This is an icon of the Council of Nicaea of 325 AD, holding up the Creed as it was adjusted in 381 AD by the Council of Constantinople. It is a symbol of the unified Church. Photo credit: Unknown | Public Domain.
why nicene theology? Is there a problem?
Do you ever feel like you are saying things about God that don't really fit together? Kind of like two signs that give contradictory instructions?
For example, you'd like to say that God wants everyone to be saved through Jesus (1 Timothy 2:3 - 4; 2 Peter 3:9; Ezekiel 18:23, 32 - 33). But what do you do with the word "predestination"? Or the idea that maybe Jesus died for only some people, not all?
Or, maybe you want to say that God loves everyone (John 3:16; 1 John 4:8). But in eternity, will God keep some people in a kind of prison? Will they want to get out of jail and be with God, but God will keep them locked in? If God loves everyone, why does hell work that way?
You might wonder if the only way to hold statements like these together is to allow "mystery" into what you think of God's character. But then Christian theology no longer sounds consistent. And will evangelism built on this foundation be effective? Will this erode your spiritual life? You might feel especially challenged at a secular university if you feel like rationality itself is not on your side.
where did these problems start?
It may surprise you to learn that these problems were introduced a long time ago by Augustine of Hippo (354 - 430 AD).
That is why The Anástasis Center goes back before Augustine. We draw from Nicene theology, named for the Nicene Creed. We find it heals the schism in our minds and hearts.
what is christian theology from the time of the nicene creed?
Nicene theology uses a medical and restorative framework still used in Eastern Orthodoxy and some Catholic circles, as opposed to a legal and punitive framework familiar to many Protestants. It says that Jesus reveals God's desire to lovingly unite Himself with every single person. He heals and transforms human nature, undoing the corruption of sin in it, first in Jesus, and then in us, as He shares Jesus with us by the Spirit. This understanding was the foundation stone for Christians to say that God is 100% good and loving, and even how we experience God as a Trinity. Here is our short Atonement Theology 101 and another article which explain it well.
Was the Nicene Council (325 AD) really that significant? Yes: it consisted of three hundred and eighteen Christian leaders from all over the Christian community worldwide, to discuss the spread of the Arian heresy. The map to the right (photo credit: unknown | CC2.5, Wikimedia Commons) shows the spread of Christian faith in the Mediterranean world by 300 AD. Note that there was a thriving Christian community in the Persian city of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, from at least the early second century. And unfortunately the map omits the spread of Christian faith to the south, primarily Ethiopia, and further east, in places like India and perhaps even China, Vietnam, and Japan.
Nicea was the first ecumenical (universal) council of the church. So Nicene theology comes from a time of intellectual excellence and church unity, even across multiple languages and cultures.
what are the practical implications for us? In the nicene paradigm:
We can say to the wounded skeptic who is used to two-faced friends that the God we worship does not have two faces; He has only one face of purifying love, shown in Jesus; He is 100% good.
We can say to the social activist that Jesus wants to heal the source of evil and injustice in every single one of us; he's not just taking away the consequences, or dealing with externals.
We can say to the Muslim that the Christian God has indeed embraced unclean human flesh, and even cleansed it permanently in Jesus, which is what the angel could not do for Mohammed; and Jesus shares himself with us.
We can say to each person who needs healing that Jesus struggled with a fallen human nature, too, and shows us by the scars on his resurrected body that every act of faithfulness and love to God will be remembered upon our bodies.
We can also say to Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox alike that they can do mission out of this paradigm, and be shaped by it, and still very much honor their own traditions in a dynamic way. It reflects the time when the church was actually one.
All that is truly good news.