Theology in the Patristic Era: Steven A. McKinion on Jesus Christ

Historical Theology for the Church is a new book from B&H Academic that treats the entire 2000 year history of Christianity with a focus on doctrinal development through major figures, events, and written works. By steering this work “for the church” this textbook shows the development of doctrine in history through congregations as well as provide a resource for contemporary congregations. The following is an excerpt from one of the contributing authors’ chapters.

Steven A. McKinion serves as professor of theology and patristic studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Introduction

The question looming over Christianity from its inception was “Who is Jesus Christ?” When Jesus posed the question to his disciples, Peter answered correctly: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16 KJV). This confession identifying Jesus of Nazareth with the Old Testament Son of God was fundamental to Christian identity. Christians in antiquity understood this profession to be the essence of saving faith but nonetheless had to make sense of it. What did it mean for Jesus to be the “Son” of God? Christians in antiquity needed language that made sense of their liturgy, their proclamation of the gospel, and their ecclesial practices. The search for that language, and the formulations Christians agreed to, is Christology.

Historical Overview

Emerging from the second century, the question of the worship of Jesus was settled. It was also settled that Jesus was the same one who created the universe and became incarnate for the salvation of humanity. Fundamental language, even if not fully developed, already existed for Christians to proclaim Jesus as both God and a human being without diminishing or destroying either type of being.

The fourth century was the period of firm commitment to the full divinity and full humanity of Jesus Christ. It was also a strong affirmation of the true divinity and true humanity of Jesus. Going forward, any Christology that diminished either of those constituent elements would be out of bounds.

What the Councils of Nicaea (325) and Constantinople (381) had been for the doctrine of the Trinity, the fifth-century Councils of Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451) were for the doctrine of Christ. Christians refined the language that helped them articulate how Jesus could be fully divine and fully human. Theologians spoke of one person and two natures.

Case Studies

  1. Gnostics and Gnosticism
  2. The Schools of Alexandria and Antioch
  3. Cyril of Alexandria
  4. The Council of Chalcedon

For the Church

Contemporary challenges to Christianity are many. Those modern challenges, like those in antiquity, often concern inaccurate answers to the question “Who is Jesus Christ?” When modern heresies seek to diminish the deity of Christ, Christians must preach a gospel of God’s true incarnation. God does not send a messenger to do his work; he becomes human himself to save his people. When modern heresies deny the humanity of Christ, making him something of a superman, Christians must recognize the humiliation of the incarnation, in which God lived a genuine human life. Jesus is of the same nature as all other human beings, but he is without sin. It is essential that Jesus be fully God and fully human, with both natures belonging to the one person of the eternal Son of God, for him to save. This is the one Lord and Savior Jesus Christ whom we preach.

Historical Theology for the Church
Jason G. Duesing & Nathan A. Finn, editors
B&H Academic, 2021