Dr. Sinclair Ferguson, former professor of systematic theology at Westminister Theological Seminary in Philadelphia,  says we need to be careful not to denigrate our Lord with Santa Claus Christology.

Santa Christ is sometimes a Pelagian Jesus. Like Santa, he simply asks us whether we have been good. More exactly, since the assumption is that we are all naturally good, Santa Christ asks us whether we have been “good enough.” So just as Christmas dinner is simply the better dinner we really deserve, Jesus becomes a kind of added bonus who makes a good life even better. He is not seen as the Savior of helpless sinners.

Or Santa Christ may be a Semi-Pelagian Jesus — a slightly more sophisticated Jesus who, Santa-like, gives gifts to those who have already done the best they could! Thus, Jesus’ hand, like Santa’s sack, opens only when we can give an upper-percentile answer to the none-too-weighty probe, “Have you done your best this year?” The only difference from medieval theology here is that we do not use its Latin phraseology: facere quod in se est (to do what one is capable of doing on one’s own, or, in common parlance, “Heaven helps those who help themselves”).

Then again, Santa Christ may be a mystical Jesus, who, like Santa Claus, is important because of the good experiences we have when we think about him, irrespective of his historical reality. It doesn’t really matter whether the story is true or not; the important thing is the spirit of Santa Christ. For that matter, while it would spoil things to tell the children this, everyone can make up his or her own Santa Christ. As long as we have the right spirit of Santa Christ, all is well.

But Jesus is not to be identified with Santa Claus; worldly thinking — however much it employs Jesus-language–is not to be confused with biblical truth.

Read the rest as Dr. Ferguson shares the real Christ of Christmas.

HT: Justin Taylor

32 comments
  1. I think “getting into the spirit” is fine. I think most Christians would agree. I’m not sure that’s Ferguson’s point, however.

    It is Christians who have dumbed down who Jesus is, and the Santa Claus analogy is a convenient metaphor for where our degenerated pop theology has taken us.

    Steves last blog post..Voter Illiteracy and the Media

  2. I think “getting into the spirit” is fine. I think most Christians would agree. I’m not sure that’s Ferguson’s point, however.

    It is Christians who have dumbed down who Jesus is, and the Santa Claus analogy is a convenient metaphor for where our degenerated pop theology has taken us.

    Steves last blog post..Voter Illiteracy and the Media

  3. It’s not that Santa is influencing Christianity at all.

    I suppose that may be possible somewhere, but again that is not the point. Perhaps the Santa analogy is confusing… forget Santa.

    The central idea is the problem with creating a Jesus that exists to keep us happy and that makes no demands.

    The connection with Santa is strictly that the Jesus we have created in the 20th-21st century is a lot like Santa, but there is no causal link between the Santa story and the dumbing down of Jesus. Does that make any sense? We (Christians) have dumbed down the biblical Jesus without any help at all from Santa.

    Other analogies I have seen used are Jesus as ‘sugar daddy’ or Jesus as a vending machine or Jesus as a genie. These are all caricatures created, sometimes inadvertently, by people who have somehow become disconnected with the biblical Jesus.

    The biblical Jesus calls us to lay our lives down and take up our crosses and deny ourselves and suffer for His sake.

    Steves last blog post..Voter Illiteracy and the Media

  4. It’s not that Santa is influencing Christianity at all.

    I suppose that may be possible somewhere, but again that is not the point. Perhaps the Santa analogy is confusing… forget Santa.

    The central idea is the problem with creating a Jesus that exists to keep us happy and that makes no demands.

    The connection with Santa is strictly that the Jesus we have created in the 20th-21st century is a lot like Santa, but there is no causal link between the Santa story and the dumbing down of Jesus. Does that make any sense? We (Christians) have dumbed down the biblical Jesus without any help at all from Santa.

    Other analogies I have seen used are Jesus as ‘sugar daddy’ or Jesus as a vending machine or Jesus as a genie. These are all caricatures created, sometimes inadvertently, by people who have somehow become disconnected with the biblical Jesus.

    The biblical Jesus calls us to lay our lives down and take up our crosses and deny ourselves and suffer for His sake.

    Steves last blog post..Voter Illiteracy and the Media

  5. It’s not that Santa is influencing Christianity at all.

    I suppose that may be possible somewhere, but again that is not the point. Perhaps the Santa analogy is confusing… forget Santa.

    The central idea is the problem with creating a Jesus that exists to keep us happy and that makes no demands.

    The connection with Santa is strictly that the Jesus we have created in the 20th-21st century is a lot like Santa, but there is no causal link between the Santa story and the dumbing down of Jesus. Does that make any sense? We (Christians) have dumbed down the biblical Jesus without any help at all from Santa.

    Other analogies I have seen used are Jesus as ‘sugar daddy’ or Jesus as a vending machine or Jesus as a genie. These are all caricatures created, sometimes inadvertently, by people who have somehow become disconnected with the biblical Jesus.

    The biblical Jesus calls us to lay our lives down and take up our crosses and deny ourselves and suffer for His sake.

    Steves last blog post..Voter Illiteracy and the Media

  6. Ferguson is revered around here at Covenant Seminary. After reading some of his work, I understand why. He has a way of getting to the heart of the issue in a very real way. I just finished a books of essays on sanctification. Ferguson’s was by far the best of the bunch.

    Stephanies last blog post..Sad

  7. Ferguson is revered around here at Covenant Seminary. After reading some of his work, I understand why. He has a way of getting to the heart of the issue in a very real way. I just finished a books of essays on sanctification. Ferguson’s was by far the best of the bunch.

    Stephanies last blog post..Sad

  8. Ferguson is revered around here at Covenant Seminary. After reading some of his work, I understand why. He has a way of getting to the heart of the issue in a very real way. I just finished a books of essays on sanctification. Ferguson’s was by far the best of the bunch.

    Stephanies last blog post..Sad

  9. “We (Christians) have dumbed down the biblical Jesus without any help at all from Santa. ” (Steve)

    I kind of figured that was the point – I just don’t want no one knocking Christmas for no good reason. I mean, Santa died in the chimney for you and I (lol).

    I think Christianity has dumbed down Jesus – but how is the real question? What do you think is dumbed down? Inquiring minds want to know.

    SocietyVss last blog post..You are gods – You are humans

  10. “We (Christians) have dumbed down the biblical Jesus without any help at all from Santa. ” (Steve)

    I kind of figured that was the point – I just don’t want no one knocking Christmas for no good reason. I mean, Santa died in the chimney for you and I (lol).

    I think Christianity has dumbed down Jesus – but how is the real question? What do you think is dumbed down? Inquiring minds want to know.

    SocietyVss last blog post..You are gods – You are humans

  11. Hey everybody… thanks for the comments! Sorry I’ve been absent from the conversation. You may have noticed my posting is lighter than normal. I’ve been swamped with revamping Serve Our Youth Network’s website and sermon prep.

    Hopefully will get a post up tomorrow.

    @SocietyVS – yeah this post wasn’t supposed to be a swipe at Santa Claus – Steve got it right that the Jesus that many Christians worship isn’t the Biblical Christ, and it isn’t only around the Christmas season this goes on.

  12. Hey everybody… thanks for the comments! Sorry I’ve been absent from the conversation. You may have noticed my posting is lighter than normal. I’ve been swamped with revamping Serve Our Youth Network’s website and sermon prep.

    Hopefully will get a post up tomorrow.

    @SocietyVS – yeah this post wasn’t supposed to be a swipe at Santa Claus – Steve got it right that the Jesus that many Christians worship isn’t the Biblical Christ, and it isn’t only around the Christmas season this goes on.

  13. Hey everybody… thanks for the comments! Sorry I’ve been absent from the conversation. You may have noticed my posting is lighter than normal. I’ve been swamped with revamping Serve Our Youth Network’s website and sermon prep.

    Hopefully will get a post up tomorrow.

    @SocietyVS – yeah this post wasn’t supposed to be a swipe at Santa Claus – Steve got it right that the Jesus that many Christians worship isn’t the Biblical Christ, and it isn’t only around the Christmas season this goes on.

  14. Huge question, SocietyVS!

    Too much to unpack here, but a couple initial thoughts are:

    1) That there are upsides and downsides to the cultural enshrining of Christianity that took place in the Western world from 313 A.D. to the middle of the 20th Century. One of the downsides is a loss of the radical and activisitic nature of following Jesus. Jesus demands everything of His followers, and that does not sit too well in polite religious company. The response is to create a pretty cool but “nicer” Jesus.

    2) It is difficult for us to accept our depravity and our helplessness, which I think is at the heart of Ferguson’s piece. We really are bad, and really can’t fix it, and really need a savior. As it was satirically put on the Tantalizing if True website:

    “Proportional atonement

    Like the other doctrines I made up, which include parousial sanctification and practical universalism, the doctrine of proportional atonement is widely believed by Christians but not officially recognized by Christian theologians.

    This doctrine states that Jesus suffered horribly on the cross for the sins of other people. He didn’t need to suffer so horribly for my sins, because my sins aren’t so horrible. For me, he only needed to suffer mild discomfort.

    Probably that means that, for him, I only need to suffer mild discomfort. I hope so.”

    I guess a third thing would be the overall American attitude of consumerism: “I want what works for me and makes me happy.” That kind of thinking inevitably creeps into the church (and almost any facet of society) unless it is checked.

    Does that help at all? Your question is a very pertinent one…

    Steves last blog post..The Real Face of Communism

  15. Huge question, SocietyVS!

    Too much to unpack here, but a couple initial thoughts are:

    1) That there are upsides and downsides to the cultural enshrining of Christianity that took place in the Western world from 313 A.D. to the middle of the 20th Century. One of the downsides is a loss of the radical and activisitic nature of following Jesus. Jesus demands everything of His followers, and that does not sit too well in polite religious company. The response is to create a pretty cool but “nicer” Jesus.

    2) It is difficult for us to accept our depravity and our helplessness, which I think is at the heart of Ferguson’s piece. We really are bad, and really can’t fix it, and really need a savior. As it was satirically put on the Tantalizing if True website:

    “Proportional atonement

    Like the other doctrines I made up, which include parousial sanctification and practical universalism, the doctrine of proportional atonement is widely believed by Christians but not officially recognized by Christian theologians.

    This doctrine states that Jesus suffered horribly on the cross for the sins of other people. He didn’t need to suffer so horribly for my sins, because my sins aren’t so horrible. For me, he only needed to suffer mild discomfort.

    Probably that means that, for him, I only need to suffer mild discomfort. I hope so.”

    I guess a third thing would be the overall American attitude of consumerism: “I want what works for me and makes me happy.” That kind of thinking inevitably creeps into the church (and almost any facet of society) unless it is checked.

    Does that help at all? Your question is a very pertinent one…

    Steves last blog post..The Real Face of Communism

  16. “Jesus demands everything of His followers, and that does not sit too well in polite religious company” (Steve)

    How far does that go Steve (I say this well intentioned)? Jesus never had a home – should I not own a home (granted Jesus didn’t live in Canada)? Jesus taught quite regularly against money – should we not save up for the future? Where do we stop and by what measure should judge with? Also the use of ‘demand’ – yeah – that’s jargon that could be dropped for the sake of the ‘good news’ (which we choose to follow).

    “We really are bad, and really can’t fix it, and really need a savior.” (Steve)

    This is an aspect of theology that can be picked up from the gospels – and I am not adverse to the idea ‘we need some help’ (on a more personal level). Is salvation something that is to help the person become more ‘healthy/whole’ or is it about a person and a place?

    “I guess a third thing would be the overall American attitude of consumerism: “I want what works for me and makes me happy.”” (Steve)

    Consumerism is the problem? Isn’t capitalism really the problem then? Isn’t freedom of choice also the problem? Isn’t living in a democracy – where we can decipher on our own – also part of that problem? ‘We’ want what ‘we’ have – we have a democratic society where we are ‘free’ to choose what we will live like. Unfortunately this has to slip into the church – which must be somewhat the opposite of that…which is?

    As for Santa theology – and this Jesus being too mushy and gushy these days – for myself I am not sure I see this image of Jesus in the challenges to Jesus theology. What is being challenged really is ‘what is God’s character and what does it mean for Him to be Loving?’ Many people do not think God is all that loving – in my personal opinion – like there is a ‘limit’ to that love. Maybe there is – but I have not known a God like that. God loved me – and that hasn’t stopped (in spite of me).

    SocietyVss last blog post..You are gods – You are humans

  17. “Jesus demands everything of His followers, and that does not sit too well in polite religious company” (Steve)

    How far does that go Steve (I say this well intentioned)? Jesus never had a home – should I not own a home (granted Jesus didn’t live in Canada)? Jesus taught quite regularly against money – should we not save up for the future? Where do we stop and by what measure should judge with? Also the use of ‘demand’ – yeah – that’s jargon that could be dropped for the sake of the ‘good news’ (which we choose to follow).

    “We really are bad, and really can’t fix it, and really need a savior.” (Steve)

    This is an aspect of theology that can be picked up from the gospels – and I am not adverse to the idea ‘we need some help’ (on a more personal level). Is salvation something that is to help the person become more ‘healthy/whole’ or is it about a person and a place?

    “I guess a third thing would be the overall American attitude of consumerism: “I want what works for me and makes me happy.”” (Steve)

    Consumerism is the problem? Isn’t capitalism really the problem then? Isn’t freedom of choice also the problem? Isn’t living in a democracy – where we can decipher on our own – also part of that problem? ‘We’ want what ‘we’ have – we have a democratic society where we are ‘free’ to choose what we will live like. Unfortunately this has to slip into the church – which must be somewhat the opposite of that…which is?

    As for Santa theology – and this Jesus being too mushy and gushy these days – for myself I am not sure I see this image of Jesus in the challenges to Jesus theology. What is being challenged really is ‘what is God’s character and what does it mean for Him to be Loving?’ Many people do not think God is all that loving – in my personal opinion – like there is a ‘limit’ to that love. Maybe there is – but I have not known a God like that. God loved me – and that hasn’t stopped (in spite of me).

    SocietyVss last blog post..You are gods – You are humans

  18. “Jesus demands everything of His followers, and that does not sit too well in polite religious company” (Steve)

    How far does that go Steve (I say this well intentioned)? Jesus never had a home – should I not own a home (granted Jesus didn’t live in Canada)? Jesus taught quite regularly against money – should we not save up for the future? Where do we stop and by what measure should judge with? Also the use of ‘demand’ – yeah – that’s jargon that could be dropped for the sake of the ‘good news’ (which we choose to follow).

    “We really are bad, and really can’t fix it, and really need a savior.” (Steve)

    This is an aspect of theology that can be picked up from the gospels – and I am not adverse to the idea ‘we need some help’ (on a more personal level). Is salvation something that is to help the person become more ‘healthy/whole’ or is it about a person and a place?

    “I guess a third thing would be the overall American attitude of consumerism: “I want what works for me and makes me happy.”” (Steve)

    Consumerism is the problem? Isn’t capitalism really the problem then? Isn’t freedom of choice also the problem? Isn’t living in a democracy – where we can decipher on our own – also part of that problem? ‘We’ want what ‘we’ have – we have a democratic society where we are ‘free’ to choose what we will live like. Unfortunately this has to slip into the church – which must be somewhat the opposite of that…which is?

    As for Santa theology – and this Jesus being too mushy and gushy these days – for myself I am not sure I see this image of Jesus in the challenges to Jesus theology. What is being challenged really is ‘what is God’s character and what does it mean for Him to be Loving?’ Many people do not think God is all that loving – in my personal opinion – like there is a ‘limit’ to that love. Maybe there is – but I have not known a God like that. God loved me – and that hasn’t stopped (in spite of me).

    SocietyVss last blog post..You are gods – You are humans

  19. I’m just glad that God doesn’t ask us, “Have you been good enough?”
    None of us would be able to say yes.

  20. I’m just glad that God doesn’t ask us, “Have you been good enough?”
    None of us would be able to say yes.

  21. I’m just glad that God doesn’t ask us, “Have you been good enough?”
    None of us would be able to say yes.

  22. My turn (GASP):

    1. “Santa Christ”?! Am I the only one who laughed at that?

    2. SocietyV said it something to the fact of: Christians is the reason Santa gets the love he does during this season. Nah, everyone does. St. Nick is great for atheists because God is kept out of the picture. He is good for ALL PARENTS because that whole kid surprise thingy. And…

    3. Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Oden, Tinte Klaus, whatever (and yeah, it’s good to know the whole story of the patron saint of sailors) is marketing genius! If you want to blame someone upset Christian, blame Coca-Cola. If it wasn’t for this company brandishing the fat jolly man with a cool bottle of Coke in the 50s, I doubt we would be talking about this today. This country loves great marketing, and largely, is a sucker for slick advertising as well. Maybe P.T. Barnum was right after all.

    HiScriveners last blog post..Finally, someone pays for Christmas beginning too early

  23. My turn (GASP):

    1. “Santa Christ”?! Am I the only one who laughed at that?

    2. SocietyV said it something to the fact of: Christians is the reason Santa gets the love he does during this season. Nah, everyone does. St. Nick is great for atheists because God is kept out of the picture. He is good for ALL PARENTS because that whole kid surprise thingy. And…

    3. Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Oden, Tinte Klaus, whatever (and yeah, it’s good to know the whole story of the patron saint of sailors) is marketing genius! If you want to blame someone upset Christian, blame Coca-Cola. If it wasn’t for this company brandishing the fat jolly man with a cool bottle of Coke in the 50s, I doubt we would be talking about this today. This country loves great marketing, and largely, is a sucker for slick advertising as well. Maybe P.T. Barnum was right after all.

    HiScriveners last blog post..Finally, someone pays for Christmas beginning too early

  24. SocVs said: “How far does that go Steve (I say this well intentioned)? Jesus never had a home – should I not own a home (granted Jesus didn’t live in Canada)? Jesus taught quite regularly against money – should we not save up for the future? Where do we stop and by what measure should judge with? Also the use of ‘demand’ – yeah – that’s jargon that could be dropped for the sake of the ‘good news’ (which we choose to follow). ”

    That’s a huge question! (Or rather series of questions) You always ask good ones…

    I’d like to talk more in detail about the costs of following Jesus and the issues you raise than I can probably accomplish in Shane’s comment box… yet another post I need to consider.

    Steves last blog post..A Good Quote on Parenting

  25. SocVs said: “How far does that go Steve (I say this well intentioned)? Jesus never had a home – should I not own a home (granted Jesus didn’t live in Canada)? Jesus taught quite regularly against money – should we not save up for the future? Where do we stop and by what measure should judge with? Also the use of ‘demand’ – yeah – that’s jargon that could be dropped for the sake of the ‘good news’ (which we choose to follow). ”

    That’s a huge question! (Or rather series of questions) You always ask good ones…

    I’d like to talk more in detail about the costs of following Jesus and the issues you raise than I can probably accomplish in Shane’s comment box… yet another post I need to consider.

    Steves last blog post..A Good Quote on Parenting

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