Toward a Trinitarian Worldview: Incarnation

May 7, 2008 — 1 Comment

“Speaking of simplicity,” said a now facetious Martin, “How does this impact your understanding of the Incarnation?”

Vasiliy smiled, realizing the absurdity of using “simplicity” and “the Incarnation” in the same sentence, but not missing a beat simply said, “It makes it quite easier to understand actually.”

“How so?”

“Well since you don’t have anywhere to go yet, we might as well dive right in,” said Vasiliy, “Let’s go back to our model.”

“Alright,” said Martin, “Let’s”

“If we have a model of man as being the union of a spirit given by God to a human body, and that union results in a soul that produces physiological and psychological effects as manifested in the heart first, then the central nervous system and then the brain, what would seem to be the implications for God coming in the flesh as Jesus?”

“That the second person of the Trinity who was pure Spirit, came into union with the human body in Mary’s womb and resulted in the person Jesus Christ,” said Martin, “Which sounds acceptable at first, but then sounds suspiciously like Apollinarianism.[i]”

“Historically a condemned heresy because it seemed to impinge on Christ’s humanity, right?”

“Right, but on this view, how that conclusion be avoided?” asked Martin, “It would seem if Christ were simply the Spirit that animated a human body, something is missing.”

“Well let’s clarify further to avoid that conclusion,” said Vasiliy, “If I understand Apollinarius’ argument correctly, he argued the Logos, or Second Person of the Trinity was not only the image of God, but was also the archetypal man possessing human nature in His pre-existent form, something Gregory of Nazianzus understood to mean that the flesh of Christ was pre-existent, and thus on that interpretation rightfully rejected.”

Pausing, Vasiliy continued, “On the other hand, I have understood Apollinarius to mean that the Logos contained perfect human personhood archetypically in his own nature, and as a result of assuming a human body the Logos brought the attributes necessary to ensure a complete human nature.[ii]”

“So you would hold that the only missing component of Christ’s human nature prior to the Incarnation would have been received with the union of His divine Spirit with a human body?”

“That’s correct, and I think this ties my interpretation of the Incarnation strongly to the Imago Dei, as human nature is not so essentially exemplified in having a body, but in being a person one is uniquely able to reflect God’s nature in relation to others,” said Vasiliy, “So it would follow that the Second Person of the Trinity, prior to the Incarnation, already possessed the properties necessary to exemplify human personhood, He only lacked a body to manifest them through.

“And by taking on human flesh, His divine Spirit fused with a human body  and resulted in a soul that could be said to contain both the human and divine nature?”

“That’s exactly right,” said Vasiliy, “In my mind, this model relieves many of the tensions implicit in other understandings of human psychology that have to postulate in one way or another two minds in Christ, have trouble making sense of how it all fits together, and end up assigning a condition to our Savior that would be considered pathological if it were anyone else.[iii]”

“So to avoid that, you would hold not just that a mind adheres in a person, but that it adheres in the soul that is the resultant of having a spirit in the body?[iv]”

“I think that is accurate to say, especially if one sees the spirit as enlivening the body itself, giving rise to a soul that then works through both the heart and brain, the physiological organs from which mindedness arises.”

“I can see how this is a more attractive model for you,” said Martin, “But it also seems to imply Christ as having only one will, since you would say that a will probably also adheres in a person.”

“I would say that, and I believe your apprehension may come from recalling the monotheletism heresy, condemned at the Third Council of Constantinople in 680,” said Vasiliy, “However, orthodox Christology as defined at the Council of Chalcedon and more importantly as defined in the Scriptures, does not mandate that Christ have more than one will or mind for that matter.[v]”

“You know your church history very well don’t you?” said Martin, “I barely have all the facts straight from the early church myself and I’m a seminary student.”

“I also have quite a few years on you and come from a tradition that played a significant role in developing those creeds, so its been rather important for me to understand as much as I can about what was taught and what was condemned, either rightly or wrongly so.”

It was right about this juncture in the conversation that the ever so friendly captain spoke once again over the intercom, alerting everyone to the news of the impending final descent into DFW, and of course, thanked them for choosing to fly the friendly skies.

“It looks like we’d better wrap this pretty fast, I wouldn’t want to leave any dangling loose ends,” said Martin.

“That would be for the better, let’s see if I can tie everything off before we get lost in the frenzy of opening overhead compartments and the anticipation of the line into the breezeway,” said Vasiliy, “But first to answer you actual objection about Christ having only one will.”

“Yes, that one,” said Martin.

“Following from our model, in which minds exist in a one to one ratio with persons, or souls, Jesus could only have one mind,” said Vasiliy, “Although, in His case, the divine mind of the Second Person of the Trinity, once operating through a human body and human consciousness became simply a human mind, at least in the way that we are using the term ‘mind’ and the way that most other people do as well.[vi]”

“Which you would say is not merely a human mind, but nonetheless a fully human mind?”

“I would apply that distinction to Christ’s personhood, or soul if you will, as a whole,” said Vasiliy, “Christ in the flesh was fully human, having everything that a human would have, except for a human spirit, and since a soul is not something you have, but something you are, Christ became one on our behalf so that nothing would be unassumed, and therefore remain unhealed.[vii]”

“So, synthesizing here a bit, you are saying that by virtue of becoming a fully human person, the Spirit of Christ then operated through a human body and therefore a human mind and human will, in the end, fully regenerated all three?”

“I think if this model could have explained it that clearly, or at least couched it in those terms several centuries ago, it might have very well escaped any condemnation of heresy.”

“Or at least you hope so, right?”

“I do,” said Vasiliy, “I really feel this model is faithful to the relevant Scriptural data about humanity and certainly is faithful to the understanding we have of Christ from the New Testament writings.”

“From what I can see, I would agree with you,” said Martin, “But I certainly want to study this further to verify it for myself.”

“Speaking of that, I can recommend a few books for you,” said Vasiliy, “Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective is a great place to start, but I also would recommend The Logic of God Incarnate, by Thomas Morris.”

“We had to read part of Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective in our class,” said Martin, “I never got around to reading the rest of it, but maybe I’ll check it out.”

“I can’t say I agree with everything , but the chapters by Fred Sanders and Donald Fairbairn give a good overview of the development of Christology, while the chapter by Scott Horrell is a great defense of the social model of the Trinity that even I can appreciate from my tradition,” said Vasiliy, “I also think the chapter by Garrett DeWeese gives a fairly similar model of the Incarnation to the one we have discussed.[viii]”

“I’ll definitely give those a good reading,” said Martin, “But before we actually hit the ground, what are some of the implications of this model, I mean, what difference does it make?”

“That’s probably the best question,” said Vasiliy, “And always necessary to provide an answer for, so going back a bit, as we understand more adequately the God that we love and serve , our first response should be one of reverent worship.”

“And in doing so, can reflect back to God the love He has put in us by His presence, right?[ix]”

“Very much so,” said Vasiliy, “Also, our model of course has theological implications too.”

“I can think of one right off,” said Martin, “It would seems that Christ was able to assume everything human in order to heal it all, except for a human spirit, which supports the idea that it is regenerated on an individual basis.[x]”

“In my understanding of theology, everything must be tied very tightly to soteriology.” said Vasiliy, “And I think it is best to understand the early church councils as having that in the forefront of their minds as they sought to explain their Christology and defend that our salvation was possible. [xi]”

“Which it would not have been unless God found a way to come down from heaven and become a man in order to live the perfect life and die as a sacrifice for our sin.[xii]”

“That’s correct,” said Vasiliy, “So in seeking to explain that, they continually asked what the Bible said about our salvation and what implications it would have for the One who provided it.[xiii]”

“We kinda worked in a different direction though,” said Martin, “Asking what is a man, and then clarifying what that would mean about Jesus, but I guess in going a different direction we still must come back to how that impacts our understanding of soteriology.”

“Somewhat,” said Vasiliy, “What we really did was ask what is a man in order to understand what Jesus would have had to become so that we then can understand  how it is even possible for man to be redeemed in order to join into divine fellowship.”

“Oh ok, that makes better sense than what I just said.”

“Not to be too pastoral for you, I realize that as a seminary student you hear your share of chapel messages and probably have a preaching class of some kind as well.”

“Not yet, but I will soon,” said Martin

“Well to bring this all together, perichoresis and all,” said Vasiliy, “From a biblical point of view, we were never meant to be independent of God. Being human necessarily involves relationality, and that aspect of human nature certainly derives from the relationality inherent in the three persons of the Trinity. True humanity then, involves both fellowship with God and dependence on Him for life itself. Looking at Jesus, a person whose humanity actually subsisted in the Logos, the Second Person of the Trinity, and whose life was purely derived from utter dependence on the Trinity as a whole, He was certainly not a less than human person but was in fact the most fully human person to ever walk the face of the earth.[xiv]”

“I’ve never heard it phrased quite like that,” said Martin, “So living a life in utter dependence on the Trinity by being indwelt by God and participating in the divine fellowship through worship is really not in any way less human, but clearly is the most human way to live.

“Scripture is amazingly consistent in tying thoughts like this together,” said Vasiliy, “Think of how this understanding of humanity ultimately finds expression in the creation of the church as the body of Christ.[xv]”

“Functioning as one body, yet deriving its dependence on the person of Christ and the Trinity as a whole, right?”

“Very much so,” said Vasiliy, “Do you feel like your understanding of yourself as a human in relation to the Trinity is more grounded now?”

The words had not left Vasiliy’s mouth before they were greeted with the ever welcomed feel of making contact with land after being airborne for so long.

“You know what?” Martin smiled, “I think it finally is.”

[i] The following discussion of Apollinarianism and the concepts that can be drawn from it while still remaining faithful to what the Scriptures testify of Christ is adapted from J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 608-12., DeWeese, “One Person, Two Natures: Two Metaphysical Models of the Incarnation.”, Donald Fairbairn, “The One Person Who Is Jesus Christ: The Patristic Perspective,” in Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective, ed. Fred Sanders and Klaus Issler (Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2007).

[ii] If Adam, prior to the fall, perfectly reflected the image of God, one has to wonder what more the Incarnation would have to entail for Christ to become the Last Adam besides simply His taking on human flesh and all its constituents. From a Biblical survey of the data relevant to what human nature is (see Saucy, “Theology of Human Nature.”) it appears that human nature is grounded in the image of God, and therefore manifested through an embodied person. Christ simply had to become an embodied human person, and our model, that entails joining His divine Spirit to a human body untainted by sin (which is transmitted by the male see fascinating discussion in Custance, The Virgin Birth and the Incarnation 176-192.) and enliven the resultant human person.

[iii] I would concur with John Macquarrie (John Macquarrie, Jesus Christ in Modern Thought, (London: SCM, 1990), 166-67. Cited in DeWeese, “One Person, Two Natures: Two Metaphysical Models of the Incarnation,” 132.) on this point and have trouble attributing something to Christ that would be pathological in anyone else (two minds/two wills) unless Scripture either made it clear, or our understanding of humanity demanded it. From this model, it does not.

[iv] From what we have expounded upon above, it should be clear that consciousness is most closely associated with the soul, and while we will not try to nail down a concept of mind here, it could be thought of as being comprised of the senses and consciousness, both aspects of the soul. See Seebass, “Nephesh.” And Saucy, “Theology of Human Nature,” 31-34, 41-43.

[v] Moreland and Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 601,11.

[vi] The idea of the voluntarily constrained divine mind simply operating as a human mind once His Spirit was coupled with a human body comes from DeWeese, “One Person, Two Natures: Two Metaphysical Models of the Incarnation,” 145.  This makes much better sense of the kenosis spoken of in Philippians 2, as Christ humbled Himself by taking on the form of a servant, which on the model presented above entails operating through a human mind and will.

[vii] This is Gregory of Nazianzus’ maxim, used in opposition to Apollinarianism and later invoked against monothelitism, following from an understanding that wills are grounded in natures. However, from the model above, wills belong to persons, so Christ necessarily could have only one will for He was only one person.

[viii] Actually, it’s very similar. The model is essentially a synthesis of Arthur Custance’s writing on the nature of the soul, with the basics of the model outlined by Garrett DeWeese.

[ix] Romans 5:5, depending on how one interprets the genitive ‘theou’ in ‘ha agape tou theou,’ this verse either states that it is love for God that is poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, or it is God’s love itself poured into out hearts. In either instance, the verb form is a perfect tense, indicating that it is a completed action for the believer once the Holy Spirit has been given, but the effects are to be continuous in nature.

[x] This accords as best I know with my understanding of soteriology from undergraduate, however, I will not take the class here until next spring, so please forgive the lack of diligent research in supporting this one point.

[xi] Although I am still personally debating how much I follow this axiom, it and the following idea are taken from Fairbairn, “The One Person Who Is Jesus Christ: The Patristic Perspective,” 92-93.

[xii] Ibid., 109.

[xiii] Ibid., 92.

[xiv] Slight more Trinitarian expansion of quote found in Ibid., 109-10.

[xv] This idea was not originally apparent to me, but was pointed out by Brian Bain during lunch one day (5/2/08 roughly 1145am in Mitchell). In Acts we see the model in Genesis replicated very intentionally. There was a “body” of humans gathered, who were then enlivened by the breath of God in the coming of the Holy Spirit and the resultant creation was the Body of Christ as a functional “person.” One could probably drop the quotation marks here and simply see how as we are the church, Christ is person who manifests himself through the body of believers, just like a soul manifests itself through the physical body. He is truly the head (i.e. source) of all the activities that the church carries out, and as believers we are standing as one giant person in juxtaposition to the giant person of fallen man that has Adam as its head and as a body of unbelievers is enlivened by the spirit of Satan (this latter idea comes from Arthur C. Custance, Man in Adam and in Christ, vol. III, The Doorway Papers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975), 181-88.). In this very sense, we intimately participate in the divine nature as God Himself makes expression through us as parts of His body. Perhaps, if it were possible to unite and add all believers in the world together, one would find the person of Christ still wholly present in the world today (Custance, Man in Adam and in Christ, 186-87.).


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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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