Monday, February 9, 2009

Lord, Jesus, or Christ?

Has anyone else noticed that using the name "Jesus" all by itself to refer to the Lord Jesus Christ is becoming more and more popular in evangelicalism lately? In much contemporary worship music, in much evangelical discourse, in much preaching and teaching, referring to the Lord by His given name, apart from His titles, seems to be the norm these days. I hear lots of people talking about following Jesus, but not so much about being Christian. I hear people talking about loving Jesus, but not so much about worshipping the Lord. I had to ask myself, why might that be?

Of course, the name Jesus is the name given by God the Father to Mary for the holy Child to be called. Yeshua, literally Yahweh's salvation, speaking of the purpose of His incarnation. But in surveying the Biblical references, we rarely see this name used in an unqualified sense. Most of the time, He is named in the NT as the Lord Jesus, Jesus Christ, or the Lord Jesus Christ. Names that include not just His given, purpose-focused name, but also that refer to His offices. Lord, the sovereign One. And Christ, the unique and only anointed One. Interestingly, James the 1/2 brother of the Lord Jesus Christ uses this fully qualified title every time he refers to Him in his epistle. Paul's writings only rarely refer to Him as simply Jesus. And it seems that in the history of the church over the ages since, the terms Lord and Christ have most commonly been used to refer to our Lord Jesus Christ.

So what, you ask. Well, maybe nothing. Maybe I'm picking nits again as I am wont to do. But I think that our post-modern evangelical preference for the immanence of God rather than the transcendence of God may be at work here. The titles of Lord and Christ point to offices of the Savior that are fully divine and wholly other than our experience. The Lord, the Sovereign One who created and sustains all things but yet is separate from all things. And the Christ, the one and only appointed and anointed of God the Father for His salvific work. Both offices that are rooted in God's transcendent and holy nature.

But Jesus. Well, that's just His name, His incarnate name. That speaks to us of His immanence, His presence with us and His identification with our plight. We love to sing of Immanuel, God with us. By using just the name Jesus, it somehow humanizes this transcendent God who is so other, so terrifying. We can focus on His humanity, His love for us, His befriending of us. We can bring Him down to earth, make Him our homeboy, interact with Him mano y mano so to speak.

But by doing so, we are in danger of losing sight of who He really is. Focusing on the immanent nature of God while devaluing or ignoring His transcendence is an exercise in futility at best, and idolatry at worst. We lose sight of the majestic and glorious Lord, replacing Him with a man-centered Savior who is there to meet our needs and feed our self. We suppress the reality of His lordship, which demands submission and obedience, and His uniqueness as the Christ, which demands exclusivity in faith and worship. We forge a Jesus of our own making.

I'd prefer to use the model presented in Scripture. The Lord and Master, the sinless Savior of His people, the One and only Son of God. The Lord Jesus Christ. Worthy of all our worship and honor in all that He is.


Ben said...

I really like this post. As I have been interacting with more christians with differing perspectives than myself, I find myself noticing more the different nuances of our speech. Unfortunately a lot of times its more than a nuance and the differences in words has real implications to our faith.

The Doulos said...

Good insight Ben. I'm sure in your role at the mission you've been exposed to a much broader spectrum of people.