N.T. Wright: Jesus in 3D

Brian LePort has an interesting post N.T. Wright on the Chalcedonian Definition. For those who don’t know, the Chalcedonian Definition was the climax of the early church’s quest to define the nature of Jesus as both God and man,

perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; … in all things like unto us, without sin; … in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved …

This definition was and still is accepted by the church of Rome and the Eastern Orthodox churches, and most Protestants also consider it a touchstone of Trinitarian orthodoxy. But it was and still is rejected by some Oriental churches as well as by non-Trinitarians.

N.T. WrightWright, as quoted by LePort, writes:

the Chalcedonian Definition looks suspiciously like an attempt to say the right thing but in two dimensions (divinity and humanity as reimagined within a partly de-Judaized world of thought) rather than in three dimensions. What the Gospel offer is the personal story of Jesus himself, understood in terms of his simultaneously (1) embodying Israel’s God, coming to rule the world as he had always promised, and (2) summing up Israel itself, as its Messiah, offering to Israel’s God the obedience to which Israel’s whole canonical tradition had pointed but which nobody, up to this point, had been able to provide. The flattening out of Christian debates about Jesus into the language of divinity and humanity represents, I believe, a serious de-Judaizing of the Gospels, ignoring the fact that the Gospels know nothing of divinity in the abstract and plenty about the God of Israel coming to establish his kingdom on earth as in heaven, that they know nothing of humanity in the abstract, but plenty about Israel as God’s true people, and Jesus as summing that people up in himself. The Council of Chalcedon might be seen as the de-Israelitization of the canonical picture of YHWH and Israel into the abstract categories of ‘divinity’ and ‘humanity.’ I continue to affirm Chalcedon in the same way that I will agree that a sphere is also a circle or a cube also a square, while noting that this truth is not the whole truth.

In other words, the true Jesus is a three-dimensional person in a Jewish real world context, living the life of a real man and doing the works of a real God. But the Byzantine theologians took him out of that context and flattened him into a two-dimensional abstraction derived from Greek philosophical concepts of divinity and humanity. They were not wrong, but they gave us only a small part of the picture.

Sadly most of the church today sees Jesus in the same way. He is worshipped as a static two-dimensional image, even when portrayed in three-dimensional statues, and honoured for the important things he did 2000 years ago. He is not understood as the living God. Nor is he taken as our fully human example, as I posted about him being nearly five years ago.

The world has recently rediscovered 3D cinema. In a few days from now the BBC will offer 3D television for the first time, for the Wimbledon finals. It is time for the church to rediscover the real 3D Jesus, and broadcast him to the world.

6 thoughts on “N.T. Wright: Jesus in 3D

  1. I’ve always been intrigued by how Jesus as a man dealt with colds, bruises, the hormone rush of a teenager and all of that. Did he catch chicken pox? Did He want kids, but consciously gave that up because of the call on his life? What about attractive women? Obviously, he had to go through all of that without sin. If He didn’t, then He does not understand us well.

    But no one ever wants to talk about those things.

  2. David, that’s a good point. I haven’t really thought about them, beyond rejecting as docetic the lines from Away in a Manger:

    But little Lord Jesus
    No crying He makes

    Maybe I should give some thought to this, and post about it.

  3. Along with this line of reasoning is this question: When did Jesus become aware of His full call to die for us? I tend to believe it happened (or began to happen in earnest) at His baptism. What do you think?

  4. Very likely, David. I don’t suppose he understood much before his baptism. Maybe he was not fully aware of what he was called to do until the Transfiguration (see Luke 9:31), but he had already predicted his own death and resurrection.

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