W.H. Vanstone

A love which overflows from fullness

The Incarnation: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Incarnation of the Son of God (edited by Stephen T. Davis, Daniel Kendall and Gerald O’Collins) is a fascinating collection of essays from a theologically and ecumenically diverse group of scholars, including  NT Wright, Gordon Fee, Jean-Noël Aletti, Sarah Coakley, Stephen T. Davis, David Brown, and others. It also includes a piece by C. Stephen Evans in which he defends a brand of kenoticism, convinced (rightly in my view) that some form of kenotic christology does most justice to the NT’s accounts of Jesus and that it is possible to provide an account of kenoticism that does not in any way abrogate the claims of Chalcedonian orthodoxy. This is precisely what Evans sets out to do in this essay.

In conversation with Stephen Davis, Ronald Feenstra and Richard Swinburne (why does he go there?), Evans proposes that God’s gracious decision to enflesh – because it is a decision fully laden with soteriological intent – is necessarily best understood as a decision to assume certain limitations. This is the shape of love. Along the way, Evans cites this beautiful passage from W.H. Vanstone, among whose many further contributions, as Jim Gordon reminded us some years back, was to ‘sell the vicarage furniture to pay for the repair of the church roof!’ (Paul Fromont also posted some good stuff from Vanstone some time back). Anyway, enough waffle, here’s the quote:

‘Trinitarian theology asserts that God’s love for his creation is not the love that is born of ‘emptiness’ … It is the love which overflows from fullness. Its analogue is the love of a family who, united in mutual love, take an orphan into the home. They do so not out of need but in the pure spontaneity of their own triumphant love. Nevertheless, in the weeks that follow, the family, once complete in itself, comes to need the newcomer. Without him the circle is now incomplete; his absence now causes anxiety: his waywardness brings concern; his goodness and happiness are necessary to those who have come to love him; upon his response depends the triumph or the tragedy of the family’s love … Love has surrendered its triumphant self-sufficiency and created its own need. This is the supreme illustration of love’s self-giving or self-emptying – that it should surrender its fullness and create in itself the emptiness of need. Of such a nature is the Kenosis of God – the self-emptying of Him Who is already in every way fulfilled’. – William Hubert Vanstone, Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense: The Response of Being to the Love of God (London: Darton, Longman, and Todd, 1977), 69.