The Person of Jesus Christ (Lecture 5 of 5) by John Macquarrie

“The Uniqueness of Jesus Christ”
In his concluding lecture, John Macquarrie explores what is meant by the claim of uniqueness given to Jesus Christ by the Christian religion. How can we, who are thinking creatures without an “olympian” view upon all of reality, claim absoluteness or uniqueness for Jesus and His Church? Macquarrie points out that such an assertion might actually exhaust the Christian revelation, rather than express it. And how can we, finite beings, pass comparative and total judgement upon other religions without a complete knowledge of them? Given these difficulties, what, then, can be maintained?

What distinguishes Christianity is its claim to ultimate concern, which demands an utter commitment to its object in the fullness of human depth possible for us today. We cannot follow many paths or faiths with any kind of real commitment and knowledge. We must choose one path and follow it completely. Can we be fully committed to Christ yet open to the possibilities of truth being found in non-Christian religions? If Jesus Christ is the Eternal Logos and Word through whom all things are created, then “surely one is bound to acknowledge there must be truth in the many ways that the human mind has grasped something of the divine Word.” Macquarrie acknowledges truths found in Hinduism and Islam that can force us to confront truths found yet perhaps overlooked in the Christian religion. He counsels that we avoid (1) a judgmental approach to other religions, and (2) the aimless relativism of “all religions are as good as any other.”

Our contemporary world demands a spirit of mutual dialogue between Christianity and other faiths. In such a dialogue, both sides seek to learn from each other. Although the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation is unlike any doctrine found in any other religion, in other faiths there can be seen pervasively what Macquarrie calls a “groping toward Incarnation” that provides fertile ground for mutual dialogue and sharing in the divine Being. Dialogue, in fact, shows itself as an opportunity for a new kind of Christian mission, which also means humble love of our neighbor whomever that might be.

Rather than the problematic terms “uniqueness” or “absoluteness,” Macquarrie prefers that we Christians proclaim that Jesus Christ is definitive. Christ’s definitiveness is two-fold: (1) Jesus defines what it is to be a human being, and (2) Jesus defines the meaning of the word “God.” He is the goal of a mature, authentic humanity, the inexhaustible fulfillment of human glory. For Macquarrie, this depth of mystery is particularly revealed in the doctrine of the Second Coming of Christ. This is the consummation of reality that the Church believes Jesus brings, and will continue to bring, to the world. For even after 2,000 years, the Church has not fully explored the glory of His significance. We can, and must, see Jesus’s uniqueness in that sense, but in so doing we must not denigrate other expressions of faith. In Christ, “there is a constellation and concentration of those characteristics that belong to our deepest and most authentic humanity and which open to us also the way to the knowledge of God.” Amen.

keywords: Ascension of Jesus, anthropology, history of religions, (aimless) relativism, Enlightenment, non-Christian religions, Asian spiritual classics, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Søren Kierkegaard, Ernst Troeltsch, The Absoluteness of Christianity, Islam, Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, ultimate concern, syncretism, sentimentalism, Hinduism, violence, fellowship, religious dialogue, “the holy,” Buddhism, atheism, mysticism, Krishna, salvation, doctrine of Creation, asceticism, Eastern Christianity, John Hick, mission, doctrine of Incarnation, Bodhisattva, Vishnu, Raimon Panikkar, The Hidden Christ in Hinduism, Mother Theresa, Upanishads, Definitiveness, Being, Mystery, Second Coming of Christ, Nicene Creed, Bishop John Robinson, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Wolfhart Pannenberg, Resurrection

John Macquarrie
October 1984 to the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church
Table of Contents
Lecture 1.
Lecture 2.
Lecture 3.
Lecture 4.
Lecture 5.