Why Christ? (Part 3)

December 5, 2006

CatechismThis is the final installment of three parts on the reason for Christ’s coming, an unconscious (but timely) opening of the Advent season.

The first part laid out some foundations on what the reasons are not, and how important it is to realize Christ as a gift completely separate from any need of God’s.

The second part laid out some of Rene Girard’s teachings, which show Christ as the ultimate scapegoat for humanity.

Today I will give my own answers for the Christ-related questions in the Catechism, as I think a few minor tweaks to the catechism could make it more helpful.

Sin and Redemption

Q27:  What is meant by the Messiah?
A27:  The Messiah is one sent by God to free us from the power of sin, so that with the help of God we may live in harmony with God, within ourselves, with our neighbors, and with all creation.

Comment:  I wouldn’t change this at all, but I point it out because I think it is important to read it in the light of God helping us to live in harmony with God, not saving us from God’s wrath.

God the Son

Question 29:
What do we mean when we say that Jesus is the only Son of God?
Answer 29:
We mean that Jesus is the only perfect image of the Father, and shows us the nature of God.

Question 30:
What is the nature of God revealed in Jesus?
Answer 30:
God is love.

Question 31:
What do we mean when we say that Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and became incarnate from the Virgin Mary?
Answer 31:
We mean that by God’s own act, his divine Son received our human nature from the Virgin Mary, his mother.

Question 32:
Why did he take our human nature?
Answer 32:
The divine Son became human, so that in him human beings might be adopted as children of God, and be made heirs of God’s kingdom.

Comment:  I wouldn’t necessarily change this language, but I might.  The language implies that God cannot adopt us as children of God without Christ, somehow limiting God.  The language should be clear to indicate that it is not God that is limited but us.

Question 33:
What is the great importance of Jesus’ suffering and death?
Answer 33:
By his obedience, even to suffering and death, Jesus made the offering which we could not make; in him we are freed from the power of sin and reconciled to God.

Comment:  Again, I would not necessarily change this language.  I think it actually fits quite well.  Just as commentary I would say that the offering Jesus makes is on our behalf and for our necessity.  Without it, grace is too cheap and we tend to choose not to accept it, though it is given freely.  God is big enough to accept us with or without Jesus.

Question 34:
What is the significance of Jesus’ resurrection?
Answer 34:
By his resurrection, Jesus overcame death and opened for us the way of eternal life.

Commentary:  I don’t necessarily disagree.  However, if I were writing it I would probably add something explicitly about how Jesus overcame human sin in the resurrection, not just death.  I think that is probably much more significant, although the symbolism doesn’t work quite as nicely.  I haven’t finished theologizing this point, but I think the resurrection represents hope for the future of humanity more than anything.

Question 35:
What do we mean when we say that he descended to the dead?
Answer 35:
We mean that he went to the departed and offered them also the benefits of redemption.

Commentary:  I think this question is left over from patristic and midieval theology.  I am not sure it is completely relevant anymore.  If God wants to save the dead (which I believe he does/did), God can do it without an act of “cosmic science” taking place such as Jesus having to go retrieve them.  To me it is akin to the Roman Catholic idea of purgatory, something we do not hold true in the Episcopal Church.  I would delete the answer, and perhaps the entire question.

Question 36:
What do we mean when we say that he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father?
Answer 36:
We mean that Jesus took our human nature into heaven where he now reigns with the Father and intercedes for us.

Commentary:  I would strike “intercedes for us” and replace it with “guides us into reconciliation” or something.

Question 37:
How can we share in his victory over sin, suffering, and death?
Answer 37:
We share in his victory when we are baptized into the New Covenant and become living members of Christ.

The New Covenant

Question 38:
What is the New Covenant?
Answer :
The New Covenant is the new relationship with God given by Jesus Christ, the Messiah, to the apostles; and, through them, to all who believe in him.

Question 38:
What did the Messiah promise in the New Covenant?
Answer :
Christ promised to bring us into the kingdom of God and give life in all its fullness.

Commentary:  This is done, in Girard’s model, through the reduction of the cycle of violence over time.  I believe the kingdom of God is achieved by us working to bring heaven to earth, not in some apocolyptic event that will instantly transform creation.  I would not change the language, however.

Question 39:
What response did Christ require?
Answer 39:
Christ commanded us to believe in him and to keep his commandments.

Commentary:  I might add that we are asked to model our lives after Christ.

Question 40:
What are the commandments taught by Christ?
Answer 40:
Christ taught us the Summary of the Law and gave us the New Commandment.

Question 41:
What is the Summary of the Law?
Answer 41:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Question 42:
What is the New Commandment?
Answer 42:
The New Commandment is that we love one another as Christ loved us.

Question 43:
Where may we find what Christians believe about Christ?
Answer 43:
What Christians believe about Christ is found in the Scriptures and summed up in the creeds.

I began this exercise thinking I was going to be very specific about my answers.  But as I went through the questions I found that the Catechism is really intentionally vague.  It is a hard thing to do to answer a catechism question, as it is a dangerous thing to do to write one’s belief down “in stone” so that others take it for granted as their own.  I think that they are purposefully vague answers so that we all seek for ourselves the answers God calls us to find.  They may be slightly different– we’ve been through that before on here.

Maybe some day I’ll feel compelled to give more concrete answers.  But for today, I think I’m satisfied that I’ve answered the question “Why Christ” sufficiently.  I don’t know if anybody will read it!  But I have answered it for myself, and that was the goal of the exercise.

Have a meaningful advent, and peace to you on your journey.



7 Responses to “Why Christ? (Part 3)”

  1. FrMichael Says:

    Doesn’t the language of the answer to Question 36 come from the Letter to the Hebrews? I don’t see how your response is an improvement.

  2. Jeff Says:

    Long time no hear, Fr. Michael.

    You may not see it as an improvement. I see it as a very different statement. The whole point of these series of posts is to lay out a theology in which God gives Jesus to us because we need him, not because God wants somebody to mediate between us and him as an intercessor. I believe the theology I have laid out would show God as completely capable of accepting all of our sin without an intercessor. We, however, cannot accept that God loves us so unconditionally.

    In other words, God didn’t send Jesus as a sacrifice to bear the brunt of our sins because God required a sacrifice to wash away our sins; we just couldn’t freely accept the grace that we are given. I don’t call that intercession. Maybe intercession between ourselves, but not intercession between us and God.


  3. FrMichael Says:

    Happy Advent to you!

    Sickness and pastoral demands have limited my time online, but I have been following this series. Your idea that our redemption could have been achieved by means other than the Cross and blood sacrifice is an old one. I myself asked that question in seminary itself and was pointed to a few scholastic theologians who addressed the issue as well.

    What it came down to me was that the Cross and blood sacrifice was the most fitting means of salvation for many reasons, including the human religious understanding of sacrifice, Jesus as teacher and model, God’s solidarity with the poor and outcast, His hatred of sin, and other reasons. In other words, similar to what you have developed but still incorporating the Biblical understanding of the Passion and Cross as salvific, as the final sacrificial Victim of the new and everlasting Covenant (in accordance with the Letter to the Hebrews and other NT writings). But sacrifice is a form of intercession, not only in Christianity but in all religions with sacrifice (historically the great majority). Once again, Hebrews and the sacrificial laws of the Torah make no sense without understanding sacrifice as a form of intercession.

    I think the contemporary downplaying of the seriousness of sin coupled with the general lack of understanding in Protestantism about the role of sacrifice as a form of intercessionary worship has skewed your effort somewhat.

    I like much of Girard’s work myself but I find that the biblical and traditional understandings need to be mastered first before more contemporary approaches to the mysteries of our faith become profitable.

  4. Jeff Says:

    You’re certainly entitled to your opinion.

    But I have found the traditional approaches to sin and atonement limp and flat.

    I find this model a little more meaningful, although I still, due to my theology that God is a God of love- would never say something like “God hates sin”. I might say God hopes that we will not stray from the path, but I think God is a God of love, and incapable of hatred.

    It goes back to our prior discussion of sin and mistakes. I believe that all sin is a mistake (while all mistakes are not necessarily sin). We learn from our mistakes in order to move forward in life. So long as we move forward in life with a willingness to to learn, and strive to do God’s will, I believe God loves us and does not grieve the sin as much as you imply. I think it is the journey that is important. And over time, the world, I believe, is becoming a better place. After all– in the Old Testament genocide is condoned. Today, we would never, as a people of God, condone genocide. We can continue to build such a list. God continues to work for justice and reduce the sin in the world to bring about the kingdom on earth. And that’s a wonderful thing.

    So I don’t live in such a judgmental place, because I think that judgment is a judgment on God’s creation– something that I don’t find within my own right as a human.


  5. FrMichael Says:

    Guess we’ll continue to agree to disagree. Peace and Merry Christmas!

  6. cindi Says:

    I have been trying to figure out the atonement for a long time…and have only recently come across Girard’s theory. It immediately made sense to me but I was having a bit of trouble with the vague examples of the scapegoat mechanism at work. Your example about 9-11 really put it all into perspective. Thanks!

  7. Jeff Says:

    I’m so glad you found it useful!



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