Wednesday, May 10, 2006


A kind reader has challenged my understanding of the Incarnation and Jesus' vocation as Messiah in my previous post, "Five Things I Believe and Trust." I thought I might offer a new post describing just what I believe 'bout that stuff.

The Incarnation. Uh oh.

I do affirm with the whole Church that Jesus of Nazareth was the Incarnation of the second person of the Holy Trinity, pre-existent in all eternity, outside of the Creation. The works of creation and re-creation/redemption are the work of all three persons of the Trinity.

I don't think it follows necessarily that the man Jesus of Nazareth thought of himself in terms of Trinitarian theology, or even considered himself to be divine in his essence. I don't think we can know this side of the eschaton how he might have completely unpacked his understanding of being the "son of God," but particularly since the Scriptures do not make statements about the omniscience or omnipotence (or omni- anything) of Jesus before the Easter event, I'm not comfortable ascribing those things to him. What's more, I think the early formulations of the church are on my side: Hebrews insists the he was a human like us, only without sin. If the fact of the pre-Easter Jesus' divinity gives him some kind of pass whereby he didn't suffer the fact of human frailty and limitation (at least the "normal" ones) we have denied his humanity.

It's not a cut and dry thing - the Church has always understood that if we're not careful in the way we talk about the humanity and divinity of the God-Man, we will expound the one in such a way as to implicitly deny the other. It took about 400 years for those communities to come up with some bare-bones formulations, after all.

This is what they finally came up with:

The Definition of Chalcedon

It doesn't solve all of our problems, but essentially offers a guideline that says we can't talk about those natures in a way that contradict one another. Haha, good luck on that.

In regard to Israel (it gets worse - I love me some historical Jesus!):

However Jesus might have thought about the salvation of the world (and Paul talks about that a heck of a lot more than Jesus does, which ain't very much), I don't see any reason to suppose he wouldn't have thought of himself first in terms of Israel and Israel's vocation, and his own vocation as her Messiah. Whatever Christ might be to the world, he is first that to Israel, as God's annointed to and for the Nation.

The primary reference point for the cross is what it was historically: a symbol of God's wrath upon Israel in the very concrete form of Roman imperialism. Jesus stepped in the way of that very deliberately, and offered his followers the opportunity to escape that wrath by refusing to take up arms (as per the Sermon on the Mount) and fleeing in AD 70. Over and against Jesus' interpretation of the prophetic tradition, the Nation as such proceeded to revolt.

You might recall Jesus' aversion to carrying out the Gentile mission himself: he without a doubt understood his vocation in terms of Israel and her collective calling to be the light of the World. He would reconstitute the nation in terms of allegiance to himself, and provide a "course correction" for the national life.

I also believe (of course!) in the Cosmic Christ who is the head of the Church, under whom the entire creation will be restored (and is being restored), but that's a development that springs from the historical situation and apocalyptic theology of Israel.

My kind commenter said,
"I believe punishment and correction come through an ongoing relationship with Christ and though the Holy Spirit, but what was taken on the cross was very different. It was pure evil. I believe that he literally took on the full evil of every sin that ever was and that was why God had to look away."
I would agree, in that taking on the chastisement of Israel and from there the alienation (from God) of the entire world is a theological reality that exists alongside the political and historical realities I've described. I do also believe that Jesus took on evil as only the trinitarian God could: he suffered the full force of rebellion against and alienation from God as a man. The persons of the Trinity absorbed all of it into Godself.

The nature of relationship with God and chastisement post-Pentecost is another matter I don't want to pick up for the moment, but the chastisement of Israel and the de facto alienation of the world are square one for understanding salvation.

So I guess that's my Christology in a nutshell. Thanks to Brianna for pushing me. Any thoughts?


JHearne said...

Interesting post, Kyle. I'm going to read over it again and I might comment on agreement or disagreement but, otherwise, I only have some boring "Historical Jesus" comments to make. I'm not even sure that I find them interesting so I won't expose everybody to them. Maybe some time we can discuss them in person.

Anonymous said...

Obviously reading Tom Wright methinks. Good work.

Just picked up _Simply Christian_ where the good Bishop-BTW in Apostolic Sucession, thank you very much-discusses the very point you make cogently and succinctly.

From an theoloical admirer in California.

Anonymous said...

Oh hell. I meant to spell "succession" and "theological"

Anonymous said...

Hey, Richard, hell is for those who believe in it, ok?

Just making appearences.


Kyle said...

Thanks, Josh, I always enjoy your input. Well, when it's worthwhile, anyway. ;-)

Thanks for commenting, Fr. Richard - I do enjoy me some Tom Wright; apparently the succession has done him good. :0)

I'm fond of Sanders, as well...

And never mind Mike, he just wants attention. (His people are like that; bloody Canadians.)

Anonymous said...


You bastard...

That's FRENCH Canadian you wannabe NPP, little bearded, poor excuse for an anglican KENTUCKIAN!

Anonymous said...

(I love you, Kyle)

Kyle said...

I have strong feelings for you, as well.


Ian Brown said...

Hey Kyle,

"The persons of the Trinity absorbed all of ['evil of every sin'] into Godself." What does that mean? Could you unpack that?

I'm sympathetic with your view of redemption, though methinks that the fall of Adam is a sufficient de facto starting place for Christology though the place of Israel in the order of things is quite substantial. As you noted Christ came to save the Israel of his day and his people rejected him as was expected by God.

Kyle said...

Hiya, Ian.

Hmm, how to unpack that...

I think about the pain of humanity's estrangement from God. God the refused lover doesn't seek revenge, but ever draws back the beloved. The cross puts forth that God can and will (and did!) absorb the destructive reality of our "no" to him into his greater will to love us and heal us. In terms of Jesus taking on our brokenness, there is a deep tragedy in our alienation: we seek our own way and our own salvation, but God is everything we were ever meant to want and need. We fight and we flee and find ourselves unable to put down our weapons. Like addicts who can't quit the habit, we have no idea how to quit fighting God. Jesus stood in the place of a humanity at war with God, and suffered its inevitable self-destruction in himself.

How's that for a start? I should also note that I myself would not use the phrasing of the person I quoted: to talk about individual sins as being evil as if some acts could be objectively wrong in a vacuum of some kind misses the point. :0)

hehe, now how's that for going a bit far... ?

Anonymous said...

Yah, that's too far.

Eucharisted said...

No, Chalcedon did not leave all controversy resolved... that's why Luther, Melanchthon, and Chemnitz forumulated the communicatio idiomatum.