Review: God Incarnate

I’ve gotten to the point that if someone asks me for a basic book on Christology, I point them to Oliver Crisp. Any of his works. I learned more Christology from this book than in my week long Christology course in seminary. Crisp’s stated goal is to use to the tools of analytic theology to focus on key areas in Christology. Show problems and point to solution. He succeeds magnificently.

crisp
try to find the picture where he has a beard

The Election of Jesus Christ

Standard received Reformed view: the sole cause of election is the good pleasure and will of God (Crisp 36). Turretin and others want to deny the claim that Christ’s foreseen merit is the ground of predestination.

Moderate Reformed view: Christ is the ground of election in just one important sense. God decrees election, and he decrees that Christ be one of the ends. Here is where the MRP view points out a tension in the standard treatment: if all of the ad extra works of the Trinity are one, Logos must also be a cause of election, and not just a means.

This section could have done more. I think he pointed out a key insight of the Moderate Reformed group, but he didn’t deal with Bruce McCormack’s reading of Karl Barth (he acknowledged it, though). There is still blood on the ground from the “Companion Controversy.”

Christ and the Embryo

This is where the money is. Chalcedonian Christology demands a pro-life position. If you aren’t willing to use your theology to fight a war to the death against Moloch, then go sit down. This honor isn’t for you. And it gives sometimes strange (yet welcome) implications. For example, human personhood and human nature aren’t the same thing. Christ is fully human, but not a human person.

We need to be clear on this, otherwise we fall prey to Apollinarianism. All humans are created with something like a built-in God-shaped port that the Word can upload himself at the moment of conception. Where this divine upload takes place, the Word prevents the human nature from becoming a human person (107). In other words, if God the Son doesn’t “upload/download” himself into human nature’s hard drive, then personhood begins at conception.

While the demons at Planned Parenthood probably don’t care about Apollinarianism, that line can work well against those who claim a high church conciliar Christology, yet are scared to fight this war. I have in mind the Rachel Held Evans and Calvin College faculty.  If you don’t believe personhood is live at conception (be it divine or human), then you are an Apollinarian.  Now, that should bother the “ancient/liturgy/conciliar” crowd. If you are in that group and you reject the Apollinarian implication, then you probably don’t need to be voting Democrat.  I am not saying you should be Alt Right and posting Crusader memes, but you need to move in that direction.

Materialist Christology

The upshot: not all alternatives to substance dualism are physicalist. Global materialism: the idea that all existing things are essentially material things; there are no immaterial entities. Christian materialists do not necessarily hold this view, as they would acknowledge at least two existing immaterial entities: God and angels.

Global substance dualism: all existing things are composed of matter or spirit (mind), or both matter and spirit. This position can include Christian materialists-about-the-human-person.

The problem in question: can a Christian materialist about the human person hold to Chalcedonian Christology? It initially appears not, as Christ’s has a rational soul? If Christ’s divine mind/soul were to substitute, then Apollinarianism would follow.

Reductive materialists: a human’s mental life can be reduced to some corporeal function.
Non-reductive materialism: the human’s mental life cannot be reduced to some corporeal function.
Property Dualism: a substance that has some properties that are mental and some that are physical.
Substance: a thing of a certain sort that can exist independently of other things of the same sort, has certain causal relations with other substances, and is the bearer of properties (145). A property is an abstract object that either is a universal or functions like one.

Crisp probably should have said why property dualism is false while he was at it.  Nevertheless, a simply grand book.

Ensoulment, the CREC, and abortion

While it might look like I am attacking Botkin, that is certainly not the case.  I strongly applaud her precisioned take-down of Wilson’s theology and pray more posts come.

Kate Botkin’s most recent post, while most of it was an excellent critique of Wilson’s deranged practices, offered a troubling piece of argumentation.  Note, she isn’t endorsing abortion (at least not in this post) but she is advancing the argument that a man who’s molested dozens of children isn’t a better human being than a woman who gets an abortion at 8 weeks.  I think some kind of rebuttal like this was inevitable, given that Wilson immediately deflects to abortion whenever he gets in trouble.

I won’t enter that line of debate.  What did intrigue me was her following suggestion:

You don’t have to agree that abortion is Ok to understand that some women do not view early abortion as evil, based on biology and the belief that the soul enters a child along with consciousness, or at a certain stage of development.

So, does a unborn baby gain a soul at consciousness or at conception?  Most pro-life Christians want to say at conception, but since they lack a coherent doctrine of the soul they really struggle with this point.  Part of the difficulty is that consciousness is a faculty of the soul and so Botkin’s suggestion isn’t entirely in left field.  I think she is wrong but for different reasons.

Maybe this isn’t even Botkin’s position.  I’ll grant that.  I know what she is doing.  Every time Wilson begins to feel the heat, he deflects the issue back to abortion:  “Gee golly, I know shielding pedophiles is bad, but it’s not as bad as abortion.”  Well, you’re just saying that because you can’t answer the question.  Botkin then takes you up on your point and since you guys have an anemic doctrine of the soul, you can’t answer her.

I think I can.  Let’s rephrase her argument:

(And I am using “soul” and “person” as more or less synonymous.  There are some nuances but most Christians think along these lines).

P1: An unborn baby gains a soul/becomes a person at the gaining of consciousness

P1*:  Consciousness is what makes a soul/person.

P1’: Body and soul aren’t the same thing.

I think that is a fair summary.  Here is why I think it is wrong.    With J. P. Moreland I would say

P2: “the soul is an individuated essence that makes the body a human body” (Moreland 202).  

Botkin would agree so fair. P1’ and P2 make the same point.   I add another premise:

P3: The soul has capacities.  Capacities come in hierarchies.

P3 is important in the euthanasia debate.  I can have a capacity for something yet not be exercising it.  At the moment I have the capacity for speaking Russian.  This is called a 2nd-order capacity.  Sadly, I cannot speak Russian right now, thus I do not have a 1st-order capacity.

Souls also have faculties.  

P4:  a faculty is a compartment of the soul that contains a natural family of related capacities (204).  Mind, will, and spirit.  And consciousness.  

The problem with the ensoulment argument (P1) is that it identifies the soul/person with actualized capacities.   Therefore, when the person is no longer exercising an actualized capacity like consciousness, then he is no longer a person.  Like when you are under anesthesia.  

There is another, albeit more technical, problem with ensoulment.  If consciousness is the sine qua non of what it means to be a person/soul, but if I’ve established that consciousness is rather a capacity of the soul’s faculties, then the following reductio obtains:

P5:  An unborn gains a soul at the gaining of a soul (1, 1*).

True, but not very helpful.    The difficulty is that advocates of ensoulment are defining a soul by what the soul could do.  Defining by function is always dangerous.  A person under general anesthesia cannot function.  Does he cease to be a person?  Why not?  As Rae notes, “To appeal to some higher-order capacities as determinate of personhood” cannot be done without acknowledging that personhood is not dependent on lower-order capacities (Moreland and Rae 251).  These higher-order capacities are latent, just as they are with the unborn.