Monday, December 04, 2006

Leadership that embraces Humanity

Discussions on the interpretation of Christ “being found in appearance as a man” (σχήματι εὑρεθεὶς ὡς ἄνθρωπος) in the Philippians hymn has been traditionally riddled with controversy and rigorous debate (Howard 1978, 368). Re-reading the hymn as an ethical exemplum has opened a new and promising avenue for a discussion on the social values that the hymn proposes in a society riddled with social inequalities and thus holds many practical applications for Christian leadership. Albert Nolan (1977, 135), in his response to apartheid in South Africa, used the Philippians hymn to construct a new perspective in ontological Christology that demands a new appreciation of the humanity of Christ and thus of others:

“Whatever humanity and divinity may mean in terms of a static philosophy of
metaphysical natures, in religious terms for the man who recognizes Jesus as
his God, the human and the divine has been brought together in such a way
that they now represent one and the same religious value. In this sense
Jesus’ divinity is not something totally different from His humanity. Jesus’
divinity is the transcendent depth of His humanity. Jesus was immeasurably
more human than other men…”

Regardless of some of the obvious theological difficulties of some of Nolan’s arguments, his Christology does open exciting possibilities in ethical discussions in leadership and service.

In embracing the His own humanity and thus the humanity of others, Jesus “redefined neighbor in terms of praxis, not propinquity” (Sorenson 2004, 461). This “praxis” is one of charity, identification with the one being served and of authentic love. Vanstone (1978) has developed a phenomenology of love in which he characterizes three characteristics of authentic love (Gregerson 2003, 371-372). Authentic love is limitless, precarious and vulnerable (Vanstone 1978, 44-51).
  • Authentic love therefore does not impose boundaries on others (limitless) but “accepts without limit the discipline of the circumstances” (Vanstone 1978, 44),

  • is precarious in that it avoids the “the distortion of possessive control” (Gregerson 2003, 372)

  • and finally true love revels in being vulnerable in that it gives the one loved a “power that could not otherwise be there” (Vanstone 1978, 51).

Christian Leadership that takes the call to Christological mimesis seriously will exhibit this embracing of humanity in love that is limitless, precarious and vulnerable.

Further Reading:

Howard, G. 1978. Phil. 2:6-11 and the Human Christ. Catholic Biblical Quarterly 40(3): 368-387.

Nolan, A. 1977. Jesus before Christianity. Cape Town: David Phillips.

Sorenson, R. L. 2004. Kenosis and Alterity in Christian Spirituality. Psychoanalytic Psychology. Vol. 21, No. 3, 458-462.

Vanstone, W. H. 1978. The Risk of Love. New York: Oxford University Press.