Malcolm Gladwell describes a tipping point as that magical moment when an idea, trend or social behaviour crosses a threshold, tips and spreads like wildfire. In the fourth century, theology in the Eastern and Western church had reached a tipping point. In particular, the fulcrum was Christological. In large part, the church’s understanding of the nature of Jesus Christ was in flux.
There was confusion around the person and particularity of Jesus. The questions of the day were, Was Jesus God? Was he merely a man? Could he be both? Society was awash with conjecture and speculation on the nature of the Son of God. Historian Justo Gonzalez notes, one could not walk into a cobbler's shop in the fourth century without finding themselves in a debate about the person and nature of Christ. With Christological dissonance came salvific ambivalence. In other words, the confusion concerning the nature of Christ bred uncertainty as to the means of salvation. In the midst of the clamour, however, there came a tipping point. There emerged the concrete biblical Christology of the Nicene Creed, drafted by the theologian Gregory of Nazinanzus.
This new theological creed would catch in the church and spread like wildfire, in the fourth century and beyond into today. Why? Because the Nicene Creed settled the cobbler's shop argument. It crystalised the nature and particularity of Jesus Christ revealed in Scripture:
The Nicene Creed
We believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
begotten from the Father before all ages,
God from God,
Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made;
of the same essence as the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven;
he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary,
and was made human.
He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered and was buried.
The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again with glory
to judge the living and the dead.
His kingdom will never end.
And we believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life.
He proceeds from the Father and the Son,
and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.
He spoke through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look forward to the resurrection of the dead,
and to life in the world to come. Amen.
Justo L. Gonzalez. Edited by Gary Macy. Theology and the New Histories. College Theology Society. 1999.
Malcolm Gladwell. The Tipping Point. How Little Things Can Make Big Difference. Little, Brown and Company. 2000, 2002.
Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed. The translation of the Greek text was approved by the CRC Synod of 1988. CRC Publications, 2850 Kalamazoo SE, Grand Rapids 49560. 1987, 1988.