The “Jesus of History” and the “Christ of Faith”
“Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.” (First John 4:2-3, KJV)
“Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God…” (First John 5:1a, KJV)
For more than a century now it has been popular in modern theology and in liberal biblical scholarship to make a sharp distinction between the “Jesus of History” and the “Christ of Faith.” In other words, a sharp distinction is made between the historical figure of Jesus the man from Nazareth and the supernatural “cosmic Christ” proclaimed by the early church. The basic assumption undergirding this radical bifurcation between the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith is that the portrait of Jesus Christ painted for us in the Gospels is not an entirely trustworthy record of the actual words and actions of the man Jesus; rather, the Gospels teach us more about the faith of the early Christian communities and the issues they were dealing with than they do about the real Jesus of history.
There are many many problems with this modernist divorce between the “Jesus of History” and the so-called “Christ of Faith.” First of all, it is rooted in an anti-supernaturalist bias. Scholars and clergy who have embraced and promoted this distinction often do so because they have uncritically imbibed a naturalistic philosophical worldview which presuppposes the impossibility of the miraculous. If “God” exists as an actual personal Being (and not simply as an impersonal “ground of being” or as a metaphor for human religious experience), then He either cannot or does not intervene supernaturally in history. From this point of view even “God” cannot (or will not) violate the so-called “natural laws” discovered by science. This is either because “God” is conceived of as being aloof from the workings of the universe and the historical process (which is basically Deism), or He is conceived of as being so identified with the historical process that the distinction between the natural and supernatural, between the ordinary and the miraculous, gets blurred (which basically leans toward Pantheism and compromises the Creator/creature distinction). It is obvious to even the casual reader of the Gospels that they are drenched with the supernatural. The Jesus presented in the Gospels is a Jesus who performs mighty supernatural deeds (healing the sick, raising the dead, multiplying loaves and fishes, walking on the water, casting out demons, etc.). But if one approaches the Gospel records with the anti-supernatural bias (i.e., assuming that such miracles are impossible, even for one who claimed to be the supernatural Son of God Incarnate), then one has to find a way to explain away these miracles. The problem here is that the mighty supernatural deeds of Jesus recorded in the Gospels are so intertwined into the warp and woof of the Gospel accounts that any attempt to “demythologize” the Gospels in order to “reconstruct” a purely naturalistic Jesus is fraught with difficulties. Such reconstructions of a merely human, non-divine “historical Jesus” end up being artificial, and usually tell us more about the scholars who offer such reconstructions than they do about the “Jesus of history” they profess to be searching for.
A second major problem with this modernist bifurcation is that it ignores the historical consciousness that has undergirded the church from its earliest days. To put it in simpler terms, biblical Christianity is and always has been a faith that makes historical truth claims. Christianity is not merely a system of morality or ethics that can be divorced from its supernatural truth claims. Rather, Christian ethics is rooted in Christian theology, and the theology of the Bible claims that God has, at times, supernaturally and redemptively intervened in human history. The God of the Bible is a sovereign, interventionist God. He is a living God who acts. He acted in the beginning by creating the universe (including the realm of space-time history). He is a God who supernaturally intervened to deliver the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and to bring them into the promised land. And He is a God who has supremely acted in the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ to redeem lost sinners, through Christ’s life, death and resurrection. From its earliest days the church has proclaimed that the man Jesus of Nazareth is the Divine Christ! In fact, as we may infer from the quotes above from the Epistle of First John, to deny that the Divine Christ (the “Christ of faith”) has come in the flesh in the person of Jesus (the “Jesus of history”) is to align oneself with the spirit of antichrist. But this is precisely what gnostic-leaning modernist theology and “scholarship” denies! On the other hand, those who have been born of God believe and confess that the man Jesus is the Divine Christ (First John 5:1). The implication of this is that anyone (whether layman or clergy, scholar or student) who denies that the historical man Jesus is also the Divine Christ Incarnate (such as by making a sharp distinction between the “Jesus of history” and the “Christ of faith”) has not been born of God, and thus will not enter the kingdom of God (John 3:3, 5). Such a person is of the spirit of antichrist.
Many more objections to the modernist bifurcation between the “Jesus of History” and the “Christ of faith” could be raised. But the bottom line is this: The Holy Scriptures do not separate the “Jesus of history” from the “Christ of faith.” Instead, God’s Word proclaims that Jesus (the man from Nazareth) is the Divine Christ. Anyone who cannot affirm that basic confession of faith is simply outside of the Christian Faith. And any church that departs from this simple confession of faith has departed from the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3), and thus is no longer a true church of Christ but rather has degenerated into an antichrist religious organization, a “synagogue of Satan.” Dear reader, do you affirm that Jesus (the man) is Christ the Lord? “That if you confess with your mouth “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9, NIV)