Theology & the Mind of Christ
Sacred theology, as Christians understand it, may be described as reflection on divine revelation. I believe this description merits several
First, it says, “reflection on divine revelation,” not “reflection on the content of revelation.” Revelation is God’s act. It cannot be reduced to a series of declaratory sentences, or propositions. The “content” of revelation is not something separable from the act of Revelation.
For example, God does not simply declare, “I am one God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Rather, the Father reveals himself in the Son (in the order of history) and the Holy Spirit (in the order of transcendence). The Church does not receive this Trinitarian revelation as a bare doctrinal proposition, but as the active experience of incorporation into Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Theological reflection on the Trinitarian revelation, therefore, is inseparable from sharing in the Trinitarian life of God. It must not be reduced to the rational analysis of dogmatic Trinitarian propositions.
Second, because divine revelation is not “given” without being received, it is logically impossible to have revelation without theology. That is to say, in the very act of receiving revelation, the mind, elevated by grace, cannot but reflect on what it is receiving. This is necessarily the case, inasmuch as specific words are used in revelation. “Abba, Father” and “Jesus is Lord” are not just sounds. The person who makes these proclamations has some idea what they mean.
Third, the radical locus where the revelation is given and received is the person of Jesus: “You are my beloved Son; in you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). The eternal Son, known by the Father before all ages, receives this revelation as a man: “All things have been delivered to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son” (Matt. 11:27). Christian theology is derived from the reflecting mind of our Mediator.
Fourth, Jesus’ reflecting mind is shared with those who commune with him in the Holy Spirit: “No one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. . . . We have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:11–16).
This “mind of Christ” is the Father’s gift to those who adhere to his Son. Thus, when Peter confessed Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” this Son disclosed the source of the revelation: “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 16:17).
The Beginning Point
The source of Christian theology, which I understand to be reflection on “the things that have been freely given to us by God,” is this “mind of Christ.” Authentic Christian theology cannot be separated from entrance into the “thinking of Jesus.” Since God has only one Son, how can we say “Abba, Father” except in sharing Christ’s own knowledge of the Father? This is why he tells us, “Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and he to whom the Son wills to reveal him” (Matt. 11:27). All knowledge of God—and all reflection on the knowledge of God—includes the experience of divine grace and election.
Christian theology, consequently, will strive to resist presuppositions and structural restraints imposed from outside “the mind of Christ.”
Over the centuries, there have been quite of few of these. Arianism was a clear example. At some point in his thinking, Arius stepped outside of the “mind of Christ”—Jesus’ reflective awareness of himself as God’s eternal Son. Likewise, Nestorius—if I correctly understand him—placed a “second subjectivity” within Christ, a reflecting human being distinct from God’s eternal Son.
I believe a departure from the “mind of Christ” can be discerned, likewise, in certain theories of Redemption. Various theologians adopted, now and then, some theoretical moral or cosmological structure in which the death of Jesus made sense to them. In my opinion, this kind of theology goes about it backwards. Soteriology—the theology of Redemption—should begin at the same point as all Christian theology; namely, the mind of Christ. The first question asked by Christian soteriology should be: “What did Jesus think he was doing when he took up the Cross?”
Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois. He is the author of Christ in the Psalms, Christ in His Saints, and The Trial of Job (all from Conciliar Press). He is a senior editor of Touchstone.
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“Theology & the Mind of Christ” first appeared in the March/April 2012 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.
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