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Christology Without Christ?

David Cowles

Feb 14, 2023

“But what if Jesus is not your cup of tea? There’s an old hymn that goes, ‘Jesus is just all right with me,’ but what if he’s not all right with you?”

In ATM Issue #1 (6/1/2022), we presented a Christology that dates back to the very early days of the Church. Paul cites it in his Letter to Colossians (1: 15 – 20): 

“He (Christ) is the image of the invisible God, 

the firstborn of all creation

for in him all things were created…

All things were created through him and for him.

He is before all things, 

and in him all things hold together

He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead.

For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, 

and through him to reconcile all things for him…" 

We argued that this early Christology became the pattern for future Christologies, and in turn, future theologies and cosmologies. This is important because it substantiates Christianity’s claim to be apostolic, i.e., directly descended from the Apostles themselves. 

Most Christians today believe more or less exactly what Christians believed c. 50 CE. Can you think of any other subject on which a significant portion of the Western World believes today what it believed 2000 years ago? 

But what if Jesus is not your cup of tea? There’s an old hymn that goes, “Jesus is just all right with me,” but what if he’s not all right with you? Can Colossians still provide a valid cosmological framework for folks who don’t follow Jesus, or even believe in God?

The answer is, “Yes!” (Or at least that’s what I’m about to argue.) Jewish and Roman Catholic thinking has consistently affirmed a role for observation and reason in the discovery of truth. While Revelation is the crown jewel of gnosis, observation and reason by themselves can still lead someone to a reasonable facsimile of Aletheia (truth). Judeo-Christianity is an empirical religious tradition (vs. a magical one).

In a recent Thoughts While Shaving, we cited Pope Benedict’s claim that faith and reason are symbiotic, that neither is valid without the other. In that spirit then, can the theological language of the Colossian’s text (above) be ‘translated’ into a secularized equivalent and still deliver a sufficient, and perhaps even necessary, cosmology for our 21st century?

Let’s start with three of the fundamental problems of philosophy: 

  1. How is it that there is a world at all? (“something rather than nothing”)

  2. How is it that the world is both One (universe) and Many (entities)?

  3. How is it that the world is both stable (permanence) and in flux (change)? 

Every important Western philosopher has taken a swing at this three-headed piñata… generally with no more success than most children have at their birthday parties. From Parmenides and Heraclitus through Whitehead and Sartre, these problems have been center stage; and any cosmology worth the toner it’s printed with has to address these problems. 

Borrowing from a liturgical hymn, Paul’s “Christ”, an object of worship for Christians, also functions as a philosophical concept. Neither I nor Paul claims to have proven anything about the historical Jesus or the cosmological Christ. For Christians, the birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension and second coming of Jesus is that proof. What Paul has done is to show that ‘Christ’ offers a sufficient solution to the 3 fundamental problems of cosmology listed above, i.e., that it adequately accounts for the phenomena we call ‘world’.

The Christ Hypothesis accounts for the world as we experience it: that it is, that it is both one and many, that is both stable and in flux. To show this, we return to the cosmological elements, presented by Paul in the Letter to the Colossians, but this time desacralized:

“Our World is a manifestation (the phenomenal ‘image’) of what is otherwise unmanifest (noumenon). The primal manifestation (‘world as world’) precedes (ontologically if not empirically) all contingent manifestations (‘things as things’) because it is through that primal manifestation, and for it, that things come to be and hold together. This primal manifestation is the origin of all things; it lends ‘being’ to each thing and reconciles for itself everything that is.”  

English please: “The World exists for its own sake, as the manifestation of Being itself. The World is one, but it is populated by many entities. Those entities come to be in the World for the sake of the World. They immediately cohere and ultimately harmonize, so that ‘world’ (multiplicity) may be World (unity).” Good enough?

If I’ve done my job, I’ve convinced you that the Christ Hypothesis is sufficient to account for the ‘world’ as we experience it. Believe it or not, as you see fit. But have I also proved that it is necessary, i.e., that there is no other way to account for the ‘world’ as it is? Well, for that I’ll have to defer to you:

Christology 101 (6/1/22) closed with a challenge: Can anyone come up with a model that adequately accounts for the key features of the empirical ‘world’ but that cannot be mapped onto the ‘Christ model’ as presented by Paul in Colossians

Nine months later, no one has taken me up on that challenge. How about now? How about you? (If we publish your response, you’ll be compensated as for any other article we publish. Find our writer's specs here.)

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