The incarnation is difficult to conceptualise. The what of the incarnation is relatively straightforward, the Bible is clear that he is both man and God. The how of the incarnation is much harder and the Bible isn’t particularly interested in spelling it out for us. So in that sense it is more speculative, we’re not pointing to any verses. But we do have certain boundary markers that help us see where the limits are and what elements we must keep. These boundary markers are summarised in the Chalcedonian Creed, and we spoke about them here.
One view of the how of the incarnation is known as kenosis, and we looked at it here and it’s assumptions here. This view is gaining popularity in a number of forms but in the end must be rejected because it denies some of the key boundary markers.
An alternative view to kenosis put forward by theologians like Oliver Crisp, among others, is a view called divine krypsis, or divine self-concealment. This is a view that takes a traditional, Chalcedonian starting point and can deal with the problems kenoticists are trying to overcome while also avoiding the difficulties that both ontological and functional kenoticists run up against is possible. I think the view has some warrant.
Here’s how it goes: Word becomes flesh, takes on human nature. In this movement He does not in any way relinquish any divine attributes – either temporarily or permanently. At every moment of the incarnation the Word is exercising his divine attributes to the full, just like he was before the incarnation.
His human nature is a genuine human nature in that it has properties like being limited in power and being ignorant of stuff. And so at least some of the divine attributes are not accessible to the human nature of Christ.
Yet this does not mean that the divine nature is restricted in the exercise of any of these divine attributes. All it means is that he places a restriction on the human nature of Christ having any access to these attributes.
The hypostatic union is a real union of natures in the one person of the Word. And the two natures are in a perichoretic – each nature mutually indwelling the other relationship – but the perichoresis is asymmetrical. It’s asymmetrical in that the divine nature completely indwells and interpenetrates the human nature but the human nature does not completely indwell the divine. The human nature of Christ is in an asymmetrical accessing relation with the Word in the hypostatic union.
The Word still has full access to all the divine attributes and prerogatives in the incarnation. He does not relinquish or abdicate them in the incarnation and he is not restricted from accessing and using them. The only limitation is that the human nature of Christ does not access or exercise these divine attributes.
So, for example, at and during the incarnation Christ’s divine nature retained the attributes of omnipresence and omnipotence. And he exercised them fully throughout the incarnation in that he continuously filled the Earth and consciously upheld the universe. This does not violate his humanity because they remained attributes of the divine nature alone, and they weren’t shared with the human nature of Christ. The human nature of Christ did not have access to those attributes and so did not exercise them.
The counter-charge put up to this view is that it is Nestorianism, that is it means that we now have two persons – a divine person and a human person. But that’s not the case. We still only have one person, the divine Word. But the one person does have two distinct natures that are united in his person, and each nature retains all the qualities they possessed before the incarnation. But we’re not splitting the natures apart so as to have two persons, we’re keeping the natures distinct though not separated and without confusion or change. The charge of Nestorianism doesn’t stick.
Divine Krypsis, self-concealment. I think krypsis succeeds where kenosis fails.