July 03, 2011

Christological Conundrums

Dear Dr. Craig,

After reading "Question 99: Christ's Resurrection Body" and other pieces you've written on Christology, I have a few questions related to the field I find myself unable to answer, so I would be very grateful if you could perhaps shed some light on them.

1. In the Question of the Week I mentioned above, you say that although Christ still retains His human nature, it does not manifest itself corporeally because Christ now exists outside of the four-dimensional space-time continuum. You then use an analogy with a tuning fork in a vacuum to support this. However, this move raises a number of concerns for me. My first concern is that you have elsewhere expressed your agreement with the Chalcedonian Creed, which teaches that Christ's human nature was "composed of a rational soul and body." Given this definition, though, it seems logically incoherent to say that Christ retains His human nature outside of space-time. Why? Christ's human body, which is a part of His human nature, is inherently spatial and temporal; all the atoms, baryons, and elementary particles that make up Christ's body must occupy space and take up matter and undergo change at the subatomic level. But outside of space-time, elementary particles and temporal change do not exist, making it logically impossible for any spatial, material body like Christ's to exist there. Now, I suppose that if you take metaphysical time into account, the problem of Christ's body changing is not that troublesome, but the problem of a material body made up of mass-possessing, spatial elementary particles in a spaceless state of existence still remains. My second concern is that your take on this issue seems to contradict your own views on time, which are necessary for the success of the kalam cosmological argument. You say that Christ's human nature is no longer noticeable because Christ left our four-dimensional universe. Yet, doesn't the idea of a four-dimensional universe entail that Minkowski's interpretation of relativity is correct and that your preferred Neo-Lorentzian one is false? As I'm sure you realize, the Minkowskian interpretation entails a tenseless view of time, which defeats the second premise of the kalam cosmological argument. How would you resolve these prima facie contradictions?

2. You concur with the Chalcedonian Creed that Christ's human nature is composed of a rational human soul and a human body. But, this appears to pave a dangerous pathway to Nestorianism. Since Christ is a divine person that possessed a divine nature prior to His birth, then the addition of a human soul and body to the divine person means that Christ has two cognitive faculties, namely the divine person and the human soul. Since persons are simply the individualized conscious parts of a being and since the human soul is a person (I take it that you are a neo-Cartesian substance dualist), it would follow that Christ consists of two persons, a divine, pre-existing Logos and a created human soul (which is the religious equivalent of the philosophical "mind"). Additionally, if Christ's human nature includes a soul, then how are we to understand His death? Physical death is the separation of soul and body, but if Christ consists of two persons, then what's being separated? Did only Christ's divine nature separate from His human body and was the human soul left in the body? Or did only the human soul separate? Or did both separate from the body? If both were separated from the body, were the somehow conjoined together? It seems hard to see how immaterial persons could be conjoined together without comprising one being. Or did the divine person and the human soul further separate from each other? Where did each go? Did one descend into Hell while the other stayed behind? As you can see, this view of Christ's human nature raises a bewildering number of questions. Personally, I think it's easier to just re-define Christ's human nature as the human body only; then, His divine person would function like the soul would in all other people. Is this view biblical?

3. When talking to a skeptical friend of mine about how God can bypass the Second Law of Thermodynamics and thwart the heat death of the universe so that Christ will return, he responded that not even God could violate a law of physics because it wouldn't then really be a law. I tried correcting his definition of a physical law by saying that physical laws have built into them the assumption that intelligent agents will not intervene. He then replied that my re-definition was just an ad hoc attempt to save God because, according to him, there are no other instances in which intelligent agents other than God can bypass the laws of physics. So, he alleges, changing the definition of a physical law as I did begs the question in favor of theism because I must first assume that God is the exception to the rule that can bypass the laws of physics when this is the very thing in dispute. How might I reply this?

4. Finally, when Christ does return, Revelation indicates that He and the Father will rule in a new heavens and a new earth. Is the new heavens and new earth the same place we temporarily inhabit as souls prior to the resurrection of the dead at the Final Judgment? If so, it seems difficult to see how a spatial and temporal realm could contain immaterial and spaceless souls. Or, will God create the new heavens and new earth? Since the new heavens and new earth exist in space and time, how might they stand in relation to our current universe? Will they be within this universe? Or will they be in an entirely new universe?

I know I've asked a lot of questions, some of which are very difficult to confidently answer, but I hope that you can help me solve these problems.



United States

These are profound and difficult questions, Brandon, and probably the best that the systematic theologian can do is to offer possible answers to your questions that are biblically compatible and philosophically coherent. So let me try my hand at your questions.

1. It seems to me that Christ’s possessing a human nature in the time between his ascension and return does not necessitate his having a human body during that time, anymore than my possessing a human nature during the intermediate state between my death and resurrection requires that I have a body during that time. Someone whose body has been vaporized in an explosion, for example, has no body at all during the intermediate state, not even a dead one, yet he is still a human being. Why? Perhaps we could say that he is a human being because his soul was united with a human body. For that reason he is not an angelic being or some other sort of being. But we can say exactly the same about Christ in his ascended state. Moreover, as the tuning fork illustration makes clear, Christ’s human nature is not at all incomplete in such as state; it’s just that he’s not in the environment (namely spacetime) in which his human nature would manifest itself as a body.

As for your second concern, understand my use of “spacetime” or “four-dimensional spacetime manifold” as just a façon de parler. It’s like talking about the sunrise or sunset—literally false but colloquial ways of speaking. One can re-phrase what I mean by saying that Christ no longer exists in space.

2. It seems you’re not familiar with my proposed neo-Apollinarian Christology in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. It was crafted precisely because I think the usual model tends to Nestorianism for the reasons you mention. On the traditional model the human soul of Christ is not a person, which I find baffling. On my model the Logos, the Second Person of the Trinity, is the soul of Jesus Christ. By taking on a human body the Logos completed the human nature of Christ, making him a body/soul composite. So Christ has two complete natures, divine and human.

The death of Christ should be understood as the separation of his soul from his body. On my proposed model the Logos is separated from his body, but Christ retains his human nature in virtue of what I said above concerning why we remain human even after the destruction of our body (though in Christ’s case his body still existed; it was just lifeless).

You’re right that the traditional model raises a number of bewildering questions, which my model aims to solve. But we cannot move to your suggested model that Christ’s human nature was merely a hominid body and remain orthodox Christians. For on your suggested view Christ was not genuinely human, for he did not possess a complete human nature (just having a hominid body is not sufficient for being a human being). I think what you really want to say is what I’ve articulated and defended in Philosophical Foundations.

3. The laws of physics obviously presuppose that no supernatural agents are intervening in the natural processes described in the laws. This isn’t to say that any such agents exist, so it’s not begging the question in favor of theism. It’s just to say that the laws of nature take no cognizance of such beings. They describe what will happen given that the specified natural conditions obtain. They make no prediction whatsoever about what would happen were a god to interfere. So if there should happen to be a transcendent Creator of the universe who can causally intervene in its physical workings, then the Second Law just makes no predictions about what would happen in a given situation were He to causally intervene.

Now if your friend insists that the Second Law does predict what will happen no matter what, then the conclusion to draw is that it’s not a law! For a transcendent Creator could do things that the law fails to predict. Tant pis for the law (as the French would say)! The question then is, do we have any good reasons to think that such a powerful Creator of the universe exists, and my answer is, “You bet we do!”, and the debate is on! Absent some argument for atheism he just begs the question by assuming that the Second Law is a law in his strange sense.

4. No, I take it that the new heavens and earth will be a renovated, physical creation which is spatio-temporal, in contrast to the disembodied intermediate state. What is its relation to our universe? Well, I don’t think it stands in any spatial relation to it at all, but I’d say that it comes temporally after this universe and so will exist later than it. I take it that it will be an entirely new universe, as the old universe is done away with or transformed into the new, just as our earthly bodies are transformed into our resurrection bodies.

These are issues on which one cannot be dogmatic, Brandon, but I hope to have suggested answers that are at least plausible and biblical.