Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Saturday, March 09, 2013

A Review: The Omnipresence of Jesus Christ: A Neglected Aspect of Evangelical Christology, by Dr. Theodore Zachariades

A Review of, The Omnipresence of Jesus Christ:  A Neglected Aspect of Evangelical Christology

The Omnipresence of Jesus Christ:  A Neglected Aspect of Evangelical Christology.  Theodore Zachariades, Ph.D.  Self-published dissertation, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2012.  314 pages.

Upon seeing the title of this book alarms went off.  But on further investigation it turns out that Dr. Zachariades has done an excellent job of laying out the theological issues involved in hammering out a solid theology of the incarnation of Jesus Christ.  Although full agreement with many of his presuppositions might be lacking, the conclusions he draws are points that should be taken seriously.  It would have been more beneficial if he had interacted, for example, with Gordon H. Clark’s book, The Incarnation, (Jefferson: Trinity Foundation, 1988).  Clark’s theological and philosophical exposition of the problems of the incarnation are not to be taken lightly.  Although Clark’s book is listed in the bibliography, it is never mentioned in the text or  alluded to in any way.

The primary thesis of the book is that the theory that the Logos or Second Person of the Trinity somehow emptied Himself of the attributes of deity without becoming less than God or separated from the Godhead is an impossible proposition.  Much of current Evangelical scholarship has in one form or another adopted a theory of kenosis or sub-kenosis in the formulation of the Christological doctrine of the incarnation.  In doing so, according to Zachariades, many Evangelicals have unwittingly given themselves over to one degree or another to what can only be called a downgrading of the Chalcedonian theology of the incarnation.  (See:  Definition of Chalcedon, 451 A.D.).  Zachariades rightly points out that the doctrine of the Trinity precludes any idea of adoptionism (p. 28).  However, his approval of the economic theory of the trinity undermines Calvin’s view that all three persons of the trinity are fully equal in power, authority, and relationship (p. 27).

Particularly interesting is his discussion of Millard Erickson’s sub-kenosis theology of the incarnation.  Erickson’s systematic theology is popular among Arminians and among classical Pentecostals in particular.  According to Erickson, the Logos laid aside the free exercise of the divine attributes so that He could become completely human.  For Erickson the idea that Christ could be different from other humans would undermine His true humanity.  (Zachariades, pp. 265-269).

The problem of the incarnation, however, is not solved by the Definition of Chalcedon.  In fact, the trinity itself remains a controversial doctrine because of a confusion of Greek and Latin terms that meant completely different things in each language.  For example, in the trinity the word for “subsistence” is ὑπόστασις (hupostasis) while the Latin word used to translate the term is “substance.”  In regards to the trinity the word for the divine nature is οὐσία (ousia), which means “essence” or “property.”  The three persons of the divine nature are called “subsistences” in Latin but the Greek word is “hupostasis,” meaning literally to “stand under”.  In regards to the trinity the term “hupostasis” is translated by the western church into Latin as “person.”  Hence, there is one essence or nature in the tri-unity of God and three “persons,” Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  In other words, there is one “ousia” and three “hupostases” in the trinity.  

But where things get complicated is that in the Definition of Chalcedon the union of the divine “nature” and the human “nature” in Christ is called a “hypostatic union.”  The word for nature here is “substance” in Latin.   And the union of the two natures is called a “subsistence” or “hupostasis.”  Of course, the Definition of Chalcedon says that Jesus is one “person” or “hupostasis.”  The problem here is that this is the same word used for the “subsistences” in the trinity.  This is problematic because now one has to explain how the second Person of the Godhead can become a human being without changing.  God cannot change and the Logos possesses all the predicates or attributes of Deity as Deity is defined both theologically and philosophically.   Is Jesus one "person" or one "substance"?  Dr. Clark discusses this more fully in his book, The Incarnation.

Since the Logos is fully God, He cannot cease to be God in order to become human.  Gordon H. Clark’s book, The Incarnation, (Jefferson: Trinity Foundation, 1988), is particularly helpful here.  Clark refuses to accept a kenotic theory of the incarnation and attempts to reconcile the apparently contradictory union of a human person (mind/soul) with the divine person (mind/soul) of the Logos.  The Definition of Chalcedon of 451 A.D. foresees the problem when it says, contra Apollinarianism, that Jesus had a “reasonable human soul.”  To his credit, Zachariades discusses this two minds view on pages 234-242.  Also, the Definition of Chalcedon uses the term φύσις or "phusis" for “nature” instead of “ousia” or “essence”, another term which is not precisely defined, according to Clark.  

While Zachariades’ discussion of the omnipresence of Christ is on target, he simply restates Chalcedon without critically interacting with the problems associated with the definition of terms in the trinitarian creeds and the Definition of Chalcedon.  The ambiguity of the terms in both Greek and Latin is problematic to this day.  Admirably, Zachariades stands against the current tendency among Evangelicals to downplay the full deity of Christ and the inseparable predicates or definitions of that divinity.  Omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence are all inseparable from deity as deity is defined in Scripture.  Put succinctly, the predicates of deity are inseparable from deity as deity is defined by propositional truth statements.  The  “attributes” of deity cannot be neatly divided and separated out from deity.  Jesus is one "essence" with the Father in regards to His divine personality as the Logos.  The Greek word here is "homoousios", not "homoiousios" as the Arians contended.

Another problem is that the reasoning behind Arminian and Pentecostal claims to the sub-kenosis theory amount to giving the believer the power to save himself, do miracles, and have the same faith that Jesus had to live a victorious Christian life.  Unfortunately, this comes at the cost of making Jesus Christ less than fully God.  As Dr. Zachariades points out, to do full justice to the biblical doctrine of the incarnation the full teaching of Scripture on both the texts emphasizing his weaknesses and human limitations as well as the passages emphasizing his ability to do and know supernatural things must be taken into account (p.274).

Is a kenotic or sub-kenotic Christology justified by New Testament data or is there another way to account for the texts that seemingly bespeak of say ignorance, weakness, and locality?  The New Testament has not provided a systematic Christology that addresses some of the questions we ordinarily pose to such an undertaking.  To grasp what the total message about Christ in reality is according to the Bible one must synthesize much material.  In the various attempts to do this very necessary task, several competing theories and explanations have emerged.  My main contention in challenging the kenotic approaches to the incarnate Christ is that they appear to do less justice to the teaching concerning Christ’s status as God than is found in reality in the New Testament.  Moreover, I believe that evangelicals, who themselves are committed to Jesus’ deity implicitly undermine that very conviction with their proposals in affirming a kenotic type of Christology.  (Zachariades, p. 274).

This criticism is spot on.  Even the late Dr. D. Broughton Knox, former principal of Moore Theological College, Sydney, Australia fell into this problematic view.  For that reason the Sydney Anglicans are not as strong in their Calvinism as they might otherwise have been.

The strength of Zachariades’ book is that he recognizes the tension between the human nature of Christ and the divine nature of Christ.  For Zachariades the omnipresence of Christ cannot be laid aside and have Christ remain fully God.  However, human beings cannot be omnipresent.  Even after the ascension of Christ into heaven his body remains localized, otherwise he is not fully human.  And this is the problem.  As Gordon H. Clark rightly pointed out, Jesus Christ could not be omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient and remain a human “person”.  To say so would be to confuse the creature with the Creator.  Yet, this is precisely the problem of the incarnation.  Many evangelicals have tried to solve the problem by appealing to sub-kenotic theories.  Dr. Gordon H. Clark challenged the idea that the human nature was impersonal, a view which Zachariades seems to hold.  Following the dyothelite lead after Chalcedon, Clark contended that the way forward was to redefine terms more precisely.  Therefore, the reasonable human soul of Christ could only mean that there is a union of two persons who think distinct propositions in accord with both a human person and a divine person respectively.  The Logos is omnipresent while Jesus is not.  Yet the two persons, divine and human, are perfectly united in Jesus Christ without confusion, mixture or separation.  Dr. Clark died prior to finishing his book so it is regrettable that he has been unjustly accused of Nestorianism.  According to the late Dr. Clark, it would be impossible for the human “nature” to be impersonal since a human being has a personality.  Unfortunately, Dr. Zachariades never interacts with Clark’s two person view as that would relate to the two minds view.

Admirably, Dr. Zachariades is concerned with the law of contradiction in this regard:

Those opposed to the idea of two wills in Christ are driven by the desire to uphold the integrity of Jesus’ genuine humanity. (682)  However, it is no more incoherent to affirm two wills as it is to affirm two natures in Christ.  Indeed, it appears that an inconsistency emerges if one tries to hold to a Christ in two natures with only one will.  It must result in Jesus possessing a merely human will, as it is evidenced by the real struggle cited in the anguish at Gethsemane, for clearly Christ is not expressing a sole divine will that he undergo and not undergo the divine wrath, at the same time.  This would through [sic.] confusion into the mind of God.  Indeed, this would be a genuine contradiction, and as such an insurmountable problem for evangelicals.  (Zachariades, pp. 232-233).

What Zachariades and other evangelicals miss, however, is the implications of the assertion of two wills in Christ.  An impersonal human nature cannot will.  The Definition of Chalcedon asserts that Jesus had “a reasonable human soul.”  That would mean that Jesus had a human personality, not an impersonal human nature.  Therefore, the union in Christ is a union of two persons, not a union of two impersonal “natures”.  The Logos remains divine throughout and this explains how Jesus is both omnipresent and localized in a human person.  He is both God and man, both with their own personalities.  Zachariades comes close to seeing this when he says of Thomas V. Morris two minds theory:

In this way of explaining the incarnation, Christ has two minds that function in an assymetrical accessing fashion.  The divine mind contains the human mind but is not contained by it.  There is no straightforward symmetric reciprocal accessing of the divine and human minds.  The data in the human mind is obvious to the omniscient divine mind, while the knowledge in the divine mind is not immediately comprehended by the human mind.  There is merit to this proposal which no doubt builds on the early patristic proposal of more than one will in Christ.  It best explains how Christ is one person in two natures, than does any kenotic or sub-kenotic rival explanation.  A two minds approach allows that contrasting descriptions of Christ’s knowledge in the Bible can both be true, because it permits full force to both types of data found in the New Testament.  The strength of Morris’s approach is that it diffuses all claims that the incarnation is incoherent.  Morris shows that it is possible to be perfectly rational in advocating the central and classic concepts of the incarnation by use of important, but over-looked, distinctions.  (Zachariades, pp. 234-235).

This book is highly recommended because it raises questions about the immutability of God and how the incarnation could have happened at all.  How can Jesus Christ be both fully divine and fully human at the same time?  While this reviewer does not believe Dr. Zachariades has answered all the problems, it is commendable that he upholds a biblical view of Christ over against the kenotic and sub-kenotic views.  As stated above, however, it would have been more beneficial to his thesis had he interacted with Dr. Gordon H. Clark’s two books, The Trinity, 1985 (Jefferson: Trinity Foundation, 1990), and The Incarnation, (Jefferson: Trinity Foundation, 1988).  The weakness of Dr. Clark’s two person view is that he could have expounded more on how two persons can be united in the man, Jesus Christ.  Clark upheld the essentials of the Definition of Chalcedon while at the same time pointing out the blatant ambiguities inherent in the creed.  One can only hope that future work in the area of Christology will bring further clarification to these issues.  Dr. Theodore Zachariades’ book is certainly one pointing in the right direction precisely because he upholds the doctrine of the omnipresence of Christ through the Logos.  If he had explored the confusion of the terms “nature” and “person” and “hypostatic union” in more detail it would have profited his conclusions greatly.  However, he leaves some ambiguity here by simply upholding the creed of Chalcedon without interacting with the lack of definition of terms and their inherent ambiguity.

However, one has a hard time disagreeing when Dr. Zachariades says:

The heart of the issue appears to be the burning question:  "Can Christ be truly human without being merely human?"  Evangelicals have agreed that Jesus is man and that Jesus is God, yet many have not dealt with this question directly.  Erickson, and Lane, for example have failed to convince me that the authors of the Chalcedonian definition of faith missed the truth in arguing that Jesus was and is both a limited human being and at the same time fully God upholding the universe as the omnipotent and omnipresent creator.  It is within the framework of this very question that the doctrine of Jesus' omnipresence becomes a key in disclosing the the true nature of a person's Christology.  (P. 279).

[To purchase copies of this book you may contact Dr. Theodore Zachariades at his Facebook account or e-mail him at theodorezachariades AT facebook DOT com.  There is a epub version available here.].

Charlie J. Ray, M. Div.

(See:  Definition of Chalcedon in Greek and in English. See also:  Sixth Ecumenical Council:  Against Monothelitism.  See also:  Athanasiasian Creed).

Addendum:  You will need to download the free SBL fonts to see the Greek fonts in this article.

Gordon H. Clark:  Christ Upholds the Universe.

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