Christological dilemma and “who is a Christian”


1. Christians of all hue agree that the figure of Christ is central to the religion that Christianity is. This figure is “the promised one”, the “messiah”, the “anointed one”, and so on. Kindly note that there is a difference between the Christ as a figure and Jesus of Nazareth. The Jews also believe in the Christ figure, but they figure that he has not yet come, and they are awaiting his arrival. The Christians reckon that the Christ has come and that Jesus of Nazareth was the “prophesied one”.

2. Jesus of Nazareth, according to Christianity, is also the Christ, and without that being the case, there can be no Christianity. What exactly does the claim that Jesus is the Christ mean? There is a whole branch within Christian theology that deals with this question, and it is called Christology. It deals with many several themes, all focussed around the person and figure of Jesus Christ.

3. In my book, I speak at length about what I call the Christological dilemma. I cannot hope to summarize it here, but let me simply identify the issue. But before doing so, one needs to have some understanding of what it means to speak of a dilemma. It merely means the following: (a) a dilemma involves a choice; (b) the necessary elements of a choice present themselves as alternatives; (c) neither of the alternative is sufficient on its own; (d) one needs both the alternatives together, but one cannot have both. Such a situation presents the chooser with a dilemma.

4. The figure of Jesus Christ presents Christianity with such a dilemma. According to Christianity, in Jesus (a) God not only reveals Himself, but is also (b) His Unique Revelation. It is the combination of (a) and (b) that makes the son of a carpenter (Jesus of Nazareth) into the Christ. The very same combination presents Christianity with the Christological dilemma.

5. Christ is the Unique revelation of God. That is, his is the only way to God. At the same time, it is also a revelation of God, as such, one of the multiple revelations of God, and thus one of the ways to God. Though following Christ is the only way to God, it is a way which is open to the whole of Humankind. Though open to the whole of humankind, the other ways that the humankind follows lead not to the Lord but to the Devil.

6. In other words, in the phrase “In Christ, God reveals Himself Uniquely” contains the dilemma. Either we emphasize the Unique character of God’s revelation in Christ: in that case, Christianity becomes, to use the phrase current on this board, exclusivist and intolerant. Or we emphasize the fact that God Reveals Himself in Jesus: in that case, we can also talk of other revelations of God as being at par. But by doing so, the figure of Christ disappears from the picture. Christianity might become inclusive and tolerant, but the price it pays is that it ceases being Christianity. In fact, in such a situation, I argue, one will even be unable to say whether it is God who reveals Himself or someone else.

7. In the course of the two thousand years that constitute the history of Christianity, indefinitely many solutions have been worked out to address the issue of the Christological dilemma. From the rabidly exclusivist positions that make Christianity into a sect at one end of the spectrum, to the extremely tolerant Philosophical Theisms at the other end. The first emphasizes the Unique way: thus it focuses on the person in whom God reveals Himself (an exclusive Christology that makes theo-logy irrelevant); the other, by contrast, emphasizes God who reveals Himself (an exclusive theology that makes Christology irrelevant). The point, however, is that one needs both in Christianity but one cannot have both.

8. In other words, it is not my theory of religion that imposes the choice of being either (a) intolerant and exclusive or (b) being tolerant but non-Christian. Rather, it is the very figure at the heart of Christianity, namely Jesus as Christ, who gives birth to this dilemma.

9. On the basis of just this dilemma alone, one could not only predict that there are bound to be variations within Christianity but also, more importantly, predict the limits of such a variation. Of course, there are all kinds of other factors involved too, and they too add to the predictability.

10. Now, one can make better sense (I hope) of my disinterest in saying whether Alex Alexander, Chacko and Abraham Verghese are Christians or not. It must also be clear why and in what sense the question “who is a Christian?” is an internal problem within Christianity.