First off – I’m not a heretic.
Second – you probably agree with me.
I’m fully aware of all the places in scripture where Jesus is called the “son of God.” I looked at every single one of them today. Mark says his whole reason for inventing the gospel genre is to proclaim the “good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mk 1:1). In Luke, Gabriel tells Mary that her son “will be called the Son of God” (Lk 1:35). And the most famous verse in the gospels uses the same idea: “God so loved the world that He gave his only son…” (Jn 3:16). There are dozens of these, and they were all true when they were written.
Still, Jesus is not God’s son. At least not anymore.
Because the words don’t mean the same thing anymore. God hasn’t changed. Jesus hasn’t changed. But if we want to tell the truth in a world that hears far too little of it, we need to change how we say it.
When the New Testament was written (and for most of the next 1500 years), we thought about the relationship between father and son in a very different way. Sons were talked of as if they were an exact imprint of their father. Thrones weren’t handed down from father to son just because that’s the way Dad wanted it and he was king so you had to do what he said. It was done because the son was thought of as the same man, but in a new generation. Sons could legally stand in for their father in court, or enter contracts on their father’s behalf.
When Mark or John or Luke or Paul or Old Testament prophets called Jesus “the Son of God” they meant that Jesus was God’s presence on Earth – that he was able to put God’s plan into action and sign his name to a new covenant of grace.
When the church wrote the Apostles Creed a couple hundred years later, they wrote “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only son, our Lord.” They wrote this to communicate the central Christian belief that Jesus is God – that God showed up in human form and walked around in the dirt with us, all for the purpose of putting the broken things back together. That’s what the church believed about Jesus.
We still do, but we can’t say it the same way we used to.
We don’t think about fathers and sons like that anymore. We keep discovering new things about genetics and social science that drive us further away from a sense that sons are (or even should be) a carbon copy of their father. It only took us a half dozen historical epochs, but we’ve finally acknowledged that the mom has something to do with it (Happy belated Mothers Day). We also recognize the ways that culture and experience shape a person’s personality.
This means that every time we say “Jesus is the Son of God,” the people around us are hearing something completely different from what we actually mean.
And it’s not good.
There are so many pop culture father characters who expect their son to be exactly like them that I’ve gotten tired of the trope. The football coach who all but forbids his son to join the cast of the high school play, or the businessman who cuts his son off for studying art – they stand in as the guy no one is supposed to like, precisely because we all know fathers and sons don’t work like that.
I’m not saying we need to change our theology, but we do need to change our language. If it were only about misunderstandings, or theological debates, I probably wouldn’t worry about it. This is really about how we listen to the people around us, so that when we talk about Jesus, we can tell the truth in a way they can hear it. I worry about it because people need Jesus. And everyone needs Jesus in different ways at different times.
I very rarely need Jesus to lift the emotional burden of my guilt. It’s not that I don’t sin – it’s just that I don’t usually feel guilty for it (I’m an expert at self-delusional justifications for my mistakes). Much more often, I need Jesus to push me off the couch and out into the world. I need Jesus to show me how to live in solidarity with people who are hurting in life-changing, redemptive ways. So the guys on the street corner telling me “you too can be free from guilt and shame,” are telling the truth. But I’m never going to listen. Because they’ve never listened to me.
When asked about the central idea of the Christian faith, people regularly quote John 3:16: “God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him will have eternal life.” That statement is true, in its original meaning. But we all know that the “only son” in question was murdered. So non-Christians today aren’t likely to hear a description of love. They’re likely to hear that God’s isn’t much of a father. And how do you think it’s heard by people who were neglected or abused by their own fathers? Don’t you think these people need Jesus? Don’t you think it’s worth our time and work to listen first, and find a way to tell the truth so that it can be heard?
How about this?
Q: What would you say is the center of the Christian faith?
A: God so loved the world that our creator risked everything to show up in the middle of it. He became a person like you and me – a person who looked heroes and victims, the poor and powerful right in the eye and said “I have a better way for all of us.”
It’s just as true, but I think it has a better chance of being heard.
I think our language matters. I’m pretty convinced that it’s more important for Christians to live the good news than to talk about it, but talking is necessary. If you’re making your neighborhood or church look more like the Kingdom of God, it’s going to be weird and people are going to ask you why. If we spend time listening to the culture before we talk, I think we’ll have something worth saying.
I was a little concerned about this one when I read the title. But, as usual, you’ve given me much to think about to bring that out in my speech patterns but I absolutely agree!
Love the new site design – I stopped reading the old one because for some reason, the white text against the black background always gave me a headache, but clearly I have to pick up on it again.
So I totally agree on the main point – about describing the relationship in terms that make sense for our generation and our culture. But trying to put God and Jesus in the terms you describe, where Jesus is the continuation of God’s legacy, an extension of himself, and presumably his replacement for the future… doesn’t that, uh, lead to some fairly immense theological implications based on the fact that we killed Jesus? I mean, I guess you can say, well, we didn’t *really* kill him, because he was resurrected… but did God really have no hope for the future, no plans for a continuing legacy, etc. etc. during the days between Good Friday and Easter? Like, trying to think through the idea that God would sacrifice *his future self* for us is just… what would that even LOOK like? I mean, I guess this is just one of the ways in which God defies human understanding/definition, but… that’s quite the theological can of worms you just opened!
I’ll have to go back and read my Jurgen Moltmann again because I remember him asking these questions and having brilliant answers. What does it mean that we sacrificed God? It means God is more wild in love than we can possibly know. …or something like that. But I don’t remember how he gets there.
My answer is more to say that we still have a trinitarian God. I emphasize the unity of Creator/Redeemer/Sustainer more than their separateness, but God is still 3 in 1. Killing Jesus can’t kill the whole plan. He’s got back up.
Also, If we believe that God wanted to be fully human, then death had to be part of the plan I think. Maybe not murder or political lynching, but some experience of death. Otherwise he’s just pretending to be human.
Jesus is God 100% and human 100%. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. 16For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.
Well, I know I’m a little late to the party but I literally just came across this. I can see where you are coming from and I do believe I understand why. Although, I do not entirely agree on your theological aspects, I will admit that you’ve definitely brought up some intriguing ideas. Three concerns I have with your declarations are as follows:
“Still, Jesus is not God’s son. At least not anymore. Because the words don’t mean the same thing anymore. God hasn’t changed. Jesus hasn’t changed. But if we want to tell the truth in a world that hears far too little of it, we need to change how we say it.”
From the beginning of creation in Genesis to the end of times in Revelation, God refers to Himself as “us” or “our” and thus describes the doctrine of the Trinity. The word trinity comes from “tri” meaning 3 and “unity” meaning as 1. God is three distinct individuals – God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit – unified as one true God. This most certainly can be a difficult concept to grasp, yet we can believe God’s word and know that while His ways are much higher than ours, we can trust in Him with both blinded, childlike faith. Yes they are all in union with one another yet still serve 3 distinctive purposes. Again, we have (God the Father – The Creator) + (God the Son – The Redeemer) + (The Holy Spirit – The Advocator) = The Holy Trinity. Regardless of which translation of the Bible you are studying, NIV, NLV, NLT, ESV, King James, etc., there’re roughly 30 different scriptures from cover to cover providing illustrations of this.
“That statement is true, in its original meaning. But we all know that the “only son” in question was murdered. So non-Christians today aren’t likely to hear a description of love. They’re likely to hear that God’s isn’t much of a father. And how do you think it’s heard by people who were neglected or abused by their own fathers? Don’t you think these people need Jesus? Don’t you think it’s worth our time and work to listen first, and find a way to tell the truth so that it can be heard?”
This statement is based on assumption. Yes these people need Jesus. Don’t we all? And of course we should always take the time to listen before we start spreading the word. Nonbelievers and Born Agains alike should be given milk before food. The sacrifice of His one and only son was an act of unfathomable love in order to save His creation, His people, His children who found redemption only through the gracious teachings of Christ. Christ didn’t go to the cross blindly nor was he unaware of His fate. He was telling the disciples to pick up their cross and follow Him long before the crucifixion even though they didn’t truly understand the genuine meaning behind it. God the Father has always been in control, has always had a plan and has always had Immanuel included in it. Furthermore, not all have been abused by their own, earthly fathers and I know believers who have been abused horribly by one or both parents that are currently standout, Christ-like individuals that don’t hold any ill will towards God, their abusers or their neighbors.
“I very rarely need Jesus to lift the emotional burden of my guilt. It’s not that I don’t sin – it’s just that I don’t usually feel guilty for it (I’m an expert at self-delusional justifications for my mistakes).”
Does this mean you feel no discernment at all for knowingly committing actions against God’s will or that you recognize the difference between self-condemnation from the Negative One and discernment from the Holy Spirit? We are made of flesh which desires earthly things, including sin. Just because Christ left us with two new final commandments from the New Testament, it certainly does not grant us a free ticket to abandon the laws of Moses from the Old Testament. This is where repentance comes into play.
In conclusion, I honestly enjoyed your article and think you have some absolutely noteworthy points about our shared faith. I would love to sit down with you someday and bounce some ideas off of one another over a cup of coffee. With that said, stay safe, stay up and stay blessed sir.
Mattimus A. Griffith.
So do you think that Jesus is a God? Read a Bible . I don’t give a crap about that Jesus is not a Son of God. Because there is Trinity. God, Jesus and Holy Spirit.
Many, many have received the holy spirit,proving his glory. The point and meaning of life. In a world of sin it’s common as muck to dismiss.