Christological Confusion & China's Reforming Churches (part 2)

Posted by
This post is the second in a twelve-part series on the current Christological confusion taking root in China's emerging Reformed Community (see part 1 here).

Context & Cause of the Current Confusion

In one of the most fascinating developments in global Christianity today, many pastors and other believers in China are embracing Reformed theology and reforming their beliefs and practices. Though a few observers challenge the claim, a Reformed community in China (as opposed to isolated individuals and congregations) does exist, and not just online. The tendrils of this community often twine around the ministries of a relatively few widely recognized ministers. As such, these individuals, whose ministries are often based outside of China, exercise remarkable influence on theological opinion within the still relatively secluded world of Reformed Christianity on the mainland.

For many years now, and at least as recently as 2013, one such influence with an international ministry and reputation has been saying some very confusing things about the human nature of Jesus Christ. [1]  At times, he has attempted to clarify and defend his comments. One such attempt is found in a series of three recordings he made in 2012, which were subsequently transcribed and translated by others. Though these three recordings and a booklet he published in 1991 are the sources cited below, the primary source of the confusion in China's Reformed community has been his oral statements to the same effect in sermons, lectures, and especially question and answer sessions.

Though this man's public statements are the source of the current confusion, as one Reformed observer explains, "the belief that Christ's humanity is uncreated actually has had a longstanding tradition among Chinese Christian leaders associated with Reformed theology, including Jia Yuming." [2]  This tradition appears to be reflected in the widely used Chinese translation of the Belgic Confession, which curiously drops the original's explicit affirmation that the human nature of Christ is created. [3]  All of this predates the current proponent of this view, whose statements may represent what he sees as an established, albeit eccentric, Eastern Christological tradition--a tradition that seemed certain to fade away without his advocacy.

A Cautious Critique

Some of the church's greatest fathers have occasionally said some odd things about Jesus Christ, things later generations viewed as ill-advised or just plain wrong. Take Athanasius of contra mundum fame for his stand against ascendant Arians. Once, while trying to show how his adversaries mangled Hebrews 3:2 about Jesus' becoming or being made or appointed high priest, he drew this analogy of the incarnation:

What the Savior did on His coming, this Aaron shadowed out according to the Law. As then Aaron was the same and did not change by putting on the high-priestly dress, but remaining the same was only robed, . . . in the same way it is possible in the Lord's instance also to understand aright, that He did not become other than Himself on taking the flesh, but, being the same as before, He was robed in it; and the expressions 'He became' and 'He was made,' must not be understood as if the Word, considered as the Word, were made, but that the Word, being Framer of all, afterwards was made High Priest, by putting on a body which was originate and made, and such as He can offer for us; wherefore He is said to be made. [4]

Comments like these continue to fuel sometimes uncharitable suspicions that Athanasius operated with a deficient view of Christ's humanity--that the Son assumed something less than a fully human nature complete with intellect and will. [5] Even if Athanasius was not confused about the humanity of Christ, this analogy and some of his other remarks confuse readers and obscure his orthodoxy as much as they disclose it.

Elsewhere, Athanasius affirms the union of the divine Word with a fully human nature, body and soul. [6] So, we should not conclude too much from an odd analogy here or argument there. Whether the one above is helpful or confusing is a different question than any we might ask about Athanasius's Christology. We may conclude, that is, that this analogy is very confusing or that argument not at all helpful while taking no position on or even defending the source's overall view of Christ's humanity.

Similarly, the following critique centers on the cause of the current Christological confusion within China's emerging Reformed community. The immediate cause is found in certain public statements. I take no position on whether these statements are being understood correctly or if they accurately represent this brother's views; I only conclude that his statements are the cause of some confusion that deserves at least this much attention.

Notes:

1. For several good reasons I need not explain here, I am not going to name the current source of this apparently confused and certainly confusing teaching. Those most likely to benefit from me doing so will already know who it is; those who do not know probably do not need to know.

2. Jia (1880-1964, formerly known as Chia Yu-ming) had strong ties to prewar Presbyterian mission work in China, teaching at both Nanjing Jinling Seminary and North China Theological Seminary. He gained an international reputation and became vice-chairman of the Committee of the Chinese Church Three-Self Patriotic Movement in 1954. Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity, (http://www.bdcconline.net/en/stories/j/jia-yuming.php; accessed July 22, 2015)

3. This edition of the Belgic Confession was translated by Charles Chao, published by Reformation Translation Fellowship, and is now available online at https://www.ccel.org/contrib/cn/creeds/belgic.html.

4. Athanasius, Against the Arians, 2.8.

5. See, for example, Christopher Beeley, The Unity of Christ: Continuity and Conflict in Patristic Tradition (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012), 165. Beeley's harsh interpretation of Athanasius includes accusations that he invented the Arian controversy and died a bitter controversialist defending his narrow Word-flesh Christology.

6. In Letter to Epictetus, 7, he writes this: "But truly our salvation . . . does not extend to the body only, but the whole man, body and soul alike, has truly obtained salvation in the Word Himself. That then which was born of Mary was according to the divine Scriptures human by nature."
Posted September 1, 2015 @ 8:36 AM by Bruce Baugus
End of year giving
reformation21 is the online magazine of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting reformation21 and the mission of the Alliance. Please donate here.


Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, Inc. © 2005-2016   |   alliance@alliancenet.org   |   800.956.2644   |   Frequently Asked Questions   |   Login