Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Taking the Mystery Out of the Incarnation? Not Recommended.

This is interesting . . .

With all due respect to Dr. Moreland, there are some problems here.

First, on the positive side, and in agreement with Dr. Moreland, we must affirm that Scripture's propositions are ultimately logically coherent. No problem there. However, Moreland's exaltation of human reason is unhelpful. To affirm that God is logical is not equal to affirming that we can discover the logic by which God knows the Truth to be coherent. This claim would be the height of arrogance.

Next, the Church Fathers were NOT so committed to logic that they worked for 400 years to give us a non-contradictory result. They were so committed to Scripture that they worked for 400 years to give us a paradoxical result! That is, a result which might appear contradictory to us, and surely defies the limitations of human logic, but is nonetheless true.

During the 400 years prior to Chalcedon, there were plenty of "logical" approaches offered:
Docetism - taught that Christ only appeared to be man
Ebionism - taught that Christ was a holy man who kept the law
Sabellianism - taught that Christ was the Father incarnate, but only temporarily
Paul of Samosata - taught that Christ was a mere man influenced by God
Arianism - taught that Christ was more than man but less than God
Apollinarianism - taught that Christ was a compromise mixture of divinity and humanity
Nestorianism - taught that Christ was two persons, one divine and the other human
Eutychianism - taught that Christ's humanity was simply absorbed into His deity
(See Martin Bleby, The Incarnation of the Son of God, p. 19) 
None of these "logical" approaches were willing to go the whole way and affirm what is undeniably taught in Scripture. Each of them was correctly labeled heresy as a result!

Then there was the Council of Chalcedon, which concluded that Christ was ONE PERSON with TWO NATURES, the one nature divine and the other human, and that these two natures now coexist perfectly (and we might add "unfathomably") in the ONE PERSON. There is a certain logic to this, to be sure, but endless truckloads of mystery as well!

Moreland ignores the fact that there are ways in which the logical faith we profess might appear, to us, to be illogical. He pays no attention to the next obvious question: How can this One Person with two natures be both Creator and creature, omniscient and ignorant, omnipresent and localized, omnipotent and powerless, at the very same time? Any attempt to gut the paradoxicality from the doctrine of the Incarnation is shortsighted and doomed to be unsuccessful. Read over the Definition of Chalcedon once or twice, and see if Moreland's rationalistic assumptions are supported there:
Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us. (Definition of Chalcedon, 451 A.D.)
The Church Fathers who arrived at these conclusions were obviously not rationalists trying to explain their statements in a way that could never be perceived as paradoxical. They boldly exalted the Word of God above human logic. Today's apologists ought to do the same, without hesitation.

Moreland seems to be trying to paint Christian faith in a way that will appeal to rationalists. He attempts to convince them of the truth of Christianity while leaving their unchristian presuppositions intact. Instead, he ought to call them to humble themselves in admitting that there are truths which their best logic will never fully grasp. He should counsel them to repent of their rationalism and hold fast to the words of their Creator. This is their only hope, after all.

Bearing in mind that Moreland is a philosopher by trade, I applaud his willingness to go out and act as an apologist for the faith, address difficult questions, engage with those who are hostile to Christianity, and generally promote an orthodox viewpoint. At the same time, he should not allow the pressures of debate to skew his presentation.

In our estimation, the approach taken by Geoffrey Bingham is much wiser, though far less satisfying to the idolization of logic which is ever present in human hearts:

What has always been difficult to understand is how the deity
and the humanity of the Son subsist in the one person Of Jesus
Christ. Understanding is difficult because we have no precedent
in human history, and no parallel in creation. When it comes to
the work of Christ, we must affirm two things clearly:  
(a) all that the Son did upon earth, he did as man. That is– as is
indicated in Acts 10:38, Matthew 12:28 and similar passages–he
was anointed with the Holy Spirit and power, and so did the
works given to him to do;
(b) whilst not effecting these works from the resources of his
own deity, he was nevertheless Emmanuel, i.e. ‘God–with–us’, or
‘God–become–man’. We might wish to refer to the  kenosis  of
Philippians 2:5–8 (i.e. his self–emptying), as a setting aside of the
prerogatives and powers of his deity, but these must certainly
have continued as he still had to uphold the creation (Col. 1:17;
Heb. 1:3).  
Since we do not understand how deity and humanity exist
together, we must remain agnostic on that score. We must
emphasise, however, that he was  truly man, and not merely the
appearance (or charade) of a man.
(Things We Firmly Believe, pp. 57-58)
Let us therefore hold fast to the ever-paradoxical Truth of the Incarnation of the Son of God. Let us not attempt to re-frame it in more palatable terms for the sake of impressing logic-worshipers. Let us adore and worship the eternal LOGOS of God, who is beyond us, above us, and--thanks to the incredible Incarnation--WITH US!

Dear friends, have a very Merry Christmas.

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