Struggling with our heresies

Posted: November 10, 2012 by J in General

Again and again in mission I’m coming up against a problem that makes it hard for people to hear the gospel: built-in docetism.

Built in to them, that is. After a millenium of western Christianity, this heresy is so inter-woven in the fabric of our culture, that anyone who’s had any contact with Christian faith seems to be infected. I.e., almost everyone.

Docetism is the idea that Jesus, in the final analysis, is God. He is really, essentially God – but not really man. His humanity is at best secondary.  It is not real in the way his divinity is real. At worst, he only appeared to be man.

Docetism. Just this week I’ve run into it again.

Consider this situation: a bible study about how Jesus is the promised King whom God appointed Lord of all through his resurrection. Punchline: to turn back to God means getting baptised into faith in the name of this man Jesus. Because Jesus is the one chosen to renew the creation, given the Spirit, etc.

Acts 2, clear enough, it’s all spelled out by Peter. It’s the punchline of Luke’s whole theological message.

Except that it isn’t clear, not for this group. The study question asks, ‘Why does Peter insist that the way to turn back to God is through baptism in the name of this particular person, Jesus?’ –  but the question don’t make sense. Because everyone who knows anything knows that Jesus is God. So the question seems meaningless. It collapses in on itself. ‘Why is it that the way back to God is through faith in God?’ Huh?

Since they know Jesus is God, and they don’t know he’s really a man, there’s a block – the basic gospel announcement about Jesus’ resurrection cannot easily get through. The idea that something happened that made Jesus a good person to turn to, seems pointless, tautological even. I mean, he’s Jesus right? Like, God!? I.e. no events required: the resurrection is pretty much irrelevant (except perhaps as a sign or proof for us).

I’m finding we don’t have to teach people this heresy – it seems to come pre-programmed. I’m guessing it’s in the deep structure of western culture, from centuries back. You don’t recover from something like that over night.

I see it in our church too, of course. That I expect. But it’s encountering docetism in unchurched people that catches me by surprise.

I don’t know what to do about it, it really gets in the way of mission. It’s hard enough work teaching people the gospel, but they’ve got to unlearn all these ‘Christian’ ideas they’ve inherited as well.



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