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.

Barth and Ramsey on Political Power

This is a summary of Oliver O’Donovan’s essay of similar title, found in Bonds of Imperfection.  What’s important is not so much the conclusions reached, but how they are reached.

Ramsey: The crux of the difference between pacifists and justifiable-war Christians turns on the person and work of Christ (Ramsey, Speak up for Just War or Pacifism 111, quoted in O’Donovan 247).

  • While this sounds pious and truistic, it has a very precise meaning for both thinkers.
  • For Barth it concerns the proper location of the political order within the covenant of Reconciliation between God and man (OO 251).
  • For Ramsey it means that Christ assumed one common humanity: there is no ontological disjunction between homo politicus and any other kind of man/order.

 

O’Donovan summarizes Barth’s ethics in several stages:

    1. Despite some of Barth’s shifts on election, there is a stable stream of ethical reflection–grudgingly acknowledging the state’s right of force but noting the abnormality of it.

 

  • Romerbrief may be discounted as “anarchist” and “backwater” (O’Donovan 249).

 

  1. Barth’s wartime writings veered closer towards a realist use of the State’s force.  His later writings veered towards a more anabaptist view.
  2. This is because of a dialectic within Barth’s thought that is never fully settled.
  3. This is partly the case because Barth doesn’t (will not?) imagine the possibility of both a peace-state and war-state within the same framework.

Here is where possible confusion arises:  Ramsey will critique “liberals” on pacifism and note they follow Barth.  What does he mean by “liberals?”  I don’t think it is simply “those who reject the Bible.”  I think he has in mind Niebuhrian liberalism.

Paul Ramsey

Key Point: The Legitimate Use of Power

  1. The use of power, including the use of force, is of the esse of politics
  2. The use of power is inseparable from the bene esse of politics.

As a foil, Ramsey will have Barth say:

B3: War should not be seen as a normal, fixed, or necessary part of a just state (CD III/4, p. 456).

Back to Ramsey’s theses.  We may add another

R4: The use of power implies the possible use of force.

Ramsey’s argument presupposes a proper ordo of politics, the connections of iustitia, lex, and ordo.

  • Ordo = the disposition of power.

R5: The cross casts a shadow over politics, not pure light (OO 259).  

Politics, community, and the cross should meet in that area where light and shadow meet.  

R6: “The task of politics is to be a sign of the rule of Christ, disclosing right, preserving community and determining the basis of community in right” (259).

Political reflection based on the gospels should not begin with the Advent, as important as it is, but with the fact that Christ has come in history.  O’Donovan: “He [Messiah] has reached for the crown which will allow no rival crowns beside it.  Because he has come, history has divided into two, its back broken on this outcrop of rock which it cannot negotiate” (260).

Corollary: There is a disjunction within the community of election (visible/invisible church), not in the works of God as such.  

Problems with Barth’s Political Ethics

For Ramsey, God accepts Christ’s regnant new humanity.  For Barth, God rejects the old humanity.  This seems to mean that God also rejects extra-ecclesial orders as such.  When Barth comes to war as such, he does not interact with Just War reasoning but simply lists the evils of the Second World War.

Ramsey can point to “monuments of grace” in such a horror, even to legitimate uses of State force.  Barth can only suggest a delaying action (CD III/4, p. 456).  As a result, notes O’Donovan, Barth “ends up precisely in the place he intended to bypass, in a politics that can only be viewed soberly and not with evangelical faith or hope” (O’Donovan 264).

A Way Forward With Ramsey

Ramsey has what Barth needs: a way to bridge the gap between homo politicus which is redeemed in Christ and homo politicus that is in need of redemption. We are back with the distinction between esse and bene esse.  The latter terms also suggests something along the lines of goal or end. Ramsey is speaking of true political activity.  

Is Barth an Apollinarian?

Ramsey offers a model in which political power is both used appropriately and judged:  the Incarnation, homo assumptus.  This means that Christ takes on the fallen order, including homo politicus.  There is no radical “Other” realm to which Christ has no access.  As O’Donovan notes, “Only so can the homo politicus that is redeemed be the same homo politicus that was in need of redemption” (266).

Barth will not grant this.  But in not granting it, he is partitioning off a section of man’s redemption.  To be fair, Barth resists this temptation in Christology but not in politics.

Who is Ramsey’s “Liberal?”

A liberal for Ramsey is one who splits politics and military doctrine.

Liberalism for O’Donovan: the inadequacy of every human attempt to render justice.  A magistrate’s power should be limited.    Therefore, power is suspect but necessary (270).

What does Ramsey mean by Just War and International Politics?  So, O’Donovan: “The international sphere was a constitutional vacuum, but by no means a moral or political vacuum” 271). Ramsey suspects there is a continuum that links violent with nonviolent resistance. Indeed, is not democracy justum bellum (Ramsey, War and the Christian Conscience, 126)?  Jesus never said to resist evil by ballot boxes.