Pastor-theologian Greg Boyd has been theologizing about the Incarnation recently. He tips his hand right at the start – he’s going kenoticist.
Boyd’s reasoning, I think, can be illustrated like this. Consider this inconsistent triad:
- A fully divine being is essentially omniscient.
- A human being is not essentially omniscient.
- A fully divine being can be a human being.
- Why believe 1? Perfect being theology, and arguably, what the Bible reveals about God.
- Why believe 2? Any human being, it seems, is capable of some degree of ignorance, and so failing to be omniscient. Note that you can affirm 2 and believe that some human actually is omniscient. What 2 says is that a human can’t be essentilly omniscient – such that necessarily, at all times he or she exists, he or she knows all.
- Why believe 3? The catholic tradition of Incarnation theory, as famously proclaimed at Chalcedon (451).
Boyd thinks 2 is obvious. (I agree.) And he realizes it’s unreasonable to simply declare this a mystery. So, committed to 3, he denies 1. Basically, he revises his understanding of divinity, of what it is to be a monotheistic god, for the sake of incarnation theory. Phoey on perfect being theology.
In my view, this is a bad move. (Also, literally no one made this theological move until the 19th c. – which should worry us a little.) But let me press on.
In his second post, he says a little about why he’s so committed to 3, that he’ll deny 1 because of it.
[Incarnation] doctrine alone is what allows us to claim that God’s eternal nature is revealed in the unsurpassable love that was demonstrated on the cross (I Jn 3:16). If the one who died a human death on the cross was something less than God, then God is something less than unsurpassable love.
- A being should be worshiped only if it is identical to God.
- Jesus should be worshiped.
- Therefore, Jesus is God. (1, 2)
A valid argument to be sure. But the conclusion is obviously false, for Jesus and God have differed – on my view, yes, but also on Boyd’s too, or any Christian’s. Whether by “God” you mean the triune God, or (as in the NT) the Father, either way, Jesus has differed from that, and so ain’t that. But Jesus is clearly held out in the NT as an object of worship. So we must deny 1, on the basis of the NT. The Sabbath rule doesn’t hold for us Christians, and neither does 1. It is God who has now exalted him.
I will pass over the rest of Boyd’s case – that Jesus is called “Lord,” is a creator, judge, is called “alpha and omega,” may be prayed to – simply because it doesn’t follow from any of those things (granting them all) either that Jesus is God himself, or that he’s fully divine, or that he’s one-third of the Trinity.
Like many evangelicals, though, Boyd seems to have in mind the first interpretation – that Jesus is numerically identical to God, that he just is God himself.
…by referring to himself as the “I am,” he’s identifying himself with Yahweh who spoke to Moses out of the burning bush saying, “ I am that I am” (Ex. 3:14). His Jewish audience understood exactly what he was claiming for himself, for they immediately picked up stones to stone him for blasphemy (Jn 8:59).
“Fully God” for Boyd, then, seems to mean “is numerically identical to God.” (This is true for many American evangelicals, in my experience.) He thinks this is what the ancient catholic bishops affirmed at Chalcedon… but I’m not so sure! And Boyd agrees – he says in his third post, as many have said, that the Chalcedon document doesn’t really set forth any clear claim about the Incarnation, but only marks boundaries, as it were – tells us things we can’t say about it. Well, the claim that Jesus just is God is perfectly clear, and goes far beyond mere boundary-setting.
Anyway, such a claim is plainly mistaken. If it doesn’t seem self-evident to you that this is false: Jesus just is (is numerically identical to) God yet Jesus has differed from God – I invite you to think a little about the indiscernibility of identicals. Basically, you’re saying that one thing can at one time be and not be a certain way! Having the sense God gave you, you know that any such claim is false. Yes, even in theology.
In his third post Boyd says,
The way most theologians in the church tradition have done this, at least as it concerns the question of Jesus’ knowledge, is often called a “two minds Christology.”
To be honest, I have always had trouble rendering this view coherent. It requires us to imagine that Jesus was aware of what was happening with every molecule on every planet in the universe even while he was a zygote in the womb of Mary. And it requires that we imagine this while also affirming that, as a fully human zygote, Jesus was completely devoid of any awareness. Is this a legitimate paradox or an unacceptable contradiction? One could easily argue the latter.
Boyd has a point here – a “mind” in much modern philosophy is a just a self, a thinker, a thinking thing, a person. Jesus is just one of those. (We can’t take the two “natures” to be so many selves.) But then, he can’t, at one time, know all, and not know all – that is a clear contradiction, and so plainly false.
That’s right. But in “two minds” theories of the Incarnation ala Swinburne or Morris, a “mind” is not a self, but rather a power, a faculty of a self. The theory is that the Incarnate Logos (=Jesus) can think in two ways – he has two, somehow separate, sets of beliefs and desires and other mental attitudes. They think the divine mind has perfect access to the human one, but not vice versa. Such theories have their problems – the biggest of which are probably that this is not all the tradition meant to assert (a complaint raised by Boyd’s colleague Tom Belt here), and that they can’t get rid of all the apparent incompatibilities between humanity and divinity. See, e.g. Hick’s discussion of such theories here. (He also has interesting discussion and criticisms of kenosis theories.) Or see Richard Cross’s excellent chapter here.