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Crosscurrents in Adventist Christology

by Claude Webster


II. Views Compared in Three Cardinal Relationships

In this section we intend to briefly compare the main positions of our four authors with reference to the relationship of the divinity and humanity of Christ; the relationship of Christ and sin; and thirdly, the relationship between the person and work of Christ.

A. The Relationship of the Divinity and Humanity of Christ

In the preceding chapters we have seen that Adventist Christology is united in its understanding and acceptance of the truth that Jesus Christ is very God and very man. There is agreement that in Christ both divinity and humanity were manifested. All four of our representatives stand in the tradition of Nicea in his respect and would not want to be accused of either Docetism or ebionism. This conviction is perhaps more clearly articulated by some than by others. We have observed that Ellen White comes out in strong support of the full deity of Christ while on earth, and at the same time, in equal support of His humanity. Waggoner, on the other hand, while making place for the humanity of Christ even to the extent of sinful flesh, moved strongly in the direction of a continuous manifestation of the divinity of Christ which eventually eclipsed the significance of His humanity. Heppenstall gave equal recognition to the divinity and the humanity of Christ in his position on the two natures in one Person. Douglass, while maintaining the deity of Christ, has focused so heavily on His humanity that the emphasis on His divinity tends to be muted.

When it comes to the question of the actual use of the attributes of the divine nature of Christ we have seen that the situation becomes more complex. For example, in Ellen White we find divergent and apparently contradictory expressions and concepts. At times she pictures Christ in full use of His deity and at other times she gives the impression that He laid down the active use of His divinity during the Incarnation. Then again, she will give the impression that Christ functioned in His divinity for the sake of His mission and for others, but never for His own sake to lighten the role of His humanity.Sometimes Ellen White suggests that the miracles which Christ performed were done as a sign of His divinity, and then again she will suggest that His miracles were performed on the basis of prayer and faith. There are occasions when Ellen White would suggest that if it were not for the divinity of Christ His humanity would never have been able to bear the temptations of the wilderness or the rigors of Gethsemane. And then on the other hand, she will give the impression that if we give to the humanity of Christ a power not available to us, we are decrying the reality of His temptation and trial as man.

As far as Waggoner is concerned, we would submit that he comes across as one of the strongest proponents of the fact that Christ used His own divinity during the Incarnation. It is true that he also suggests a veiled use of this divinity, but nevertheless, there is the strong idea that it is on the basis of the full deity of Christ that He had power on earth for His mission, miracles and message. We have noticed that Waggoner is of the opinion that the flesh of Jesus loses some of its importance in comparison with the ever-present, universal Christ in all men. The role of the humanity of Christ eventually tended to lose its significance for Waggoner.

While Heppenstall upholds the full deity of Christ, he does not set forth an active use of His divinity. We have observed his conviction that the evidence points to the human centre of Christ's consciousness. Heppenstall believes that Christ, while retaining His deity, surrendered the active use of His divinity into the hands of His Father and would only use His own divinity with permission of the Father. It appears that for Heppenstall occasions for such permissive use are infrequent.

In the case of Douglass we have seen that he has no question with regard to the reality and completeness of Christ's humanity. To this aspect of Jesus Christ he gives much emphasis and attention. He is anxious to have Christ functioning as man's example and, therefore, this emphasis. However, when it comes to the active use of Christ's divinity, it appears that Douglass does not devote much attention to this aspect of Christology. In fact, he seems prepared to acknowledge that Christ laid this use aside during the Incarnation.

B. The Relationship of Christ and Sin

One of the most difficult areas to handle in connection with the humanity of Jesus Christ has to do with His relation to the problem of sin. All four of our representatives believe that Jesus Christ possessed real and genuine humanity and yet are agreed that He was sinless in act, thought and deed. To this extent they are united in their view that Christ was different from all other men who have ever lived. When it comes to actual sin, all four are unanimous that Christ never performed an act of sin and was, therefore, sinless.

It is when we go a little deeper into the problem of sin that divergent views appear to surface amongst our four theologians. Both Heppenstall and Ellen White advocate the radical nature of man's sinful nature since the fall. We have seen that in Heppenstall's case he presents all men as having been affected by original sin. While Ellen White does not use the term 'original sin', she is almost as outspoken on man's naturally evil nature as is Heppenstall. We would suggest that Waggoner comes close to Heppenstall and Ellen White in depicting man's natural sinful state. In this connection Douglass stands apart from the other three and nowhere clearly pictures man's sinful state as one of inherent separation from God with the bias to sin from birth.

If man's possession of a fallen, sinful nature from birth, apart from acts of sin, places man either in a state of guilt or at least in that condition where he needs a Saviour, how would this affect Jesus Christ at His birth? Douglass would immediately say that in the absence of original sin all babies, including Jesus Christ, are born without guilt and hence are not sinners. We have seen that because Heppenstall views man's sinful nature in the light of original sin and in a more radical sense than does Douglass, he cannot equate Jesus Christ with sinful humanity even in state. We have observed that for Heppenstall, Jesus Christ clearly does not possess a sinful human nature. And so for Heppenstall, Christ is sinless in both state and in act. In this respect the paths of Heppenstall and Douglass are decidedly divergent.

While we have seen that in the case of the two theologians just referred to, they quite clearly reveal their stand in either black or white, the views of Ellen White and Waggoner in connection with Christ and the state of sin are more shaded. In many instances we have noticed that Ellen White appears to make a sharp distinction between man's sinful nature and the sinless nature of Christ. We remember, for example, her description of Seth being born in sin and yet Christ being born without sin. Her contrasting pictures of Christ and sinful man even in nature are often vivid and stark. Because of her strong view of Christ as God, she can uphold the inherent sinlessness of the Saviour from birth to death. There is no shadow of doubt, for her, that in Christ there was no taint of sin, no corruption or pollution, no propensity of disobedience and no evil passions or tendencies. And yet she has Christ taking man's fallen nature and coming down into the arena of sin, there to share in man's lot and his suffering. She has Christ sharing the results and consequences of man's rebellion and drinking the dregs of the cup of human woe and alienation.

When it comes to Waggoner, there are, likewise, more conflicting strands in his presentation of this problem. At times he has appeared to promote a strong view of Christ being made sin and bearing sin in a vicarious sense. In this setting he would be similar to Heppenstall and to a strong strand running through Ellen White. And yet at other times Waggoner has clearly presented the humanity of Christ as actually possessing the same sinful tendencies as all other children. In this view he would find closer kinship with Douglass than with either Heppenstall or Ellen White. Heppenstall would never have Christ possessing sinful tendencies or propensities. We have noticed how that Douglass endeavors to dissect propensities into two, suggesting that Christ possessed tendencies and propensities to sin but never allowing them to develop into propensities of sin.


C. The Work of Christ and the Relationship Between His Person and His Work

In giving consideration to the views of our four representatives in regard to the work of Christ, we became aware of differences in conception and approach. We saw that Heppenstall clearly emphasized the objective, substitutionary work of Christ in bringing reconciliation between God and man relative to the sin problem. Douglass, again, sees Christ's work of obedience to the commandments of God, thereby serving as an attainable goal or man as Christ's chief function. In this way Christ really prepared the way for man to finally solve the sin problem in his own heart based on Christ's example. Waggoner's concern for Christ's work is somewhat broader, in that, at least initially, he gave equal emphasis to the reconciling, exemplary and empowering aspects of Christ's work. It was later, as we have seen, that Waggoner's interest in the work of Christ appeared to shift from the objective and historic aspect to a more internal work in the lives of all men. The picture of the work of Christ painted by Ellen White becomes even more multiplex. While we have indicated that her concept of the work of Christ as eternal Mediator is central, we discover that she gives almost equal emphasis to most models of the work of Christ in her voluminous writings.

When it comes to the relationship between the person and work of Christ, we would suggest that it is the person of Christ that is the dominant factor with Ellen White, Waggoner and Heppenstall. For them the work of Christ flows from their concept of His person. In the case of Douglass we suggest that it is the work of Christ which is the determining factor influencing his understanding of His person.

For Ellen White the fact that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God equal with the Father is the essential presupposition for her view of His work. It is because of His person that Jesus Christ can reveal the Father. Only One who knew the length and height and breadth of the love of God could make it manifest. For Ellen White it is because Christ is in the bosom of the Father that He could declare the Father's love. 8ecause Jesus Christ is who He is, only thus, can He vindicate the law and government of God. Only because He is equal with God can He be our substitute and make full atonement on the cross. Thus for Ellen White the person of Christ is foundational to His work.

Waggoner follows a similar line. He argues from the person of Christ to His function as the One who brings in redemption and provides righteousness for all. It is only because Christ is divine and has all power that He can dwell in the human heart and produce righteous living. Waggoner's whole concept of the indwelling Christ in the heart of the believer is based on who Christ is. Thus again we can see that Waggoner's views of the person of Christ are necessary for his arguments regarding Christ's work.

Heppenstall, likewise, takes his departure from the person of Christ. Because Christ is the divine Son of God and equal with the Father, He can make a full atonement on the cross. The blood of Christ can cleanse because it is God who has come down to meet man in his need. Because Christ is one with the Father, Christ's humanity has saving power. Because Christ is the second person of the Godhead, His saving life on earth was untouched by original sin or by actual sin. In view of the fact that Christ is the Son of God, He can be our Redeemer and Saviour. Thus, Heppenstall places primary emphasis on the person of Christ from which basis flows Christ's entire salvific work on behalf of sinners.

For Douglass it is his view of the work of Christ which seems to dictate his concept of the person of Christ. And, of course, the work of Christ in a sense flows from Douglass' view of man. For him the vital issue is that man, with God's help, can keep the law and vindicate God's character. In this respect man s following the example of Jesus Christ. Christ really came to help settle the 'great controversy' and to show an that the law could be perfectly kept. This was His main task and mission. In order to keep Christ's and man's human 'equipment' on a par, Douglass finds that he must accommodate Christ's person to His work. For Douglass it is first the work of Christ and then the person. Because Christ as example must do what every other man should do, the person of Christ is seen very much in human terms on a level with man even when it comes to sinful human nature. Thus Douglass finds his concept of the person of Christ shaped and molded by his anthropology and by his convictions on the primacy of the work of Christ.

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