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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

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Incarnation Part 8






But divine attributes are not characteristics that are separate and distinct from the divine essence so that God can set them aside as one might remove a pin from a pincushion and still have the pincushion.  Rather, the divine essence is expressed precisely in the sum total of its attributes.  To hold that God the Son actually emptied himself in his state of humiliation of even one divine characteristic is tantamount to saying that he who "enfleshed" himself in the Incarnation, while perhaps more than man, is now not quite God either.  But as Bishop Moule once wrote, a Savior not quite God "is a bridge broken at the farther end."  Robert L. Reymond.


A Theological and Scripturalist Defense of Gordon H. Clark's Two Person View of the Incarnation

Part  8
By Charlie J. Ray, M. Div.

I apologize for not posting more recently.  However, work demands have been heavy and I have been reading the "authorized" biography of Dr. Gordon H. Clark.  I want to write a fair review of the biography by Douglas Douma so this post will be brief.  I will be posting a thorough review of the Douma biography shortly.  I mostly agree with his account of Dr. Clark's life but I have a few serious disagreements with his theological presentation and the conclusions he draws from a few brief encounters Dr. Clark had with Van Til later in life.  But I will save those comments for a later post.  For now I want to discuss in more detail the so-called Evangelical view of the incarnation of Christ that is usually identified as the sub-kenotic theory.

The sub-kenotic theory's purpose is to preserve the true humanity of Jesus Christ but unfortunately it does so at the expense of His true deity and divinity.  The orthodox doctrine of the incarnation asserts that Christ is both fully God and fully man.  Millard Erickson is a good example of the sub-kenotic view, which I believe was also taught by Henry Thiessen, a dispensationalist.  In reviewing Erickson's systematic theology, which I have not read since college, I found that Erickson has other problems in addition to his sub-kenotic view of the incarnation.  He also speaks in the affirmative of what can only be called a Barthian view of the biblical teachings on Christ, which Erickson calls the "kerygma", and the so-called "historical" Jesus Christ, the "real" person of Christ as opposed to the kerygmatic Christ that was taught by the early church and the later traditions of the Christian church after the apostolic period.

We have seen that each of these two seemingly mutually exclusive positions has certain strengths and weaknesses.  Is there some way to unite Christology from above [Barthianism] and Christology from below [modernism] so as to preserve the best elements of both while minimizing the problems of each?  Can the kerygmatic Christ and the historical Jesus, faith and reason, be held together?  Evangelicals are concerned to retain both.  This concern stems in part from the evangelical understanding of revelation:  revelation is both the historical events and the interpretation of them.  These are two complementary and harmonious means by which God manifests himself.  Both are therefore sources of knowledge of him.  

Millard Erickson.  Christian Theology.  Three volumes in one.  (Grand Rapids:  Baker Book House, 1985).  P. 673.

On the credits page Erickson acknowledges Bernard Ramm as his first theology professor, William E. Hordern, his doctoral supervisor, and most troubling, he credits Wolfhart Pannenberg as the inspiration of his own theology.   Unfortunately, Pannenberg was a neo-orthodox scholar from Germany.  (See:  Wolfhart Pannenberg).  Among other things, Pannenberg rejected the doctrine of verbal plenary inspiration and biblical inerrancy.  Pannenberg allegedly believed in the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ but a careful reading of Pannenberg's book, Jesus:  God and Man, reveals that Pannenberg rejected the physical and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ and the Gospel accounts of the resurrection for that very reason.  Instead Pannenberg accepted only the account of Luke in the book of Acts where Paul encounters the resurrected Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-7).  The reason for this is that for Pannenberg the "historical" resurrection is a vision experienced by Paul, not a literal and physical resurrection from the dead.  Pannenberg's so-called theology from below and his historical emphasis is a Barthian interpretation of history as mythological, not literal, history.  Pannenberg's theology is still very much neo-orthodox despite his idiosyncratic interpretations of history and the resurrection.  For Pannenberg the empty tomb is more significant than the resurrection itself because it can be historically verified.  But he neglected to notice that the only account we have of even the empty tomb comes from the inspired Scriptures.  Erickson likewise downplays the propositional truths of the inspired and inerrant Scriptures and instead opts for a strange blend between neo-orthodoxy and modernist liberalism.   

Incidentally, I once visited my Christian philosophy professor, Dr. Jerry Walls, in his office at Asbury Seminary around 1992-1995.  At the time Pannenberg had recently lectured on the historicity of the resurrection and I approached Walls to mention to him that Pannenberg did not believe in the resurrection.  But Walls insisted that Pannenberg did believe in the resurrection.  I was dumbfounded to say the least.  The degree to which so-called Evangelical seminaries have been infected with neo-orthodoxy is disturbing.

At any rate, once it is noted that Erickson's mode of operation for his theology is infected with Barthianism and neo-orthodoxy, it is easier to see why he opts for the sub-kenotic view of the incarnation.  According to the classical liberal view, reason shows that it would be impossible for God to literally become incarnate in a human person or to literally unite Himself with a human nature.  Of course, only the second Person of the Godhead, the divine Logos became incarnate.  So classical liberalism taught the doctrine of the kenosis and that the Logos literally emptied Himself of deity and became a literal human being.  It is from this premise that the liberals assert the proposition that Christ was only a good moral teacher and not literally divine.  The Evangelical solution of Erickson allegedly compromises the two extremes of Barthianism and liberalism but both are actually denials of the incarnation.

This preliminary commentary on Pannenberg and Erickson's affirmation of Pannenberg's dialectical view of the historical resurrection was necessary to help my readers see the biases of Erickson and a possible explanation for Erickson's affirmation of a so-called Evangelical doctrine of sub-kenosis.  But exactly what is sub-kenosis?  We can begin to see where Erickson is headed when he denies that the incarnation is contradictory.

The idea of the incarnation of God is not inherently contradictory.  Brian Hebblethwaite has argued that the belief that the incarnation involves a contradiction stems from taking the incarnation too anthropomorphically.  To be sure, there is a paradox here, a concept which is very difficult to assimilate intellectually.  The function of a paradox, as Ian Ramsey has shown, is to force our minds beyond the natural to the supernatural.  In this case, we are not predicating divinity of Jesus' humanity, or suggesting that God became an entirely different kind of God, or that one person was both limited and unlimited at the same time and in the same respect.  Rather, we are simply claiming that God voluntarily assumed certain limitations upon the exercise of his infinity.  He had similarly limited his options when he created humans.  Ibid., pp. 680-681.

Erickson tried to avoid a contradiction by asserting another contradiction, namely that God can be both immutable and mutable at the same time.  If God is eternally immutable and never changes, how can God place limitations on his divine predicates if in fact that God's attributes are an inseparable part of God's essence or being?  To say that God can limit himself means that God is not immutable and, according to Dr. Gordon H. Clark, would make God a finite god and not an eternally omnipotent and omniscient God who acts with teleological purposes within His creation.  If God is eternal, then God transcends the passing of time and is timeless.  According to the Van Tilians eternity is the passing of time in endless duration, not timelessness.  So here again we see the Van Tilians are the ones who confuse creation with the Creator.  God is eternally timeless as an eternally unchanging being and hence he cannot limit Himself without becoming less than the God defined by Scripture as an eternal God who is without beginning or end and who is from everlasting to everlasting.  (Hebrews 7:3; Revelation 1:8, 21:6, 22:13; Psalm 90:2).   Worse, Erickson's Arminianism contends that God decided to change or become finite in order to allow humans to be sovereign over God.  Otherwise, libertarian free will could not be defended.  Of course this is all meant to defend God against the problem of evil.  But as Gordon H. Clark pointed out, libertarian free will nor a finite God solves the problem of evil as intended.

Another issue relevant to this discussion is what is a paradox anyway?  According to Dr. Gordon H. Clark a paradox is an issue that causes confusion in the mind; it is an apparent logical contradiction.  But do paradoxes have logical and rational solutions?  Yes, they do.  While the solution may not be readily apparent at first with much hard work a solution can be found.  To assert or presuppose that paradoxes have no solution is to adopt what can only be called a theology of irrational contradictions.  Erickson is to be commended for trying to solve the logical problem involved with the paradox of the incarnation but the question is whether his solution actually resolved the conflicting predications of humanity and deity or did his solution amount to a heresy that is equivalent to the full kenosis view?

Erickson's position can be demonstrated most accurately in the following quotation:

. . . While he did not cease to be in nature what the Father was, he became functionally subordinated to the Father for the period of the incarnation.  Jesus did this for the purposes of revealing God and redeeming man.  By taking on human nature, he accepted certain limitations upon the functioning of his divine attributes.  These limitations were not the result of a loss of divine attributes but of the addition of human attributes.


2.  The union of the two natures meant that they did not function independently.   Jesus did not exercise his deity at times and his humanity at other times.  His actions were always those of divinity-humanity.  This is the key to understanding the functional limitations which the humanity imposed upon divinity.  For example, he still had the power to be everywhere (omnipresence).  However, as an incarnate being, he was limited in the exercise of that power by possession of a human body.  Similarly, he was still omniscient, but he possessed and exercised knowledge in connection with a human organism which grew gradually in terms of consciousness, whether of the physical environment or eternal truths.  Thus, only gradually did his limited human psyche become aware of who he was and what he had come to accomplish.  Yet this should not be a considered a reduction of the power and capacities of the Second Person of the Trinity, but rather a circumstance-induced limitation on the exercise of his power and capacities.  Ibid., p. 735.



The inherent problem here is that Erickson confuses what God does and who God is.  Dr. Robert L. Reymond aptly pointed out that what is predicated of God's being or essence is who and what God is by nature and cannot be divorced from that nature or limited in any way without making God something other than God.  God cannot handicap himself because to do so would be to make God finite instead of omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient.  Erickson's contention that Christ in the incarnation laid aside equality with God without laying aside the "form" of God seems to imply a contradiction.  Erickson claims to reject the kenosis view but his own sub-kenotic view is for all practical purposes the same as the kenosis view.  Dr. Robert L. Reymond was straight to the point in his comments on this matter in both his lecture on false Christology (Demolishing the Stronghold of Rome's False Christology) and in his systematic theology:

Millard Erickson is a contemporary kenotic Christologist.  The theory in general advocates the view that God the Son "emptied" (ἐκένωσεν, ekenosen; see Phil. 2:7) or divested himself of certain of his divine attributes, such as omnipresence and omniscience, or of the use of one or more of them, in assuming human flesh.  Consider for a moment the effects of this view on the Son's attribute of omnipresence.  On several occasions I have asked evangelical pastors the question:  "After the Incarnation had occurred, did the Second Person of the Trinity still possess the attribute of omnipresence or was he confined to the human body which he had assumed?"  Many have opted for the latter construction, the necessary implication being that in the Incarnation God the Son divested himself of his attribute of being always and everywhere immediately present in his created universe.  But divine attributes are not characteristics that are separate and distinct from the divine essence so that God can set them aside as one might remove a pin from a pincushion and still have the pincushion.  Rather, the divine essence is expressed precisely in the sum total of its attributes.  To hold that God the Son actually emptied himself in his state of humiliation of even one divine characteristic is tantamount to saying that he who "enfleshed" himself in the Incarnation, while perhaps more than man, is now not quite God either.  But as Bishop Moule once wrote, a Savior not quite God "is a bridge broken at the farther end."   

Robert L. Reymond.  A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith.  (Nashville:  Thomas Nelson, 1998).  Pp. 615-616.

[See also:  Biblehub: ekenosen].


Following the logic of Reymond's remarks it must be pointed out that God is one God and one in essence and nature and the three Persons distinguished within that one Godhead are inseparably united.  According to Erickson's view, one of the three Persons must have temporarily limited himself and the other two did not.   So Erickson's sub-kenotic view creates unintended problems for the doctrine of the Trinity.  Gordon Clark deals with this issue in depth in his two books, The Trinity, and, The Incarnation.

Further, Reymond contends that the Lutheran doctrine of consubstantiation, meant to defend their view that the sacramental elements of bread and wine are the virtual body and blood of Christ, violates the distinction between the divine and human natures of Christ.  That is because to communicate ubiquity or omnipresence to the human nature is to divinize the human nature:

Catholic Christendom has not always and everywhere remained faithful to what it confessed at Chalcedon.  In the Lutheran churches, for example, a form of Eutychianism emerged that serves that church's peculiar view of the relationship of Christ's body to the physical elements of the Lord's Supper.  This may be seen in the Lutheran representation of the communication idiomatum ("communication of attributes"), whereby our Lord's divine nature at his virginal conception virtually "divinized" his human nature by communicating its attributes to the human nature.  Thus the latter is ubiquitous, Lutherans insist, and is really physically present "in, with, and under" the elements of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper.  But such a Christological construction, in the words of Charles Hodge, "form(s) no part of Catholic Christianity."  Reymond, 615.

I fully agree with Reymond's assessment of the Lutheran doctrine.  Christ's body is present in one location in heaven, not everywhere present with God's Spirit.  But this raises an important question.  If the divine attributes cannot be communicated to the physical body of Christ, can the divine attributes be communicated to the human soul of Christ?  The Definition of Chalcedon says that the human nature of Christ possesses a genuine and reasonable human soul.  Is the human Christ omniscient?  Do the two natures vacillate back and forth?  J. I. Packer makes a remark in this regard:

Christians, focusing on Jesus' deity, have sometimes thought that it honors Jesus to minimize his humanness. The early heresy of Monophysitism (the idea that Jesus had only one nature) expressed this supposition, as do modern suggestions that he only pretended to be ignorant of facts (on the supposition that he always actualized his omniscience and therefore was aware of everything) and to be hungry and weary (on the supposition that his divinity supernaturally energized his humanity all the time, raising it above the demands of ordinary existence). But Incarnation means, rather, that the Son of God lived his divine-human life in and through his human mind and body at every point, maximizing his identification and empathy with those he had come to save, and drawing on divine resources to transcend human limits of knowledge and energy only when particular requirements of the Father's will so dictated.


The idea that Jesus' two natures were like alternating electrical circuits, so that sometimes he acted in his humanity and sometimes in his divinity, is also mistaken. He did and endured everything, including his sufferings on the cross, in the unity of his divine-human person (i.e., as the Son of God who had taken to himself all human powers of acting, reacting, and experiencing, in their unfallen form). Saying this does not contradict divine impassibility, for impassibility means not that God never experiences distress but that what he experiences, distress included, is experienced at his own will and by his own foreordaining decision.


J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs.  "Part Two:  God Revealed as Redeemer.  Two Natures:  Christ Is Fully Human."  (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993).  Logos Bible edition.  

Although Dr. Reymond did not mention Packer, it seems to me that Packer also opts for the sub-kenotic view since he contends that God can change by experiencing human limitations.  As I see it if the divine Logos does not replace the human soul of Jesus as the Apollinarian heresy contends, then Jesus must indeed be a genuine human person.  If on the other hand, we reject the Lutheran doctrine of communicatio idiomatum or imputing divine attributes to Jesus' human nature and soul, then Jesus must be a real human person as well.  The Lutheran view is a monophysite or Eutychian view that would make Jesus a mixture of two natures and therefore neither fully divine nor fully human.  It seems to me therefore that to say that the incarnate Jesus is one Person has implications that create apparent contradictions or paradoxes.  It would either be Apollinarianism to say that Christ is one Person or it would be Eutychianism because the human soul would be divinized.  If the human nature is impersonal and only the Logos is present under the incarnation, the result is Apollinarianism.  Also, as Dr. Clark pointed out, Apollinarianism is another way of espousing a kenosis view of the incarnation where God the Son empties Himself of deity for a temporary time on earth.  If we opt for one Person and that Person is the Logos, then the other option is Eutychianism where the divine attributes are imputed to the human nature of Christ and thus His human soul would be omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent.  Again, this would mean that in the Incarnation Christ is neither fully God nor fully human but a cross blending of the two natures into one nature.


In the next installment on this series I will discuss the Trinity and Dr. Gordon H. Clark's solution to the problem of the unity of God's essence and His tri-personality as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  It is also impossible to discuss the Incarnation without including a discussion of Clark's view of the doctrine of man and the image of God.  I will be discussing that in a future installment as well.  However, before I do the next few articles I will be reviewing Douglas Douma's biography of Dr. Gordon H. Clark.




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