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What do you teach about Jesus?

Mark Hicks

Hi Friends –

When people who are looking for a better way come to check out your church they want to know: What do you teach about Jesus? The following is how I respond, given in the form of four possible answers. I hope this is helpful for you.

Answer 1: Jesus is raised up and appointed (a Christology from below)

Mark 1:9-11. Immediately coming up from the water, he saw the heavens parting, and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. A voice came out of the sky, "You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."

Mark 9:3-5. His clothing became glistening, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them. Elijah and Moses appeared to them, and they were talking with Jesus. Peter answered Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let's make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."

Romans 1:3. concerning his Son, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, who was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Church’s earliest answer to questions about Jesus drew from Judaism, which recognized that from time to time God raised up and appointed prophets, such as Moses and Elijah. Jesus, according to this tradition, was a very special human being, but nonetheless no more divine than any other human. Such special persons led the people through difficult times as prophet or “wayshower”. There was anticipation that God would raise and appoint an ultimate prophet, the Christ, or Messiah.

Answer 2: Jesus descends and is incarnated (a Christology from above)

Exodus 3:2,6. And the angel of Jehovah appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed... he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God.

Matthew 1:20. for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.

Philippians 2:5-7. Have this in your mind, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, didn't consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men.

Within a few decades of the resurrection of Jesus members of the movement that formed around his life and teaching shifted from following Jesus to worshipping Jesus. Drawing again from Judaism, the early Church looked not to the Hebrew prophets but rather to the Imago Dei, the Image of God, as declared in Genesis 1:26-28. The Church affirmed that human beings are an image of God, but went further and declared that Jesus is in fact the very image of God, descended and incarnated from the heavenly realm. This shift is the first step in the development of the Church’s teaching of the Trinity.

Answer 3: Jesus has always been (a Christology from beyond)

John 1:1-3. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him. Without him was not anything made that has been made.

Hebrews 1:3. His Son is the radiance of his glory, the very image of his substance, and upholding all things by the word of his power.

Colossians 1:10,15. the Lord ... who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

When Christianity expanded out of Palestine into modern day Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Turkey and Greece it encountered people with an entirely different world view, something we will refer to later as “viewpoint” or “aspect.” There, in the broader Mediterranean, the Church encountered hellenistic Jews, referred to in the New Testament as “Greeks”. Their worldview or “aspect” was grounded in Stoic and Platonist philosophy, not Semitic Judaism. To attract these hellenized Jews to the Christian faith the church adopted and adapted several Greek philosophical concepts.

The Church drew from Greek Stoicism a concept known as oikonomia, known in English as a “divine economy” and understood oikonomia to be a divine ordering of our planetary existence. This provided a new way to understand how salvation works in history. A modern day term that best expresses our experience of oikonomia is the Sacred Canopy, from Peter Berger.

The Church drew from Greek Platonism a concept known as nous, known in English as “divine Mind”. A modern day phrase that best expresses our experience of nous is “one power, one presence.” Because the Church understood nous to be the source of all being, it was used to provide a new way to understand God the Father, the creator.

The Church also drew from Platonism a concept known as logos, known in English as “the Word”. The church understood “logos” to be the archetype or divine pattern of all being. We know this today as a “spark of divinity.” Because the “very image of God” was a concept from Judaism, the church used logos as a new way for hellenistic Jews to understand Jesus as the perfect image or archetype of God the Father.

Because of the early Church adoption and adaptation of the concepts of oikonomia, nous and logos, Christianity became, and in many ways remains today, a blend of Judaism and what we know as “metaphysics”. It was the beginning of a thread in the historic Christian church of what we should call today “Metaphysical Christianity”.

These new concepts changed what the early Church taught about Jesus. Judaism in Palestine did not draw a strong distinction between the manifest world and “the heavens.” So Jesus “from below” or Jesus “from above” was still a Jesus who is “near by”. But the hellenistic Mediterranean saw the heavens as a transcendent world which was totally inaccessible to the reach of humanity. The result was that Jesus was now “repositioned” as an eternal being, a being who was begot and never created, and a being from the transcended realm beyond our accessible world.

Answer 4: Jesus is who we are (a Christology from within)

John 15:5 I am the vine. You are the branches. He who remains in me, and I in him, the same bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I that live, but Christ living in me.

Colossians 1:26-27 the mystery which has been hidden for ages and generations. But now it has been revealed to his saints, to whom God was pleased to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Many people were troubled by the adoption of Greek philosophical notions, for several reasons. First, given that there is an oikonomia, or divine economy, where God provides for the well being of the cosmos, people began to criticize any teaching that held human beings responsible for their own salvation. Second, if God the Father is Divine Mind and Jesus is the Word, people began to declare that there are now two gods instead of one. Finally, people objected to saying that Jesus is the Word of God because, if so, it must be that he is “subordinated” or of a lesser nature to God the Father.

These issues led to the Church’s pushback against the influence of Greek philosophy, which then led to the divisive Church councils in 325 and 381, common era, known as Nicea and Constantinople. Most church histories say that the main issue was the “subordination” of Jesus to God the Father, but there is more to the story.

The earliest and most persistent objections were reactions to the draining influence of a belief system known as Gnosticism, which saw the world in dualistic terms, as an illusion detached from reality, and which incessantly criticized the ego of human beings as corrupt and evil. Gnostics were spiritual elitists who infiltrated many religions, criticized their gods and worked to push out the existing leadership. Much of the inauthentic letters of St. Paul and the pastoral epistles (Timothy and Titus) reflect conflict with the Gnostics. After nearly 300 years of conflict, the Church leaders were fed-up with the spiritual elitism of the Gnostics. The widespread adoption of Greek philosophical notions seemed to be more of the same. It was too much for a Semitic faith rooted in Judaism.

The unfortunate reaction of the church fathers was the adoption of an incomprehensible formula known as the Nicene creed, declaring God to be of one substance but expressed as three persons (refuting dualism) and declaring Jesus to be of one person expressed as two natures (refuting the evil nature of ego). The final result was a theological declaration that remains today too incomprehensible to be of any use in spiritual understanding.

The effect of the 4th century councils was that “metaphysical Christianity”, to adopt the phrase of Eric Butterworth, “went underground.” It remains underground to a large extent today. However this blend of Christianity with Greek philosophical ideas never died out. It persists in the writings of the church fathers, such as Justin, Clement, Origen and Gregory of Nyssa, the early writings of Augustine, the Flemish Beguines, Byzantine Hesychasts, German pietists and mystics, Christian Humanists, New England Transcendentalists and early 20th century New Thought students.

But most important is a new understanding of the mystical nature of metaphysical Christianity that is emerging in today’s post-modern era. Let me describe how that is so by way of an analogy, one that portrays metaphysical Christianity as a parade:

If you or I were to describe a parade we might fly in a helicopter and film the parade from a distance, showing the entire event in one image, giving our readers an objective view, front to start. But there is another way we might describe the parade. We might stand along the street and film the parade close-up, showing divinely inspired floats, bands or performers one after another as they pass along our way, giving our readers an experiential or inside view, filled with an ongoing series of various sounds and images, providing a very subjective view, moment by moment.

The difference between these two options is what is known in Greek grammar as “aspect”. Aspect is described by one New Testament scholar as “viewpoint”, the view from a helicopter being an outside viewpoint from a distance and the view from the street being a viewpoint close-up, inside the parade. It is no surprise that much of this new understanding of the mystical nature of metaphysical Christianity comes from the Greek Orthodox Church.

From the outside, distant point of view we get our first three answers to the question, What do you teach about Jesus?. We get: Jesus as raised up Wayshower, Jesus as descended incarnate God, Jesus as mediator to an inaccessible, transcendent God. Each of these three answers reveal to us Jesus as an object.

However when the parade is be seen from the inside, from the close-up and near-by viewpoint of the street, then we see things from what Martin Buber would call an “I-Thou” relationship. From that point of view we no longer see objects. Rather, we see subjects. What we see is Jesus through the lens of our relationship to Him, as the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, “Christ in me, my hope of glory”.

Our close-up metaphysical awareness of the ever present reality of Jesus Christ will eventually lead us to an even closer, mystical experience. We will no longer be content to stand along the street, observing. Amid the excitement of confetti and cheers, we will leave our close-up observations and jump into the parade itself, joining with Jesus in the process of becoming Godlike. Such is the movement from metaphysics to mysticism.

For the metaphysical Christian, God is what Jesus called “the Father”. We know God the Father as Divine Mind because, as Hypatia Hasbrouck has said, our mind and the Mind of God are one.

Jesus, the Christ, is the Imago Dei, the very image of God the Father. We have personal awareness of the presence of Jesus, the Christ, as the Word, or logos, because the logos of God is embedded in the only place such an image can find awareness and life, in the soul of every human being.

God the Father is reflected from each of us according to our awareness of the embedded image of the Christ within. That is our hope of glory. Our glory is not Jesus, but rather the greatness of our awareness of the embedded image, reflecting back from each of us the glory of God the Father.

You and I are Spirit, but we are expressed as human beings, demonstrating the two natures of Jesus Christ. While our expressed body may pass away, our individual expressed soul is inseparably bound to Spirit. As Emilie Cady has written, “God is, Man exists”.

I find deep significance in that the entry for “I am”, ego eimi, in my Greek grammar is a series of four possible English translations, arranged in descending spiritual quality: “I am; I exist; I live; I am present”. We are present, and, as Max Ehrmann wrote in his Desiderata, we have a right to be here. Never allow anyone to diminish your ego.

For metaphysical Christians, the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is alive. It is no longer a doctrine; it is an experience of the eternal process of the Divine Economy, the oikonomia, the ordering of our experience of all good. We know this eternal process in metaphysical Christianity as “Mind, Idea and Expression.”

You and I, and each and every human being, are a part of that Trinity. We reflect the glory of God the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit.

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Mark Hicks
Sunday, August 29, 2021

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