A Good Question: What is the Christian story?
One question, four answers
‘God became what we are’
We could do no better than listen to the fourth-century theologian, Athanasius. He summed up the story thus: ‘God became what we are so that we might become what God is.’
It’s significant that God is the subject of the sentence, that God is the one who acts. We celebrate, first, what God has done. God, in Christ, has come to be with us, but, more than that, has become what we are. He was not only a good and lovely human being (though he was that) but he was God become flesh. This means that God loves us enough to take on our very being. It is not only that God walks among us or blesses us, but that God emptied Godself, set aside divinity and became vulnerable, mortal and human. This is the Christian story that seemed scandalous to ancient Greeks, Romans and Jews alike. And what was this all for? God entered into the life of creation in this way in order to redeem it and save it, to make it holy as God is holy.
The immortal became mortal to give us eternal life. The eternal became bound by time to set us free. The source of all love and life embraced even suffering and death, so that we could find healing for all that hurts us and salvation from all the ways in which we hurt others. …
Susan Durber is minister of Taunton United Reformed Church, Somerset
‘Christ died because of, not for, the sins of humanity’
The Christian story represents 2,000 years of Church experience. The revelation is past, present and future. The Church continues its work in the world – a world Christ came to save.
So, what is our story? It is pilgrimage for this life and resurrection for life eternal. I try to make sense of this by drawing upon two related themes that give focus to the story through the lens of Christian responsibility and maturity.
Firstly, Jesus died because of the sins of humanity, not for them or on behalf of them and certainly not instead of them. This means responsivity remains with us as Jesus remained on the Cross to die in consequence.
So, from a liberal Catholic perspective I am led to ask some important theological questions. Did Jesus have to die anyway? Was it necessary and part of God’s plan?
I think it was probably inevitable given that the things he said and did challenged those in power
at the time. Surely if humankind had accepted Jesus’ teaching and applied this to the building of
a new world, there would have been no necessity for the death of Christ? If we had not fallen from
our original innocence into greed and strife, when Christ came as good fruit and symbol of life, we
would have accepted both him and his teaching. My position that Jesus died because of our sins, not for them, is based upon what I understand to be the Christian story and how we struggle with the concept of God. So, what sort of God do we want? …
David Isiorho is a Church of England minister in Charlestown, Par and Tywardreath, Cornwall
‘It’s a story of love, love and more love’
For me, the Christian story is a simple story of love, of broken relationships and of reconciliation. Although the Bible is a complex document made up of many different books written at many different times by many different people, a strand runs through it from beginning to end – from dawn of time to eventual renewal of all things – and that is the strand of God’s love for the whole of humanity.
The world was created in perfect harmony and peace. It was shaped to be in relationship –God with humanity, human beings with other human beings, and human beings with the whole created world. Eve and Adam’s decision to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was more than mere disobedience, it fractured the harmony of the world and the many different relationships God had established.
The rest of the story tells of God’s many attempts to mend those fractured relationships with creation, with the rest of humanity and, most of all with God. Indeed, the law books of Exodus, Deuteronomy and Leviticus – far from being the restrictive, joyless laws that Christians often see them to be – were a manual for the rebuilding of relationship. It is no wonder that by the time of Jesus it was possible to summarise them as love of God and love of neighbour. …
Paula Gooder is Theologian in Residence for The Bible Society
‘The most pivotal is the story of Jesus’
The Christian story has four layers to it, I suggest. First is the backstory – the story of the Jews. This is the story of God, the creator of heaven and earth, choosing one tribe, the descendants of Abraham, to become his special people. It is the story of God delivering the Jews from slavery and giving them a homeland, giving them a moral and cultic law, and also sending them prophets who proclaim a vision of human history transformed, perfected.
Second, and of course most pivotal, is the story of Jesus – a Jew who lived at the time of the Roman occupation of Palestine. Like the prophets before him, he announced the rule of God, but with a new will to challenge the religious authorities, which led to his execution by the Romans. But of course for Christians this is also the story of God taking human form to save us, and of various miracles culminating in resurrection.
Third is the story of the birth of faith, which might also be called the story of Paul. This story is crucial as it models Christian faith (Jesus cannot do this, being no ordinary human). In a sense, it is less of a story and more an idea or teaching: Jesus Christ is the new revelation of God, through whom we can become perfect children of God, despite remaining sinners. Through his Spirit, God enables this otherwise impossible new reality. This accomplishes what the Jewish law aimed to but could not …
Theo Hobson is a freelance theologian and writer. His latest book is God Created Humanism: The Christian basis of secular values (SPCK, 2017, £16.99, hardback, ISBN: 9780281077427)
This article was published in the April 2017 edition of Reform