Wednesday, June 20, 2007

"Muslim & Christian" Reverend: Jesus Is Not God

Yesterday I wrote, "I hope that she [Rev. Ann Holmes Redding] will look beyond her childhood baptism and finally come to a conclusion one way or the other regarding the deity of Christ, which she has struggled with 'for years.'" An article posted yesterday has shed some more light on the situation. According to her comments during an interview with Norah M. Joslyn for "the Diocese of Olympia newspaper," Holmes Redding has indeed made her decision and it is very clear:

Said Ms. Redding, "When we say Jesus is the only begotten one, we are saying he's unique in some way. Islam says the same thing. He's the only human aside from Adam who is directly created by God, and he's different from Adam because he has a human mother. So there's agreement-this person is unique in his relationship to God. We Christians, in struggling to express the beauty and dignity of Jesus and the pattern of life he offers, describe him as the 'only begotten son of God.' That's how wonderful he is to us. But that is not literal," she continues, "I agree with both because I do want to say that Jesus is unique, and for me, Jesus is my spiritual master."

Redding says what Islam does is take Jesus out of the way of her relationship with God, "but it doesn't drop Jesus. I was following Jesus and he led me into Islam, and he didn't drop me off at the door. He's there, too." Islam and Christianity are complementary, she suggests, and that the Muslim profession of faith that there is no God but God and Mohammed is the prophet of God, does not contradict anything in Christianity. Nor do the professions made at a Christian baptism contradict anything in Islam. "For me to become a human being means to identify solely with the will of God. Islam gives me the tools to do that," she explained.

If Holmes Redding had ever accepted the orthodox Christian understanding of the diety of Christ, she has rejected it in favor of the Muslim teaching. As I wrote yesterday, she can hold to one or the other but not both. But what about what she says about Jesus in the quote above? Isn't that an acceptable "Christian" belief? Couldn't Jesus be "unique" but not God? No. Let's examine why.

As the case usually is with most novel teachings today, Christians have examined and sufficiently answered this question in the past so a little research into church history can be very helpful in situations like this. Rev. Redding's claims provide a good opportunity for Christians to beef up our understanding of the issues related to this matter.

Holmes Redding's beliefs about Jesus share similarities with both
Arianism and Ebionism, centuries-old heresies refuted and rejected by the early church. Arianism developed from the teachings of Arius, a 4th-century presbyter from Alexandria. The church condemed the beliefs known as Arianism at the Council of Nicea in 325. Arianism held that the deity of Jesus Christ was not compatible with the uniqueness and transcendence of God [material used in this review of Arianism is taken from Millard J. Erickson's Christian Theology, 2nd ed., pgs. 711-15]. Jesus could not be one in essence with God because that would contradict the indivisibility and unchangeable nature of God. The deity of Jesus was seen by Arians as a challenge to monotheism by contradicting the oneness of God.

Arians also pointed to several passages of Scripture to support their claims. Erickson organizes these passages into four sections:
1. "texts that suggest that the Son is a creature,"
Proverbs 8:22; Acts 2:36; Romans 8:29; Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 3:2. Col. 1:15, for instance, Paul refers to Jesus as "the firstborn over all creation."
2. "texts in which the Father is represented as the only true God," such as Jesus' prayer in
John 17:3: "And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent."
3. "texts that seem to imply that Christ is inferior to the Father," such as
John 14:28 where Jesus says, "the Father is greater than I."
4. "texts that attribute to the Son such imperfections as weakness, ingnorance, and suffering."
Mark 13:32 seems to point to an imperfection in Christ when Jesus states, "But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone."

So Arians combined well-established theological and philosophical principles regarding God with certain passages of Scripture to come to the conclusion that Jesus was an exalted creature, even the highest of all creatures, but not God. The texts of the four categories cited above can all reasonably by shown to, in fact, not contradict the deity of Christ but I will not run down each of those verses at this time. This could be discussed further in the comments section if anyone is interested.

Those who hold to similar beliefs that deny the deity of Christ must ignore each of the passages that affirm the deity of Christ. Erickson provides a helpful point: "It is true that Jesus did not make an explicit and overt claim to deity. He did not say in so many words, 'I am God.' What we do find, however, are claims that would be inappropriate if made by someone who is less than God." This is an important point to make. Christians cannot point to such a statement but it is not an adequate argument to simply point out that Jesus did not make the statement, "I am God." Christians acknowledge this point of fact. Even without such an explicit statement, Scripture testifies to the deity of Jesus Christ.

I will not provide an exhaustive list of references but I will provide some examples. First, Christians certainly affirm that there is indeed only one true God. Deuteronomy 6:4 is clear: "Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!" I don't believe any further explanation is necessary here.

Second, Christians also believe that there are three divine persons: God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ), and God the Holy Spirit. Those who deny the diety of Christ would at least agree that God and Jesus are two distinct persons (I won't go into whether or not God is a "person" except to say that the personhood of God is indicated by his having a name, the meaning of the those names and the relationship to mankind that is indicated by those names, his interactions with mankind and the knowing, feeling, acting, and willing demonstrated in these interactions). James R. White
explains, "The Bible teaches that all things have being, but only God, humans, and angels are personal. I as a human being am one person, James White. My being makes me human, my personality differentiates me from all other human beings. Since my being is finite and limited, only one person can properly subsist in it, namely, me. But since God’s being is infinite and unlimited, it can be, and is, shared by three persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." So Christians believe that there is only one true God and that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are distinct persons.

Third, and this is key, Christians believe that the Bible teaches the full equality of the divine persons, namely, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. For Scriptures which indicate this, see
Matthew 28:19; 1 Corinthians 12:4-6; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Ephesians 4:4-6; 1 Peter 1:2. The Bible reveals that the Father, Son, and Spirit interact with mankind in different ways, with different "roles," but they are fully equal in essence. All persons are God and there is one God.

Any doctrine which denies the deity of Jesus Christ can rightly be called a non-Christian teaching. Ann Holmes Redding may claim to be 100% Christian and 100% Muslim but this is simply not possible. I do not make a habit of attempting to determine who is and is not a Christian but if Rev. Redding denies the deity of Christ, and she does, than she is denying a central, foundational doctrine of Christianity. Is Jesus is not God, Christianity is a lie.

I do not write these posts in order to attack Rev. Redding. I simply believe that she is making claims about foundational matters to Christianity that are false and extremely misleading. I hope that no Christian would be convinced by her claims but, unfortunately, I am sure that her ideas about Jesus Christ and the compatibility between Christianity and Islam will gain traction with some. Christians should be able to discern fact from fiction when stories like this pop up. It important not just to discern that an idea is false but also to positively explain why your view is correct. I hope that my meager posts have been an encouragement in this regard.

See also:
Jesus Is the Christ the Son of God by John Piper
Was Jesus Divine? The Early Christian Understanding by Mark D. Roberts
The Deity of Jesus: The Self-Understanding of Jesus by Glenn Miller
Erroneous Views Concerning The Person of Christ by Loraine Boettner
Critical Evidence for the Deity of Christ by Matt Perman
How Could Jesus Be Both Divine and Human? by R.C. Sproul

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