This is the fifth and final installment on books related to Christology and the doctrine of the Trinity.
This is a really helpful book that examines Christology (the incarnation and the two natures of Christ) in the context of Trinitarian theology.
Ch. 1: “Introduction to Christology: Chalcedonian Categories for the Gospel Narrative” (Fred Sanders)
Ch. 2: “The Eternal Son of God in the Social Trinity” (J. Scott Horrell)
Ch. 3: “The One Person Who Is Jesus Christ: The Patristic Perspective” (Donald Fairbairn)
Ch. 4: “One Person, Two Natures: Two Metaphysical Models of the Incarnation” (Garrett J. DeWeese)
Ch. 5: “Christ’s Atonement: A Work of the Trinity” (Bruce A. Ware)
Ch. 6: “Jesus’ Example: Prototype of the Dependent, Spirit-Filled Life” (Klaus Issler)
I found Chs. 1, 2, and 4 to be especially helpful, instructive, and stimulating. I will give brief summaries of these three chapters.
Chapter 1 by Sanders is scintillatingly clear and helpful. This chapter alone makes the book a worthwhile purchase. He does a masterful job of explaining the proper relationship between Christology and the doctrine of the Trinity. Sanders explains the first five ecumenical councils. The First Council (Nicea, 325) condemned Arianism and demonstrated that Jesus is “fully God.” The Second Council (Constantinople I, 381) condemned Apollinarianism and established that Jesus is “fully human.” The Third Council (Ephesus, 431) condemned Nestorianism and specified that there is only one person of Christ. The Fourth Council (Chalcedon, 451) condemned Eutychianism and maintained that there are two natures in Christ without confusion but also without separation.
Most accounts of the development of Christological doctrine stop there, but Sanders goes on to show the crucial importance of the Fifth Council (Constantinople II, 553) that was convened by the Emperor Justinian. This council argued essentially that the right way to interpret the two natures of Christ maintained at Chalcedon is in the context of the broader doctrine of the Trinity – the second person of the Trinity assumed a human nature into personal union with himself. Constantinople II teaches us that the human nature of Christ does not have an individual hypostatic (personal) identity of its own, but has its hypostatic identity by virtue of being taken into union with the second person of the Trinity. “The human nature of Christ, therefore, is both anhypostatic (not personal in itself) and enhypostatic (personalized by union with the eternal person of the Son)” (p. 31). The implication is that the person of Christ referred to in the Chalcedonian formula and the second person of the Trinity are identical. This concept is famously and pithily summarized in the Emperor Justinian’s theopaschite formula: “One of the Trinity suffered in the flesh.” Hence the title of the book, Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective.
If Chapter 1 simply expounds the historic Christian tradition, Chapter 2 by Horrell and Chapter 4 by DeWeese push the envelope with new insights that will need to be tested by the church. However, I have to admit that I like where both of these guys are going. Horrell is trying to make a case, based on a social model of the Trinity, for a certain type of (non-ontological) subordinationism in which the Son has a disposition of being lovingly obedient to the Father, not just in the economic Trinity but in the immanent Trinity as well. I completely agree. This version of subordinationism is to be distinguished from Arianism, since it does not posit an “ontological subordination” of the Son to the Father, as if the Son is less divine than the Father. On the other hand, it is more than mere “functional subordination” of the sort that almost everyone accepts in the economic Trinity. Perhaps we could call it “eternal personal subordination” (my term, not Horrell’s). It seems quite biblical to me: “The Father is greater than I” (John 14:28); “the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor 11:3; cp. 15:28).
In Chapter 4, DeWeese critiques the standard duothelite model of the incarnation (that is, the view that Christ has two wills, a human will and a divine will). DeWeese suggests that the two-will model is suspiciously similar to Nestorianism, and in its place he constructs a compelling argument for a modified monotheletism – knowing full well that duotheletism monotheletism was rejected at the sixth ecumenical council of 681. So he knows he’s got a big uphill battle to fight, and that he needs to show that his modified monotheletism does not fall afoul of the council. I think he pulls it off, but I am sure it will be contested.
Here is a good paragraph summarizing his view: “During the earthly ministry of the incarnation, the Logos voluntarily restricted the exercise of his personhood capacities to the range of thoughts, sensations, volitions, perceptions, etc., that can be exercised by a person operating within the normal limitations of human nature, including being embodied as an organism of the species Homo sapiens. But since humans were created in the image and likeness of God, such a limitation is not incompatible with human nature being assumed by a divine person .... I would say that the voluntarily constrained divine mind, restricted to operating through a human nature and a human body, just was a human mind” (p. 145). Absolutely fascinating stuff.
Ware’s thesis is that “although Jesus was the God-man such that he possessed a fully divine as well as a fully human nature, it seems clear ... that the bulk of Jesus’ day-to-day living occurred as he fulfilled his calling, obeyed the Father, resisted temptation, and performed his confirmatory miracles, fundamentally as a man empowered by the Spirit” (p. 43). Rather than relying on the infinite resources of his divine nature to resist temptation and be obedient, Jesus relied on the power of the Spirit. “For every temptation he faced, he fought and resisted fully and totally apart from any use of or appeal to his intrinsic divine nature” (p. 83). One of Ware’s main concerns is to be able to set Jesus forth as an example for us to follow as we too strive to live the Christian life in the power of the Spirit.
I can’t say that I’m totally convinced. To be clear, it’s not that I am convinced Ware’s thesis is wrong. I do think that he is making an important point that needs to be made. The temptations of Christ were real, as the New Testament makes clear. As the second Adam and true Israel, he resisted the devil in the wilderness by the power of the Spirit, and when the devil tried to get him to use his divine power as the Son of God, he refused (Matt 4:1-11). In every respect he was tempted as we are, yet without sin (Heb 4:15). He learned obedience through what he suffered (Heb 5:8). It was as one who had emptied himself by taking the form of a servant that he became obedient to the point of death (Phil 2:7-8). If the obedience of Christ as the second Adam was nothing but a charade, in which he really could not sin but was going through the motions to make it look like he was being tempted, then our very salvation is imperiled. Jesus really did obey where Adam had disobeyed, winning for us the righteousness that brings eternal life (Rom 5:18-19). So I have sympathy with the driving heartbeat of what Ware is trying to say. It needs to be said in the context of the evangelical emphasis on the deity of Christ.
Yet, I have some nagging problems with this book. I came away from reading this book quite bothered. It has taken me a long time to think through what it was that bothered me. After thinking about it for a while, I think what is troubling me is that Ware sounds an awful like a Nestorian to me in the way he drives a pretty hefty wedge between the man Jesus and his divine nature. I know Ware is not a Nestorian. I am confident in his Chalcedonian credentials, but I have to wonder what good old Cyril of Alexandria would think of this book if he came back from the grave and read it. I’d bet that he would have some difficulties with it.
Throughout the book Ware rejects the idea that Jesus used, appealed to, or relied on his divine nature in order to resist temptation and be obedient. If he had done so, then his temptations would lack reality and he would not be our example. But that way of putting things is off. The problem that he needs to wrestle with is not the possibility that Jesus may have used, appealed to, or relied on his divine nature to avoid sinning. The problem he needs to wrestle with is much more serious: the divine nature and the human nature are hypostatically united (cemented together), even on his own view (assuming he is a Chalcedonian, which I am confident he is). The problem is not relying on the divine nature. The problem is that the divine nature is united to the human nature by the hypostatic union – which Ware himself confesses. It is the hypostatic union, not a feared reliance on the divine nature, that has led many theologians to affirm the impeccability of Christ, that is, not simply the fact that Christ was sinless but the stronger claim that he could not sin. Ware doesn’t directly address this problem, which is a problem for his own view as an orthodox Chalcedonian.
To be sure, Ware affirms the impeccability of Christ, but he just does not think it was the reason that Christ did not sin. I know that sounds a bit odd, but that is what he argues: “The impeccability of Christ ... has nothing directly to do with how he resisted temptation and how it was that he did not sin” (p. 81). Ware gives an interesting illustration to explain how it is that Christ’s inability to sin was completely unrelated to his success in not sinning (p. 82). He says, imagine a swimmer who is training to set a world record for the longest swim (over 70 miles). He agrees to have a boat follow 30 feet behind him just in case an emergency arises to be on hand for an immediate rescue. The boat is a safety net. As such, the boat is the reason he cannot drown, but not the reason he did not drown. The reason he did not drown had nothing to do with the boat but was due solely to the swimmer’s stamina and skill. As a Christological analogy, the boat is obviously the divine nature and the swimmer is the human nature of Christ. But doesn’t that strike you as a tad Nestorian? Do we really want to say that the human nature of Christ is that separate from the divine nature?
Furthermore, Ware speaks of the man Jesus (as distinct from his divine nature) as having a will that could be tempted and that was obedient. I perfectly understand that way of speaking. It is standard orthodox duotheletism. But I am not convinced that the will is a property of a nature. It seems to me to be a property of a person. I say this as one convinced by (or at least open to) DeWeese’s version of monotheletism (see above). On a modified monotheletism, then, Ware’s argument would need to be revised. I think his overall concern can be upheld, but it would then be done in a way that does not create a Nestorian separation between the two natures of Christ and that is more consistent with Sanders’ defense of the anhypostatic/enhypostatic human nature of Christ. In a footnote, DeWeese states that his modified monothelite model can be used to solve the riddle of how Christ can be impeccable and yet his temptations be real, but he laments that space does not permit him to pursue that issue in this essay (p. 145 n68). Hopefully, DeWeese will have the chance to give us that argument some day. I would love to read it!
At the end of the day, I agree with much of what Ware is arguing for, but I am uncomfortable with the seeming flirtations with Nestorianism involved in his particular method of arguing for it. But I am interested in the potential of a modified monothelite argument for the reality of the temptations of Jesus.