The Trials, Tribulations and Challenges Facing Pastors in 2022

I have been a subscriber to Christianity Today since the early 1980’s.  I have always appreciated the quality and Biblical orthodoxy of its articles.  Recently both the CT magazine May/June issue, and its quarterly supplement “CT Pastors”, focused on the current challenges facing congregational pastors in the U.S.  These challenges include both increased internal congregational conflict and decreasing worship attendance.  One result of these challenges has been a great many “burned out”, discouraged clergy.

Regarding internal conflict within the Body of Christ, the “CT Pastors” editor, Kelli Trujillo, quoted Clement’s letter to the church of Corinth in 96 AD.  “Have we reached such a height of madness as to forget that we are members of one another?”  Well in some U.S. congregations, especially since early 2020, the answer is apparently an emphatic “yes”.

There is no doubt some comfort in knowing there has always been some level of internal conflict and disunity in the life of the church.  However, many pastors are saying that the last few years have been, by far, the most difficult years of their ministries.  One pastor, who was interviewed for the CT article, “Emptied Out”, described what he has experienced in his last two years of ministry in one word: “Excruciating”.

Scott Thumma, director of the Hartford University’s Institute for Religion Research, recently surveyed pastors.  His survey found that two-thirds considered 2020 “the hardest year in their ministry experience.”  From CT managing editor Andy Olsen: “The past few years of social and political upheaval have taken a particular toll on ministers.  Countless churches are threatened by an epidemic of pastoral burnout.”

So what are some of the causes contributing to both congregational conflict and frustrated, discouraged pastors?  At least two immediately come to mind.

1. Not surprisingly one cause has been pandemic-related ministry challenges since early 2020.  An additional quote, this one from CT writer Kyle Rohane: “The digitization of church services, sped along by the pandemic, has twisted the knife” when it comes to member dissatisfaction with their pastors.  “Since the pandemic, the debate over in-person versus impersonal preaching has been complicated considerably.  For the first time, due to the recent proliferation of live-streamed and recorded services, local pastors are in stiff competition with obscure preachers from other states.”  Kelly Kapic, writing in her “CT Pastors” article, said: “The long COVID-19 pandemic has increased the difficulties for many (churches), resulting in less church involvement and more mental health challenges, less relational connection and more political polarization.”  On a personal note, I know of two pastors—both serving smaller congregations—who have each had five or six active couples angrily leave their churches in the last two years.  Oddly enough, in one church it was because the pastor followed state guidelines regarding in-person worship and masks, while in the other church the couples left because that pastor did not strictly follow those same state guidelines.  A classic “lose-lose” scenario.

2. A second cause contributing to both congregational disunity and pastor “burn out” is an accelerated decline in worship attendance.  While the pandemic contributed to this decline for most churches, the majority of these congregations were unfortunately already in decline before 2020.  A 20-year study from the Hartford Institute for Religion Research found that small churches (100 or fewer in weekly attendance) now make up 70 percent of US congregations.  According to one “CT Pastors” article, “The median crowd at church on a Sunday morning is half what it was 20 years ago.  In 2000, the median worship attendance at US congregations was 137; now it’s down to 65.”  My own observation, after consulting with hundreds of pastors and congregational leaders over the last 30 years, is that congregational decline often increases the likelihood of internal conflict, and directly contributes to the discouragement and stress experienced by pastors.

Not surprisingly, these ministry challenges are contributing to many pastors re-evaluating how long they want to remain in the ministry.  From writer Kyle Rohane: “What’s unusual about our current situation, is the sheer number of pastors wanting to leave ministry simultaneously throughout the US and across demographics and traditions.”  He also writes, “The aging of American pastors is a well-established phenomenon.  Baby boomers have stayed in ministry longer than expected, and we should expect to see a natural rise in retirements as they finally transition out of lead roles.  But the pressures of the past two years could cause many to retire early.” (Emphasis mine) Even more specific to our immediate challenges, author and pastor Dane Ortlund tweeted, “A tidal wave of pastor resignations is coming in 2022.”  And one last quote from Kyle Rohane: “A nationwide pastor shortage could be a death knell for many smaller churches.”

So what can be done; whether at the direction of pastors or lay leaders?  To begin with, there needs to be awareness that a significant percentage of serving pastors are dealing with an “affirmation deficit”.  Given the realities of pastoral ministry since early 2020, a pastoral support group is more needed than ever in congregational life.  (And this is at least one group of lay leaders that should be hand-picked by the pastor.)  Given the current clergy supply crisis, I can state unequivocally that you do not want your current pastor to be retiring or leaving sooner than necessary.  This is a good time for lay leaders to step up and provide emotional and spiritual encouragement for their pastors.

In addition, pastors and lay leaders alike need to address the issue of congregational unity.  Granted, this might be more challenging now than it would have been a few years ago.  However, this makes it that much more urgent and necessary.  Kelly Kapic writes, “When things are especially challenging for church leaders, it can be hard to even see the good that has been given, because we feel overwhelmed by the hardships and disappointments.  Maybe we need encouragement to look again with grace…Jesus promises to meet us in and through his imperfect people…Our confidence is not in our faithfulness but in God’s.  God knows our limits better than we do, so by loving others well, limits and all, we participate in God’s work without being crushed by it.”

To end this column, here is one specific and particularly practical suggestion that can contribute to congregational unity.  It was hi-lighted in Ike Miller’s article (in “CT Pastors”) entitled, “The Myth of Thick Skin”.  The subtitle to this article is “The surprising cure to painful criticism: Invite more feedback”.  The concept is straightforward.  Congregations need regular, healthy ways for members to voice their concerns to lay leaders.  And these listening sessions need to be done without the pastor present.  The lay leaders — perhaps those who are also in the pastoral support group — take notes during these listening sessions; notes that will be passed on to the pastor while not revealing the individual “source”.  In these “listening sessions” disgruntled and/or concerned members can be heard without being challenged.  Additionally, the pastor can learn of their concerns in a manner where he or she is less likely to feel unfairly and personally criticized.  A final quote from Ike Miller:

However tempting it may seem, the secret to dealing with criticism as pastors isn’t to avoid it     or hear less of it. The secret to handling criticism well is to create channels and practices that allow for more of it, but in healthier ways…Healthy feedback tools provide less-personal pathways for this communication to take place so that we, as leaders, can remain humble, teachable, and receptive to wise counsel without being destroyed by the emotional blows that often accompany it.

Ike Miller

The Heresy of False Eschatology

Editor’s Note: The first half of an article by Pr. Brett Jenkins was published as a single post in Lutheran CORE’s September 2020 newsletter. It can be viewed here. The new post below completes his full article, Part 1. However, stay tuned since Pr. Jenkins intends to write a series of articles on this vitally important topic.

One of my children’s favorite stories about St. Nicholas doesn’t involve reindeer, elves who want to be dentists, or even the notes “he” left them as children (in my wife’s handwriting since mine is illegible), but rather the story of his slapping the heretic Arius at the Council of Nicaea.  What could inspire this iconically irenic and generous personality to an act of personal violence that would get him thrown into the Emperor’s jail?

The answer: Arius’ loquacious, persistent, and falsely evangelical heresy.  Arius spilled much ink and preached many influential sermons to promote his false Christology.  He persistently lobbied other clerics to align with his innovative views and used all the ploys of “marketing” current in his day—including snappy jingles—to promote popular support for them.  His ideas were falsely evangelical precisely because far from being good news for fallen humanity—the news that in Christ God had truly become a human being and taken up humanity’s burden of restoring the communion with God lost in the fall—it was the proclamation that if human beings were really good like Jesus, God might deem to adopt them like He did Jesus.  Arius offered yet another moralistic prescription for an already hopelessly over-burdened humanity.  Nicholas slapped Arius not only because he loved Jesus, but precisely because he loved the world for which Christ died and more specifically the people to whom he preached and he would not see them bereft of the hope—and quite possibly the eternal life—that only the true gospel of Jesus Christ can confer.

The eschatological arc of Critical Theory (CT) is from oppression to liberation, but in CT liberation is defined very specifically as measurable equity between identifiable social groups.  (In its current iteration, the complete identification of the individual with their various identity groups is married uncomfortably and illogically to an atomistic view of the sovereign individual, but this is foreign to CT proper.)  According to CT, the equity that defines the “promised land” is always out of reach, because existence is defined by the struggle of oppressed against their oppressors; this is the fundamental social binary in Critical Theory.  According to CT, each new generation needs to battle afresh through the oppressive structures as they encounter them, and each identity group is locked into a Hobbesian war of all-against-all as they seek to define themselves as oppressed rather than oppressor, victim rather than villain.

Why define yourself as the oppressed victim?  Because, in the moral landscape of CT, the oppressed victim has more moral authority than the oppressor by virtue of their oppressed condition.  Because this is conferred by group membership apart from one’s personal volition, the only way for someone in a group identified as the oppressor to be “redeemed” is to self-consciously and publicly embrace the identification as oppressor and persistently reject the perceived values of that group.  This stance is called “wokeness,” because the postulant is “awake” enough to be aware of how they oppress others simply by their existence as a member of the oppressive group, whose values are only properly interpreted as nothing more than a veiled attempt to keep or grab power.

This is a false eschatology and it produces a false anthropology, the anthropology of the human being as nothing more than members of tribes locked in a never-ending battle—rhetorical and often physical—for an equity made unattainable by human nature and the very nature of life, which, as author Jared Diamond demonstrated years ago in his history Guns, Germs, and Steel, is always promoting new groups into the dominant “oppressor” role.

The True Social Binary

According to orthodox Biblical Christianity, there is a social binary to be found in humanity, but it is not fundamentally oppressor versus oppressed, though that may be found in human relations, and when it is, it is to be rectified, to which the Old Testament prophets persistently witnessed.  According to the New Testament, the human condition is defined by servitude.  All human beings are douloi—servants or slaves, depending on how you translate the word.  They are either slaves of sin, which is the natural condition into which human beings are born, or they are slaves of righteousness, which is a condition only brought about by God’s grace given in Jesus Christ.

The burden of Paul’s teaching in Romans 6 is that servitude is not an escapable condition through any amount of personal or political struggle.  Building upon the Sacramental union with Christ wrought for us in Holy Baptism and the attendant death of our necessary slavery to sin, St. Paul continues:

15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:15–23, ESV)

Verse 6:15 makes it clear that there is a continuing possibility that we can fail to live as though our Master is God, even though He has redeemed us (quite literally bought us back) from sin and is now the proper Master for us to serve.  Accordingly, we who have received the light of the gospel (the recently baptized were referred to as “the newly illumined” in the early Church) are in a position to know that we are ineluctably servants, “either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience [to God], which leads to righteousness.” (6:16)

Therefore, every human effort—the exercise of our best strength, power, and insight—will do nothing more than reveal to which power we are in thrall, establishing new injustices for ourselves and our descendants to deal with.  This insight is the source of the Lutheran Book of Worship’s beautiful prayer, “We confess that are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.”  Our persistent sin, which the prayer is meant to unveil to us, is itself the evidence that while we have been claimed by God’s grace in Jesus Christ so that we might “present our members as slaves to righteousness” (6:19), we prefer our old master sin, and keep returning to his service, despite the fact that we know the wages of doing so are death. (6:23)

According to the Biblical account, human effort not self-consciously springing from obedience “from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed” (Romans 6:17)—the standard of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels and exposited further in the canonical New Testament—can hope to do nothing more than redistribute sinful inequity and injustice, not eliminate it.  For any ideas, communication, or deeds that do not spring directly from our slavery to God necessarily come from our slavery to sin, “which leads to death.” (6:16)

Slave to God and His righteousness or slave to sin and its attendant, death?  That is the only true social binary recognized in Scripture.

Syncretism Breeds Heresy

Nicholas hated heresy because it immediately threatened the world and his flock with hopelessness and in time threatened them with damnation.  But where did such heresy come from?  Largely, the heresies that wracked the early Church came from trying to use philosophical and metaphysical constructs endemic to the Mediterranean basin to understand Who Christ was or apply Christ’s teachings in that cultural context—constructs whose unexamined assumptions were in whole or in part incompatible with those of the gospel.  It took the work of great theologians like Irenaeus and the Cappadocian Fathers Gregory, Basil, and Gregory of Nazianzus as well as the campaigning of churchmen like Athanasius to uncover and help others understand the violence these foreign ideologies did to the gospel of God.

The rough worldview provided by Critical Theory is as follows: our origin is that we are the product of millions of years of merciless “survival of the fittest” wherein our participation in “nature red in tooth and claw” left our ancestors standing as the bloodstained victors with the dead piled around their feet.  Some groups were more bloodstained than others, however, and they can be distinguished by the fact they are privileged by the power structures of contemporary society; like it or not, their heels are upon the necks of those whom their ancestors didn’t outright kill.  The greater guilt of the dominant group means that those of less privilege and power are by definition possessed of more moral authority.  It is the destiny of humanity to fight an endless battle between oppressed and oppressor until equity is achieved, and consequently it is the moral obligation of all people to either rise against their oppressors or renounce their power until equity—the only morally acceptable condition for human society—is achieved.  This is the meaning of human life.

By contrast, Christianity says that the origin of humanity is the creative activity of the good and sovereign God, who makes humanity in His own image.  Because of sin, humanity finds itself in a condition fundamentally different from that for which they were created.  Now all of humanity live as slaves under the foreign master of sin rather than under the dominion of their good Creator.  To relieve this intolerable situation, God married divinity to humanity in the person of Jesus Christ so that Jesus could collect the wages of our sin (death) and so buy us back to be servants in His own kingdom once again.  The destiny of humanity is hence to live eternally under the dominion of sin or the dominion of God.  This means that what is moral is defined as living as an obedient servant of our proper, legal master God rather than returning to our slavery under sin, which brings us and those around us death.  The meaning of human life hence is becoming fully alive by truly leaving the service of the sin whose fruit is death and being restored to the life of willing obedience to God for which we were created; in the memorable phraseology of the Westminster Catechism, “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

It is unlikely that a single high-profile legal trial will bring our culture to focus on the differences between secular and Christian accounts of human destiny in the same way that the Scopes’ Monkey Trial made us do so for human origins, however, lots of smaller trials are already doing so.  The Supreme Court decisions that have wrought such rapid, monumental, and, for orthodox Christians, challenging cultural changes in our society around the issues of human sexuality have had everything to do with the loss of this sense of human destiny.  They point to the eclipse or deliberate abandonment of a sense that there is an inherent point to the human creature.  That a culture possessed of more (and more widespread) wealth and leisure than any other in history should come to construe marriage as primarily one more means to personal self-fulfillment is perhaps not surprising.  That a great number of people cannot even perceive what generations of both religious and non-religious people took as obvious—the obvious physical complementarity of the sexes as a clue to the meaning of marriage—means we are terrifyingly untethered from reality.  Recent SCOTUS rulings even declare that objectively verifiable biological sex is less “real” in a legal sense than one’s self-ascribed “gender.”  This is the instantiation in law of the idea that nothing should define humanity but human will—that there is biologically and metaphysically no essentially human destiny—theologically speaking, no eschatology.

The origin, destiny, meaning, and morality of humanity proposed by Critical Theory—its anthropology—is wholly at variance with that of orthodox, Biblical Christianity.  Any attempt to syncretize CT with the gospel of Jesus Christ within the Church will necessarily result in the corruption of one or more of the non-negotiables of the Biblical story, producing heresy that will endanger the very souls it purports to serve, breeding the lawlessness that sin always does, and obscuring, if not obliterating completely, the gospel of the only Son of God, whose is the only name under heaven whereby we must be saved.  In the final analysis, Critical Theory and its daughter Critical Race Theory must be rejected by Christians as a possible path to justice because they hopelessly compromise the mission of the Church of Jesus Christ and the world She is called to be for though She can never be of it.

To view the first post in Pr. Jenkin’s two-post article, click on the button below.

The Christian Alternative to Critical Race Theory

Editor’s Note: The conclusion of this article will be published in a second post on or about September 18, 2020.

Critical Theory—in particular, Critical Race Theory—has recently captured the Church’s attention, and in some corners of the Lord’s vineyard it seems, more significantly, Her imagination.  (For those unfamiliar with Critical Theory, this article will serve as a necessarily incomplete introduction.)  Springing from the same philosophers and theorists (Foucault, Derrida, etc.) who brought us postmodernism, Critical Theory seems to be suddenly taking the whole Western world by storm.

This is an illusion.  Though all but Liberal Arts majors would likely be unfamiliar with the Frankfurt School or even the phrase “Critical Theory,” everyone who has received an undergraduate education in the last thirty years has been familiarized with (and in many cases, indoctrinated into) its basic terminology and the categories of meaning by which it makes sense of the world.  For instance, for every one of my acquaintance at my own undergraduate alma mater of Penn State, the obligatory “professional writing” requirement for non-English majors was used by the professors as an opportunity to force-feed undergraduates Critical Theory.  As an example, a business writing class for music majors taught participants to write personal reflections on books like Stone Butch Blues, a lesbian coming of age story, instead of memos, letters to parents, and departmental requisitions.  Even if you think the exposure salutary, it demonstrates the tactics of Critical Theory, which, as its exponents readily affirm, “contains an activist dimension. It tries to not only understand our social situation but to change it, setting out not only to ascertain how society organizes itself along racial lines and hierarchies but to transform it for the better.”[1]

Solid introductions to Critical Theory by both its proponents and opponents are now widely available, and I encourage the reader to consult at least one of each to familiarize themselves with its outlines; otherwise, as commentator Phil Blair demonstrated in his response to a recent Christianity Today article, we may find ourselves employing it unbeknownst to ourselves.


Though articles abound that are critical of Critical Theory (hereafter referred to as CT) from a Christian perspective, as mine is, I hope to explore the topic from an at least slightly different perspective; I propose that while CT may properly diagnose some elements of our cultural ills, it necessarily misaddresses these maladies because it is in fact a secularized Christian heresy.

The Critic Is Often Right About What Is Wrong, But He Is Nearly Always Wrong About What Would Be Right.

I want to start by acknowledging what CT—and progressive ideologies more generally—often get right.  One of the functions of the people in a society that are typically deemed “liberal,” “left,” or “progressive” is to point out injustices when they accumulate.  Any meritocracy (where achievement or talent is rewarded with social and/or economic upward mobility) periodically and predictably accumulates inequity and unfairness at its margins.  At a biological level, talent and giftedness are inborn traits that often run in families.  Sociologically, families pass on habits and knowledge that maximize (or minimize) inherent capacities for greater achievement and reward.  The greatest patrimony that a family passes on in a meritocracy is not their wealth—though that certainly has undeniable advantages—but rather their knowledge and skills in accessing or leveraging the power structures of the meritocracy.

This does not mean that a meritocracy is inherently immoral. (What would we want, a system where lack of talent, industry, and skill is rewarded?) But it does mean that for all the good it may produce, it is a system that can put real people at a real disadvantage in accessing the social and economic rewards deemed legitimate by the value system at its foundation; it is a system that needs a watchdog that calls for course corrections when the process whereby “the rising tide that lifts all boats” creates eddies and riptides that prevent people from weighing anchor and setting sail.

In his book The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt contends that in the same way all the complex flavors of the world’s cuisines are composed of the tongue’s four basic tasting capacities—sweet, sour, salty, and bitter—the great diversity of moralities to which people ascribe are woven from the five basic “cognitive modules” with which we define and evaluate morality and justice.  Defined in terms of their antipodes, these modules are care/harm, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation.  Haidt names this Moral Foundations Theory.

One need not agree with Haidt’s thesis about the origins of these cognitive modules to see their utility as an interpretive grid.  In analyzing the political application of the theory, Haidt, who identifies himself as a liberal, discovered that those who measured as the most “liberal” registered highly in the care/harm and fairness/cheating categories but little to not at all in the other three.  Though caring and fairness were also the dominant categories for those who registered as the most “conservative,” people with these political leanings showed a near convergence with the other three concerns of loyalty, authority, and sanctity:

What this means is that if it seems that the proponents of Critical Theory are “tone deaf” to some of the moral concerns expressed by other, more “conservative” people, it is because they are.  For the “liberal” adherent of CT, the mere presence of inequity is all the proof needed that injustice is occurring.  Questions of whether people have demonstrated the social virtues of developing skills (that is, demonstrating loyalty to the system’s values) are largely not considered, or if they are, the need to do so is defined as part of the oppression inherent in “the system.”  Likewise, the need to “pay one’s dues,” which recognizes the system’s authority, is construed as more evidence of injustice rather than a period of necessary apprenticeship during which there is predicted inequity between those who have acquired the sought-after skills and resources and those currently acquiring them.  Finally, the need to exhibit sustained effort with or without immediate reward—the most sanctified value in a meritocracy—is despised most of all as the mechanism of systemic injustice because, although such effort generally yields overall improvement in the socio-economic position of a given class of people, there is no guarantee in any particular instance that the effort so exerted will result necessarily in equity.  The moral concerns of three of the five moral cognitive modules are not only temporarily bracketed to focus analysis on the issue of fairness, for the “liberal,” they quite literally do not register as things worthy of assessment and for the critical theorist, they are merely attempts to obfuscate the real issue, which is measurable equity.

Moreover, the proponent of Critical Theory does not need to provide measurable criteria whereby to evaluate the claims of their analysis.  The existence of the inequity natural to and predicted by a system that rewards merit is the prima facie evidence that revolution is needed.  Whether the proposed system could actually create the desired equity and whether that equity would be balanced with other moral concerns  (everyone living in social and/or economic squalor is, after all, a type of equality) need not be seriously contemplated, because the only value in view is equity, which is defined as fairness that provides the necessary care for everybody.

This is how these critics can be right about what is wrong (that is, in Critical Race Theory, the form of CT most affecting the life of the Church at present, racial inequities), but so wrong about what would put these wrongs right; their theories are not based upon a morality with a complex enough palate, capable of fine enough distinctions.

Eschatology and Anthropology

This is also in part why Critical Theory is a comprehensive worldview; in merely noting inequity, it believes that it has accounted for all the most significant moral variables—the only ones that count.  It must then flatten all human experience into the narrow interpretive grid it deems the only valid one.

Four Fundamental Questions

The late Ravi Zacharias helpfully delineated at least four fundamental questions of human life to which any worldview must propose an answer: human origin, meaning, morality, and destiny.  Because of the 1925 “Scopes Monkey Trial,” the issue of origins has dominated the intellectual landscape of the Western Church for the last 100 or so years.  First, it dominated the popular imagination as “yet another case” of backward religionists resisting reason’s inevitable march of progress in accord with the Enlightenment’s self-narration.  (Yes, this was first. Scopes deliberately implicated himself so that a trial would need to be held and Darrow deliberately had the trial played out by a sympathetic urbane media in the court of public opinion as part of his legal strategy.)  The attempts to condemn Intelligent Design as veiled religious dogma are the intellectual descendants of that controversy.  Secondly, it precipitated a growing crisis within the Church between Fundamentalists and Modernists, who believed a dating of the age of the earth to greater than 7,000 years was congruent with orthodox Biblical interpretation.  The inheritors of that dispute are the Young Earth versus Old Earth Creationist debates of today.[2] 

“Your theology can never be better than your anthropology,” was one of the favorite axioms my Prophets professor in seminary passed on to us from his mentor.  Of course, being self-consciously orthodox, I thought that axiom got it exactly backward; our theology—specifically our Christology and soteriology—necessarily defines our understanding of human nature, so our anthropology can never be better than our theology.

Unfortunately, the Western Church’s obsession with origins has led to a relative neglect of the way our understanding of who Jesus is and what salvation fully entails informs our understanding of what human beings are (our meaning), how we should live (our morality), and our purpose or telos (our destiny).  The preaching of Jesus predominantly as life coach, social activist, friend of sinners, prophetic preacher, social reformer or even atoning sacrifice for sinners, has led to the neglect of the consistent preaching of Jesus as the God-Man or Theanthropos, a new species in God’s economy of salvation.[3]  “God became man that man might become [like] God,” exulted Irenaeus of Lyons in his second century classic Against Heresies, going on to declare as the soteriological significance of that teaching that “the glory of God is a [hu]man fully alive.”

Great Tradition Christianity proclaims that the ultimate destiny of redeemed humanity is not merely to avoid hell (Jesus as the cosmic get-out-of-jail-free card) or to emulate Jesus as the finest example of a fully self-realized or perfectly moral human person, but rather to become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).  Through our Sacramental union with Jesus, who was fully God and fully human, by faith in His promises, we are drawn into the perichoretic inner life of the Godhead, the most Holy Trinity.  As the Theanthropos, Jesus is the “firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29), not the only-born to be admired and worshipped, but whose life remains fundamentally distant from our own.

This teaching about the implications of salvation through Christ for our destiny as human beings thoroughly conditions and shapes all other elements of our theology.  In other words, remembering the fullness of our destiny as human beings in Christ has far more impact on our understanding of what is the meaning of human life and the morality by which it is to be lived than our understanding of our origins.

[1] Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic. Critical Race Theory: An Introduction. (New York: New York University Press, 2017), page 8.

[2] If you speak the first article of the Nicene or Apostles’ Creed without crossing your fingers, you are a creationist of one stripe or the other; it is important that non-fundamentalist Christians be absolutely clear on this point and think through the consequences of that position as distinct from a functional Deism.

[3] Justification by grace through faith—forensic justification—may indeed be the doctrine upon which the Church stands or falls as Martin Luther declared, but it was never meant to be preached denuded of the very Christology that makes it so powerful and poignant.