The God Who Believes: the vicarious humanity of Jesus

This post begins a series reviewing Christian Kettler's book, The God Who Believes - Faith, Doubt, and the Vicarious Humanity of Christ.  For other posts in the series, click a number: 234.

Dr. Kettler shows how Jesus, as the representative and substitute for all humanity, has faith on our behalf. To view a "You're Included" interview with Kettler, click here.

Fundamental to the thesis of Kettler's book, is the Christian doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. Here are a few representative quotes:

"As common as it has been to consider Christ's death to be vicarious, carried out in our place and for us, what if we were to consider that the entirety of his humanity was lived vicariously for us and in our place?" (p. x).

"Can we say that Jesus believes, not just as an example of a believer, but believes for me and in my place vicariously, so that I can be helped in my unbelief (Mark 9:24)?" (p. xii).

"The nature of Christ's vicarious work is not simply one moment on the cross, but his entire life, so that the entirety of our lives might be affected. The Word took on the entirety of humanity, body and soul, in order to save the entire human..." (p. 6).

"Let me carefully define what 'vicarious' means in term of the vicarious humanity of Christ. Unfortunately, it can often mean to some people, 'pseudo' or 'false,' as in the father getting a 'vicarious' thrill from his son's accomplishments as an athlete...In that way it is 'false,' not real....[But] the vicarious humanity of Christ does not mean that Christ's humanity is unreal. Quite the contrary! It does mean that the vicarious humanity of Christ speaks of the deep interaction between Christ's humanity and our humanity at the level of our being, the ontological level. So the atoning work of Christ is neither simply a means by which we are declared righteous by God, nor simply a demonstration of God's love. It is both, but much more, in the sense of God desiring to recreate our humanity at the deepest levels, addressing our needs and fears, our doubts from within our very being" (p. 6).

"A vicarious sense of Christ's humanity signifies that Jesus Christ is both the representative of and the substitute for my humanity. He represents my humanity before God the Father, having taken my humanity upon himself, bringing it back to God from the depths of sin and death. He is High Priest, representing the people before God (The Epistle to the Hebrews). But he is also the sacrifice himself. He is the substitute, doing in my place, in my stead, what I am unable to do: live a life of perfect faithfulness to, obedience to, and trust in God. 'Vicarious' at its heart means doing something for another in their stead, doing something that they are unable to do" (p. 6).

"[Our] response of faith [to God] should not begin with the weakness and vacillation of our faith, but with the faith of Jesus, a faith that is part of his wider human response in every way, even including our repentance. [Jesus'] solidarity [with us] is the means for Christ to be our substitute... Jesus the Son of God must walk the path of sinful humanity, sharing in our stories, including our doubts and fears. This is the path of both representing our humanity and taking our place" (p. 27).

"Jesus' vicarious humanity is a story about our humanity too and its need for completion, for fulfillment, to fill up what has been lacking" (p. 28).

"The vicarious humanity of Christ in the sense of his obedience [on our behalf] is not antithetical to [our personal] faith in Christ. Jesus 'sees' the Father (John 6:46). 'The will of the Father' is 'that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day' (John 6:40). The believer 'eats' of Jesus 'the living bread...and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh' (John 6:51). The humanity (flesh) of Christ is integrally connected to the life of the believer. Jesus' 'food,' in turn, 'is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work' (John 4:34)" (p. 30).

"If there is a vicarious humanity of Christ there is also a vicarious deity of Christ. [Just as] Christ represents and stands in for us before the Father. So he also represents and stands in for the Father" '...And no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him' (Matt 11:27). Christ puts himself in God's place since the relationship between the Father and the Son 'falls within the very being of God'" (p. 32).

"To share in Christ's vicarious humantiy is not to be released from faith and discipleship. In fact, discipleship is intensified. Jesus predicts that his disciples will be handed over to be tortured, put to death, and hated 'because of my name' (Matt 24:10, cf. v.22). The follower of Jesus will now act vicariously for Jesus ('because of my name'). The 'sheep...blessed by my Father' will be rewarded because they acted on behalf of Jesus, meeting Jesus himself when they clothed the naked, fed the hungry, and visited the imprisoned (Matt 25:31-46)" (p. 34).


  1. Thanks, Ted. This post and the understanding it conveys, truly magnifies our God - it takes our breath away! Very fitting for a blog called "The Surprising God."

  2. Ted—thanks very much for highlighting Kettler’s book. I recommend it as well. It goes where few others go—to the feelings of doubts and weak faith. It goes to the experience of victims of crimes, to deeply broken hearts and deep feelings of abandonment, loneliness and even the feeling of being forsaken by God that Kettler points out is common to mankind—including Christians. Kettler gets real.

    Theologians sometimes deliver packages richly wrapped in exquisite paper and tied with lovely bows. All is neat and orderly. Issues are resolved. Questions are answered and we move on to the next subject to check off our list.

    But we all know life is not like that. As a worship leader, I cannot put a happy face on everything and pretend there is no place for the occasional feelings and woundedness in a brother or sister that defy articulation. Haven’t we all known of times when someone was too wounded to show up at church, or if they did show up they were still too broken to sing—needing instead for the Spirit to convey what cannot be said?

    Kettler reminds us that because Jesus took on our flesh, he still meets our concrete real-life experiences, including despair, guilt, shame, weakness, loneliness, anxiety and doubt. He points out that doubt should neither be artificially enlarged so that it takes on a right to exist on its own, “nor should it be ignored in a triumphalistic faith.”

    Feelings of being godforsaken were known by the Son of God “(My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matt 27:46). So Ketter counsels that we must “not rush too quickly to the resurrection. The cross and burial of Christ were spaces of death, spaces of God’s absence (real, or at least felt). We must not pretend that they never happened to Jesus or to us. The ministry of grace and love is not to deny the abandonment but to take its place in its loneliness. We are still lonely, but we are not lonely alone. We are still abandoned, but we are not abandoned alone.” He says God’s presence is with the godforsaken.

    Kettler points out that in John 4, rather than letting the woman talk about an abstract theology of where to worship, “Jesus cuts to the chase and brings up her relationships, where she most deeply hurts. That hurt is holy because the eternal Son of God will cry it himself to the Father. The experience of the godforsaken is an essential part of our experience of the Holy Trinity, for it reflects an inexpressible moment in the life of God, between the Father and the Son through the Spirit.”

    Thanks again for your work on the blog.

  3. Jerome and Mike - thanks for your comments. It is remarkable, encouraging and humbling to consider that Jesus shares forever our humanity with us and for us!

    I'll post more quotes from Kettler's book in a few days.

  4. Anonymous12/10/2009

    interesting blog

  5. Anonymous12/11/2009

    I have not read Mr. Kettler's book, but by the quotes and the comments it looks great! I watched the "You're Included" interview with Mr. Kettler and he had some great responses. One of my favorites, not quoting him directly, was when he talked about how we tend to sometimes de-humanize people, whereas our Lord Jesus Christ humanizes us in the grandest sense! Anyway, thank you brother for posting this.

  6. Amen, Amen, and Amen! Keep it coming Ted!


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