Christology is Discovered Soteriologically

Jason Dulle

Orthodox Christology is discovered soteriologically. The Godhead/Christology debates of early church history were based on soteriological (salvation) considerations all centered around the question What must Christ be in order for Him to do what He did (provide salvation for fallen mankind)? It was understood that for Christ to do a particular something, He must be a particular somebody. There are particular constructions of Christ’s person that destroy His ability to save us. Every Christology that has been rejected by the church has been rejected for soteriological reasons. The Christology that has been accepted has not been accepted because it can explain everything about the incarnation (which is impossible), but because it was the best construction through which to understand how it was that Jesus could claim what He claimed, and do what He did.

The fathers of Chalcedon understood that if Christ was not fully divine His death would not be sufficient to atone for the sins of all mankind because it would not have infinite value, thus causing them to reject Arianism.

Apollinarianism was rejected because it denied Christ a genuine human psyche. The Cappadocians (and others) argued that if man fell through the faculties of a human psyche, man had to be redeemed through the faculties of a human mind as well. Jesus had to had to overcome the temptation man succumbed to with the same faculties in which he succumbed to them. For Jesus to redeem every aspect of human existence demands that He possess every aspect of human existence, including the human psyche.

Adoptionism and Nestorianism were rejected because both views were insufficient to ground Christ’s deity in reality. Jesus was not God, but a man who was really really really close to God! But no matter how close the human person may be to the divine person, Jesus is never actually God Himself.

Monophysitism was rejected because it overwhelmed and consumed the humanity in order to preserve the deity. This makes Christ sub-human, and is deficient for similar reasons to Apollinarianism.

Eutycheanism was rejected because in the incarnation two realities are fused into one new reality, making Jesus neither God nor man, but some new thing. Only if Jesus was both God and man in one existence, however, could He be the mediator and accomplish salvation on our behalf.

The Fathers understood that if Christ was not genuinely and fully man He could not redeem fallen humanity, and thus rejected Monophysitism, Apollinarianism, and Arianism. Furthermore, they understood that if the full humanity and full deity of Christ did not relate in a certain way, even though Christ was fully God and fully man, He could not truly mediate our salvation, and thus rejected Monophysitism, Eutycheanism, and Nestorianism.

All of the above views have devastating soteriological ramifications, and that is why they have been rejected in the past, and why I believe they must still be rejected. A Nestorian Christ cannot save us; a deified man cannot save us; a divinely adopted man cannot save us. Apart from soteriological considerations Christology would not be a relevant issue. It is for soteriological reasons that the church has held, and should continue to hold a Chalcedonian Christology.

So in doing Christology we work somewhat backwards from what is necessary to accomplish our redemption, to what must Christ be, to the nature of the incarnation that would be necessary to make Christ that way. This is not to say that scripture is not the driving force behind Christology, but it is to emphasize that the guiding force of Christology is the soteriological question.

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