Roger Olson Defining God Through Jesus

Roger Olson recently put up an article which sounds very Anabaptist in its approach. The simple thesis: God is like Jesus. I know, I know, I say that alot, but most Christians still don’t seem to quite get it and tend to try to squeeze Jesus into pre-existing interpretations of Scripture (defined by your tradition of choice) in general or God in general (defined, most often, by Greek philosophy). I’m not, like Olson isn’t, suggesting that there isn’t revelation of God in other parts of Scripture – even the texts of terror – or even that there isn’t revelation of God in Greek philosophy or the variety of other places we get our presuppositions from. But the fullest and complete revelation lies in Jesus, so anything else – Bible, generic God, other assumptions – need to be submitted to that filter instead of the other way around.

My abbreviation of the piece:

The point, and problem, is that many people form a picture of “God” in their minds from somewhere independent of Jesus and then make Jesus fit that picture when they believe him to be God incarnate. Instead of a “Jesus-like God” they have a “God-like Jesus” where “God-like” means an image of God unconditioned by Jesus.

The problem with beginning a statement of faith with the Bible is that it tends to impress upon people the idea that the Bible is the primary object of their faith—that in which they place most of their trust. Their Christianity, then, becomes “Bible faith” rather or more than “Jesus faith.”

I believe our primary focus of faith as Christians, that which conditions all else, is Jesus. If he is God incarnate, as all orthodox Christians believe (or at least say they believe), or even the “human face of God,” as liberal Christians believe (or at least say they believe), then we cannot begin with a generic or even pre-Jesus “God,” what theologian Robert Jenson calls “unbaptized God,” and project that onto Jesus….

Many theologians throughout church history have grasped this truth and taken it seriously even if not to its logical conclusion. Luther spoke often and warmly of Jesus as God and insisted that his followers regard Jesus as God for us, rejecting all images of God drawn from philosophy, natural theology, Christian tradition, and even portions of the Bible that conflict with the revelation of who God is in Jesus Christ. And yet he also affirmed a “deus absconditus,” a “hidden God” behind Jesus who is very un-Christlike.

Moravian leader Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf was perhaps the most Jesus-centered theologian in the history of orthodox, trinitarian Christianity…For him, unlike for Luther, there is no deus absconditus—hidden God lurking behind Jesus. Jesus is God for us and there is no un-Christlike God who is against us….

In spite of all this, many contemporary evangelical Christians (to say nothing of others) continue to believe in an un-Christlike God first and foremost and then attempt to fit Jesus into that God-faith. For them, belief in a Supreme Being (semi-deism) or in the Warrior God of the early stages of Israel’s history serves as a Procrustean Bed (look it up) onto which Jesus-faith must fit. The result is a truncated, mutilated Jesus who is paradoxically un-Christlike. To use just one contemporary example, Jesus can then become a pugilistic cage-fighter covered with tattoos.

The issue is not “either-or,” it is who conditions what?…The question is—what or who is the primary revelation of God’s character that we begin with, stay with and always fall back on to evaluate God-pictures? If not Jesus, then I call the method sub-Christian.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.