Casually, we ascribe divinity to good food. “This chocolate cake is divine.” But what do we really mean by that? I don’t think there’s anything inherently sinister to calling chocolate cake divine — we understand that the language is being used metaphorically. There is nothing intentionally deceptive in the statement.
However, a problem arises in our modern world when we say, “Jesus is divine.” (Or even “Jesus is God”). The modern liberal view of Christ uses the same vocabulary, with a different dictionary. J. Gresham Machen, in his book Christianity and Liberalism argues that the modern liberal “Christian,” while still claiming to believe in the deity of Christ, has concocted a totally different religion. The liberal Christian fundamentally rejects the supernatural. But if there is no supernatural, no “purposive entrance of God’s power into the order of the world” (Machen 85), then there is no incarnation of Christ as God Himself. What we are left with in the liberal view of Christ is a Christ who is no more divine than a good piece of chocolate cake. He’s not God; he’s just really, really good. He becomes simply an “example for faith” rather than “the object of faith” (Machen 72).
Orthodox Christianity, on the other hand, is built solely on the true divinity of Christ. And by “divinity of Christ,” we mean that Jesus is God, and God is the creator, sustainer, and ruler of the universe who is at once transcendent from his Creation and immanent with it. The claim that Jesus is not God but only a good example presents several problems.
First, a historical problem: Paul and the early Christians voice a unified witness: Jesus is God (Machen 73). This is clear from the presentation of Jesus in the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament. It is even more clear from the posture which the writers of the New Testament take toward Jesus. To the writers of the New Testament, Jesus is “no mere man,” but “the object of religious faith” (83). Furthermore, Jesus saw himself as more than a mere man. His own view of himself as a Savior — his “Messianic consciousness,” is a real problem for those who claim he was simply an example (74).
Second, a logical problem: The logical problem is connected to the historical problem. If Jesus was simply a good teacher and an example, but saw himself as the Messiah, we can only conclude that he made “unjustified” claims about himself. This points to him being either confused or immoral. “If Jesus be merely an example, He is not a worthy example; for He claimed to be far more” (74).
Third, a redemptive problem: As Pastor John Piper has said, “there is no salvation without the deity of Christ. If the Son of God was made instead of being eternally begotten in the very nature of God, we are still in our sins, and biblical salvation does not exist.” Christianity is built on an understanding of the need for redemption from our sins and reconciliation to God. If Jesus is not divine, he has no power to redeem, for “nothing natural will ever meet our need. Nature transmits the dreadful taint; hope is to be sought only in the creative act of God.” Whatever redemption liberalism offers, it is not the redemption of Christ. It is not Christianity. And definition in this case is a matter of more than taste; it is life and death.
Machen, J. Gresham. Christianity and Liberalism. 1923. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009.
Piper, John. “Why Does It Matter That Christ Was ‘Begotten, Not Made’?” Desiring God. 21 Sept 2020, https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/why-does-it-matter-that-christ-was-begotten-not-made