October 25, 2015
Was Christ a Contingent Being?
Dear Dr. Craig,
Thank you for all your work in Christian Philosophy and Apologetics as it has influenced my walk with Christ tremendously. You're the reason I have decided to study Philosophy at my college (Miami University of Ohio to be exact!).
My question for you concerns your proposed model of the Incarnation. The model you propose agrees with the principle "That which is not assumed is not saved." So, The Logos assumes a human nature and all that that entails. But, I'm a bit puzzled because it seems to me that an essential part of being human is also to be contingent. It is literally apart of the very essence of a human to be contingent. If this is true then it seems that Christ must also assume a contingency in order to redeem us since that too is apart of "That which is not assumed is not saved." But, this obviously seems incompatible with the nature of God which is to be necessary. So, how exactly does the Logos assume contingency? My initial thoughts are that the contingency that He assumes is the physical body of Jesus. That body is contingent but the soul of the Jesus isn't. This seems to me to be a weak explanation though since our souls are contingent as well. It would seem that the Logos would also have to assume a contingent soul as well (which is incompatible with your model because your model maintains that the soul of Jesus just was the Logos) since to be human seems to be contingent in every aspect of ourselves including our souls. How do you deal with this question?
Also, as a side note, I'm struggling to really understand the role of philosophical theology or apologetics in my life. In questions like these, I can rest assured that even if I don't have a proper answer to the problem then I am ok to rest in the Holy Spirit's direct witness to me that Jesus still was God and that He still died on a cross for my sins and still rose from the dead. It seems to me that the inner witness of God's Spirit here abolishes going forward in studying such a question out. It's as if when faced with objections I can always respond "Christianity is still true. The Bible declares these truths and so there's no need to worry." Like, why not use this kind of response to any old objection I face? "Just believe scripture and don't bother reasoning about such trivial matters God didn't decide to reveal to us!" This just seems to me to halt the apologetic and philosophical task in Christianity. What are your thoughts?
It seems to me that the key to your question, Austin, is keeping clearly in mind the distinction between the person of Christ and the human nature of Christ. The person Jesus Christ is the second person of the Trinity and therefore divine. Medieval theologians were therefore careful to refer to the incarnate Christ as a divine person, not as a human person. To suggest that there is a human person Jesus Christ is to divide the person of Christ and to fall into the error of Nestorianism, thinking that there are two persons, one human and one divine. No, Christ is one person, and that person is divine. As such, he has all the attributes of deity, including necessary existence.
But that one person has, in virtue of the incarnation, two natures, one human and one divine. Orthodoxy requires us to affirm that Christ had a complete human nature composed of soul and body. Christ’s individual human nature is that body/soul composite which lived in first century Israel, died by crucifixion, and rose again from the dead. That composite entity is not divine, but human and therefore contingent. That human nature at one time did not yet exist, and there are possible worlds in which it never exists.
That truth is not negated by my suggestion that the soul of that human nature was divine. The composite entity made up of soul and body is still contingent. I disagree that “to be human seems to be contingent in every aspect of ourselves including our souls.” As I explain in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, the Second Person of the Trinity brings to the body of Jesus precisely those properties, like self-consciousness, rationality, and free volition, that enable him to have a true human nature. Of course, my suggestion implies that while Christ was truly human, as the creeds affirm, he was not merely human. But we all affirm that.
As for your final concern, Austin, we’ll all have unanswered questions for as long as we live. The key to victorious Christian living is not to have all your questions answered but to learn to live with unanswered questions. Due to the inner witness of God’s Spirit, unanswered questions need not become destructive doubts.
But the witness of the Spirit in no way leads to intellectual sloth and apathy! In the first place, as disciples of Jesus, we’re to love the Lord with all our minds. As St. Anselm said, ours is a faith that seeks understanding (fides quaerens intellectum). No one who loves God’s truth can exhibit the sort of intellectual indifference you describe. One of life’s greatest spiritual victories is relentlessly pursuing a question that has been troubling you—say, God’s relationship to time or the incarnation or the problem of evil—until you finally reach a satisfactory answer. I can testify how exhilarating an experience that is!
Second, intellectual engagement with our faith is vital to our witness to a secular and sometimes hostile culture. The “cultured despisers of Christianity,” as Schleiermacher called them, often sneer at Christians as intellectual morons and buffoons. That’s why I engage in a ministry of debating the best secular scholars of our day on university campuses in order to explode this caricature and to expose the superficiality of their critiques. It is especially important for the sake of the next generation that parents be able to articulate to their children what and why they believe as they do, or else we will lose them.
You might enjoy the challenge of my talk “In Intellectual Neutral,” http://www.reasonablefaith.org/media/in-intellectual-neutral-johnson-ferry-baptist-church which encourages Christians to engage intellectually with their faith.