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)

3 comments on “ReKnewing Christology—Part 5 (Final)

  1. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Reblogged this on Eclectic Orthodoxy and commented:
    I am always surprised when I see evangelicals dismissing the patristic trinitarian and christological dogmas, either because they regard them as incoherent, irrelevant, or unbiblical. Over at one forum, e.g., a group of evangelicals are discussing “How do you explain the Trinity?” with most contributors taking the position that the doctrine is hokum. Apparently the doctrine has become merely optional in evangelical Christianity. I don’t know.

    But Tom Belt fortunately understands why the classical dogmas are essential and indispensable: “God wants the most intimate of experienced union possible between created and uncreated being.” The dogmas protect the Orthodox vision of theosis. If Jesus Christ is not Theanthropos, the God-man, then he cannot incorporate us into the eternal life of the Father, Son, and Spirit.


  2. john burnett says:

    Great article (i mean really), but why is the transfiguration shining on St Peter’s butt and nowhere else in the icon?



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