus as being an “uncreated person” seems to imply that an uncreated person can be tempted in every way as we are.

        Tom: The uncreated/divine Logos can be tempted (and suffer, and die, etc.) provided he assumes a ‘nature’ capable of such things – thus in Incarnation.

        Richard: Personally, I tend to think that the word “person” should not be used of God despite the fact that I altogether relate to God and Jesus personally (in both directions, so to speak). “Tri-personal personality,” or “one what in three whos,” or “?”

        Tom: Language isn’t perfect. I agree. But once whatever language is agreed upon is used to express the faith, it’s a sad day when that faith is as poorly understood or valued as these surveys show.

        Richard: Studying the history of the socio-ideological and theological development of orthodoxy leaves me thinking that it’s adherents are prone to believe one has to have the right words in order to know God in Christ.

        Tom: We might be going off subject. The point of the post was just to call attention to the sad state of evangelical understanding. I’m sure there are lots of interesting points we can get into about the history you mention. It’s certainly true also that many Christians think they can be confident about things we really can’t know, or that some boil everything down to a specific term of a specific language. I don’t think I or the survey got into that.

        Thanks!
        Tom

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  2. rwwilson147 says:

    Tom, help me understand what you mean when you say: “The uncreated/divine Logos can be tempted (and suffer, and die, etc.) provided he assumes a ‘nature’ capable of such things – thus in Incarnation.” Is it not required that a “person” be tempted rather than a “nature”? I have to admit that seems confusing to me. If it is the uncreated God person that is tempted while assuming a created nature doesn’t that still contradict the scriptural declaration that God can not be tempted? If it doesn’t why? This just doesn’t seem to me to be a reasonable assertion. Hence, that confuses my thought processes and categories. Please clarify. By the way, I do consider myself an Evangelical and might therefore have been shunted into one of the disturbing categories of belief had I been asked, and hence be one of those considered representative of “the sad state of evangelical understanding.”

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    • Tom says:

      I’ll try my best, Richard!

      Yes, as you say, the ‘person’ is tempted, or perhaps better, the ‘person’ is the subject of temptation (the i.e., the subject of an experience of temptation). But that experience of temptation is only had in terms of that person’s ‘nature’ (the natural capacities, dispositions, cognitive/rational abilities, emotional capacities, etc.). Persons are tempted, but only via, or in terms of, their natures. Jesus is tempted in the desert through/via is nature (his body goes without food and he gets ‘hungry’, for example, and thus is tempted to turn stone into bread).

      So in Christ’s case we get to the problem you mention: “If it is the uncreated God person that is tempted while assuming a created nature doesn’t that still contradict the scriptural declaration that God cannot be tempted?”

      There’s a problem here for everybody to deal with. If God cannot sin and cannot be tempted (which James states categorically), and if Jesus is tempted (which Hebrews 4 states categorically), and if Jesus is fully divine (which we all believe), then we have an issue. And the problem comes into view not just with ‘temptation’ but with other natural-human experiences that Jesus has (being physically located [not omnipresent in the world he sustains], ignorant [not omniscient of the world he sustains], or being an unconscious zygote in gestation [not conscious at all or essentially related to the Father and Spirit]).

      The orthodox position (orthodox Protestantism as well) is to say with Christology the inverse of what we say with God proper. You said earlier about the Trinity: “one ‘what’ and three ‘whos’.” Quite right. Christology says: “One ‘who’ and two ‘whats’” – the ‘who’ being the one ‘person’, the two ‘whats’ denoting the two natures (divine and human). The Son is one and the same ‘subject’ (person) of two sorts of experience (natures), the divine experience which constitutes divinity per se, and a human experience which constitutes his humanity. The important thing to note is that each nature is fully what it is. The Son doesn’t “turn into” a human being or get reduced without remainder, or somehow stuffed into or boiled down to, the embodied experience of Jesus. The fullness of divinity is there in the embodied experience of the Son, yes (as Paul explicitly says). But that fullness is not *just* there embodied personally. In his divinity the Son remains as ever he was – personally related to the Father, being the Father’s creative/sustaining Word throughout the universe. That’s his divine nature. As Cyril says, while the Son was a babe nursing at Mary’s breast, he was present throughout the universe sustaining all things. This was the Church’s faith until the 18th century when enlightened kenoticists decided it didn’t make sense to believe such nonsense.

      Yeah.

      When James says “God cannot be tempted,” then, he means the divine “nature” is impeccable. Given that nature (its perfect knowledge-perspective, goodness, infinitude, etc.) there’s no way temptation can even get off the ground, no way to manufacture the kind of doubt or weakness or ignorance required for ‘temptation’ to even occur. If God is going to experience the struggles, temptations, weaknesses common to us, he’s going to have to take on our ‘nature’, a nature capable of those experiences and so become a subject of that nature. That’s what the incarnation does. In the single ‘subject’ of the Son, God takes on a nature by which he can be the subject of experiences he cannot possibly be the subject of via his divine nature.

      One person. Two natures. The natures are irrevocably united in the One Person but remain distinct (they can’t be merged or blended into a single unique nature) and inseparable (they can’t be so distinguished that they end up constituting two different subjects). So the eternal Logos who cannot be tempted with respect to his divine nature (as James says), can be tempted with respect to his human nature (as Hebrews says). Both experiences are ‘naturally’ genuine and authentic, not negated by the other.

      Can we crawl inside the hypostatic union (the union of the two natures in the one person of the Son) and observe the ontological mystery of this connection and arrive at a “Oh, I get it now. So THAT’S how it works!” moment? No (though I think there are some analogies that help). We posit what we need to in order to explain the conviction that this man Jesus is this God of Israel and that what we believe to be true about God as God and about human beings as human beings is all true of this one God-Man.

      Sorry for the length!
      Tom

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      • Tom says:

        I’ll anticipate an objection. If what I said is true, then Jesus’ human experiences and suffering are all a charade. Unless God the Son is “reduced without remainder” to the limits and constrains of his embodied state and sufferings, then God is just “pretending” to be human. Since WE don’t get to transcend our bodies or our sufferings that way, Jesus shouldn’t be allowed to do so. And so if God the Son in any way transcends his humanity — i.e., if there’s more to the Son than what we see and hear and touch of his embodied state — the incarnation is just smoke and mirrors and all bets are off.

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