The first post was by our own, Dr. James Furr, president of HGST. Every week one of our faculty, friends, trustees and/or students shares some thought or insight with our readers. You’ll find book announcements and book reviews there. You may even find an occasional movie review. We use the site to share with you podcasts and videos you will want to see. Our Bible faculty offer insights from Scripture and theology. Our counselors share recent trends in counseling theory and technique. Just enough to whet the appetite. Our preaching faculty may give us a sermon outline or two. Who knows?
Why are we doing this? Well, it is simple. We see it as furthering the important mission of HGST: to equip women and men to be ministers and messengers of God’s mission of reconciliation through academic excellence, personal transformation and leadership development.
Are you looking for a seminary? Why not check out Houston Graduate School of Theology: www.hgst.edu.
Daniel Kirk has written an important new book entitled A Man Attested by God: The Human Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels (Eerdmans 2016). At the heart of his project is an attempt to resuscitate an idealized humanity at the heart of the Gospels. The tendency for many, he thinks, is to read Matthew, Mark, and Luke through the lens of John’s Gospel or of Paul’s divine Christology expressed in say, the Philippian hymn (Phil 2:6-11).
For Kirk Jesus is an extraordinary figure of history. But he is not just extraordinary because of his deity; he is extraordinary because of his humanity. The grand scheme of the Bible presents the God of Israel as One who does not give up on humanity. From the beginning (Genesis) God had a great plan and vision for what humanity was supposed to be. So Kirk proposes that the Synoptics offer a high human Christology (a play on words based on the emerging consensus of “an early high Christology”). In this case high does not equal divine, but a fully realized and idealized humanity. In other words the Synoptic Gospels present us with a Jesus who is everything humanity was created to be.
Now Kirk doesn’t deny the orthodox picture of a divine Christ. He just thinks the Synoptics are telling a different sort of story, a story that can be easily lost in accentuating Jesus’ divinity. As long as we stress Jesus’ divinity, we don’t have to take seriously what it means to walk as he walk, live as lived, love as he loved. In other words “following Jesus.”
Kirk’s monograph stands in contrast to recent work done on the Gospels by the likes of Larry Hurtado, Richard Bauckham, and even his own former teacher, Richard Hays. But more about this in another post.
I met Crispin Fletcher-Louis in 1998 at a conference at St. Andrews. He was a rising star in historical and theological matters relating to the origins of Christianity. His star continues to rise.
Recently he published the first volume of a four volume series entitled Jesus Monotheism. This particular volume is Christological Origins: The Emerging Consensus and Beyond (Cascade, 2015).
In this series Fletcher-Louis hopes to explain how it happened that early Jesus-followers came to see him as divine and worshiped him in continuity with the worship of the One God of Israel (what I like to call an early high Christology). His purpose is historical: where did it happen? With whom? What caused it? What shape did it take?
I’ll have more to say on this in an upcoming article. For now at least let me introduce the key elements.
Fletcher-Louis thinks that there are antecedent traditions which anticipate the inclusion of Jesus in the divine identity (Bauckham’s phrase). While the worship of Jesus alongside God and beliefs in his divine identity are new and surprising, they could have been anticipated if we were attuned correctly to certain movements and ideas within second temple Judaism.
Fletcher-Louis situates the causative factor for an early high Christology not in powerful religious experiences post-resurrection but in Jesus’ own self-awareness. He claims that the historical Jesus had an incarnational self-consciousness. The resurrection, of course, is a key event. For the crucifixion appears on the surface to deny Jesus’ messianic and divine claims. In the event Christians call the resurrection something happened to reverse the negating elements of Jesus’ death and confirm not only that Jesus is Israel’s Messiah but that he is also the incarnation of a divine being. Now, for those of you who’ve been following the scholarship in this arena, that is a bold claim.
Fletcher-Louis starts with the emerging consensus. Frankly, I don’t know recall who coined the phrase but it is a good one. The emerging consensus among many scholars is that a divine Christology is indeed early (that’s why I am a founding member of the early high Christology club) and located historically within Jewish milieu. It did not arise late in the first century only after Gentiles had streamed in and overtaken the Jesus movement. Divine Christology means that early followers included Jesus within the divine identity and engaged in actions toward him which can only be described as worship, or as Larry Hurtado has put it “Christ devotion.”
There are scholars, however, who haven’t emerged. These include Maurice Casey, Jimmy Dunn, James McGrath, and Bart Ehrman.
To this point Fletcher-Louis finds himself in broad agreement with the emerging consensus and its leading lights, Hurtado and Bauckham. Where he goes “beyond” is to try to locate (historically) the belief in a divine Messiah in pre-Christian Judaism and in the self-awareness of Jesus. Jewish writings which could have a pre-Christian origin such as the Life of Adam and Eve and the Similitudes of Enoch can be read in such a way to suggest that Jews before Jesus had a messianic expectation which included a divine Messiah who comes from heaven.
Hurtado has made the case that it is powerful religious experiences post- resurrection which caused these early, Jewish followers to consider Jesus divine and to worship him. Apparently, through visions and prophetic utterances early Christians “saw” Jesus enthroned at God’s right hand and came to believe that worshiping Jesus was the will of God. While Fletcher-Louis applauds Hurtado’s sense that we need to take seriously the role of religious experience, he does not consider it is enough to account for what happened so quickly after Jesus’ execution. The problem, as he sees it, is that with no precedent for the worship of a divine person or Messiah in pre-Christian Judaism or without taking seriously the possibility that Jesus’ himself had a sense of his own divine identity, it is hard to account for the speed and exact shape Christ devotion took in the first decades after Jesus’ execution. It is more believable, according to Fletcher-Louis, that Jesus had a divine self-consciousness.
Well, his chips are on the table. Scholars, emerging and otherwise, are likely to agree with some of his points and disagree with others. Three more volumes to come. These are a welcome additions to the conversation.
I found a podcast series which may interest you. Matt & Matt cohost this series which describes itself as “conversations on current biblical scholarship.” The reason I found it is because a friend, Chris Tilling, was a guest on their podcast recently to discuss a topic I have interest in: New Testament Divine Christology.
If you’ve followed this blog, you know I’ve highlighted Chris’ book Paul’s Divine Christology on a couple of occasions. Chris is on to an important and overlooked feature of early Christology.
In the podcast Matt & Matt do a good job in laying out the contours of where current Christological discussions have gone over the past 20-30 years. Chris is well-versed in “the state of the question.” If you’re interested in whether the earlies followers of Jesus regarded him as divine, then you will want to take some time and listen to Chris’ take on things.
Here’s a link: