In the cultural and theological tug of war to define Jesus, many on the theological left have moved to emphasize Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry. They emphasize Jesus’s moral teachings, his healing and his temporal good works. Some go so far as to present Jesus as a social revolutionary and partisan in class warfare between the rich and the poor. By following Christ’s earthly example, they argue, the betterment of mankind can be accomplished.
I do not mean to de-emphasize Christ’s humanity in this post, after all a core tenet of Christian doctrine is the Hypostatic Union in which Christ is fully human and fully divine. But by emphasizing Christ’s earthly ministry, we de-emphasize His divinity.
Christ was fully human, and he carried out a temporal ministry which we are called to emulate. But Christ was and most importantly is divine. Christ is a friend, but he is also King.
In a way, this serves to better emphasize the love of Christ, after all, what earthly king is also a friend to humble and poor? But I believe the concept of Christ the King has several implications which make it somewhat uncomfortable for those on the theological left.
Firstly, the concept of Christ as king emphasizes the sovereignty of God. By emphasizing Christ’s role as king, as ruler, as lord, we emphasize God’s final and ultimate authority in all things. God in his infinite knowledge knows more than any man ever can know, and this idea is unsettling to many people. Rather than working to end suffering on this earth, the doctrine of the sovereignty of God tells us that we cannot know why there is suffering and that suffering will exist to the end of time. And the permanence of suffering emphasizes more than anything else that mankind cannot be saved and redeemed through temporal earthly ministry and social justice.
Secondly, the concept of Christ the King emphasizes the existence of absolute morality. After all, if Christ is the ultimate sovereign ruler, then it logically follows that the pronouncements of such a ruler serve as an absolute moral code. “Love” as defined by the theological left is often relative to the circumstances. It is centered around not appearing judgmental, intolerant or absolutist. Yet, as Christ was about to ascend into heaven his last words to his disciples were not “be open-minded and tolerant”, the were to “go and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
Thirdly, the concept of Christ the King emphasizes the existence of absolute truth and reason. God’s existence, and therefore his sovereignty, are unchanging and immutable. This is a attribute that many on the theological left find distasteful. Shane Claiborne, for example, writes The Irresistible Revolution that “religious doctrines just aren’t very compelling, even if they’re true.”Post-modernists and Emergents argue that God is encountered emotionally rather than intellectually. As a result, Biblical morality becomes subjective and relativistic. Theology becomes based on feelings rather than objective truth.
Keeping this view of Christ the King in mind also gives the Christian a proper sense of reverence for the divine. God is infinitely greater than man, and being reminded of this serves to remind mankind of his true place in the order of things. With the immensity and power of God in mind, earth’s problems seem small by comparison. One’s own life is of small concern. Christians in Cuba executed by Che Guevara (a man idolized by some proponents of the social gospel such as Shane Claiborne as an example of a fighter for social justice) did not go to their deaths at the killing walls of La Cabana Prison shouting “Christ the Fighter for Social Justice!” or “Christ the Defender of the Poor!” Rather, they died shouting “Viva Cristo del Rey!”
I am not trying to minimize Christ’s temporal ministry, but to put it in its proper perspective. Christians do not just follow the earthly Christ of Thomas Jefferson’s The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. We follow the divine Christ, Christ the Redeemer, Christ the King. Christ is worthy not only of our emulation but of our reverence. Emphasizing Christ’s temporal ministry at the expense of his divinity is to miss half of the point. We follow Christ’s earthly ministry, but we also follow the Risen Christ. Christ is not just our friend, He is our God.