With the abovementioned title in mind, I'm thinking that I have to start employing a rating system for my blog posts. Posts such as this one may be rated TO - that is "Theologians Only". If some of my evangelical bloggers resent the idea that some readers will be exposed to alternative points of view, I could rate these types of posts PBR - that is, "Pastoral Brainwashing Recommended", so as to ensure that my ideas don't even get a hearing in the first place. Almost certainly, I will have to have to add a disclaimer something along the lines of "Warning: this post may contain theological themes that may be unsuitable for evangelical readers. Take cover ... and pray for my soul."
With that out of the way, I am able to tell you that I attended the second week of "Branches" tonight - a ten week program exploring Catholic practice and spirituality. Tonight's topic was "Who is Jesus?" and the speaker was Dr Robert Tilley of the Aquinas institute. The first thing I'll point out is that I don't really think that there was anything the Protestants, even conservative Protestants could have disagreed with in tonight's talk. This wasn't entirely unsurprising, given that the Nicean Creed is a common starting point (I guess depending upon the way you define "starting point") for both Catholic and Protestant Christology. Still, I'll be quite interested in seeing where the two roads eventually do diverge.
Even though tonight's talk was relatively uncontroversial, it got me thinking about one of my objections to evangelicalism. It occurred to me that one of my major gripes was and is in practice, I believe, that the Christ of evangelicalism is primarily spiritual and eschatological figure. By this, I mean that the focus of evangelicalism seemed so heavily focused upon the post-resurrection Christ that the pre-resurrection Christ hardly gets a look in. If I had to explain this, I would have to suggest that this is because evangelicals would like to see themselves as being "cruci-centric" - that is, that the Christian gospel is all about the Cross. What this means is that the evangelicals tend to focus rather heavily on the Pauline epistles, which talk about the implications of the Cross for the believer, while neglecting the earthly ministry of Jesus. It would seem, for many evangelicals, that Jesus' earthly ministry is merely a prelude to the main event, with no real significance of itself, and indeed, no contribution whatsoever to the salvific schema.
The problem with the above approach is that it risks seeing Jesus in purely divine terms - a heresy originated in the late first or early second century known as Docetism. Of course, evangelicals would assert that they believe that Jesus was fully human, but whether this intellectual assertion means anything in practice is fairly debatable. If you disagree with my assessment, I'd suggest you'd do well to look at writings on Jesus in the evangelical subculture. I would suggest that this trend is even true of evangelical theologians, who seem to spend a disproportionate amount of time talking about the post-resurrection Christ compared to the pre-resurrection Christ.
I should point out that I think that the over-emphasis of Jesus' divinity by evangelicalism is probably an understandable reaction to attacks upon the divinity of Jesus originating in 19th century liberal scholarship. Indeed, to the extent that they reject the liberals' rejection of Jesus' divinity, I agree with them. However, I would suggest that evangelicals have tended to overcompensate to such and extent that we wouldn't know that the evangelical Jesus really was human except for the odd Easter and Christmas sermon.
I believe that evangelicals would experience a much more rich faith by spending more time focusing upon the humanity of Christ. It is only because of the incarnation that we are able to speak about the practice of discipleship, quite simply because Christ needs to be human for us to be able to speak of following in his footsteps. If we take the earthly ministry of Jesus out of the picture, we are left with the God of Mount Sinai - the cosmic judge and the transcendent law-giver, a being who seems to be removed from the muck of our every day lives. In short, without the humanity of Jesus we remain with the legalistic code of the Law, rather than the Law of Love, personified so clearly in our Exemplar for us to emulate.