The New Theology teaches that Jesus took human flesh but not necessarily that He became a whole, after-the-Fall human person. The New Theology Jesus lacks the most essential aspect. He has not taken a humanity which the great controversy war demands be in solidarity with our own.
In New Theology teachings, Jesus cannot condemn sin in sinful flesh (Romans 8:3, 4) because the flesh He takes is unlike our own right where it counts the most. The New Theology says that the humanity of Christ was “our nature in every sense—except in sinful propensities,” that the humanity He was born with, “was free from any sinful traits or propensities.”
The issue of propensities is whether Jesus experienced temptation like we do or not, whether He became one of us or not, whether He defeated sin in sinful flesh or not, whether He can be our legitimate Substitute and our high Priest and Example, or not.
Remember, if humanity itself, apart from a person's will, has guilt, then Jesus cannot have all of our humanity. He would be disqualified from being our Savior. If, as already noted in teh New Theology assertion, we are “not sinners because we sin, but we sin because we are sinners,” then we sin not because of choice but because of our having been born with bad equipment. Jesus must not ever sin, so He must be protected from having the same bad equipment. Thus, Jesus’ humanity is, in the New Theology viewpoint—fundamentally—different than our own; He is not pulled on from in His humanity as we are. That is what the New Theology is saying. The end result is a Jesus who is not as human as we are.
In order to sustain this dogma, some rather creative teaching is called forth. For example, it has been written of Jesus that, “He took the nature of man in its fallen state, bearing the consequences of sin, not its sinfulness. He was one with the human race, except in sin.” This may evoke an “A” for creative writing, but the bottom line is, it is trying to say that Jesus had a humanity that was, fundamentally, different than ours.
And yet, inspiration is so clear.
Concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh (Romans 1:2).
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross (Philippians 2:5-8).
But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man. For it became Him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren, Saying, I will declare Thy name unto My brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto Thee. And again, I will put My trust in Him. And again, Behold I and the children which God hath given Me. Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same; that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For verily He took not on Him the nature of angels; but He took on Him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved Him to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succour them that are tempted (Hebrews 2:9-18).
For we have not an high Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15).
For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit (Romans 8:3, 4).
All these texts fundamentally demonstrate a seamless solidarity between the humanity of Christ and that of humankind fallen. We all have sinned and come short of God’s glory, but Jesus never sinned and never came short of God’s glory, and He triumphed in flesh like to our own. Only thus could Romans 8:3, 4 be telling the truth when it says that Jesus condemned sin in our sinful flesh.
Jesus used none of His power of Deity while He trod this earth. “That power He had laid down” (The Desire of Ages, p. 336). He was a perfect example for us. Not for unfallen Adam, but for us. We are the ones needing a Savior!
Some are very surprised to learn that Ellen White explicitly addressed the nature of Christ. She spoke of this when dealing with the faulty theology behind the Holy Flesh movement manifest throughout Indiana near the turn of the century. Here is what the holy flesh advocates were teaching, as presented by S. N. Haskell to Ellen G. White:
When we stated that we believed that Christ was born in fallen humanity, they would represent us as believing that Christ sinned, notwithstanding the fact that we would state our position so clearly that it would seem as though no one could misunderstand us.1
This was no surprise to Mrs. White. Nine months previous she had been given insight: “Last January the Lord showed me that erroneous theories and methods would be brought into our camp meetings…” (Selected Messages, vol. 2, p. 37). She called the teachings of the Holy Flesh movement, “cheap, miserable inventions of men’s theories” (Selected Messages, vol. 2, p. 37). That is what I call them too.
She opposed these false teachings. They were stopped at the gates in 1900, but in the 1950s they were introduced in Ministry magazine and in the book Questions on Doctrine. They were presented under the guise of apparent Christ-centeredness, just as today presented.
The issue of propensities is not that complicated. We are all born with tendencies to sin. When we act upon those tendencies, we acquire and develop personal propensities. Once you’ve done something, you have laid a foundation for repetition and habit. All of us have sinned by choice and then sinned some more by choice. We have developed for ourselves habit patterns of sin. Jesus had the same inherited tendencies, but He never developed the same propensities since He never sinned, never laid the foundation for such propensities.2
Jesus came into the same kind of damaged flesh that we have. He did not cheat in the great controversy. He took upon Himself all that we must face and won the battle through His Father’s power.
A sick man who has a surgery resulting in the incorporation of a heart valve from a pig takes pig-flesh, but does not completely become a pig. He is still biologically 99% human. Furthermore, that pig heart valve did not change the mental, emotional, or spiritual dynamics of his life, the way he thinks, in any way at all. After his operation he there will be no new need to battle strange desires to linger round the pigsty, sniff at the swill, and roll in the mud.
But Jesus laid aside the powers which were His by right as God; He remained God still; but He came to our world and did much more than take a skin graft or a heart valve from broken humanity; He became as human as we are. He entered into the experience of men who face life every day in sinful flesh, in a flesh that clamors and pulls and provokes to selfishness. He took not just flesh, but He became a whole human person—a whole, fallen-fleshed human person. He defeated sin on the same battlefield as sin must be defeated in my life and in yours.
But the New Theology always opts for some other position than this. Jesus takes part of our humanity but not all of it. The New Theology will always present Christ’s nature as being like Adam’s before the Fall, or partly like Adam’s and partly like ours, a synthetic blend, a plastic Jesus, an imaginary and malleable God-man to whom few Joe-average humans like ourselves can relate. The key position which the New Theology inevitably battles, is that Jesus took the humanity of a whole, after-the-Fall human being.
Sometimes its advocates propose a generic answer, like “Jesus was God enough to save me, and man enough to be my example.” But the same answer could be given by a Catholic or a Baptist or a Methodist or a Pentecostal or Nazarene. Is that the kind of answer Heaven expects present truth filled Seventh-day Adventists standing at the edge of time’s end to give? Or is the world justified in expecting something more definite from a people who follow the Lamb whithersoever He goes (Revelation 14:4)? Is the best they can do when it comes to One whom they follow so closely, to utter vaguely that He is “God enough to save me, man enough to be my example”? Would we accept such a minimalist answer of one we are discussing Sabbath versus Sunday with? Isn’t that like stopping at “We observe one day in seven” while inspiration says, more specifically, that we are to worship on “the seventh day” (Exodus 20:8)? We would insist on more than that because there is considerably more inspired data on the Sabbath versus Sunday topic. God has given no fence-sitting answer to this topic in the Bible, and it is late in the hour to be taking minimalist positions on topics where Heaven has given maximal insight.
Advocates of the New Theology teach, at the bottom line, that Jesus’ humanity is different than ours, and that it had to be in order for Him to be our Savior, in order for Him to overcome. It all comes down again to the freewill issue that stands at the very center of the great controversy war. The New Theology view is thus antagonistic to the core of Seventh-day Adventism.
NEXT: What is the New Theology Part 7: Justification: Counting Right or Counting and Making Right?
- S. N. Haskell to Ellen G. White, September 25, 1900.
- For more detailed discussion of these topics, see: "The Lower and Higher Natures, Kevin D. Paulson, April 10, 2003. Also, "Study: Passions and Propensities in the Writings of Ellen G. White,"" Ralph Larson.