Tuesday 19 October 2010

The Blog Post That Launched a Thousand Blog Posts

I've noticed that some theological errors are very much born out of the specific milieu in which they fester. There are former baptists who become Reformed and become enamoured of Federal Vision or Arminians who go all out in Open Theism. They're pretty specific to their respective groups, and those groups spend a lot of time battling their own flavour of heresy. But sometimes errors come along that are wide-reaching and amorphous enough to touch many people and denominations in many ways.

One I'm seeing crop up from several different angles is something I've dubbed Kenotic Arianism. Kenotic because it has to do with the nature of Christ's lowering himself in the incarnation, and Arian because it ultimately strips him of his divinity at some point, even while it paradoxically struggles to affirm that he is God.

Because some people keep bothering me, I'm going to try to trace this trend and hopefully refute it (and maybe Don Carson will pick up the torch and edit a massive tome on it with a German subtitle). The doctrine has many implications, and the antecedents in known kenotic theology are proving a fascinating maze. It branches out all over the place really, especially given the diversity of positions amongst those who hold to some variation of it. And I'm a terrible intuitive and non-linear thinker.  But to get the theo boys off my back, I'm providing a brief(ish) overview here, with the possibility of fleshing it out later.

From what I'm seeing, Kenotic Arianism starts out as an anthropological error that leads to graver theological problems. That is, in most forms I'm familiar with, it begins with a mistaken notion of what it means to be human.

Rey asked once "is the statement 'to err is human' an ontological one?" That is, are errors an essential part of our created nature as humans, or are they an acquired characteristic? I think the question is apropos-it's one the kenotic Arian will ultimately answer "yes" to in one way or another. And from this springs many of his problems. He, in typical idolatrous human fashion, looks at himself in order to see God. But it's done in a very different manner than the idolator might. He will say he looks at himself to describe the human nature of Christ. The logic is, "I am human, and Christ was made in the likeness of sinful flesh, so what I am as a human must be what Christ also took on in the incarnation." That only makes sense doesn't it? Surely Christ was one of us-that's scriptural. But the conclusion is bass-ackwards. It also fails to take into account the effects of the fall on the human race-which has left us irreparably damaged and something less than fully human. Several church fathers (especially my favorite, Athanasius) refer to the effects of the fall as "corruption," and I think this is the most useful term for us to keep in mind. 

  Corruption suggests a deterioration of soundness, particularly through a destructive or contaminating influence. It is especially used for those falling from a high position as those made in the image of God must be. Sin entered, and I died. The Torah concept of "uncleanness" is in essence, a temporal picture of corruption. We were made for communion with God, as branches receiving life from the vine. At the fall, the branch was chopped off of the vine and began to die. Now, the branch, humanity, displays the effects and stench of slow decay. We are now something less than human. We are contaminated. We are corrupt.

Christ on the other hand was and is not corrupt in any way. He is fully man-more fully man in fact than any of us have ever been. I would say the Kenotic Arian emphasizes the man part of that phrase (even as they insist marks of corruption are what make us fully human); I would however emphasize fully. There is no deterioration or contamination in the humanity of Christ. This is why he is in the likeness of sinful man, but is not himself a sinful man. This is why he as the high priest does not make atonement for himself. Part of our redemption is the restoration of our full humanity via union with Christ-a grafting back in to the life-giving vine.

But if Christ is truly human in a way we know nothing about, looking at ourselves to determine what Christ must be like as a human is like looking at a dead body and wondering why living people aren't so blue and stiff and smelly. Can they really be human if they're not blue, stiff and smelly? Does being pink and active mean one is super-human?

I will say in the KA's favour that many of them seem to want to avoid docetism (the super-human argument in essence). I'm no fan of it myself. But the KA swings hard the other way in emphasizing the humanity of Christ-and unfortunately it's this flawed view of humanity they emphasize rather than his actual perfect humanity.

KAs also usually affirm that Christ didn't sin-they understand that to say otherwise is incorrect. But then that is turned on its head when they say he did show evidence of corruption by becoming unclean or affirming falsehoods, because they see elements of corruption as an integral part of the human person rather than what it really is: a result of the fall. If this is so, then a de facto sinning Christ enters in from the back door. 

Here is where we would cite sin as a result of corruption (note sin is not the same thing as corruption). Sin is the natural end state for the corrupted, and in one sense I think it could be argued that when the KA denies Christ sinned, it is he who makes him into a super-powered man because he is capable of doing something no other man can do-act against nature. As an analogy: if you have unsterile conditions in a surgery, infection and then illness are the inevitable results. That's easily understood. But the KA reverses the logic of this understanding and in essence argues Christ was unsterile and infected (corruption) but never actually presented the signs of the illness (sin). This seems incredible.

More incredible yet is that scripture actually presents Christ as something of a "sterilizing agent". When he touched the unclean, they were cleansed. But that then leaves no room for corruption at all. How can bleach harbour the bacteria it kills? How can Christ harbour the decay that he kills?

So what corruption? There are all kinds of ways it plays out in our minds. Did Christ really share all of my experiences or risk losing his humanity? Perhaps Christ didn't know this or that because I don't. Yet in terms of his knowledge of his Godhood, Christ is never portrayed as anything other than fully aware of it (and even as a human being he knew what was in a man). We all make errors in judgement, yet Christ is presented to us as the one who always makes right judgements. The unclean could not be part of the assembly, But Christ was always in communion with the Father. In terms of error, uncleanness, sickness and so on, these apply to us because of our corruption not because of our humanity-we can see this in how he, as God, destroyed uncleanness, sickness and ultimately death.

 That error is, as stated, basically anthropological. It first mistakes what humanity really is or should be, and then secondly applies that to Christ as human (usually to avoid docetism as mentioned). Whatever form it takes, as soon as the error is applied to him, troublesome theological implications arise. Besides making Christ ironically less human rather than more (as we are repainting him corrupt as we ourselves are) Christ is suddenly also less God. In order for him to become this more "real" human, the KA strips away many divine attributes from Christ and replaces them with contradictory human aspects that exist because of our corrupt and Godless state. Aspects that are at odds with the character of God. So none of these would or can apply to him, and are not applied by scripture but by human speculation.

Some do this in a self conscious manner that is ultimately Nestorian. Generally the "kenosis" passage of Phillipians 2 is cited. This, it is argued, shows that Christ divested himself of his divinity in the incarnation. It's almost as if his divinity was a nicely pressed suit that he didn't want to get dirty, so he left it hanging in the closet of heaven. But it leaves us with a Christ who during his incarnation on this earth, was essentially not God. It is the only way that the application of error or ruined dna or uncleanness can be applied to Christ. These things can not be applied to God surely. But then Christ loses his divinity for the scheme to work. An essentially Arian scheme is created, even if unwittingly. All because of a mistaken notion of what it means to be human.

This is, of course, only the tip of the iceberg and various parts of Scriptures--specifically Hebrews--would address it. Because it is such a maze, that's going to take some heavy duty posts from people better than me (ie Don Carson) and not in battleaxe school. But since rey and mem are bleating piteously and incessantly about it like my cat used to do directly outside my window when I threw him outside because he had worms (and probably looking all sad and big eyed too), I am posting what I've got if only to stop the whinging.

Now, what is The Don's email??


Unknown said...

Excellent. Not only is this on point, you are completely right in your prophetic utterance: a series of posts must be launched.

I'm going to touch some things on God Speaking in the book of Hebrews.

Thanks Char,

Raymond Nearhood II said...

Well, I'm excited to see this more. And more than happy to see the error of KA finally spelled out.

I am being inspired to write something concerning deluded intellectualism and the internets.

Oh, and the best way to contact Carson: nt@tiu.edu - New Testament department at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

Char said...

Man Ray. You know Rey and I will now email 25 times a day to write


Until he, or more likely one of his minions, finally blocks us.

Well okay Rey has probably already been blocked.

James G. said...

Man! Now I have to correct the errors in my Day of Atonement message, and publish it as a blog post. Or perhaps as a magazine article. Or maybe I’ll just write it on pieces of paper, fold them into airplanes, and fly them out my window. In any case, sister, you have made work for me and I resent it very much.

Marv said...

Nicely done, Char!

Unknown said...

This is why I used multiple email addresses.

You can't hide from me Don!

mem said...

Man, do you really think I should comment on a blog when you compared me to your worm-infested cat? And I'm the annoying one? Even Marv agreed with you, which you know is code for "uh-oh, the world is ending." I just didn't want to be here when it all happened.

Seriously, it's a killer topic. So huge. Lots to process and people to punch in the face with it. Good job.

Anonymous said...

I like it a lot! Wanna share on Face Blob but feel as though I must ask if you want it to be shared...it's not as though I have that many friends, though, being an NF. :)


Char said...

Well given that it was somehow volunteered for Rey's blog carnival by someone (hint: Rey), you posting it to your fb is not going to be much of a problem, Holly.

James, I bask in your resentment.

Mem and Marv, I'll deal with you later. >:(

Steve Allen said...

Wow, Char! That was extremely well put. And very Orthodox, if I may say so. :)

Char said...

Steve, do you think that saying it sounds orthodox will impress The Don? If so you might want to send him an email calling his attention to this excellent post.

There is a reason it's tagged "Athanasius". :)

Anonymous said...

"It also fails to take into account the effects of the fall on the human race-which has left us irreparably damaged and something less than fully human." Wow, interesting statement - I don't see how were less than fully human after the fall nor how we are irreparably damaged, at least not according to God.

Char said...

Read the post a few after this one. Better yet, read the book it comes from-On The Incarnation.

Also check the multiple scriptural texts it's extrapolated from. You thinking God shouldn't say that doesn't mean it isn't so.