You have to go back to Honest to God to remember any book that has so stirred up the British religion. The culprit? A book entitled The Myth of God Incarnate by John Hick. Few religious works in living memory have captured the attention of the small and usually sedate church-going public. This collection of controversial essays challenged the heart of evangelical theology. Was Jesus really God — or just the outstanding religious leader of His day?
Traditionally, evangelicals and even those who espoused a more liberal theology have long considered the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ the Godship of Jesus Christ — as the very core of Christianity. It was the doctrinal rock upon which the Christian's own immortality was based — survival beyond the grave was assured. Traditional Christology was a bulwark against the do-your-own thing philosophy of life. But those who envision a solely human Christ have emerged out of the woodwork. Seven British theologians have stated their case for Christ's humanity while denying His deity.
Reaction in Britain and America
Rebuttals began pouring off the presses. First were the British evangelicals with a potpourri of rebuttals edited into a popular paperback titled The Truth of God Incarnate. Even Ian Paisley got into the act. The controversial rector from Northern Ireland published his version titled The Myth of God Incarnate Edited by John Hick. [but] Reviewed and Refuted by Ian Paisley. For only 25 pence (about 45 cents) you could read his expose of the book's "colossal falsehoods." Soon the heresy hunting spread across the Atlantic. Leon Morris published his denial of this new doctrine in Christianity Today. Back in Britain, John R. Scott, heir apparent to the common man's theologian, C. S. Lewis, charged editor John Hick and his seven British cohorts with heresy. He asked "what the Church should do with false teachers" while posing some suggested paths to ecclesiastical discipline. It is hoped enough water has passed under the bridge by now that we can calmly take an unbiased look at the biblical evidence.
Beginning at the beginning
Let's begin our study with the book of John. Perhaps in part because of his special closeness to Jesus, John was given a deeper and broader understanding of his Savior. John's beginning predates even the events in the Old Testament. Notice it. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made" (John 1:1-3, Revised Standard Version throughout except where otherwise designated). Verse 14 explains just who this "Word" was: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us..." Jesus Christ is the only heavenly Being who ever became a fleshly human being and lived in this world. John's first letter and one of Paul's epistles provide us with an excellent commentary on these beginning scriptures in the fourth gospel. As if by habit, John begins his first epistle with: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life — the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us — that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you..." (I John 1:1-3). This letter makes it plain that this Being with whom the disciples had lived, worked and played was none other than a member of the Godhead. And the apostle Paul wrote: "... He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities — things were created through him and for him. He is before all things..." (Colossians 1:15-17). Paul here points out the broad and massive extent of the work and authority of the prehuman Christ.
The Godship of Christ
John emphasizes over and over the preexistence of Christ as God before His human birth throughout his entire gospel. Notice it again in the first chapter. "He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not" (John 1:10). If He made the world, then He preceded His own creation. Yet when He came in the human flesh, the vast majority of those who had the opportunity to know Him rejected their own Creator. John the Baptist picks up this same theme. "John bore witness to him, and cried, 'This was he of whom I said, He who comes after me ranks before me, for he was before me'" (John 1:15). Was the Baptist indulging in some kind of spiritual doubletalk here? No! John was begotten and born into the human flesh before the human Jesus was (Luke 1:35-36, 57-60). Yet Jesus was God long before John was conceived.
Jesus — from heaven
John knew Jesus' true Origin. Quoting Christ, John declared, "No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man" (John 3:13). John continued: "He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth belongs to the earth, and of the earth he speaks; he who comes from heaven is above all" (verse 31).
The God of the Old Testament
In chapter 8, the Pharisees brought up the subject of Abraham. Jesus had to explain to them: "'Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad.' The Jews said to him, 'You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?' Jesus said, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am'" (verses 56-58). Jesus Christ was the same God who walked and talked with Moses in the wilderness — the same "I am" (see Exodus 3:14) who brought the children of Israel out of Egypt. Paul makes this plain. "I want you to know, brethren, that our fathers Were all under the cloud, and all passed through the Red sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea... For they drank from the same supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ" (I Corinthians 10:1-4). We find the most emphatic statements about the preexistence of Jesus Christ in the book of John. The book's major emphasis is on the fact that Jesus Christ was God before His human birth. Even the Pharisee Nicodemus said to Jesus, "... Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God...'" (John 3:2). Jesus told the leaders of this smallish sect: "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God" (John 5:17-18, King James Version). If you have any sons or daughters, they are on the same plane and level of existence as yourself. Jesus was equal with God in the sense that He existed on the same God-plane that the Father did.
From Creator to Son
We have now firmly established that Jesus was God before His human birth. But He later divested Himself of His glory and came down to this earth as a human being to die for the sins of all mankind. Paul wrote to the Philippian brethren: "Have, this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:5-8). Paul brings out that Jesus is now restored to His former glory: "Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (verses 9-11). Jesus was God before His human birth; He was God in the flesh while a human being here on earth; and He is now very God at the right hand of the Father in heaven.