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(c) Neil Duerden

In the last post we looked at Kenosis and some of the biblical evidence, particularly Philippians 2. You can read it here. In this post I want to make explicit the assumptions behind both traditional incarnational theology and kenotic theology.

The assumption behind traditional Chacedonian Christology is that the incarnation is fundamentally an addition. The person of the Son, complete in his divine nature, is adding human nature to himself. The Logos adds a second, human, nature to his person in the incarnation. This addition doesn’t change either nature and the addition doesn’t mix the two natures together. But the incarnation is a real addition.

Kenoticists, on the other hand, see the incarnation as a subtraction – namely, the incarnation needs to be explained by a theory of real abandonment.  Kenoticists agree that the incarnation necessarily involves some type of restriction, a subtraction, that in some sense certain divine attributes are incompatible with aspects of humanity and so have to be either removed or suppressed for a true incarnation to occur.

This difference is extremely significant and I don’t think its importance can’t be overstated. The Logos either has to abandon, empty, limit or restrain some aspects of his nature for him to become truly man. In other words, the Logos, as He exists in Himself as God, cannot become incarnate.’ This departure is more significant than Kenoticists usually like to admit.

Kenoticism assumes that the divine Son, as he exists in himself, simply cannot become incarnate. And so needs to empty or restrain some aspects of his very nature. This is pure speculation, nothing in the Bible leads you to think this. You get to this point by bringing preconceived notions about what humanity is and what divinity is and seeing that the incarnation doesn’t accommodate these assumptions. But instead of allowing the Bible to reshape our assumptions and categories we keep our assumptions intact and try and reshape what the Bible says. That’s fundamentally backwards.

If the man Jesus is the full and final revelation of God, if having seen Him we’ve seen the father (Jn. 14:7), then our conceptions of Godhood and the divine nature should spring primarily from Him.

Chalcedon views the incarnation not as a lessening or subtracting of the divine nature but rather an addition. The Word takes on human nature. He adds human nature to his divine person. The King humbles himself by becoming a servant as well as being King. Karl Barth is clear and even poetic on this point where he says: “God is always God even in His humiliation. The divine being does not suffer any change, any diminution, any transformation into something else, any admixture with something else, let alone any cessation. The deity of Christ is the one unaltered because of the unalterable deity of God […] He humbled himself, but He did not do it by ceasing to be who He is. He went into a strange land, but even there, and especially there, He never became a stranger to Himself.” (Barth, Church Dogmatics IV/1, 179-180)