The right question is not:
- What is Jesus; man or god?
- Who is Jesus; the God of Israel, or someone else?
That is what Richard Bauckham argues in his awesome book God Crucified, which is now part of Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament's Christology of Divine Identity. No apologies for typing out a big passage of the book:
This [Jewish] kind of practical monotheism, requiring a whole pattern of daily life and cultic worship formed by exclusive allegiance to the one God, presupposes a god who is in some way significantly identifiable. the God who requires what the God of Israel requires cannot be merely the philosophical abstraction to which the intellectual currents of contemporary Greek thought aspired. Jews, in some sense, knew who their God was. The God of Israel had a unique identity. The concept which will be the central focus of the whole argument of this chapter is that of the identity of God.
The term identity is mine, not that of the ancient literature, but I use it as a label for what I do find in the literature, which is not, of course, necessarily a notion precisely the same as modern ideas of personal identity, but is nevertheless clearly a concern with who God is. The value of the concept of divine identity appears partly if we contrast it with a concept of divine essence or nature. Identity concerns who God is; nature concerns what God is or what divinity is. Greek philosophy, already in the period we are discussing and in a way that was to influence the Christian theological tradition significantly in the period after the New Testament, typically defined divine nature by means of a series of metaphysical attributes: ingenerateness, incorruptibility, immutability and so on. My point is not that the biblical and Jewish tradition had no use at all for statements about the divine nature. Some Jewish writers in the later Second Temple period consciously adopted some of the Greek metaphysical language. But in these writers the dominant conceptual framework of their understanding of God is not a definition of divine nature - what divinity is - but a notion of divine identity, characterized primarily in ways other than metaphysical attributes. That God is eternal, for example - a claim essential to all Jewish thinking about God - is not so much a statement about what divine nature is, more an element in the unique divine identity, along with claims that God alone created all things and rules all things, that God is gracious and merciful and just, that God brought Israel out of Egypt and made Israel his own people and gave Israel his law at Sinai and so on.
(pp. 6-7, "God Crucified" in Jesus and the God of Israel)
But because Christianity is missionary, and because Jesus Christ makes the claim to be Lord of all the world, we do need to answer the first question, even if it is the wrong question. However, because it is the wrong question we will find ourselves in dangerous territory before we even get going in answering the question. In answering the first question we are going to have to talk about metaphysical attributes whether we like them or not. What we then have to do is gradually lead the questioner down the road to the safer ground where the second question can be asked and answered.
This is risky. It would be safer to stay in our ghettos. In fact wouldn't it be safer if we didn't use English at all to describe God? Or even better, lets stop talking about God at all! But then again, perhaps if God is bold enough to speak to us, and incarnate himself with us, perhaps we should be bold and follow his lead.
As an interesting example of this, I often think of how bold it was of bold it was of the Israelites to say that Yahweh is El. I can't imagine being bold enough to do that. I would want to totally avoid using the language of El in the ANE context.