Caution Re: Trinitarian Models

Karen Kilby has just taken up the Bede Chair of Catholic Theology at Durham University. Her work engages 20th century Catholic theologians (esp. Rahner and von Balthasar, about whom she’s published introductions). I’ve just enjoyed a very interesting essay by her (“Is an Apophatic Trinitarianism Possible?” International Journal of Systematic Theology 12, 1 [2010]), and I appreciate the caution she advises in this interview.

ReKnewing Christology—Postscript

I know, I know. The picture is pretty weird. But it gets an essential point across about the mutually defining nature of the triune relations. You can’t remove one of the faces and still have trinitarian monotheism. But it is a weird picture.

So, rereading Trinity & Process, Dwayne ran across a section in the final few pages which Greg devoted to a brief summary of how his thesis of God’s essential, necessary disposition to be God (realized as unsurpassably intense aesthetic satisfaction) might be expressed in terms compatible with Chalcedon. Yes, you heard us right: Chalcedon. The section is titled “The Two Natures of Christ” (pp. 399-401). Check this out:

“Our modified understanding of Edwards’ understanding of dispositions can, we believe, also lay the groundwork for a fruitful understanding of the person of Jesus Christ in line with the Chalcedonian Confession as well as with modern non-substantival categories…

“…Christ may be said to be distinct from all other humans in that in this one person the disposition which defines God as God [and Greg is unambiguously clear that this definitional disposition includes God’s unsurpassably intense aesthetic satisfaction] and the disposition which defines humanity as human converged. In Christ, and through Christ, the unsurpassably intense sociality of God is replicated ad extra.

“Thus, we might say that the dynamic essence of the man Jesus was wholly taken up into the dynamic essence of God, so that God now “aims” at Godself — as God eternally does — but now God does so through this one man. In this one man, God achieves Godself anew. The necessary triune disposition for primordial satisfaction now encompasses this spontaneous feature: it now encompasses the person and work of this one man. The event of God, one might say, now includes the event of the man Jesus, and through him, the event of the entire creation. The Incarnation is thus most fundamentally the dynamic convergence of these two events…

“The ultimate effect of this dynamic Incarnation is the redemption of the world. In the expansion of the divine sociality to essentially include the man Jesus , the process of the Trinity expands to include the process of the world. The ceaseless achievement of the expression of God’s deity in the Trinity will now eternally include the expression of beauty in the non-divine order, and all of this through Christ. This is the Good News….”

There are parts of this that are best appreciated through understanding the previous arguments in the book. His terms and concepts are those of Process thought. But we quote it here because we think it’s plain enough to get his point. The “definitional disposition” to be God (which “defines God as God”) just is the actual experience of God’s own beauty in triune self-defining unsurpassable delight. Being this, God then “expands to include” human nature (or humanity’s essential definitional disposition) while maintaining the “ceaseless achievement” of his necessary and self-sufficient disposition; God’s unsurpassable satisfaction “will now eternally include” the expression of this beauty in the non-divine order.

You don’t get any of this with Kenoticism. Given Trinity & Process, Greg’s present talk of God becoming his antithesis, of an absolute cessation of experienced oneness on the part of Father, Son and Spirit, and of a real break in the relationship between Father and Son is complete metaphysical nonsense.

ReKnewing Christology—Part 5 (Final)

0806Transfiguration07Christ’s transfiguration. Yeah. Think about it for a while. Just let it simmer. No rush.

Some might be wondering when we’re going to stop beating up on Greg Boyd. I hope we haven’t been beating up on him, but if anyone feels like we have been, you’ll be pleased to know that we’re done — for now at least! For the record though, Dwayne and I have deep respect and love for Greg. When it comes to those who have influenced our thinking, Greg is at the top of the list for both of us. We know his work as well as anyone, and we know Trinity & Process better than — well, you get the idea. At this point we rest our case: Greg’s present kenoticism is a denial of his view of God’s essential defining necessity presented in TP. We think the academically professional thing for him to do is at least to concede this.

In this final post we’d like to describe why we think these Christological debates are important at all. It’s common to run into that objection that these debates don’t have any practical relevance for living the Christian faith. While we don’t doubt that much of what Christians debate is beside the point (much of modern eschatology comes to mind), from our perspective Christology isn’t one of those debates. More specifically, how one views the Incarnation is the point, perhaps the only real point.

It might surprise some to know that the debates surrounding the ecumenical councils (from Nicaea 325 AD to, say, 2nd Nicaea 787 AD) weren’t at all viewed as wasteful speculation. They were entirely soteriological in nature. In particular, the Christological debates surrounding Nicaea (325), Ephesus (431), and Chalcedon (451) were about salvation from beginning to end. That this is so consistently missed by Evangelicals today is an indication of how much our views on what salvation is about have changed. But no believer who lived during these formative years objected that church leaders were wasting their time in useless discussions about issues that didn’t really matter because the Christian faith wasn’t really at stake in the struggle between the competing Christologies of the day. No one said, “Come now, we all love Jesus. Surely Christianity is just having this in common. So can we stop debating and convening councils over needless speculations? Who cares if Jesus is consubstantial with the Father or whether he was created immediately prior to the creation of the world?”
This wasn’t the perspective of believers living during the 4th and 5th centuries when the Church was called to clarify its identity and mission. For them the Incarnation was about the nature of the gospel as God’s salvation for us and as the perfection of the created order. Competing Christologies represented competing soteriologies. It was the Orthodox vision of what final salvation was, of what God’s purposes for creation were, that motivated their insistence upon key affirmations and denials. What was that vision? It was the belief that the Incarnation was the means by which every aspect of created existence was to be brought into final participation in the infinite delight and joys of union with God. Salvation wasn’t just a ‘get out of jail free card’ or a change in legal status before God, nor was it viewed as the forgiveness of sins (though it certainly included that). It was the final perfection of our (now fallen) natures, and that final perfection was not something merely spoken by God or declared to be so. It required incarnation.

Theologians often divide the study of Christology into the ‘Work’ and ‘Person’ of Christ. Historically and experientially the Church reasoned from the former to the latter. What was it the Incarnation (as birth, life, death and resurrection) was believed to accomplish? The question then becomes who or what Christ must be to have accomplished this. If the purpose of the Incarnation is merely to get Jesus to the Cross so our sins could be forgiven and we could be freed from the condemnation of law, then one is under no particular pressure to construe the Incarnation toward an Orthodox understanding of the two natures. But the Orthodox vision of creation’s purpose was broader than fixing the immediate dysfunctions of our sinfulness. God’s purposes are unitive and assimilative (to borrow Marilyn McCord Adams’ terms). God wants the most intimate of experienced union possible between created and uncreated being. It is this unspeakable and glorious state for which we are created. And it’s a state Kenotic Christologies cannot coherently narrate.

The Incarnation is seen as the means of securing this union. And this takes us down a very different set of questions than would be faced were we to limit the Incarnation’s purpose to the mere removal of wrath and the securing of forgiveness. But who and what must Christ be to effect this end? This is the vision and these are the questions out of which were born Orthodox convictions such as what is not assumed is not healed. It is out of the need to secure humanity’s final and fullest perfection in participation and union with God, together with the belief that created nature does not have it within its own powers to effect its own final perfection, that the particular Creeds in question derived their content. God, the source and sustainer of the cosmos, must accomplish this. The created nature destined for union with God must be assumed by God who does not give the gospel but whose illimitable life — whose own triune experience — is the gospel. Only he who is our healing and perfection could assume that which needed healing and perfecting. Christ is that union. But as Kenoticism has it, Christ is less than this. He is a negotiated compromise between contraries, an arbitration whose content is finally dictated by humanity. That is the math of Kenoticism’s logic. It is Arianism’s twin brother, unlike each other only in the location of their respective denials that Christ is truly consubstantial with the Father. Where Arianism denies this by making the Logos a created being (thus preventing the needed union between uncreated and created natures), Greg’s kenoticism aborts it in the womb.

(Icon and Cornelius Monsma’s Transfiguration)

ReKnewing Christology—Part 4

ETERNAL LOGOS.pdf-page-001Do the quotes from Trinity & Process (TP) in the previous post describe a view of the triune persons and their relations compatible with Kenoticism? Can it be the case on the one hand that the divine persons necessarily relate in the fullness of mutual love and knowledge (as TP argues) and that the Son voluntarily removes himself from this experience (Kenoticism) on the other hand? Can it be that God’s essential triune ‘existence’ is identical to his essential triune ‘experience’ (as TP argues) on the one hand and that his triune experience ceases (Kenoticism)?

We think not. But it seems Greg presently does. He writes in response to us:

“I believe my thought has deepened since writing [Trinity & Process], but it has not essentially changed. The error I believe [Tom and Dwayne] make in [their] critique is that [they] assume a perfectly loving relationship must exhaustively be defined [as] a moment-by-moment unbroken experience of unity. What I’ve come to believe is that the relational unity of the Trinity is even greater than that [viz., greater than God’s own experience of Godself as Tom and Dwayne suppose] precisely because it is other-oriented and self-sacrificial. [Their] loving unity is so great, it is willing to suspend the ‘experience’ of unity for the other (us) who needs this. Yet because the horrific suspension is entered into out of love, the suspension expresses the most profound unity rather than abolishes it.”

As an analogy, Greg invites us to imagine a perfectly united husband and wife whose kidnapped son could be saved only if the wife enters into a state in which she felt forsaken by her husband. Once reunited with their son, the loving unity of the couple would be “all the more beautiful” because of their experienced separation. And the fact that they agree to experience mutual alienation demonstrates that their loving unity was an other-oriented, self-sacrificial unity as opposed to being a self-centered and self-serving unity. So too, Greg sees the loving unity of the Trinity as “all the greater” precisely because Father, Son and Spirit were willing to temporarily sacrifice their experience of each other for us. For Greg, God experiences his antithesis. Indeed, God becomes his antithesis.

But contrary to Greg’s evaluation, things are indeed essentially different. They’ve essentially changed because his arguments in TP regard what God’s experience is essentially and necessarily — i.e., the triune experience of unsurpassably intense satisfaction. But none of this survives Greg’s present kenotic view of God, as none of what he argues in TP are the necessary features (his ‘definitional disposition to be God’) of God’s essential existence remain necessary in his kenotic view. The eternal Son is instead transformed without remainder into the created finitude of a non-conscious, non-personal, non-experiencing zygote — not a subject of any sort of experience at all. Indeed, Greg is now without any conception of the metaphysical necessity of the divine persons. He simply supposes there is something to God’s triune existence and personal unity which is “greater than” God’s own triune experience and which holds God together.

We don’t know how to call this ‘trinitarian monotheism’ since immediately post-Incarnation there is no person of the Son to speak of. He doesn’t appear on any horizon Greg is willing to identify or even try to describe. He simply supposes:

“There is a relational unity [to] the Trinity which is greater than God’s own experience of it.”

This has to be the most objectionable theological claim we’ve ever heard Greg make. And it does nothing to save this as a genuinely ‘trinitarian monotheism’ to suggest that the cessation of experienced oneness by the triune persons is undertaken freely by the persons, or that it is undertaken out of other-oriented love, or that it is only temporary. How do these facts (being freely chosen, other-oriented, and self-sacrificial) constitute the “greater relational unity” that Greg now believes is the really necessary feature of divine existence in the absence of God’s own experience of it? This contradicts Greg’s conclusion in TP (ch. 6 in his appropriation of Edwards) that the Father’s very perfection is the (definitional) dispositional actuality to know his own ‘Image’ as the Son in unsurpassably satisfying love. If the Father ceases to know his own Image in terms of an experienced and loving unity, then something other than actual, experienced relations accounts for God’s unity. What would this be? What would now constitute, in Greg’s view, God’s abiding disposition to be triune if not God’s triune experience of Godself?

We argue that given Greg’s views in TP, one subject must simultaneously be subject to both the divine experience of unsurpassably intense aesthetic satisfaction and a human experience of surpassably intense aesthetic satisfaction. Greg’s (TP) metaphysics is incompatible with Kenoticism. It is not enough to identify in Jesus’ own embodied experience features one believes qualify his deity and others that constitute his humanity as if the divine definitional disposition to be God is fulfilled by created finitude. Greg’s already argued what sort of experience constitutes divine being (unsurpassable beatitude) and what qualifies as created being (surpassable beatitude). You can’t get an Incarnation of the divine Son with kenoticism.

What of Greg’s analogy of the parents who in love agree to suffer whatever form of temporary estrangement is needed to rescue their son? It’s hard to imagine the parents as “perfectly united” in the first place if their unity is diminishable and in the end “all the greater” and “all the more beautiful” because suffering interrupts it. If it’s “made greater” and “more beautiful” because of suffering a temporary failure, then Greg’s imagining something vastly unlike his previous work, for he has already argued that God’s freedom in creating the world is grounded in the experienced delight of mutually enjoyed relations. The very contingency of the world derives from this. So Greg’s analogy, as emotionally persuasive as it seems, nevertheless begins by assuming what he has elsewhere shown to be impossible, viz., that the experienced enjoyment of the divine persons is contingent and world-dependent.

(Picture here.)

ReKnewing Christology—Part 3

trinityWhat happened to the Son in Andrei Rublev’s icon? Answer: He’s been ‘ReKnewed’. Is that really what kenoticism does? We think so. Here we’ll briefly summarize Greg’s view in Trinity & Process (T&P). In a following post we’ll compare these to his present kenoticism and consider an analogy Greg shares for viewing kenoticism as a deepening of his views in T&P. We’ll demonstrate that, barring his magically pulling a Rublev Son out his hat, Greg essentially abandons his earlier Trinitarian work in favor of his present kenoticism.

We’ve summarized T&P here and here. There’s no way to unpack all his supporting arguments. We can only present the key conclusions he arrives at. But it’ll be enough. Feast yourself on these T&P quotes:

“God’s being is defined by God’s eternal disposition to delight in Godself and the eternal actualization of this disposition within the triune life of God. It is the unsurpassable intensity of the beauty of the divine sociality – their shared love ‘to an infinite degree’ – and God’s eternal inclination to eternally be such, which defines God as God ….” (p. 386, emphasis ours)

“The unity of God is precisely the social relationality which constitutes this One’s being. And the multiplicity of God is precisely the divine Persons who are knowingly and lovingly encompassed and mutually defined by this unity. The ‘Persons’, in this view, are not first distinct and only secondly related, for in this case the relationality would be contingent. Rather, the Persons and the relation are both necessary, and hence the Persons are inconceivable apart from the relationality. The ‘I’ and the ‘Thou’ which define the reciprocal eternal loving event of the Trinity is inseparable from the relationality which unites and defines them.” (p. 339f, emphasis ours)

“The metaphysical necessity of God’s self-relationality means, I believe, that it is not possible to conceive of the death of the Son as anything other than an expression of the intense love of God’s inner life. This paradox shall be discussed shortly, but it presently needs to be said that this means that all talk about a ‘breakdown of the relationship that constitutes the very life of the Trinity’ such as we find (for example) in Moltmann is, if taken literally, strictly impossible….” (p. 381, n. 64, emphasis ours)

“….God is best conceived as being at once unsurpassable in God’s definitional aesthetic disposition and actual eternal enjoyment of what this disposition produces within Godself….” (p. 176, emphasis ours)

“God is, in this view, good within Godself, and this means that God can experience goodness within Godself—apart from the world…. In contrast to all possible and actual evil, God experiences God’s own triune sociality as unsurpassably good.” (p. 375, emphasis ours)

“…God’s essential and necessary existence is…most basically defined by the unsurpassable intensity of aesthetic enjoyment which characterizes the triune sociality of God. God experiences Godself with an intensity which can under no circumstances conceivably be improved upon.” (p. 377, emphasis ours) [Draw a line connecting “existence” to “enjoyment” to “experience” and ask yourself what Greg might mean now by suggesting that God’s triune “experience” ceases while his “existence” does not.]

“If we may now utilize the language of Scripture, we may, in light of our reconstruction, view God’s essential being as eternally consisting in the event of the perfect knowing and loving of the Father and Son in the power of the Spirit.” (emphasis ours)

“The One whose power is this One’s love, and whose love is this One’s knowledge, is the necessary and eternal divine event which structures and internally satisfies, in and of itself, all rationality and which further grounds all contingent being.” (emphasis ours)

“But, we further hold, this God-defining zenith of aesthetic intensity has been constituted in the triune sociality of God from eternity. This is necessary, and as such it is neither increased nor diminished by the contingent and temporal affairs of the world.” (p. 378, emphasis ours)

“We have seen that both [Jonathon] Edwards and [Charles] Hartshorne argue that God is most fundamentally distinct from the world in terms of God’s beauty. God is distinct in many other ways, too, of course, but for both of these thinkers that aesthetic uniqueness of God is what is most fundamental. With this we have agreed, though we have redefined the definition of divine beauty from a quantitative to a qualitative conception. God can be thus defined, most fundamentally, as the unsurpassably intense event of beauty. It follows, then, that non-divine reality can fundamentally be defined in terms of its surpassable beauty. This too is precisely in keeping with the thought of both Edwards and Hartshorne. A reality is non-divine if it is the subject of, and/or the contributor to, a surpassably intense aesthetic experience.

This should be sufficient to demonstrate Greg’s belief in T&P that God’s necessary and essential triune “experience” is this One’s equally necessary and essential “existence.” There can be no cessation of the former (triune experience) without cessation of the latter (divine existence). But this cessation is precisely what Greg’s present kenoticism entails given T&P.

Back later for more.

ReKnewing Christology—Part 2

GB-portraitJust look at that face! How can you not love this guy? Greg’s been good enough to comment on our previous Part 1 post and we thought his questions and our answers warranted their own post as this Part 2. Greg agrees it may better represent the two minds view to speak of the ‘Logos’ (rather than ‘Jesus’) being the subject of these two minds (divine and human). But he points out that it is ‘Jesus’ who in the gospels is described as both knowing things derived from the divine mind (“Before Abraham was I am”) and being ignorant of things (“No one knows the day or the hour, not even the Son”).

Greg asks:

“How is this not admitting Jesus simultaneously had an omniscient and non-omniscient mind (and was omnipotent and non-omnipotent)?”

And he follows with,

“Not only this, but is it not true that in the classical Christology, the Logos IS Jesus and Jesus IS the Logos? If so, how can you avoid saying ‘Jesus’ simultaneously has an omniscient and non-omniscient mind? To deny this seems to entail either (a) that the Logos is not fully Jesus, and vice versa, and/or (b) that Jesus as Logos and Jesus as human is divided (a la Nestorianism)? So, in sum, could you please explain how you two DENY Jesus simultaneously had an omniscient and non-omniscient mind while avoiding both of these heretical implications?”

Greg is still misconstruing the two minds view. Yes, ‘Jesus’ and the ‘Logos’ are the same person. Chalcedonians do confess that Jesus has two minds so long as we mean the ‘person’ in question. The problem is that Greg’s understanding of the two minds view is ruled by his reduction of this ‘person’ to the constraints of an embodied, human context. In Greg’s view (as in all kenotic views) this ‘person’ is exhausted by his ‘his finite embodied context’ and ‘two natures’ just refers to this embodied context as the space into which the necessary divine attributes have to ‘fit’. So by “the Logos is Jesus and Jesus is the Logos” Greg just means the two are coterminous with respect to nature. His quotes are there in our previous post. He argues the Logos has to empty himself of all divine attributes that are incompatible with being human. That tells you Greg is reducing the ‘personal experience’ of the Logos to the constraints of created, embodied being. There is no more to the Logos than there is to his created, embodied experience.

If Greg agrees to an adjustment in his description of the two minds view, it’s to agree to “Logos” (rather than “Jesus”) as the more proper “name” of this embodied subject. But this doesn’t address the deeper issue. Even after the nominal change (calling Jesus ‘Logos’ instead of ‘Jesus’), he still sees the two minds as fulfilled in their function and in the scope their exercise coterminously within the constraints of the created, embodied context of Jesus. That’s why he thinks pushing things back to the womb with the zygote exposes the two minds view as unworkable.
Why would Greg think this exposes the two minds view as unworkable? Because he thinks the two minds view supposes the ‘Logos’ to be running the universe as a zygote (i.e., via the natural capacities of that embodied state), and that’s not possible for a zygote. So, he reasons, God must not be essentially omniscient, omnipresent, or even conscious since zygotes aren’t omniscient or omnipresent or conscious and this zygote is nevertheless the divine Logos. It doesn’t fix Greg’s misconstrual of the two minds view for him to agree just to ‘name’ this embodied state ‘Logos’ as opposed to ‘Jesus’. Even if he makes this nominal adjustment, he still understands the success or failure of the two minds view in terms of the constraints of being a zygote. He reasons that if this zygote can’t be running the universe through the use of its natural capacities as a zygote, then the two minds view can’t even get off the ground. But that is just to misunderstand the two minds view.

Our answers to these questions are in the previous Part 1 post. Greg asks how we deny Jesus simultaneously had an omniscient and non-omniscient mind while avoiding both Docetism and Nestorianism? The answer is by neither confusing nor dividing the two natures attributed to the one person of the Logos. As a zygote, you don’t even have a functioning human mind/consciousness. You just have a tiny several-celled zygote. What Orthodoxy says is that this human journey in all its stages of developmental becoming — from zygote to maturity — is personally embraced/adopted by the Word of God as his own without his having to abandon his own God-defining triune journey.

So the divine mind isn’t — as Greg supposes — reduced in its exercise to the embodied constraints of being a zygote (or an adult first-century Jewish male). It transcends these. But we don’t have Docetism because this one human journey belongs to none other than the subject of the Logos. Greg’s issue with this is that he senses that Docetism is only avoided if the Logos is ‘merely’ this embodied journey. He reasons that if there’s more to the personal experience of the Logos than there is to his experience as a zygote, or a developing child, or a suffering crucified man, then the Logos isn’t really taking this journey at all and we’re stuck with Docetism (God just pretending to be a human being). As for Nestorianism, that error is only encountered if it’s the case that “mind” = “person” and thus “two minds” = “two persons” which is the math of Greg’s own Christology, but not the math of Chalcedon. If ‘mind’ describes ‘nature’ and the Logos has two natures, then one is not a Nestorian to posit two minds to the person. It’s only problematic if you reduce the person to the constraints of one of the natures, (viz., the human).

What would an analogy of the two minds even look like? Is it even conceivable? We think so and we offered an expanded analogy introduced by Tom Morris.

One last thing. Greg writes,

“We’ve hashed most of this out before, so I won’t address your particular criticisms….”

We can’t force Greg to address particular criticisms of course, but we haven’t at all hashed most of this out. All we did was post quotes from Trinity & Process (T&P) to which Greg replied that he still believed all that. In our next post in this series we want to focus on just what it is we’re asking Greg to address, namely, how it is his present kenoticism isn’t an abandonment of his work in T&P. We’ll show he has essentially abandoned his previous view and that he’s got to let one of them go. And we don’t need Chalcedon to make our point either. Greg’s own work will do. And we think it a matter of academic integrity for Greg as a published scholar to give some account of how his present views are compatible with his published views in T&P.

(Dream picture.)