Sunday, 6 April 2008


Darrell Bock has a recent post about Jesusanity as distinct from Christianity. I would add to his observations that our contemporary tendency to refer regularly to the post-ascension Christ simply as “Jesus” tends to aid and abet some of the tendencies he observes. I’m old enough to remember when we first began to do this (in the ’60s) and why we did it (it broke away from tradition and sounded cool). Prior to this, we generally reflected the Biblical pattern of referring to “Jesus” when speaking of the earthly ministry of the Son of God, but “Christ”, “Jesus Christ”, “Lord”, “Lord Jesus” etc. when addressing him or referring to him in his exaltation.

While I’m not suggesting we need to be absolutist about this (there is a handful of references to the exalted “Jesus” in the epistles – and we ought to consider the literary-theological effect intended by the use of the name alone), the overwhelming usage in post-ascension contexts in the NT is to employ one of the more honorific designations. There may be a difference between calling on someone to “trust Jesus” (which one?) and what we observe Paul doing to the end of his ministry as reported by Luke at the close of the book of Acts, “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.”

Given the Biblical concern for names and titles and their significance, perhaps we ought not to treat this as a matter of total indifference.


Melinda said...

I agree with you, John. Our use of language is important both to communicate meaning but also to help us track our thought/theological development.

It appears to me that the current tendency is towards Gospelanity, though. "Jesus" or "Jesus Christ" seems less used in dialogue than "gospel".

Although the content of the gospel is Jesus Christ, I think we have begun to depersonalise Christianity and lose the depth and fulness of what Christ has done for us when we stop speaking about Him in a personal way.

John McClean said...

it is an interesting case study in contextualisation. I think that "Jesus" is used not just because it is cool, but because it seemed to help break through the assumptions of a formal relationship with a distant religious figure who had to be addressed by his title, to a 'personal' relationship. The shift in Western culture in the 60's, to a far greater emphasis on the 'personal' and on intimate relationships made "Christ" or even "the Lord Jesus" seem far less appealing. That is not a defence of the move, but my explanation of it. Like all contextualisation it needs careful reflection, what are the gains and losses?

Michael Raiter makes the point the Melinda is making in Stirrings of the Soul.


John Davies said...

Good observations. I think “gospel” functions as a buzzword in some circles, and not always well understood. Perhaps I’ll do a post on this. There will be cultural aspects of how we express our relationship with our saviour. Words like Lord and Christ could well be thoughtfully contextualised (though I admit I can’t come up with any I’m totally happy with – the best so far is “champion”). But that is different from privileging our (particularly Australian) cultural penchant for being everyone’s mate, expressed partly through our informality in modes of address. I’m just asking whether we have indeed lost something the NT values by wandering too far on the familiarity side.

Dave said...

Hi Guys,
When I look at the NT I do not see consistant usage between 'Jesus', 'Christ', or 'Lord', or combinations thereof. Certainly Paul was one for the more formal titles (as was Peter), but Acts I think is split down the middle (including Acts 9 with Jesus' reference to himself as simply 'Jesus'), Hebrews leans more to 'Jesus'. In the Gospels that were written in direct reference to Jesus' earthly ministry but after Jesus' exaltation he is referred to more often than not as 'Jesus'. I cannot help but think we can make too much of this and what we might see as 'tendencies'. When I think of John 15:15 I do not see Jesus being concerned with over familiarity!
I am reading a book by Craig Van Gelder called 'The Ministry of the Missional Church'. It has been challenging me about how we contextualise the Gospel and Church. It is thought provoking and relevant to the discussion if anyone is interested.