Loving Jesus the Wrong Way:
Four Mistakes and How They Hurt Us
 
I. "Heresies" (cf. 1 Cor. 11:19, 2 Pet. 2:1) as Compromises
Heresies can be well-intentioned, but still deny the incarnation
Divinity, humanity, unity: 2 out of 3 equals heresy
Heresies hurt or destroy one's relationship with Jesus Christ
(A heretic is one who refuses the correction of the Church)
II. "Human-ism": Jesus Is Just a Teacher
Ebionism: Jesus is a man chosen for special divine sonship (like David)
Jesus is created, not begotten; not God made human, but an inspired prophet
Jesus is totally on the human side of the divine-human divide
Effect: No personal relationship, God remains unknowable
Converse: A church stressing Jesus as merely a teacher is functionally Ebionite
 
III. Adoptionism: Jesus Ruins the Curve
Jesus becomes divine at some point in his life (usually his baptism)
Jesus is chosen for his prior virtue as a human being
Sonship is reduced to obedience; Jesus' relationship with God is just moral
Effect: "Salvation" is imitating Jesus' perfection in order to be adopted too
Where's the gift?
Converse: A legalistic church is functionally adoptionist
 
Variant: Jesus as "twins" (Nestorianism)
Nestorius objected to the Alexandrian use of theotokos for Mary
God the Son and the human Jesus are still two persons, morally united
Effect: Divine and human are never really reconciled
Converse: A Jesus struggling between divine and human is Nestorian
 
IV. "Poser-ism": Jesus Only Seems Human (cf. 1 John 4:1-3a)
Docetism: The body of Christ wasn't real; it was like a hologram
Appealing to those who respect God's transcendence and Christ's divinity
Jesus is Clark Kent, or the Doctor from Star Trek: Voyager
Jesus is now entirely on God's side of the divide
Effect: God is unknowable, and we are unknowable to God
Converse: Christians who concentrate on Jesus' divinity are Docetic
 
V. Terminator Christology: Jesus is Partly Human
Apollinarianism: Jesus has a human body and a divine mind or soul
Only Jesus' flesh suffered on the cross
Effect: Hard to relate to the Terminator; has Jesus really redeemed humanity?
Converse: Churches where Jesus' mind is not human are Apollinarian
 
Variant: Jesus as divine-human alloy (Monophysitism)
 
VI. The Winner: Jesus Is an Archangel
Arianism, after Arius the Presbyter (third century)
Only God the Father is uncreated; God the Son was made first and adopted
Appealing to ancients (and moderns) used to the idea of mediating demigods
Effect: the Father remains unknowable; Jesus no longer represents humanity
Arius is 1-for-3: Unity but not humanity nor divinity; thus "chief heretic"
Converse: Churches where Jesus is "middle manager" are functionally Arian
 
VII. Two Antidotes: How Do We Avoid These Mistakes?
1. Christmas: "Emmanuel" (Isa. 7:14 and 8:8-10, Matt. 1:23) is 3-for-3
Heretical traditions often resist observing Christmas
Christmas' history: Not a pagan accretion, but nine months after Easter
Christmas was popular and useful when Arianism was the biggest threat
2. Mary: Respect for Mary honors her role in incarnation, and protects Jesus
Adoptionists resisted the name "God-bearer" (theotokos)
Jesus is divine, human, one from the beginning; Mary is "mother of God"
Scripture asks for respect for Mary (Luke 1:48)
Mary confers Jesus' humanity (and thus our salvation!)
Easy to misunderstand (Islam, medieval Catholicism, evangelicalism)
Yet adoptionism is a problem in liberal Protestantism where respect for Mary is weakest