One of my favorite theological interests – as can be seen from the topic of my book Who Do You Say That I Am? – is Christology, the study of the person of Jesus Christ. The identity of Jesus is at the heart of the Gospel message, and if you distort his identity, you distort the whole message of salvation. This is why the early Church spent hundreds of years and numerous ecumenical councils debating exactly who Jesus is.
This is also why the Church is so concerned when a theologian appears to be distorting the identity of Christ in his teachings. Back in 2004, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued a notification condemning some of the teachings of Jesuit theologian Roger Haight. The concern was primarily over Haight’s book Jesus, the Symbol of God, which attempted to make Jesus “relevant” to the modern world by watering down the reality of his divinity. The CDF at that time told Haight that he could not publicly teach Catholic theology, so he left the Jesuit-run school he was at and moved to a non-Catholic university.
Last month the CDF announced that their concern over Haight’s teaching was so great that they ordered him not to teach theology anywhere. The Church realizes the damage that can be done by a Catholic priest distorting the teaching on Jesus, even if he is not working at a Catholic university.
In striving to make Jesus “relevant” many theologians turn him into a caricature of themselves. As a professor once said to me: “When they read the Gospels, it’s like they are looking in a mirror.” I especially liked the quote by Gerald O’Collins, one of the premier authorities on Christology and another Jesuit:
I wouldn’t give my life for Roger Haight’s Jesus. It’s a triumph of relevance over orthodoxy.
And this is the standard to which any Christology must be judged. Christ’s closest followers gave their lives for Jesus, and have continued to do so for 2,000 years. If someone invents a new “Jesus” who no one is willing to die for, you can be sure that it is not the Jesus of the Gospels.