The Doctrine of Christ (part 7)

April 27, 2008     Time: 00:41:34


Craig continues on the Doctrine of Christ (Christology). Christ fully like us in humanity, and fully like God the father in deity. Begetting vs. creating. Keeping natures of God distinct. Ascension of Christ and glorification of human body. Incarnation as permanent condition.

[Some introductory remarks unrelated to the lecture, and then opening prayer][1]

We’ve been looking at the subject of the two natures of Christ.


Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: I didn’t really say anything about that. You are right. What I would say is that among contemporary theologians this classical two-natures doctrine has been largely abandoned. Theologians like Tillich and Gogarten and others have largely denied the deity of Christ. I’m speaking here of liberal, left-leaning theologians. Think of someone like John Shelby Spong. You saw the debate with him on Palm Sunday. He doesn’t believe that Christ had two natures. He thinks he was just a human being. Even among rather conservative theologians like, say, Wolfhart Pannenberg. He believes in the deity of Christ and the humanity of Christ, but he doesn’t explain it in terms of Christ having two natures. This is a doctrine which, apart from evangelical and certain conservative Catholic theologians and I suppose conservative Greek Orthodox theologians has been largely abandoned in your mainstream non-evangelical, non-conservative Catholic orthodox circles. Beyond that I won’t say anything about that.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: It would have been in the late 1700s and 1800s. You could view it that way. The Kenotic theologians accepted the divinity of Christ. They wanted to preserve his divinity, but as I argued last week it is really hard to see how you can do that if Christ gives up essential attributes of God in order to become human. If you say that these aren’t essential attributes of God, that God doesn’t have to be omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and so forth, then you get a concept of God which just seems really inadequate because it means there is a possible world in which there is a being who is no more powerful than you are and yet which is God. That just doesn’t seem to make sense. I think the Kenotic theologian finds himself in a kind of dilemma of either denying the deity of Christ because he has given up these essential attributes of God, or else having a concept of God which is so inadequate that it is just unacceptable.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Yeah, in that sense you can see modern left-leaning liberal theology as being an extension of Kenotic theology and just saying Christ isn’t God and that he is just a human being. But they don’t really have a doctrine of the incarnation at all.[2] It is not as though there was this second person of the Trinity who divested himself of his divine attributes. It is rather that there was just this man born in Palestine named Jesus of Nazareth, and the Christian church looks to him for inspiration and example. So it is really a denial not only of the incarnation but even of the Trinity on the part of a lot of these modern theologians.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Yes, I think that is a nice way of putting it. Remember what the Reformed theologians said. They distinguished between Christ’s state of humiliation and his state of exaltation. I think that is the proper way to understand the emptying that Paul talks about in Philippians 2. The pre-incarnate Christ – the Logos, the second person of the Trinity – existed in all of the splendor and glory that was his as God, but he laid aside that state of glory to go through this state of humiliation of the incarnation and this time on Earth in which this glory was not openly expressed or these attributes expressed. But then with the ascension to heaven, he enters into a state of glorification or exaltation in which this is fully manifested again. So we shouldn’t think of the kenosis, or the emptying, as a kind of divestiture of God’s attributes. Rather, as you say, it is a kind of veiling if you will, a humiliation, as he takes on human form and condition.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Were you here last week? That is what I am trying to lay out – what I think is a good Christology. My first point that I made last week was that we should agree with the Council of Chalcedon that Christ is one person with two natures. That was why I rejected Kenotic Christology. We want to say that Christ is one person who has two natures – one human and one divine – and both of those natures are unattenuated, undiminished, complete, full natures.

I wanted you to have a copy of the statement from Chalcedon. [Dr. Craig hands out an outline to the class]. Read the Council of Chalcedon statement:

We confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood, truly God and truly man, of reasonable soul and body; consubstantial [having the same substance] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the manhood; like us in all things except for 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 subsistent; not divided or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and only-begotten God, Word, Lord Jesus Christ . . .[3]

That is the statement with which I think any orthodox Christology needs to begin: that in Christ you have one person (or hypostasis) which has two natures. He is fully like us in our humanity, fully like God the Father in his deity.

I know this is difficult material but this is so bedrock for us as Christians that it is important we understand it as best we can.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: It might cause confusion. This was controversial as we saw. Remember Nestorius didn’t want to refer to Mary as the mother of God because he said this made it sound like she bore Christ in his deity. Indeed, has it caused confusion? Yes! Look at Islam. Muhammad, if you read the Qur’an, thought that Christians believed that the Trinity consisted of God the Father, Mary the mother of God, and their offspring Jesus. Well, it is no wonder that Muhammad was offended by such an idolatrous and blasphemous doctrine as that. If you understand what Muhammad believed Christians held to, it is little surprise that he would turn to a radical kind of monotheism if that is what the doctrine of the Trinity is. So it did cause confusion. But the statement itself tries to be clear in that Christ is begotten by the Father according to the Godhead, but he is born of the virgin Mary according to the manhood.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Again, it is so important, and I emphasized this in previous classes, to understand the difference between begetting and creating. This cannot be emphasized enough. When you create something you can make something that is different than your own nature. I can create a painting, a house, a sculpture, a book, all kinds of things that an artisan can create. But begetting is always according to your own nature. A dog begets another dog. A cat begets a cat. A human being begets a human being. The whole point of using begetting rather than creating was to reject Arianism which thought of Christ as a creature. Therefore, by saying that the Son of God is not a creation but he is begotten by the Father, it emphasizes the deity of Christ. He has the same nature as the Father.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: No, that is right. Because then the Father would be the Son. I can see now what your difficulty is. Your difficulty is that the idea of begetting inherently involves a time at which the begotten person is born. It is true, you remember, in the original Logos Christology of the apologists, they did think that the Logos was begotten by the Father at a particular point, namely, prior to the creation of the world or at the creation of the world, the Word of God came out of the mind of the Father just as a spoken word can proceed out of my mouth from my mind into external reality.[4] They thought that the Logos (or the Word of the Father which is in the mind of the Father) proceeded out and became a separate and distinct hypostasis or individual. So in that sense they did think of the begetting as actually occurring at a sort of moment.

But that eventually came to be abandoned by church fathers like Origen and others who said, no, no, this begetting is not something that takes place at a certain moment; it is eternal. It is the way in which, for example, the river is begotten by the spring. The spring and the river can be co-eternal and yet the river flows from the spring. The spring doesn’t proceed out of the river. Or the sun and its beam. The rays of the sun proceed from the sun; the sun doesn’t proceed from the rays. So Origen says this begetting is not something that happened at a certain moment of time. It is something that is eternal; it is an eternal begetting like the river from the spring or the sunbeam from the sun.

If you think about that, yeah, we can make sense of that. Those analogies are helpful. So although begetting that we are familiar with like dogs and cats and people does occur at a moment of time, for most of these church fathers they had gotten rid of that idea that was characteristic of the Logos Christology and had come to adopt more or less Origen’s view that this was something that was eternal. It says here, “He was begotten before all ages.” This is not something that occurred at a point in time. It is eternal.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Right. I think that is correct. You will remember when I laid out a model of the Trinity when we talked about the Trinity and the doctrine of God, the model that I gave you didn’t include this feature of the begetting because I think it is a kind of vestige of this old Logos Christology and I don’t think it has any scriptural warrant. When the Gospel of John describes Jesus as the only begotten Son of God, he is not thinking of this kind of begetting in the divine nature between the Father and the Son before all ages. If anything, he is thinking of the incarnation – that Christ is begotten of God in being made flesh. He says in verse 14 of chapter 1, “The Word became flesh.” So I don’t think that you can think of God apart from the three persons of the Trinity. They are essential to him.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: The model for prayer in the New Testament that Jesus taught us is to pray to our Father – the first person of the Trinity. You pray to the Father in the name of the Son and in the power of the Holy Spirit. So all three persons are involved in prayer but the prayer is addressed to the Father. Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven.” That is the model for prayer. Now, I don’t think it is wrong to pray to Jesus. Jesus did say on at least one occasion, “If you ask anythingin my name, I will do it.” That is about the only occasion where Jesus suggests prayer might be made to him. You do have the church praying in 1 Corinthians 16, “Our Lord, Come” where prayer is addressed to Christ. So I don’t think it is wrong, but it isn’t the norm. The norm is to pray to the Father in the name of the Son and the power of the Holy Spirit. But on exceptional occasions, the Christian might cry out to Christ or even pray to the Holy Spirit and say, “Holy Spirit fill us now, fill this room” or something of that sort. But normatively prayer would be addressed to the Father.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: I don’t think that is good enough. You rightly remind us that there are Christians today who don’t hold to Chalcedon.[5] Armenian Orthodox and I think certain Syriac churches. These tend to be very small and foreign to us so they are not on our radar screen. But there are segments of Christendom that don’t hold to Chalcedon. But as I said when I explained this, I don’t think that is an adequate view because if Christ has a kind of single nature that is a kind of divine-human nature then it follows that he is really neither God nor man but a kind of hybrid of the two. I think what we want to say is that Christ is fully God and he is fully man which requires us to keep the natures distinct rather than to blend them together. Also, it is very difficult to see, frankly, how these two natures could be put together. For example, if it is essential to humanity to, say, have a body, but it is essential to deity to be omnipresent, how do you put those together in a single nature? That is really hard to see. It looks like a contradiction. But by keeping the natures distinct you can say there is one person who has these two natures. So I think we need to stay with Chalcedon despite the fact that one recognizes there are segments of Christendom that don’t hold to this.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Yeah, that’s right. I hear what you are saying. That kind of language can be misleading. They do believe in the Trinity but what they don’t believe in is Chalcedon which says that Christ has two distinct natures which are united in one person. They are Monophysites. Remember what they means. Monophysitism is the view that there is one (mono) nature (physis) in Christ. But they don’t deny his deity. They say that Christ is the second person of the Trinity, and they affirm his humanity. So it is not like they are heretics in the sense that they deny the deity and humanity of Christ, but their analysis of it is, I think, mistaken in that they recognize only a kind of single hybrid blend of divinity and humanity in one nature. I am not saying that these people cannot be saved, but I do think that their viewpoint is in error.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Very good question. The question that is raised is: when Christ ascends to the Father’s right hand and is exalted, should we conceive of this as a return to his pre-incarnate state or is this exalted state a kind of continuation of the incarnation? The answer to that question is the latter. It is not a return to the pre-incarnate state; rather, Christ always exists from now on in two natures – one human and one divine. That is the lesson of the ascension. Christ did not discard his body and leave it behind. The doctrine of the resurrection is that the same body that was crucified and laid in the tomb was now raised from the dead, gloriously empowered with immortality and incorruptibility and super-human properties, and then ascended into heaven to be exalted to the right hand of God the Father.

So don’t think of the ascension and the exaltation of Christ as an abandonment of his humanity. On the contrary, it is the glorification of his humanity. I think this is a precious lesson to us of the worth and value of our human bodies.[6] We are not Gnostics who think that the body is a sort of prison house of the soul and that we need to abandon the body so that the soul can fly away and be with God. That is not Christian doctrine. Christian doctrine rejects any kind of attempt to depreciate or devalue the human body and materiality. The doctrine of the resurrection and ascension of Christ teaches us that Christ carries his exalted humanity into the eternal state just as we will in the eternal state have human bodies. They will be glorified bodies free from illness, disease, disability, sin, corruption, and mortality, but nevertheless they will be human bodies.

So the rather surprising, perhaps, lesson of both Chalcedon as well as the resurrection and ascension is that the incarnation is a permanent condition of the second person of the Trinity, not a merely temporary condition for thirty-odd years to be abandoned by him. Rather it is a permanent incarnation of the second person and therefore an emphasis to us of the value of our material creaturely humanity.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: She asks, “Does this impact his omnipresence?” That all depends on how we conceive the relationship between the humanity and the deity of Christ. Remember Martin Luther’s doctrine. Were you here the Sunday that I talked about the Reformation theologians? Remember Martin Luther thought that when Christ’s humanity was glorified the attribute of omnipresence was communicated over to his humanity so that Christ’s body is now omnipresent. His human nature is omnipresent. That is why, when in communion, you eat the bread and drink the wine (according to Luther) you are actually chewing and swallowing the body and blood of Christ because they are now omnipresent. As I said, the Reformed theologians criticized this Lutheran view because it tends to confuse the two natures. It is transferring over to the humanity properties that belong only to the divine nature. We will talk about this some more in ensuing weeks, but that would be a radical illustration of how one might conceive of the omnipresence of the humanity of Christ.

I would prefer to say that omnipresence is a property that is peculiar to Christ’s divine nature and that his human nature is not everywhere present. It is not somehow spread throughout the universe like an invisible ether, but rather Christ’s human nature, when it exists in space and time, will be localized at a certain place.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Right. It is important to keep all these “omni’s” distinct. Omnipresent means everywhere present. Omnipotent means all-powerful. Omniscient means all-knowing. We will talk about this some more in ensuing weeks because if he does have two natures then the question will be, “How can Christ be omniscient and yet be ignorant of things like the date of his Second Coming and other sorts of things?” How do you put these together? We are going to work toward that, but we are going to do it one step at a time.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: In the book of Revelation, which is what the question is about (how do we think of Christ there), I think it is important that what John is seeing is a vision of the exalted Christ. So it is not to be taken as a literal sort of description. He is seeing a vision like in the Old Testament – a theophany. So for example, he will see a lamb full of eyes seated on the throne. That doesn’t mean there is literally in heaven this mutated looking lamb that has eyeballs all over its body.[7] This is a vision that he is seeing. When he sees a sword coming out of his mouth we shouldn’t think this is sort of halitosis or something that is producing swords. This is a vision or a kind of symbolic picture of the risen Christ. What it portrays is that Christ in his glory is this same overwhelming majestic figure that you have in the Old Testament theophanies. When Isaiah sees the Lord high and lifted up in the temple – you will remember he feels his own sinfulness and inadequacy in the face of this incredible vision. The book of Revelation is filled with symbols and pictures that you need not take literally but that are meant to be symbols or metaphors of the exaltedness and the majesty and the greatness of Christ, now no longer in the state of humiliation but in his state of exaltation and glory.


We didn’t really get to the lesson today, but I think it is important when I’ve been away for a few weeks to catch up and give you opportunity to ask questions. Next week we will turn to my second point which will be an attempt to rehabilitate Apollinaris and his approach to Christological questions.[8]

[1] 11:00

[2] 15:02

[3] 20:27

[4] 25:02

[5] 30:03

[6] 35:05

[7] 40:00

[8] Total Running Time: 41:34 (Copyright © 2008 William Lane Craig)