There’s been a little bit of an incarnation series going on here at A Better Possession. We started with a cheat sheet of theological terms to do with the incarnation here. Then we looked at the Incarnation and the Creed of Chalcedon here. Then we thought about the person and work of Christ here. And then we started a bit of a series within a series when we started looking at Kenosis.
Kenosis is the Christological claim that in the Son becoming incarnate he empties himself of certain divine attributes or prerogatives. We looked at what Kenosis is and some of it’s biblical background here. Then at the assumptions that lay behind traditional Christology and Kenotic Christology here. Now we’re gonna see that there are two main flavours when it comes to those who hold a kenotic Christology. Both camps agree that the incarnation is at it’s bottom a subtraction rather than an addition. And both camps agree that the divine Son as he is in himself cannot become incarnate.
The first camp is ontological kenoticism, in which the focus is on the being of Christ. In this view the Son abdicates or gives up certain attributes or properties – depending on your view of the simplicity of God – for the duration of the incarnation or perhaps from the incarnation on into forever. So what they say is that Christ really did not possess certain divine attributes, and so he was ignorant, powerless, and spatially limited in the body of Jesus.
The other camp is a much weaker claim and is a functional kenoticism. This is where in the incarnation the Word doesn’t exercise certain divine attributes but still retains them in his person. He just chooses not to use them. So the issue’s not that he doesn’t retain them but that he doesn’t exercise them whilst incarnate on earth. This would be the position of someone like a Mark Driscoll.
And while Functional Kenoticism is probably more attractive it is still equally unorthodox. What it claims is that, for example, while the Bible does say that Jesus upholds the universe by his powerful word (Hebrews 1:3), that statement is not true during his time as a man on earth because it would then involve him not just possessing but also exercising prerogatives like omnipotence and probably also omniscience. And the whole point of functional kenoticism is that whole Jesus does retain those attributes in his person he does not access or exercise them. So presumably he sub-contracts that responsibility out to other members of the Trinity.
So it is worth saying that not all Kenoticists were created equal. There are those who hold to a strong kenosis, where there is a change in the very being of the divine Son, and there are those who hold to a weaker kenosis, where the Son retains all his attributes but where there is instead a change in whether the divine nature uses those attributes while on earth.
Yet both camps differ from a classical Christological position as outlined at Chalcedon, in that they both necessitate a genuine change in the divine nature. And even the functionalist view still does violence to a strong view of God’s immutability, let alone his simplicity.