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Friday, December 23, 2011

God In Christ: A Brief Critique of J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig's Modified Apollinarian Christology

As many are aware, Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. But according to Christians, it is not simply about the birth of a great man of God who was a powerful prophet, insightful moral teacher, or a critic of hypocritical and oppressive religious leaders in Israel. Rather, we affirm that the birth of Jesus marked the very literal entrance of deity into humanity. When Jesus was born, the eternal Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, was born as a human being so that He could identify fully with us and redeem us. He became a man in order to live a life of perfect obedience to God the Father, ending in a sacrificial death on our behalf, followed by a triumphant bodily resurrection.

Christmas is, then, not merely the celebration of the birth of the man Jesus, but a celebration of the miraculous fact that God became man. This act of God in history is commonly referred to as the "Incarnation."

Ever since the First Advent of Christ, followers of Christ have debated and discussed the meaning, mechanics, and implications of this great miracle. To this very day, Christians who would place themselves within the realm of catholic orthodoxy (the set of beliefs held by all true Christians at all times) disagree on the details and implications of the Incarnation. Christian theologians and philosophers alike still talk about what it means that "God became a man." Among modern scholars, J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig represent respected Christian philosophers who have written on these things. In 2003, they published a large work called Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, which studies historical issues of philosophy from a Christian perspective, as well as attempts to provide philosophical defenses of distinctive Christian doctrines like the Trinity.

Among the latter discussion of distinctive Christian doctrines, they include a section on Christology--the nature of the person of Christ and His Incarnation. They first outline the basics of the historical issues that the Church has dealt with relating to Christology, then go on to propose a unique view of Christ that I find very interesting and creative in the way it solves some traditional problems of Christology. Nevertheless, I also find their view problematic for several reasons.

Let me first follow suit in outlining some of the historical background of the Christology debate. Then I will go on to explain and critique the view espoused by Moreland and Craig.

Early on, the Church believed that the man Jesus who had died and risen again was also the divine Son of God. This is reflected in the portions of the New Testament now recognized by scholars as having their origin in earlier hymns and traditional creeds passed down orally by the earliest church. One example is the Carmen Christi, or 'Hymn of Christ' recorded in Philippians 2:6-11, which reads "...who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus 'Every knee will bow', of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

In the centuries following the ascension of Christ, the church had to wrestle with just how it is that Jesus is both man and God--just what it meant that the One on whom their worship of the one true God of Israel was now focused had truly become man.

Two tendencies emerged, eventually resulting in two positions condemned as heresy by ecumenical councils of the Church.

On the one hand, there were those of more of an "Alexandrian," or "Logos-flesh" persuasion who argued for ways in which Jesus could have a single nature which merged the human and the divine. Their chief concern was how to maintain a truly united and single person of Christ, and their views are broadly referred to as varying types of "monophysitism." Among these proponents, the most prominent theologian was a man named Apollinarius. His view of Christ was that the Logos, the eternally divine and immaterial second Person of the Trinity, functioned as the mind or soul of Jesus. In other words, the eternal and divine Logos took the place of the "rational soul" connected with the human flesh belonging to Jesus of Nazareth. Apollinarius thought that it was impossible for Jesus to have both a complete divine nature and a complete human nature, as he argued that that would result in a mere "indwelling" short of a true incarnation.

The problem with Apollinarius' view is that it results in a truncation of human nature in Jesus, because it denies that Jesus has a human soul. Thus under that scheme Jesus neither fully assumed true human nature, nor could he have truly redeemed humanity on the cross as a covenant representative. Therefore this view was eventually condemned as heresy by the Church. Along with it, "monothelitism," the view that there is only one will in Christ (not a distinct human will and divine will), was also condemned.

On the other hand, there were proponents of an "Antiochene," or "Logos-man" perspective. They argued for the view that Jesus Christ possessed two complete natures, one divine and one human. This position, in contradistinction to "monophysitism," is called "dyophisitism," or "dyophisite" Christology. Of special concern to the dyophisite theologians was maintaining that Jesus possessed a truly human "rational soul" distinct from the divine nature. It is only in this way that Jesus can identify truly and fully with our human nature in the completeness of body and soul.

Eventually in dyophisite Christology, the name of a man called Nestorius became associated with the view that because there must be two complete natures in Christ, one human and one divine, that there must necessarily be two persons in Christ. The Church found this position inconsistent with biblical and intuitive data about the person of Christ and therefore also condemned it as heresy.

After several centuries of debating Christological doctrine, the Church finally came to some basic conclusions at the council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D. The members of this ecumenical council outlined some essential doctrinal limits on future Christological speculation that would seek to remain orthodox. They basically endorsed dyophisite Christology as discussed above, but also affirmed the necessity of confessing Jesus Christ as one undivided Person. They believed Jesus must possess two natures which neither mixed with each other nor were separated, but which were united together in the one Person of Christ, each nature retaining its distinct essential properties.

Here is a famous paragraph expounding the conclusions of the council:

"We...confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in mahood, truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body; consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the manhood, like us in all things except sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God according to the manhood, one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures without confusion, without change, without division, without separation, the difference of the natures being by no means taken away because of the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not divided or separated into two Persons, but one and the same Son and only-begotten God, Word, Lord Jesus Christ."

Some of the basic disagreements of the old controversy between monophysites and dyophisites resurfaced again, however, during the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation and the years following.

Lutherans tended (and still do to this day) to conceive of the two natures of Christ as distinct and complete in and of themselves (in basic agreement with Chalcedon), yet seeing the human nature of Christ being in such close union with the divine nature, being even "permeated" by it in some sense, that some attributes of the divine nature are communicated to the human nature. Luther took this concept, together with distinguishing several different senses in which a thing may be "in place," and came to understand something of what may be called the "ubiquity" of Christ's flesh. That is, according to Lutherans, there is a sense in which even Christ's human nature is able to be present in more than one restricted locality, for instance, present in multiple places where the Lord's Supper is being celebrated at once. Therefore Lutherans believe that even Christ's flesh is truly sacramentally united to the elements of the Lord's Supper such that communicants physically partake of Christ's body.

The Lutheran view seems problematic in its idea of the communication of attributes between the divine and human nature. After all, once human, creaturely nature begins to share in essential divine attributes, in what sense could it be said to still be truly human nature? The gap between the infinite being of the Creator and the contingent and limited being of the creature seems too wide to traverse in any ontological sense. Therefore critics of the Lutheran view see a real danger of it lapsing into a kind of monophysitism antithetical to Chalcedon.

Reformed, or more Calvinistic, theologians, differed with the Lutheran view. While they said that the hypostatic union of Jesus' two natures was even more intimate than the union between the soul and body of a normal human being, they sharply affirmed the necessity of maintaining the perpetual distinctness of Jesus' two natures such that neither ever shared any of the essential attributes of the other. So, for instance, Reformed theologians to this day deny any local presence of Jesus' flesh in physical connection with the elements of the Lord's Supper (although they still affirm the objective 'Real Presence' of the whole Person of Christ such that partakers relationally commune even with Jesus' human nature but only by the operation of the Holy Spirit and the omnipresent divine nature of Jesus received through faith, united forever to Jesus' humanity). The problem with the Reformed view of Jesus' two distinct natures, minds, and wills, is that it tends toward an extreme dyophisitism, inevitably bordering at times on a Nestorian view (two whole persons in Christ).

There are others, especially in the last couple of centuries, who have held to a kind of "kenotic" view of the incarnation of Christ, such that the meaning of Christ "emptying Himself" is to be interpreted as Christ somehow divesting Himself of His divine attributes when He enters into our humanity. There are different nuances within the views of specific proponents of broadly "kenotic" Christology, but the main problem with pretty much all the views is that they seem to imply that Jesus actually changed in His divine nature. Such an implication goes against almost all traditional Christian philosophy of theism, the biblical data on divine immutability, and the biblical data on the deity of the incarnate Christ. Therefore truly kenotic views are not really options for faithful Bible-believing Christians.

Where is the Church to go from here, then? It seems one must either affirm some kind of unity of the natures of Christ that is so "of a piece" that it mixes or obliterates the distinctions between the two natures, or one must end up at least implicitly affirming the reality of two complete persons in Christ--one divine, one human.

It seems William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland have come up with an interesting alternative to traditional Lutheran and Reformed Christologies. It is very creative and effectively solves some important problems of Christology; nevertheless, I'm afraid it comes up short in some highly significant ways, and cannot be consistently maintained as an orthodox option.

I regard the two men as faithful evangelical Christian scholars with great minds for philosophy, from whom I have learned much about epistemology and other issues of Christian apologetics and philosophy. So I hope what I offer here is a charitable critique. I don't believe either of these men are heretics; no fallible human theologian is fully self-consistent, or else every theologian would be a heretic! For the smallest mistakes in their premises would lead to very, very bad conclusions. So here I only hope to point out inconsistency and unavoidable heretical implications of their Christology, not that their view as they themselves present it is inherently heretical.

One other note: I'm not actually even 100% sure that both men agree at every point in their book. For simplicity's sake I just assume that they wrote the Christology section of their book together and are in basic agreement with each other. I suppose I should also say that I do not know for certain that they hold the same view today as they did back in 2003. So again, for simplicity's sake (and because a very brief investigation of online articles revealed no change in their view), I am assuming that they still hold a similar view today.

Craig and Moreland affirm three basic points in the outlining of their Christology.

1) They affirm the limits of Chalcedon as orthodoxy. They believe that Christ has one "individual essence" and two "kind essences" (one united person and two distinct natures).

2) They postulate together with Apollinarius that the eternal Logos functions as the "rational soul" of Jesus. They actually believe that Apollinarius may have been misunderstood, and that what he was really getting at was that the Logos exemplified perfect human personhood as an archetypal man minus the human flesh. Thus, the "human nature" of Jesus was completed only and precisely by the union of the Logos with Jesus' human flesh. They argue that there is biblical support for understanding the Logos as possessing all the qualities of perfect human personhood in the doctrine of the creation of man in the imago Dei, or the "image of God." They escape the charge made against the condemned version of Apollinarianism because in their view Jesus truly has a "human" soul...that soul just happens to be more than a human soul. It is consubstantial with all the eternal divinity of the Logos, and all the human aspects of that Logos become for Jesus the immaterial human soul connected with His flesh. Therefore the union of the Logos with mere human flesh is sufficient to constitute true humanity and Jesus can identify fully with us.

They claim this "rehabilitation" of Apollinarius' view illuminates the doctrine that came to be known as "enhypostasia," the teaching that Jesus' human nature only receives subsistence from its union with the Logos. That is, not just any human person could have been the incarnate Son of God. Jesus' human nature only becomes hypostatic in union with the eternal Logos. There could not have been a "Jesus" the Son of God walking around apart from the Logos, even if he possessed a complete human nature of body and soul and was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Craig and Moreland claim that enhypostasia may be incoherent apart from something like their Christological model.

3) They believe the divine aspects of the Logos were voluntarily made largely "subliminal" or "subconscious" during Jesus' humiliation (the period of time spanning mainly from His birth to His death and burial). They appeal to depth psychology--psychoanalytic approaches to therapy and research that take the unconscious into account. In this way, they attempt to preserve Jesus' true human experience, identifying Himself fully with the weakness of our finitude, despite the fact that His soul, or the immaterial component of His humanity, is the divine Logos. And they speak of these "subliminal" divine attributes and abilities coming to the surface in Jesus' life recorded in the gospels, for example, in His performance of miracles or times when He exhibited supernatural knowledge beyond that acquired by normal human means.

They admit that this view of Christ implies monothelitism (one will). But because of their view of the Logos as exemplifying nothing less than perfect human personhood minus a physical body, the theological charge against monothelitism leading to its historical condemnation is considered vitiated. Also, in response to one who would point to Jesus' prayer in the garden of Gethsemane before His arrest (a prayer that the Father's will, not His own, be done), as a counterexample of monothelitism, Craig and Moreland seem to want to say that the distinction of wills made here is not between a human mind and divine mind in Jesus, but between the Father's will and the Logos' will as incarnated and subjected to human weakness, the essentially divine attributes of the Logos being made more subliminal, and the independent use of such not being made available to Jesus' human nature during His state of humiliation. After all, Jesus was obviously not praying to Himself, but to the Father.

What shall we say by way of critique, then? I have three overlapping points to make about why I think this model of the nature of Christ is too problematic to accept.

First of all, the Logos cannot function as the human soul of Jesus because even if there is a sense in which the reason humans are said to be made "in the image of God" is that there is an analogical likeness to the being of the Logos, the Logos Himself nevertheless is an infinite and divine ontological unity. There simply is no way to parse out truly "human" aspects of the Logos and say that that is what constitutes the immaterial side of Jesus' humanity.

Second, saying that the divine attributes of the Logos were largely "subliminal" or "subconscious" during Jesus' humiliation does not offer much of a solution to the first problem, not least of all because it still cannot posit a truly human and finite ontological status to Jesus' soul. Another problem, however, is that true humanity includes a truly human subconscious or subliminal mental life. That subconscious aspect of human nature cannot be replaced by a set of divine attributes--or consciousness of divine attributes--or else human nature is compromised. And if Craig and Moreland wanted to posit a duality in the subconscious life of Christ, such that there was divinity or consciousness of divinity there as well as the normal human subconscious mind, I suppose that could help their case. But it would be very strange, indeed, and it may even be incoherent insofar as the human subconscious would seem to have to be in direct contact with the subliminal divine consciousness, compromising the limitedness of human subconscious knowledge, etc.

Third, on Craig and Moreland's proposed model, Christ's atoning work on the cross would not seem to be possible. There are several reasons for this. First of all, at a fundamental level, once the criticisms laid out thus far have been established, Jesus' human nature is seen as being compromised and He can therefore not identify fully with humanity as a head covenant representative, especially in becoming a substitute sacrifice on the cross. Their Christology lapses quickly into monophysitism; Jesus no longer has both a divine and a human nature, but rather a divine nature with human flesh, and the old charges against historical Apollinarianism hold.

There is another problem related to the atonement on Craig and Moreland's model, though, as well. According to a traditional penal substitutionary understanding of the atonement (which I believe is demonstrably biblical), Jesus undergoes physical and spiritual death according to His human nature. He bore in His body and soul the full wrath of the curse of God's Law against our sin, including physical death and full relational estrangement from blessed fellowship and spiritual communion with God.

In the case of this modified Apollinarian Christology offered by Craig and Moreland, though, how is this kind of atonement possible? Jesus would have no truly human soul to be spiritually estranged from God or to bear the wrath of God against human sin; there would necessarily either be an ontological and relational breach in the immanent Trinity between the Father and the Logos-Son, or we would have to understand the expression of divine wrath which fell on Christ for us as being restricted to the physical death of Jesus--the separation of soul and body and the cessation of bodily animation.

The former option is extraordinarily problematic because even though there is an anthropomorphic/analogical (nevertheless real) sense in which God can suffer in contingent covenantal relationship to us (for example, in the grieving of the Spirit by our sin), there is no biblical or logical way in which deity itself can ontologically or metaphysically suffer as we do, change as we do, or die. Therefore the eternal divine Logos can never be immanently divided from the rest of the Godhead or suffer the wrath of the curse of divine Law against sin as Jesus is said to have done on the cross.

The latter option is just as problematic because the wrath of God against sin--the covenant curses of His Law--involve more than physical death. As we see in the case of the eternal fate of the wicked described in places like the final judgment passages of Revelation, the punishment for sin is not only the introduction of physical death into the world, but also the administration of what is called the "second death." In Jesus' teaching on Gehenna, the fate of the wicked is an utter ruination of both body and soul that is of an eternal quality (an eternal duration for sinners, and of an eternal worth for Christ given His identity as the sinless and divine Son of God). This is the ultimate punishment for sin that Jesus must be understood as undergoing in His human nature on the cross if He is to atone for sinful human beings, and it cannot fit within Craig and Moreland's Christological scheme.

In sum then, even though Craig and Moreland's proposal--a modification (or perhaps "clarification") of Apollinarianism--provides unique conceptual solutions to traditional Christological problems like how to affirm both enhypostasis and a truly dyophisite incarnation (one person of Christ with two natures), or how to avoid letting belief in two complete and distinct natures in Christ lapse into belief in multiple persons in Christ, the proposal presents far weightier problems than it solves.

It fails to provide the incarnate Christ with a truly human "rational soul." It fails to provide Jesus with a truly human and finite subconscious mind. And it fails to account for the reality of the atonement, where the atonement is understood as Christ bearing the wrath of God against human sinners and suffering both physical and spiritual death according to the human nature.

What of Jesus' miracles during His earthly ministry? Are they not the result of Jesus' latent divine nature springing up occasionally into the volition and power of His humanity? That's hardly a necessary conception of Jesus' miracles. As God's eschatological prophet who would come and fulfill all the Law and the Prophets, Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit and in His human nature depended on the empowerment and illumination of the Holy Spirit throughout the course of His humiliation, just as any other human being would have to. And what of the garden of Gethsemane? Craig and Moreland are right to point out that, with personhood in view, Jesus' human nature was not praying to Jesus' divine nature. Jesus was indeed praying to the Father. However, in defense of dyothelitism (two wills in Jesus), we may respond by pointing out that there is no possible way Jesus' divine nature possessed a will different than that of the Father's own divine nature, as both are eternal, omniscient, and omnipotent. It was only Jesus' truly human soul which in its limitedness and weakness had come to tremble at the prospect of Golgotha and the pending events which were to transpire there in a few short hours.

Whereas Lutheran tendencies toward monophysitism result in essentially divinizing Jesus' flesh (if not also His human soul), Craig and Moreland's tendency toward another kind of monophysitism logically end up at least divinizing Jesus' human soul, still compromising His humanity in an important way.

While some questions remain unanswered, not least of which how two complete natures including distinct minds could ever be united in a single "person," it seems we must continue to affirm with Reformed theologians a traditional dyophisitism that is ever so careful to keep the two natures of Christ eternally distinct from one another with regard to their essential properties, even when intimately united in the one Person of Christ. For it is only through the truth and reality of this doctrine, established long ago by our wise fathers at the council of Chalcedon, that the eternal Son of God could have come, been born of a woman, grown, lived in true dependence on the Father and the Spirit, died an atoning death for sinners, risen again from the dead victorious over human death, and can stand offering prayers of intercession for us today before the Father in heaven, as our truly human High Priest and immortal Savior.

Merry Christmas and worthy is the Lamb forever!

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