Monday, November 26, 2007

Kenotic Theology

I'm finishing up a research paper for a class I'm taking in Essential Christian Doctrine. The paper focuses on "kenotic theology," an idea that enjoyed a brief popularity in the mid- to late-1800's. It basically claims that Jesus set aside some of His deity, divine nature, or attributes when He took on human nature. The main text used in promoting this theory was Philippians 2:5-7...
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, being made in the likeness of men (Phil. 2:5-7, New American Standard Bible).
It's the "emptied Himself" that was used as a springboard for kenotic theology, along with a couple of other verses that emphasize the condescension and humiliation involved in the incarnation. To support the idea that Jesus lacked divine attributes, proponents used Mark 13:32, in which Jesus says...
But of the day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
This verse seems to indicate that there is knowledge available to the all-knowing Father that is not available to the incarnate Son. Hence, the latter must not be--while on earth--omniscient.

Of course, the gospel accounts are full of counterexamples, instances in which Jesus' omniscience and sovereignty (over wind and waves, demons, diseases, and birth defects) are on full display. Kenotic theology involved a denial of the historical understanding--hammered out by the early church in its councils at Nicea and Chalcedon--of Christ's nature and personhood. But in practical terms, this short-lived attempt to elevate Jesus' humanity was rejected because it did such a poor job of accounting for the breadth of Scripture's teaching.

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