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Crosscurrents in Adventist Christology

by Claude Webster


B. A Brief Descriptive Summary of Douglass' Christology

Having presented an overview of the system existing in Douglass' overall theological scheme, we now wish to focus on his Christological position by giving a succinct description of his thought in this area. This will be followed in the next section by a discussion of the soteriological implications of Douglass' Christology.

In this section we will therefore proceed to address ourselves to a brief description of the Christology of Douglass. We will cover the preexistence and eternity of Christ, the Incarnation, the divinity of Jesus Christ, His humanity, and finally, the work of Christ.

1. The Pre-existence and Eternity of Christ

While Douglass does not devote much space to the pre-incarnate Logos, he does maintain clearly the preexistence of Jesus Christ as the divine Son of God.129 This pre-existence reaches back into the days of eternity before the creation of this world. In fact, Christ is the divine agent through whom the creation of all the universe and all heavenly beings came into existence.130  Douglass, therefore, upholds the eternity of Christ131 Douglass, therefore, upholds the eternity of Christ as well as His deity and unity with His Father.132 Douglass would disassociate himself from the Arian position which sees the pre-existent Christ as inferior to the Father either in time or in nature.133

2. The Incarnation

Douglass upholds the virgin birth of Jesus and the reality and necessity of the Incarnation. In summarizing the reasons for the Incarnation according to Douglass, we would give seven: to show man what God is like; to vindicate the character of God against a multitude of Satan's accusations; to prove that the law is the foundation of God's government and can be kept perfectly by sinless beings and fallen man; to present Christ as Substitute and Surety and to maintain the justice and mercy of God; to equip Christ to serve as example and Model of obedience for fallen men and women; to introduce Christ as Teacher to define the principles of God's government and the plan of salvation; and to allow Christ to experience the lot of fallen man in order to establish His credentials as a merciful and faithful High Priest.135

3. The Divinity of Jesus Christ

Douglass holds that Jesus Christ was fully God while here on earth136 but at the same time maintains that He laid aside His divine powers and prerogatives to live the life of man.137 The first chapter of Jesus-the Benchmark of Humanity is devoted to the theme 'God With Us' with emphasis on the first word. Here Douglass shows with Biblical evidence that Jesus Christ is God.138 And yet beyond this brief and introductory treatment little attention is given to the divinity of Christ. Douglass lays so much emphasis and importance on the humanity of Christ that one questions what pragmatic evidence he has for the divinity of the earthly Christ. We will return to a consideration of this issue in our evaluation and critique.

4. The humanity of Jesus Christ

For Douglass what is vital is the full and genuine humanity of Jesus Christ along with its complete identification with the humanity of fallen man.139

Douglass accepts the post-Lapsarian position regarding the human nature of Christ.140 Christ came, not in Adam's nature, but in fallen man's sinful nature, thus standing exactly where fallen man finds himself.141 Christ inherited from His earthly ancestors just what any other child would inherit from his earthly parents.142 He came with the same natural equipment as did all other children.143 Christ entered the human scene with the same weaknesses, liabilities, inherent tendencies and passions as any other child.144 For Douglass this is what is meant in maintaining that Christ took man's sinful human nature. And yet this does not make Christ an actual sinner for Douglass does not accept a concept of original sin.145

Douglass holds that all men have succumbed to the inherent passions and tendencies of their sinful natures by choosing to sin, whereas Christ resisted the natural desires of the sinful nature and never yielded to temptation for one moment thus never transgressing the law of God and always remaining sinless.146

He teaches that Christ's victory over temptation was not on the basis of His divinity but was due to His reliance upon prayer, the study of the Scriptures and reliance upon His Father.147 This victory was gained in Christ's humanity and His method is available to all men.148 In this way Christ had no basic advantage over fallen man, according to Douglass, except that man has sinned and Christ has never fallen.149

This whole emphasis on the humanity of Christ and His identity with the sinner plays a vital role in Douglass' theology.150 He believes that the example of Christ's humanity is vital for the solution of the 'great controversy' between Christ and Satan. God is waiting for the possible to happen when a whole generation of fallen men and women will follow the example of Christ, live as He lived in His humanity and finally vindicate the character of God.151This vindication is entirely possible, necessary and reasonable and is the logical outgrowth of Douglass' Christological role of the humanity of Christ.

5. The work of Christ

We have already noticed emphasis on the work of Christ when we outlined the seven reasons given by Douglass for the Incarnation.152 While every aspect is important, there is no question that Douglass gives the most prominence to the work of Christ in demonstrating before the universe that the law of God is reasonable and can be perfectly kept, thus equipping Himself to serve as Guide, Example, Model and Coach to all men.153 Much of the writing on the work of Christ is devoted to this aspect of Christ serving as a model for all men to emulate.154

In the post-ascension work of Christ in heaven, Douglass gives much emphasis to Christ's work in the heavenly sanctuary as High Priest in the two phases of His work, namely, that of intercession and judgment.155 For Douglass this work is of equal, if not greater importance, than Christ's work on the cross.156 The final judgment phase of Christ's heavenly work is of paramount importance and increases in significance as time advances.157 Douglass sees the condition of the church on earth as closely linked with this priestly work of Christ. Christ's 'cleansing' work above is vitally related to the parallel 'cleansing' work in the hearts of God's people on earth revealed in living without sin in a state of perfection.158

For Douglass, the climax of Christ's work in the second Advent is dependent upon the state of the church on earth.159 Thus the condition of the church causes a delay in Christ's return, according to Douglass. As we have previously stated, he has promoted the 'harvest' principle to explain the apparent delay and to enable man to determine the progress of Christ's work.160 Christ's work in heaven will reach its climax in the second Advent when the church on earth has given its final demonstration and fully vindicated God.161

Having now presented this descriptive summary of Douglass' Christology we wish to focus our attention on the soteriological implications of Douglass' Christology. That there is a close connection between Douglass' soteriology and Christology there can be no question. Whether his Christology has influenced his soteriology or vice versa is an open question. In spite of this, we now turn to a consideration of the soteriological implications of Douglass' Christology.


129 "Jesus Christ was the eternal God who took upon Himself human form (Philippians 2:5-11)" (Jesus-The Benchmark of Humanity, p.19). [back]

130 Douglass, Jesus-The Benchmark of Humanity, pp. 19,21. [back]

131 Douglass, Jesus-The Benchmark of Humanity, pp. 19,21. [back]

132 We have not found that Douglass speaks in terms of 'nature' or 'substance' when referring to the fact of the deity of Jesus Christ. He does speak of Christ as being "fully God" (Jesus-The Benchmark of Humanity, p.21) and of the deity of Christ. He writes: "For most conservative Christians, there seems to be little question about our Lord's Deity, and His unborrowed, underived existence as an eternal member of the Godhead" ("Christ our High Priest," The Ministry, March 1977, p.9). Douglass clearly identifies himself with this sentiment. [back]

133 Douglass implies agreement with Christians, including the Adventist Church, in their efforts to refute Arianism, but at the same time questions the feeble attempt to refute Docetism. See "Jesus Showed Us the Possible," Review and Herald, December 30, 1971. [back]

134 Douglass does not actually spend very much time on the virgin birth. He mentions it briefly in the chapter "God with Us," Jesus-The Benchmark of Humanity, p.27. He is anxious to mention that the Bible does not indicate that the human hereditary stream was broken between Mary and Jesus. [back]

135 See Jesus-The Benchmark of Humanity, pp.36-39; The Humanity of Jesus (mimeographed document), p.2. [back]

136 See "God with Us," Jesus-The Benchmark of Humanity, pp.13-24; Douglass writes concerning Judas: 'He lived three years, day and night, with God Himself" "How to be Deceived by Reason," Review and Herald, August 26, 1971); see also "The Peculiar Temptation of Successful People," Review and Herald, September 16, 1971; 'Jesus Showed us the Possible," Review and Herald, December 30, 1971; Why Jesus Waits, p.8. [back]

137 Douglass says: "So with Jesus Christ; because He chose to lay aside His divine powers while He was a man, He too had to trust completely on the power of God through faith" (Perfection, p.45). Also: "Although Jesus remained God, He temporarily laid aside His divine powers" (The Humanity of Jesus (mimeographed document), p.15). See also footnote 75 of this chapter. Despite Douglass' support of the divinity of Christ does it not appear as if he has accepted some form of the kenotic doctrine? [back]

138 It must be admitted that Douglass does not devote much space to this and his Biblical evidence is sparse. See Jesus-The Benchmark of Humanity, pp.13-24. [back]

139 Not surprisingly, Douglass devotes most of his Christological thought to the humanity of Christ. See Jesus-The Benchmark of Humanity; Perfection, pp.35-45; "Meet the Man who Makes us Human," Review and Herald, November 13, 1975. [back]>

140 See, for example, "The Humanity of the Son of God is Everything to Us," Review and Herald, December 23, 1971; The Humanity of Jesus (mimeographed document); Compilations by Herbert Douglass (Handed to M. R. Thurber during the Task Force meeting in January 1975, and obtainable from the Biblical Research Institute). [back]

141 See Perfection, pp.39-41 (on page 42 Douglass speaks of "the great Christian heresy that our Lord's human nature was as Adam's before his fall"); "Jesus Showed us the Possible," Review and Herald, December 30, 1971; "Emmanuel - God with Us," Review and Herald, December 20, 1973. [back]

142 See Perfection, pp. 37,52; The End p.142; Why Jesus Waits, p.9; "Why the Angels Sang," Review and Herald, December 21, 1972; "Where is Your Faith," Review and Herald, January 4, 1973. [back]

143 Douglass says that Jesus had the same natural equipment as all other children but was different in performance. See "The Humanity of Jesus," (mimeographed document), p.14; "The Humanity of the Son of God is Everything to Us," Review and Herald, December 23, 1971; "The Mystery of the Manger," Review and Herald, December 19, 1974. [back]

144 See Perfection, pp.14,35,42,49; "Concepts of Jesus affect Personality," Review and Herald, August 31, 1972. [back]

145 Douglass actually devotes no space to a treatment of the problem of original sin. However, the whole thrust of his argument in placing Jesus and all other children on the same level precludes any form of original sin for man. [back]

146 Douglass is very clear that Jesus Christ never yielded to temptation. This is evident throughout his writings. This is the one difference between man and Jesus. See, for example, "Why Jesus Is Exalted," Review and Herald, February 24, 1972. [back]

147 Douglass writes: "His faith in His heavenly Father alone constituted the secret of His triumph over sin (l John 5:4)" (Perfection, p.45). [back]

148 See Perfection, pp.33,52; Why Jesus Waits, p.33; "Emmanuel - God with Us," Review and Herald, December 20, 1973. [back]

149 See Perfection, pp.38,39,44,45; "The Humanity of the Son of God is Everything to Us," Review and Herald, December 23, 1971; "Why Jesus is Exalted," Review and Herald, February 24, 1972. Douglass says that Christ had two advantages over other men: "(l) He chose His mother and (2) He was not afflicted by negative consequences of His own habits that would have plagued Him if He Himself had sinned" (Unidentified mimeographed paper, no date, obtainable from Biblical Research Institute), p.3a. [back]

150 The title of one of Douglass' editorials speaks eloquently to this issue. "The Humanity of the Son of God is Everything to Us," Review and Herald, December 23, 1971. [back]

151 Douglass writes: "The example of Jesus, the God-man, stands before us all as the viable goal that will be achieved in a remarkable demonstration by the last generation of advent-oriented Christians" (Perfection, p.43, see also p.55); "The demonstration that settles everything," Review and Herald, January 6, 1972. [back]

152 These seven reasons were given on page 381. See also footnote 135 of this chapter. [back]

153 This emphasis is dominant. See his book, Jesus-The Benchmark of Humanity. Notice further the prominent position given to Christ as example: "His role as man's example and substitute would have to be heralded to the world" in article "Faith, the Free Response of a Convinced Man," Review and Herald, March 26, 1970. Christ is called our 'Coach' in "How Far is a Year?" Review and Herald, January 7, 1971. Christ's example is almost given saving power in an article where Douglass says that unless Jesus had lived His sinless life on man's level "His example would have had limited power to save" ("Why Jesus is Exalted," Review and Herald, February 24, 1972). [back]

154 See, for example, Jesus, the Model Man, Sabbath School lesson series for second quarter, 1977. [back]

155 See Douglass' series of articles entitled, "Importance of the Sanctuary Truth," Review and Herald, September 4,18; October 2,23,30; November 6,27; December 4, 1975. These same articles formed the basis of his book, Why Jesus Waits, 1976, 61 pages. [back]

156 See Why Jesus Waits, p.13. Also the entire article, "Christ our High Priest," The Ministry, March 1977, pp.9-13. [back]

157 See Why Jesus Waits, pp.45,46. [back]

158 Douglass says: "The heavenly sanctuary is truly cleansed when God's people are finally truly purified, cleansed and clean" ("Christ our High Priest," The Ministry, March 1977, p.10). [back]

159 See the section "The State of the Church Rather than the State of the World," Perfection, pp. 22-24. [back]

160 See footnotes 125-128 in this chapter. [back]

161 See Perfection, pp.52-56. [back]

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