We need one more post to respond a bit to Greg Boyd’s kenoticism, and we’ll assume our readers are somewhat familiar with the term (from Phil. 2.6-8) and the debates surrounding the idea that the Son “being in the form of God…emptied himself, taking the form of a servant…became obedient to the point of death on a cross.” Kenotic Christologies, as they are called, variously understand the “emptying” Paul speaks of as a reference to the Son’s emptying himself of the possession or exercise of certain divine attributes for the sake of incarnation. The debate has a long and involved history and we couldn’t possibly canvas them here.
It’s our view that kenotic Christologies are unorthodox because they all involve a denial of the confession of the Council of Chalcedonian (451 CE), that is, they all deny that throughout his earthly career the divine person of the Son remained his Father’s Logos, sustaining the universe personally and in fellowship with the Father as ever he was prior to his incarnation—all of this in addition to taking a human nature to himself. We’re not sure what understanding of “orthodox” Greg is working with, but it’s no secret that Greg’s understanding isn’t orthodox in any historical or creedal sense.
Greg believes the person of the Son was reduced without remainder to the constraints of his human nature throughout his earthly career. Thus, when Christ was on earth (from conception onward) there was no divine person of the Son to speak of outside the constraints of Jesus’ embodied existence and subjective experience, for the Son “emptied” himself of all attributes incompatible with such human being. This view is part of Greg’s larger assertion that the Father and the Son suffer the cessation of their mutual enjoyment of each other on the Cross. Kenosis, for Greg, is just equivalent to incarnation. It’s how the divine Son becomes the human Jesus. Kenotic Christologies assert an incarnation by subtraction. Orthodoxy on the other hand affirms incarnation by addition.
What makes Jesus divine then? Only one thing in Greg’s view: Jesus loved unconditionally and unfailingly. “God is love,” so love is all Jesus needed to be divine. That’s it. It’s a very popular position to be sure. We suspect it’s the reigning Evangelical view, and many well-known Evangelical thinkers hold to it.
We thought we’d express what our issues are with the idea that the incarnation involved a reduction without remainder of the divine person of the Son to the constraints of the human nature of Jesus. We agree that we’re dealing with deep mysteries here. After we lay out our thoughts we hope to follow up with a Part 3 in which we’ll describe why this debate is not an insignificant relic of speculative philosophy.
(1) As we just mentioned, kenoticism at least affirms that the presence, knowledge and capacities which the uncreated Son naturally possesses as divine become limited to the context of his human nature. Many kenoticists concede that the Son still possesses these attributes (all-present, all-knowing, etc.) but forgoes the exercise of them during his earthly career. But either way, it remains the case that immediately after the conception of Jesus in Mary by the Spirit, the presence, power, and knowledge of the uncreated Son were reduced without remainder to the human limitations of Jesus’s human context and subjective experience. There simply is no divine Son to speak of outside of, or transcendent of, Jesus.
(2) It would follow, then, that immediately post-incarnation, the only location, power, and knowledge constitutive of the uncreated Son would be that of a human zygote in Mary’s womb. The uncreated Son would not exercise any power of self-referential rationality or volition not inherently and naturally available to that human zygote. Think about the consequences of this for the Trinity. Given Orthodoxy (and TP), the Father’s own personal existence is defined by his own self-relation, and the Father’s Logos (the Son) constitutes the content of that self-relation. Were the Father and the Son to suffer the cessation of this relation, the Father would cease to be a self-perceiving subject. That’s what Greg is content to let go of now.
(3) There is no way a human zygote has the capacities for continuing the uncreated, conscious, interpersonal love exchange/communication with God the Father in the Holy Spirit that had eternally been his experience prior to the incarnation. Even if one wanted to say that a developed baby can give and receive love to some measure, it’s impossible to see how Jesus as a zygot in Mary’s womb could consciously reciprocate God the Father’s communicated nature and love in the Holy Spirit definitive of God essentially. What do we do? Greg is now suggesting that we no longer understand such conscious reciprocation to be necessary to God.
(4) Given the above, not only is Greg now advocating that on the Cross the experience of loving relation between Father and Son ceased, his kenoticism also commits him to saying that their relationship was equally not experienced in Mary’s womb, indeed from the conception of Jesus until such a time as the personal identity of the divine Son re-emerges in the mature Jesus. However long this may be, this still posits a time period where there are effectively only two divine persons who commune with one another, the Father and the Spirit.
(5) We have reason to believe that Greg will concede 1-4 above and simply apply his thinking from the Cross here. He will doubtless propose his distinction between God’s essential experience of mutual love (on the one hand) from God’s essential existence (on the other) as mutual love, such that even though the experience is contingent (because it fails on occasion to obtain), God mysteriously exists as triune.
(Picture from here.)