Loving Jesus the Wrong Way:
Christological Heresies and How They Hurt Us

(thanks to Kristina Doernte, fall 2003 rs20 student, for the illustrations)

I. "Heresies" (cf. 1 Cor 11:19, 2 Pet 2:1) as Compromises
Council of Chalcedon, 451, on the "hypostatic union":
Christ is one person in two natures "without confusion, change, division, or separation."
So incarnation means a set of new relationships between Creator and creation.
Christological heresies, even if well-intentioned, still deny the incarnation.
Their compromises leave the old rules alone, or alter them,
misconstruing our relationships with God through Jesus Christ.
(A heretic is one who refuses the correction of the Church.)
Adolf von Harnack: Ancient Christological heresies cluster into
Antiochian 'adoptionism' (II-IV) and Alexandrian 'docetism' (V-VIII).

II. Jesus as Exemplar: 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.
Contemporary schools: Islam, early Unitarianism.
A church merely stressing Jesus as teacher or example is functionally Ebionite.
III. Jesus as Overachiever: Adoptionism
Jesus becomes divine during his life (at his baptism?).
Jesus is chosen for his prior human virtue.
Sonship is reduced to obedience; Jesus' relationship with God is just moral.
Jesus' righteous example shows the way to our salvation (cf. Roger Bannister).
Contemporary school: Mormonism?
A legalistic church is functionally adoptionist.
IV. Jesus as Alter Ego: Nestorianism
Nestorius objected to the Alexandrian use of theotokos for Mary.
Mary mothered only Jesus' human nature, not the person of God the Son.
Christ's two persons are united morally, with adoptionistic consequences.
Contemporary school: Churches of the East.
A Jesus struggling between divine and human is functionally Nestorian.

Self-Test 1

V. Jesus as Poseur: Docetism (cf. 1 John 4:1-3a)
Some Gnostics: the body of Christ wasn't real, but a mere appearance.
Respect for God's transcendence and Christ's divinity excludes his commonality with us.
Jesus is like Clark Kent, or Jake Sully in Avatar.
Contemporary school: Hindus, some New Age Gnostics.
Christians who concentrate on Jesus' divinity are functionally Docetic.
VI. Jesus as Merger: Monophysitism
Eutyches (not Acts 20:9!): "Two natures before, one after, the union."
The Borg, or a business acquisition, or an alloy (cf. patristic 'hot iron').
Infinity plus finity: Unity comes at the cost of humanity (and perhaps divinity).
Contemporary schools: Sufism; some Buddhisms?
Spiritualistic or transcendentalist Christian attitudes are often monophysite.

VII. Jesus as the Terminator: Apollinarianism
Apollinarianius: The logos was a divine mind or soul in Jesus' human body.
Jesus' humanity is partial; is he tempted? did he suffer? has Jesus really redeemed humanity?
Churches where Jesus' mind or intelligence is not human are Apollinarian.
Contemporary school: some evangelicals?

VIII. Jesus as Dilbert: Arianism
Arius the Presbyter: Only God (the Father) is uncreated.
God the Son was made first, then adopted.
Jesus mediates as an archangelic "third party" between God and us,
not one of both parties.
This appeals to cultures used to mediating demigods (or bureaucrats).
Contemporary school: Jehovah's Witnesses.
A Jesus 'buffering' between us and the distant or strange Father is functionally Arian.

IX. Two Antidotes: How Do We Avoid These Mistakes?

1. Christmas celebrates "Emmanuel" (Isa 7:14 and 8:8-10, Matt 1:23), affirming all three affirmations.
Heretical traditions often resist observing Christmas.
Christmas' history: Not a pagan accretion, but comes nine months after Easter/Annunciation.
Christmas was popular and useful when Arianism was the biggest threat.

2. Respect for Mary honors her role in Jesus' incarnation.
Jesus is divine, human, one from his conception; Mary is "mother of God."
Scripture asks for respect for Mary (Luke 1:48).
Mary is the source of Jesus' humanity (and, in that way, our salvation).
Easy to misunderstand (as in Islam, medieval Catholicism, evangelicalism).
Yet adoptionism is a problem in liberal Protestantism where respect for Mary is weakest.

Self-Test 2