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Crosscurrents in Adventist Christology

by Claude Webster


IV. Proposals and Conclusion

In this final section we intend to set forth certain propositions which will serve both as a concise summary and as a challenge for the future. In Section A we will set forth seven propositions arising directly from the study of our four representatives. Then, in Section B we will present fifteen propositions of Christological content, as the conclusions to which I have come concerning the state of Adventist Christology and the suggested direction which it should take in the future. Section C will bring the dissertation to a close.


A. Propositions Arising From the Study of Our Four Representatives

The first proposition will seek to succinctly declare the state of basic agreement within Adventist Christology, now that we have surveyed the field as represented by our four representatives. The second will outline the areas in which such agreement is still lacking. The third proposition will state the relationship of Adventist Christology to historical Christology. The remaining propositions will present certain conclusions for Christology in the light of the strengths and weaknesses of our four representatives.

1. We CONCLUDE after this survey that Adventist Christology is in agreement on the eternal pre-existence of Christ, on His essential equality with the Father, on His oneness with, yet distinction from the Father and the Holy Spirit, on the virgin birth of Christ, on His genuine humanity, on His existence in two natures, on the reality of temptation and the possibility of sin, on the fact of Christ's sinless life, on the efficacy of His atoning death, on the historicity of His resurrection and ascension, on the important role of His heavenly ministry as High Priest, on the glorious hope of His second advent and on His everlasting reign with His Father in the earth made new.

2. We CONCLUDE after this survey that there are differences within Adventist Christology concerning the following nuances: Whether Christ laid aside some, none or all of His divine attributes when He became a man; whether all men are or are not affected by original sin, and hence, what Christ's relation was to original sin; whether Christ was essentially the same or essentially different from all other men at birth; whether Christ was or was not assisted by His divinity living a sinless life during His infancy and childhood; whether Christ exercised His divinity fully or partially or not at all during the Incarnation; whether Christ's miracles were performed on the basis of His amenity or His divinity or His total person; whether gist only had one level of consciousness, human or .vine or whether He had two levels; whether Christ assessed a sinful or a sinless human nature; whether Christ had tendencies and propensities to sin or not; whether Christ's work was predominantly substitutionary or exemplary; whether salvation lies essentially in faith in Christ or in exercising a faith like that of Christ; whether man after the fall can with God's help live a sinless life just as Jesus did or not.

3. We CONCLUDE that, in general, Adventist Christology stands in agreement and harmony with the Christological declarations given at both Nicea and Chalcedon relative the fact that Christ was very God and that in Him existed both divinity and humanity.

4. We PROPOSE that Ellen White's position on the full functioning of both Christ's divinity and His humanity is worthy of serious consideration, and furthermore, that her wide usage of different models for Christ's work, held together by the underlying motif of the principle of the covenant - God with us - is significant.

We SUGGEST, in the light of Ellen White's total Christology and in the light of recent research on her usage of the terms 'fallen nature' and 'sinful nature', that while we may speak of Christ coming in fallen human nature, it would be wiser and safer to avoid the term 'sinful nature' when speaking of Christ's humanity. Care should be taken in the presentation of Christ's humanity lest He be set forth as such an one as ourselves.

5. We PROPOSE that Waggoner's position on the fullness of the Godhead dwelling bodily in Jesus of Nazareth be appreciated and, furthermore, that this divinity of Christ as an empowering agency in the life of the Christian be acknowledged.

We SUGGEST that while the reality of Christ's humanity be acknowledged and the fact that He was "made sin for us", Christians should avoid attributing to Christ sinful tendencies and inclinations, and furthermore, we suggest that care be taken lest the reality of the presence of Christ with us be so diffused with nature that grace and nature become blurred and confused.

6. We PROPOSE that it be acknowledged and appreciated that Heppenstall has made a fundamental contribution to Adventist Christology in setting forth clearly the objective, substitutionary, historical life, death and resurrection of Christ as the basis of salvation, with His death on the cross as a full atonement for sin, thereby strengthening Adventism's traditional intention of salvation by grace alone through faith.

We SUGGEST that while Heppenstall maintains both the fullness of Christ's divinity and His humanity, he should endeavor to clarify his position regarding the kenosis lest he be misunderstood to imply that Christ did in fact lay aside some of His divine attributes in the Incarnation.

7. We PROPOSE that the Christology of Douglass has resulted in the real identity of Jesus of Nazareth being maintained, and in safeguarding the church from falling into the pitfall of docetism, and in helping us all to take seriously the humanity of Christ, realizing, furthermore, that the example of Jesus is worthy of prayerful emulation.

We SUGGEST, however, that the tendency to build Christology on our anthropology and eschatology, and then to use it mainly as a springboard for soteriological purposes can lead to the dangers of perfectionism and lack of Christian assurance. Furthermore, in this type of Christology there is a very real danger of slipping into one or another form of Pelagianism.

B. Suggested Propositions for the Present and Future Practice of Adventist Christology

1. We SUBMIT that God the Son is co-eternal and of the same substance, nature and character as God the Father God the Holy Spirit.

2. We SUBMIT that the Word that was "in the beginning with God and was God," is the revelation of the character God to the entire universe, and the eternal Mediator of the covenant of grace to our specific world.

3. We SUBMIT that He who was the active Agent in the creation of all things, Himself became a Man, not by going out of Himself, but by taking humanity into Himself, thus veiling His divinity with humanity.

4. We SUBMIT that He who was begotten of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, while retaining the divine attributes and nature, laid aside the outward glory of God and became a genuine Man, "bone of our bone" and flesh our flesh."

5. We SU8MIT that it was a correct understanding of the content of the New Testament that led the early church to declare that Jesus Christ was both fully God and fully Man during the Incarnation, and we joyfully admit that this mystery and paradox lies at the heart of our faith.

6. We SUBMIT that it was precisely the exercising of all of the divine attributes that made the Incarnation possible both initially and at every successive moment, for it was only by the continual exercising of grace, freedom, love, omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence that God was able to dwell among us as real Man without ceasing to be true God.

7. We SUBMIT, furthermore, that it was precisely the exercising of all the human attributes that enabled the Incarnation to be truly the revelation of God, for it was only by His sharing our suffering and by the continual exercising of His human will, language, sympathy, tenderness and love that He could show us the Father.

8. We SUBMIT, therefore, that during the Incarnation Jesus Christ exercised His divinity in order to be fully God and that He exercised His humanity in order to be fully Man.

9. We SUBMIT, moreover, that as Jesus Christ came into the world in the humanity of Adam after the fall and not before the fall, He assumed humanity affected by the laws of heredity and subject to weakness, infirmity and temptation.

10. We SUBMIT, however, that Jesus Christ, while coming in fallen human nature was not infected by original sin and was born without any tendencies and propensities to sin, thus, we need have no misgivings concerning His absolute sinlessness.

11. We SUBMIT, in addition, however, that Jesus Christ freely chose to assume not only a nature like ours in all respects, sin excepted, but also a common situation of suffering, alienation and lostness, by coming in mortal flesh, vicariously taking our guilt, punishment and separation on Himself.

12. We SUBMIT that because Jesus Christ was Immanuel -God with us, the fulfillment of the eternal covenant -He could reveal the character and love of God, and die the sinner's place as Substitute and Surety for all men, and rise again to offer His vicarious sacrifice on the cross as a full atonement for sin.

13. We SUBMIT that salvation is found in Jesus Christ not in man, and that God's method of saving men by simple faith in the substitutionary life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is the same in all ages.

14. We SUBMIT that while no man is saved by following the example of Jesus Christ, all men are saved to follow the example of Jesus Christ.

15. We SUBMIT that it is man's privilege to uplift Jesus Christ on the cross, thus participating in His full and complete vindication of God by pointing away from ourselves to the One who will present the entire church in all ages to God without spot or wrinkle by the merits of His own righteousness, in spite of the continued presence the sinful human nature which remains until glorification.

C. Conclusion

In conclusion we suggest that it is possible to have a multi-faceted Christology, drawing on all the New Testament models concerning the person and work of Christ, while also upholding the full divinity and full humanity of Christ without falling into contradiction. We believe it is possible to emphasize an active divinity in Christ without falling into Docetism or into pantheism. We maintain that we can accept the full humanity of Christ, with all its limitations, and yet have the full, functioning divinity of Christ and also a Christ who knew no sin. Finally, we affirm that it is possible to hold to the priority of the substitutionary life, death and resurrection of Christ, while still holding to the power of the indwelling Christ and the importance of Christ's example.

To all of these and more we may hold. And we may be sure that as the future unfolds, Christ will ever be ahead of us beckoning us to follow Him more closely and to understand more clearly. Let us not be surprised if we often have to pause, only to discover that our very best has not been good enough, and that our cherished ideas must be revised. Let us not be dismayed if we cannot fully grasp the "unsearchable riches of Christ," remembering that where we cannot understand we can always bow and worship. For in the final analysis, Christology is also of the heart and not only of the head. Christ is a Person to be received, not merely a creed to be believed.

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