The importance of this debate is that without the correct answer one cannot truly see Jesus for who he is. The question that needs to be answered is Christ the same Jesus that walked on this earth proclaiming that the end is near, and the Kingdom of God is at hand? To start this debate, it is best to start with the history of Jesus. According to Erickson this search would provide the “expectation that the real Jesus would prove to be different even from the Christ who appears in scripture.”In the books A New Life of Jesusand Life of Jesus the authors concluded that Jesus was just a good man and a teacher of spiritual truths.Adolf van Harnack concluded that the Bible did not give enough facts to construct a biography of Jesus and the facts show that the account of Jesus was fabricated.Martin Kahler had a major distinction in his answer to the historical Jesus. He stated the “Jesus of history…had relatively little influence. He was able to win only a few disciples, and these to a rather shaky faith. The Christ of faith, however, has exercised a very significant influence.”
In the twentieth century there was a movement to study the works of the risen Christ as opposed to the historical Jesus. This movement was led by Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann, and Emil Bruner.One main feature of this way of looking at Christ is that it focuses on the church’s proclamation of who Christ is and not Jesus. This Christology also comes from the gospel of John and is based more on theological interpretations whereas the Synoptics are based more on the facts of Jesus.It is also shown that faith in Christ is not based on proof. There are certain facts about the life of Jesus that cannot be explained or proven with rational facts. These facts must be accepted on faith. To accept the humanity as well as the divinity of Christ one must do so on faith.
Wolfhart Pannenburg disagrees with Christology from above. The reasons are: it presupposes Christ’s divinity, it does not place importance on the historical features of Jesus, and it is only possible from God and not man.Christology from below is in a sense based upon objectivity. This might be hard to do because one can view the history of Jesus and remain unconvinced. Christology from below is based on the historical teaching of the church and Jesus and thus according to Pannenburg can be proven. The historical facts of Jesus’ resurrection can be proven, and this proves the divinity of Christ.The resurrection can be proven based on the empty tomb, appearances of the resurrected Christ, the fact that He ate, and the scars that were shown and felt.
While neither Christology from above or blew is inherently wrong, there are some issues with each. When talking about Christology from above there is the problem of faith.There must be something that backs up the faith that one has in Christ. There has to be something that exists that demonstrates the concept of faith itself.Christology from below is based upon facts of history that are objective. This means that logic would lead to faith.
According to Erickson there is a way to combine Christology from above and below. This means that the Christ preached by the church and the historical Christ can be combined. This model shows that faith and history can be intertwined. Throughout the synoptic gospels there are many instances where man saw Jesus and the wonders He performed yet did not come to the right conclusion, their knowledge did not lead to faith. However, in Luke, John the Baptist is questioning Jesus. John had the faith and knew who Jesus was, this was evident in when he baptized Jesus. Jesus replies with the wonders and miracles that He had been performing. The evidence was what led John to knowing the historical Jesus as the Christ of faith that he already knew.
There is not enough recorded evidence in the Bible to conduct a complete historical view of Jesus. There is however enough evidence to conclude that Jesus was man, died, and resurrected. These historical events when viewed in the proper perspective should lead to faith in Christ.
Erickson, Millard. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013.
Millard Erickson, Christian Theology(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 605.