Kenoticism

Steve Holmes evaluates McCormack’s TF Torrance Lectures

After posting his four reflections, Steve Holmes (who is obviously not lecturing this week and so has more time to devote to blogdom) now stands back and asks, ‘How to evaluate McCormack’s novel account of kenosis?’ He writes:

On trinity: ‘… it seems to me that [McCormack’s] basic position is securely orthodox, certainly much more so than all of the recent theology that, misled by the word ‘Person’, insists on finding three instances of many or most divine properties (will; operation; knowledge; …) within the Godhead.’

On creation: ‘If there is a criticism which is in danger of sticking, I think it is to do with creation.’

On kenosis: ‘McCormack’s account of kenosis is, or at least could easily be rendered, orthodox. Is it, however, compelling? Alongside the constructive work in these lectures was a line of critique of classical Christology which established the need for the fresh construction. Simply and bluntly, I found this critique unconvincing. It was, in essence, Herrmann’s critique of metaphysics: the problem with Christology prior to Schleiermacher was its investment in certain metaphysical commitments that were alien to the gospel. This led to irreconcilable tensions, in patristic Christology, which only Cyril’s (supposed) Origenism allowed him to escape, and throughout the tradition into the nineteenth century, with the incompatibility of the anhypostasia and dithelitism coming to the fore. It is these metaphysical commitments, giving rise to the tensions they do, that drive the need for a revisionist Christology … I don’t feel the pressure that is driving Bruce.’

Full post here.

Bruce McCormack’s TF Torrance Lectures – Lecture 4

Steve Holmes has posted his fourth reflection of McCormack’s recent TF Torrance lectures at St Andrews. He writes of Bruce’s proposal:

Let me approach it like this: it is a standard thesis of classical theology that God’s being is His act; further, God’s act is single, and simple. This is, of course, already a problem, at least if one wants to continue to maintain that God’s existence is independent of the created order: St Thomas devotes considerable ingenuity to explaining how God’s act of creation can happen without any change in God (1a q.45 arts 2 &3). When Barth brings the doctrine of election into the doctrine of God (it is treated in the second part-volume of vol. II, not the first of vol. III), and links election closely to incarnation, the problem becomes acute. However, the gains of Barth’s novel doctrine of election are sufficiently obvious that almost every serious (Protestant) theological proposal of the second half of the twentieth century chose to face the problems, rather than lose the gains.

In general, and in one way or another, the problems were eliminated in the later twentieth century by the simple expedient of losing the axiom of impassibility, properly understood: if God’s life is allowed to be dependent on creation, there is no problem. The single greatest merit of Bruce’s proposal, it seems to me, is that he is not prepared to play this game. Instead, he develops a novel account of kenosis.

Read the full post here. I have linked to all of Steve’s notes here, and I hope to post my notes from these lectures sometime soon.

Also, around the traps …

  • Locke and Mill both believed in being open to the other side’s ideas. Read here.
  • Andy and Jim (part 1; part 2) have both posted reviews on Rob Warner’s, Re-inventing English Evangelicalism 1966-2001: A Theological and Sociological Study
  • Barry Smith of Birkbeck College London gives a lucid account of Wittgenstein’s conception of Philosophy in this MP3.
  • Stanley Fish asks, ‘Will the humanities save us?’. He concludes:

Teachers of literature and philosophy are competent in a subject, not in a ministry. It is not the business of the humanities to save us, no more than it is their business to bring revenue to a state or a university. What then do they do? They don’t do anything, if by “do” is meant bring about effects in the world. And if they don’t bring about effects in the world they cannot be justified except in relation to the pleasure they give to those who enjoy them.

    To the question “of what use are the humanities?”, the only honest answer is none whatsoever. And it is an answer that brings honor to its subject. Justification, after all, confers value on an activity from a perspective outside its performance. An activity that cannot be justified is an activity that refuses to regard itself as instrumental to some larger good. The humanities are their own good. There is nothing more to say, and anything that is said … diminishes the object of its supposed praise.

    HR Mackintosh, ‘The Person of Jesus Christ’: A Review

    Scotland has produced a fair share of weighty theologians, and Paisley-born Hugh Ross Mackintosh (1870-1936) is among her best. From 1904 to 1936 he served as Professor of Systematic Theology at New College (TF Torrance took his systemetics class during 1935-36), where he himself was formerly a student. Between his student days and his teaching days, Mackintosh served churches in Largs (1896-1897), Tayport (1897-1901) and Aberdeen (1901-1904), and also spent time in Freiburg, Halle and Marburg, where he befriended the great Wilhelm Herrmann. Mackintosh’ most significant work was The Person of Jesus Christ (republished in 2000 by T&T Clark) in which he closely followed PT Forsyth’s kenoticism (still, to my mind, the most compelling presentation of the doctrine; though I am awaiting the full exposition of McCormack’s kenoticism). He also penned Christian Experience of Forgiveness, a brilliant work which creatively restates the doctrines of justification and atonement, urging that justification is forgiveness and that the cross is forgiveness’ cost to God.

    Discerning Reader has recently published the following review of his The Person of Jesus Christ:

    ‘Locating a Christology book that is both solidly doctrinal and warmly devotional is rare, but The Person of Jesus Christ by Hugh Ross Mackintosh rewards on both counts. It is at once an exposition of the figure of Christ as God and man, and a celebration of Christ himself. Originally delivered as a series of lectures at Christian student meetings in 1912, Mackintosh’s lectures give the impression of being more of a personal meditation on the person and work of Jesus Christ than a scholarly paper devoid of any emotion. This is an advantage, as it is doubtful a lesser work would have lasted in print these almost one hundred years since its first publication.

    An eminent scholar in his own right, in our time Mackintosh has been obscured by his considerably more famous pupil, Thomas F. Torrance. Fittingly, Torrance has written an introduction as a postscript appreciation for T&T Clark’s reissue of this worthy little work. In the introduction, Torrance iterates the value of Mackintosh’s book, explains how it came to be published, and briefly outlines the control center of Mackintosh’s theology, the atonement. Mackintosh himself called the atonement “the subduing magnitude of the Divine sacrifice.” It should be noted that ‘subduing’ is a word frequently deployed in this short book; one gets the distinct sense that Mackintosh was often rightly overcome by the enormity of his subject matter.

    The main body of the work sets out “to contemplate the Lord Jesus Christ reverently in … his attitude to men in Palestine … as he still speaks and lives within human souls … [and] to indicate his connexion with the inner life of God.” No problems are more sublime, Mackintosh says, and no problems are so intensely practical. Here is a professor who sought not to live in the ivory tower, but to commune with Christ and his fellowmen in the highways and byways of life.

    Every section is simply beautifully crafted. Only one page into the work, I was struck by the way Mackintosh sets up the confluence of the Father and the Son: Jesus “cannot think of himself without thinking also of God who sent him and who is perpetually with him … I am he, he said; I am the Sent of God, in whom every promise is answered and every human prayer fulfilled.” Mackintosh goes on to investigate Christ’s claims to Messiahship, his forgiveness of sins, his miracle-working, and the meaning of his sufferings.

    The second section opens by considering Christ in light of our experience of him as Christians: “in many instances … Christ has transformed [our] lives. Men and women like ourselves have been re-created by his influence, changed in the depths and inmost secrets of being. In every man that change takes a different, because a personal, shape. His redemption is as original and individual a fact as the colour of his eyes. Each rising sun, touching the wing of sleeping birds, wakes over the woods a fresh burst of melody, as if the sun had never risen before; and just so, wherever a man finds and grasps redemption, faith in the heart is a new creation, as if he were the first to discover Jesus.” As if the second section needed anything more to commend it after that stunning turn of phrase, Mackintosh later provides food for thought by distinguishing “between a merely past and a present Christ, when we have the courage to ask, not only what we think of him, but what he thinks of us. For that is to bring the question under the light of conscience, with the result that his actual moral supremacy, his piercing judgment of our lives, now becomes the one absorbing fact. His eyes seem to follow us, like those of a great portrait. When men accept or reject him, they do so to his face.”

    Finally, Mackintosh explores Christ’s role “in the relationship of God to man which no other can ever fill.” In this section, Mackintosh propounds an understanding of God’s majesty and holiness that is not in the least at odds with Divine Love, and ends with a gospel call of Christ’s lordship over all of life. His admiring student T.F. Torrance rounds out the book with an appreciation essay originally published in the Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology thirty years after Mackintosh’s death. In it, Torrance continues to grind away at the reality of Christ in Mackintosh’s life and thought, and traces the intellectual genealogy of Mackintosh’s theology. Most winsomely, Torrance paints a vivid picture of a sixty-five year-old Mackintosh entering the classroom, brow still furrowed from pondering the intricacies of the person and work of Jesus Christ.

    Besides the extraordinary writing craft Mackintosh obviously possessed, two other things stood out in this book. Firstly, that Mackintosh was a friend of Wilhelm Hermann, the liberal theologian who had an early influence on J. Gresham Machen. Like Machen, Mackintosh was able to distill genuine Christological insights out of Hermann’s liberalism. And although he would often publicly disagree with Hermann’s theological positions, ad hominem attacks had no place in Mackintosh’s vocabulary. Secondly, I was struck by a seemingly different historical picture than I learned in high school and university. I had always understood the years leading up to World War I in terms of fin de siècle ennui (industrial-age world-weariness) but here is a professor of the period describing what he identifies as a then-contemporary fascination with the figure of Jesus Christ, both as a historical figure and a Savior.

    The Person of Jesus Christ is simply one of the best books I have read all year. As C.S. Lewis admonishes us, we should be reading at least two to three books written by dead authors to every book written by a current author. This little gem, as Torrance calls it, is worth the money spent. The passion and wisdom of this bygone, departed Scottish professor belongs on your bookshelf.’

    Kenoticism

    ‘And thus we shall have to posit the incarnation itself precisely in the fact that he, the eternal Son of God, the second person of the deity, gave himself over into the form of human limitation, and thereby to the limits of a spatio-temporal existence, under the conditions of a human development, in the bounds of an historical concrete being, in order to live in and through our nature the life of our race in the fullest sense of the word, without on that account ceasing to be God. Only so does there occur an actual entrance into humanity, an actual becoming-one with it, a becoming-man of God; and only so does there result that historical person of the mediator which we know to be the God-man’. – Gottfried Thomasius, ‘Christ’s Person and Work. Part II: The Person of the Mediator’, in God and Incarnation in Mid-Nineteenth Century German Theology (ed. Claude Welch; A Library of Protestant Thought; New York: Oxford University Press, 1965), 48.

    O where, o where have all the good kenoticists gone? Christology needs them now more than ever.