Proof-texting or systematic theologies have particular purposes and evaluating the detailed events of Jesus’ life may not naturally fit with those purposes. But is it possible we could grow in integrating the life of Jesus Christ into the articulation of our theology?
Would our theology be different if Jesus had lived among the Eskimos before He went to the cross? I doubt this is a question you’ve been thinking about, but theologian Michael Bird has proposed this exact issue in a startling critique of evangelical theology. Bird writes,
The life of Jesus does not feature prominently in evangelical theology. As long as Jesus was born of a Virgin and as long as he died on the cross, it doesn’t seem to matter much what else he did or where he did it. In other words, as long as he had a sinless birth and a sin-bearing death, he could have lived among the Eskimos for all it really matters. [emphasis added] … The sad fact is, though, that for many Christians, Jesus’ life is really just the warm-up act to Paul’s atonement theology.
Does Bird have a point here? Does Jesus’ life integrate with the theology of evangelical churches? Do we have a robust place for understanding and appreciating the life of Jesus Christ in the heart of our theology?
Some may balk at these questions altogether. After all, evangelicals, and more particularly, Reformed churches, frequently emphasize the active obedience of Jesus Christ, that overarching doctrine of His life. Others may point out the frequency of evangelical preaching from the gospels or the personal value found in the stories of Jesus’ life. I certainly join with those who would argue that Bird has overstated his case here.
But, perhaps Bird highlights theological risks here, risks worth considering. Consider, just as an example, that in the prooftexts of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, that only one reference is given to a miracle of Christ and that references to the epistles and Revelation outnumber references to the gospels on an almost 3:1 basis. Or flip through the index of some classic Reformed systematic theologies and consider how common it is for theologians to give quite limited attention to events from Jesus’ life between His birth and crucifixion.