Consider the Source

You’ve undoubtedly come across the statement “consider the source.” Wise words, if meant to induce you to consider the biases of a speaker or writer before reaching any conclusions on the material.

But it is unwise to categorically reject material simply because its originator has statements you disagree with. It is equally unwise to categorically accept material simply because its originator has statements you agree with. Both are examples of the genetic fallacy, a logical fallacy in which a particular work is either uncritically accepted or uncritically rejected based solely on its origin, its genesis.

The wholesale acceptance of all claims by a trusted source, and/or the wholesale rejection of all claims by an untrusted source, can stunt intellectual growth. Just because a source is right in one area, does not mean the source is right in all areas. Conversely, just because a source is wrong in one area, does not mean the source is wrong in all areas.

Any claim should be judged on its own merits, regardless of source. If you know the biases of the speaker/writer, you may be able to more critically review the claim for these sorts of biases. Such informed critique may find the claim either true or false, mostly true or mostly false, etc.

An example may help you recognize this fallacy and perceive the possible ramifications for falling prey to it.

I have seen websites explicitly forbidding the excellent resource A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition (usually abbreviated BDAG), simply because the lexicon is based on an earlier one by Walter Bauer. The reasoning? Bauer also authored the controversial Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity.

In it, Bauer theorized there were competing ‘Christianities’ in the first and second centuries. Christianity as we know it today won out. All other losing beliefs were actively suppressed or eradicated by the victor. A sort of ‘might makes right’ theological battle. Bauer purports that the resulting Christian belief of today is different from that of Jesus and the Apostles.

But Andreas J. Köstenberger and Michael J. Kruger ably refute this theory in their The Heresy of Orthodoxy: How Contemporary Culture’s Fascination with Diversity Has Reshaped Our Understanding of Early Christianity. Yet this doesn’t necessarily mean that the lexicon based on Bauer’s original is similarly defective (or that Bauer’s German language original itself is defective). In the Foreword to the Köstenberger and Kruger book, I. Howard Marshall makes this point very well, defending Bauer’s lexicon:

Old heresies and arguments against Christianity have a habit of reappearing long after they have been thought dead…When this happens, they need fresh examination to save a new generation of readers from being taken in by them.

Such is the case with the thesis of the German lexicographer Walter Bauer, who single-handedly read the entire corpus of ancient Greek literature in order to produce his magnificent Lexicon to the New Testament. Its worth is entirely independent of the fact that its compiler was in some respects a radical critic who claimed on the basis of his researches into second-century Christianity that there was no common set of “orthodox” beliefs in the various Christian centers but rather a set of disparate theologies, out of which the strongest (associated with Rome) assumed the dominant position and portrayed itself as true, or “orthodox.”[1]

One faulty book and one excellent resource by the same author! Marshall illustrates how not to fall prey to the genetic fallacy.

Let’s all endeavor to fairly evaluate material that comes our way. Yes, consider the source. Don’t categorically accept or reject it. Assess a claim by a particular source with a critical eye on known biases for evidence of such. Evaluate each individual claim on its own merits.


[1] Andreas J. Köstenberger and Michael J. Kruger, The Heresy of Orthodoxy: How Contemporary Culture’s Fascination with Diversity Has Reshaped Our Understanding of Early Christianity (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2010), p 11. Bold added for emphasis.


Book Review: A Scripture Index to Charlesworth’s The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, by Steve Delamarter

[Steve Delamarter, A Scripture Index to Charlesworth’s The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2002, Sheffield Academic Press, London, UK, 99 pages]


Essential Complement to Charlesworth’s OTP

To those of a Christian or Jewish persuasion (or those researching either of these belief systems) who own Charlesworth’s two-volume The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (OTP) I would call this an essential complement. It includes “all of the references of the Protestant scriptures contained in the footnotes and in the margins of the OTP” (p 7). Including the footnotes is quite the bonus.

After a very brief preface, followed by a short piece by James H. Charlesworth himself titled “Biblical Stories and Quotations Reflected and Even Adumbrated in the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha”, then a brief intro by Delamarter, there are two separate indexes, the first for Volume One and the second for Volume Two. In each index, Delamarter lists, in order by the 66 books of the Christian Bible (excluding the Apocrypha/Deuterocanon), first the Biblical reference, then its corresponding parallel/allusion/echo in the OTP to its right. If it’s an Old Testament reference following more closely the Septuagint (over against the Hebrew MT), the Scripture verse will have a parenthetical “(LXX)” following it. From Charlesworth’s first volume, for example, there are four OTP intertextual references to Genesis 2:7:

Apocalypse of Adam 1:2
Apocalypse of Adam 2:5
Testament of Isaac 3:15
Testament of Abraham 11:9 ftnt c

These are all on four separate lines in the index, with the last one adding (LXX) after Gen. 2:7, since this is an LXX, not an MT reference.

The author’s desire is “that, by means of this index, users will have a more convenient point of entry into the study of the intertextuality of scripture and Pseudepigrapha than has ever been available before” (p 10). I’d say this work succeeds marvellously in that aim.

Erratta: On page 47 it should be Jude 6 rather than Jude 5 as the reference from/to 1 Enoch 10:4.

Thomas Nelson Amends “Jesus’” Words with Nary a Sound

For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough (2 Corinthians 11:4, NIV).

Apparently, quite a few noticed a number of unbiblical issues with the hugely popular Jesus Calling by Sarah Young, published by Thomas Nelson (recently acquired by secular publishing house HarperCollins).  Perhaps the most vocal critic has been Warren Smith, who wrote an expose on Young’s book in his Another Jesus Calling.  Smith, a former New Ager, was quick to note that Young’s professed inspiration for Jesus Calling, the similarly titled God Calling (credited in the introduction to Young’s book), was an overtly New Age book channeled through the authors a la the Alice Bailey works, though Young took pains to explain that she deemed her work was/is Biblically-based. It isn’t.

Young claims that through contemplative prayer she received “messages” directly from Jesus Himself, writing these words in a journal, resulting in her Jesus Calling. However, some of these “messages” contradicted Scripture. Young’s “Jesus” claimed that Abraham was guilty of idolatry in his “son-worship” of Isaac.  This “Jesus” also explicitly contradicted Acts 1:7-9 by stating: ‘I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS.’ These were the last words I spoke before ascending into heaven.

Obviously becoming aware of these problems, Thomas Nelson, employing literary sleight of hand, simply made ‘corrections’ to the 10th anniversary edition of the book, including these purported direct quotes from Jesus Himself, with no explanation whatsoever – as if that fixes the problems.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this ongoing ordeal is the fact that the secular media is also taking Thomas Nelson to task for deleting the reference to God Calling as the book’s inspiration, as well as the other emendations noted above, with no reason provided for doing so within the pages of Young’s book. Ruth Graham in The Daily Beast writes, “A skeptical reader, comparing the two introductions, would see an effort by a publisher to bring an increasingly controversial but lucrative best-seller into line with mainstream evangelical orthodoxy” (see footnote 8 at link referenced just below).

Read more here:

Thoughts on Craig Keener’s Review of MacArthur’s ‘Strange Fire’

While perusing Dr. David Alan Black’s blog a couple weeks ago (specifically, the entry on December 30), I saw that Black had pointed to Dr. Craig Keener’s review of Dr. John MacArthur’s book Strange Fire, a work exposing some of the faulty theology and practices within Pentecostalism/charismaticism.  Keener, who puts out multi-volume scholarly works every week (OK, it’s not quite that frequently, though it seems so), reviewed MacArthur’s work at length, providing a fair, even analysis, criticizing the author for unnecessarily condemning one whole segment of Christendom.  (I state this without having read the book, though I’ve read other critiques, and have no reason to disbelieve Keener and the others in this regard.)  The reader is encouraged to view Keener’s review it in its entirety (at hyperlink above). 

I’ve selected portions of the review from which to add comments of my own.  The reader here should feel free to cut and paste other parts of Keener’s critique to add to the comments section and provide further commentary.

Assuming Keener’s (and others’) charge that the author has painted with a very broad brush is correct, I’d fully agree with the following statement:

 …Reactionary teaching like MacArthur’s, however, is more likely to polarize than to invite.

While I’m certain that hyper-charismaticism is dangerous, I’m just as certain that hyper-dogmatism is the same.  A few years ago, the teacher of a study I was attending, using an analogy from bowling, offered the general advice of steering clear of either gutter (though he didn’t use either of my “hyper-” terms) as I was seeking his input on my concerns over doctrines and practices of another student who was attempting to influence me.  Without stating so explicitly, it was obvious he agreed with me that the other individual’s ball fell into the hyper-charismatic gutter.  I never forgot that analogy.  I eventually left the group over the teacher’s own promotion of others with unorthodox and heretical doctrines of the hyper-charismatic variety (after enjoying a few lunches – my treat – in which I expressed concerns).

Since then, I’ve tried to steer clear of the other extreme, the one of hyper-dogmatism.  I don’t know that I’ve been entirely successful in that endeavor; I’d say my bowling ball may have a slight tendency toward the hyper-dogmatic side rather than the other gutter – much as I’d like to remain in the middle.  I suppose I’m continuationist in theology (I cannot read 1 Corinthians 12-14 and conclude cessationism), but not so much in praxis – at least not as many charismatics practice it.  My view is that spiritual gifts are not “practiced” so much as individuals are given gifts “just as He (the Holy Spirit) determines” (1 Cor 12:11) as we submit to the Spirit, on an individual and circumstantial basis.  MacArthur, however, has a definite tendency towards hyper-dogmaticism.

I suppose in many ways he’s much like some other denominational teachers who tow the party line, i.e., teaching doctrines in view of particular denominational slants to the exclusion of other possible, valid interpretations in non-essential matters, even perhaps stretching a bit to do so.  The following should go toward illustrating my point.  In MacArthur’s book Truth Endures (Panorama City: Grace To You, 2009), a collection of sermons he’s preached over the years, is one on Revelation titled “A Jet Tour through Revelation”.  In it he states:

…People often ask, ‘Where does the Rapture come in?’  It’s in the white spaces between chapters 3 and 4.  You have the church on earth in chapters 2 and 3; all of a sudden we appear in heaven in chapter 4. [p 132]

The “white spaces”?  I understand that he’s not the only one who, in part, supports the pre-tribulation Rapture doctrine by this, but I can only imagine MacArthur’s critique of similar exegesis to promote continuationism!

Yet, it’s his hard cessationism that overshadows his views of anything remotely continuationist, as Keener observes:

MacArthur’s indiscriminate condemnation of anything charismatic is little different from some bigoted secular condemnations of all evangelicals because of the behavior of some. Someone prone to generalize could even use the offenses in the book to blacklist all evangelicals, or all Christians, using the same logic that MacArthur uses against the entire charismatic movement…

Good point. 

More from Keener:

…[S]ome extreme Word of Faith teachers do promulgate teachings that, at least at face value, cannot but be viewed as heretical, especially believers being gods (rightly noted on pp. 11-12). But have such beliefs in fact “become the rule” among charismatics (p. 12)?…

One heresy that I did on occasion run into, which probably took matters more literally than did those MacArthur mentioned, was the Manifested Sons doctrine (or at least its extreme version that I encountered). Its proponents taught that overcomers by faith would achieve physical immortality before Jesus’s return, becoming “the many-membered Christ” on earth

One thing I do know is that the charismatic Spirit I have experienced was not compatible with this teaching. On one occasion I recoiled inside when I heard a guest speaker at a noncharismatic congregation teach on a completely different subject. I felt that he carried the same spirit as the Manifested Sons teachers. Afterward I asked him if he had known a certain Manifested Sons teacher. “Yes,” he replied, astonished. “We were good friends.” He was himself a Manifested Sons teacher. The Spirit I experienced regularly in sounder charismatic circles clearly testified against this false teaching

I’m glad that Keener has actually witnessed firsthand the Manifested Sons of God (MSoG) doctrine. This “many-membered Christ” (manchild), the culmination of MSoG, is what Bill Johnson of Bethel Church in Redding, CA – an individual with worldwide influence – has been teaching in a veiled form for quite some time now, while others such as Bob Jones, Paul Cain, and Todd Bentley have been much more obvious (see here for one example each of Jones and Bentley).  Yet Johnson’s recent podcast “Thinking from the Throne” is much more explicit (see here for lengthy CrossWise article, especially transcriptions at 13:49-14:12 and 36:30-37:34 of the podcast, near end of article1).  This is not just heresy, but a doctrine paralleling the occult teachings of the New Age / New Spirituality for the past 100 years, a teaching that is specifically antichrist in nature as defined by the Apostle John (1 John 2:22, 4:1-3).

I wonder who it was teaching MSoG and the “many-membered Christ” doctrine that Keener mentions here?

…I suspect that when we cite the highest figures for the numbers of charismatics in the world, we recognize that not all of them are those we would feel comfortable embracing as spiritual or theological kin

Of course, many would agree.  But, this begs the question: why aren’t there more Biblical scholars writing about these specific individuals (in a more irenic manner than some of the laity), warning the church at large?  Why didn’t Keener reveal the name of the Manifested Sons teacher he mentioned earlier?

Partly, if not mostly, in response to MacArthur, in a recent Charisma article Dr. Michael Brown poses the question Are We Charismatics Doing Enough to Correct Abuses in Our Midst?  Certainly, Brown has exposed some of the faulty doctrines and practices within Pentecostalism/charismaticism, even mentioning some names.  For that he deserves credit.  Yet on Brown’s own Voice of Revolution site he allows others to post articles, sometimes promoting teachers with very questionable theology and praxis.  This can cause confusion.

As just one example, Bill Johnson was lauded in a piece titled HEAVEN ON EARTH by Bill Johnson (Everyone Must Hear This!). The author of the piece merely provided one quote – “Jesus is perfect theology” – and two audio clips, yet there were some very troubling things stated in those clips.  (Rather than go into detail here, the reader can go to the link, listen to the audio for themselves, and read some of the comments, which include a few of my own, though I came in a bit late.)

Charisma itself is one of the worst offenders, promoting leaders of the so-called “New Apostolic Reformation” (C. Peter Wagner’s own term) to include Bill Johnson, Mike Bickle (of International House of Prayer), etc.   Jack Hayford, who is mentioned favorably by Brown in his article referenced above, appears to be a part of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), as well.  Hayford had suggested using the Gamaliel approach (cf. Acts 5:38-39) to the so-called “Lakeland Revival” of 2008, refusing to provide a very much needed corrective to the proceedings, illustrating what I’d define as poor leadership at best.

For those unaware, the NAR even has its own “Apostles” (that’s a capital “A”), as evidenced by their own International Coalition of Apostolic Leadership organization (formerly “International Coalition of Apostles” – and there are other similar organizations).   While the membership list is now concealed to those of us outside this elite group (though with a recommendation by a current member and by paying the requisite dues you too can become a member!), here is a list of members from November 10, 2009, to include former “Presiding Apostle” C. Peter Wagner.  Following is some now-deleted verbiage from the old site (no longer available on Internet Archive):

The Second Apostolic Age began roughly in 2001, heralding the most radical change in the way of doing church at least since the Protestant Reformation. This New Apostolic Reformation [NAR] embraces the largest segment of non-Catholic Christianity worldwide, and the fastest growing…

These folks (NAR) who are “heralding the most radical change in the way of doing church at least since the Protestant Reformation” are purportedly “the largest segment of non-Catholic Christianity worldwide, and the fastest growing”, and these are all within the charismatic realm.  I’d be delighted if Dr. Keener would research this group and write a detailed analysis of his findings, given both their charismatic leanings and purported size.  In addition, I think it especially prudent for Keener to name the individual who was teaching MSoG, and to name those who were teaching the “many-membered Christ” doctrine as a warning to the Church at large.


1 Here are the respective transcriptions: [13:49]…So what is He looking for?  He is looking for a people that will cooperate with the FULLNESS of God’s presence, operating and manifesting THROUGH them so that this world actually gets a FULL and ACCURATE taste of who Jesus is.  It’s not us; it’s Him.  But He dwells IN us in FULLNESS in bodily form…[14:12]

[36:30]…until we all come to unity of faith and the KNOWLEDGE of the SON of God.  Too many people think they know that don’t know.  So the knowledge of the Son of God, to A perfect man.  Look at the description.  Millions and millions of body members come to A – singular – perfect mana full-on revelation of the Person of Jesus, what He is like, how He is.  To A perfect man, to the measure and stature – equal measure to the fullness of Christ…[37:34]

Book Review: The Gospel of Barack Hussein Obama According to Mark, by Mark F. Bozzuti-Jones

[Mark F. Bozzuti-Jones, The Gospel of Barack Hussein Obama According to Mark, 2012, CreateSpace Publishing, North Charleston, SC, 157 pages ]

Blasphemy against the Christian God while desecrating Sacred Scripture

In a word: blasphemy.  Not only does the author blaspheme/revile/malign/profane sacred Scripture (cf. Titus 2:5), as evidenced by the title, he also equates a mere man – in this case Barack Obama – to Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Christian Holy Trinity:

In the year 1961…Barack Hussein Obama was born…The Anointed One was incarnated into this world on August 4, 1961, praises be upon him [p 2; CAPS in original, other emphasis added].

No matter one’s political persuasion, we are not to deify any man.  There was only one Incarnation of the “Anointed One”; His name is Jesus Christ, the One for whom the real Gospels (good news) in Scripture are named.  The above quote is not ‘merely’ one isolated passage; the entire book is filled with this sort of heresy.

The author impiously fashions his book in the form of a Biblical Gospel complete with parables paralleling or approximating the true Gospels’, but with Obama as narrator/speaker in place of Jesus; however, he adds bits of BHO’s speeches, plus “imagined conversation, and fictional situations” [back cover] to his sacrilegious stew.  Bozzuti-Jones’ idea here is not even wholly original, for avowed atheist Jose Saramago wrote a book titled ‘The Gospel of Jesus Christ’, in which Saramago reimagined Jesus’ life (and those around Him), embellishing some Biblical accounts, while making up others out of whole cloth.

Unless the reader is both well-versed Biblically and well-read regarding Obama’s personal life, it will be difficult to ferret out what is true, quasi-true, fictional, or a conflation for the irreverent author’s own rhetorical effect.  Bozzuti-Jones states that Barack Obama had been elected president of the Harvard Law Review, noting, “In its 104 year history, an African American had never been elected to lead this group” [p 20].  This appears to be wholly true.  Yet, the author perverts the sending of the 72 in the Biblical Gospel of Luke (Luke 10), conflating this with other Biblical accounts, while conjuring up the rest:

Behold I send you out into the cold…When they tell you to eat fruit, remember my words to you.  And when they throw stones at you, say to them ‘Peace be unto you.’  When you see the wolf, do not be afraid to bleat, because you are the sheep of God [p 69].

Of course, I’m writing this from the perspective of a Christian – in the historically orthodox sense.  Bozzuti-Jones is not.  This author self-identifies as “a priest for pastoral care at Trinity Church Wall Street” (as per back cover), a very liberal Episcopalian church in New York.  By “very liberal” I mean one in which all humans are “Divine”, at least potentially.  As he states on the Dedication page, “And let the reader seek and reveal his or her own Divinity” [Caps in original]. 

For those who may disagree with my views here, framed by my orthodox Christian perspective, let me just state that I’m not being “intolerant” of the views of this author.  As an American, this man shares the same First Amendment rights as have I.  He may choose to blaspheme my God and my Savior, and desecrate Holy Scripture.  That’s his prerogative.  I, in turn, choose to defend my faith against this blasphemy by writing this review, thereby exercising my own First Amendment rights.

I carefully considered whether or not I should even pen this critique.  I feel sure that some will seek out this book precisely because of my negative review.  But I felt that true Christians should know how some of those who claim to hold to the Christian faith are actually quite the enemy of our faith instead.

Interestingly, the author published other books on the sometimes theologically liberal-leaning Christian imprint Augsburg Fortress (associated with the ELCA), yet this work was self-published.  Perhaps Bozzuti-Jones could not find a Christian publisher willing to print this particular one, prompting him to self-publish instead?

Zero stars.  Very strongly not recommended – especially to true Christians.  Non-Christians may find the author’s musings entertaining and humorous.  I’m appalled.


Book Review: Bill Johnson’s ‘When Heaven Invades Earth’

In his book, When Heaven Invades Earth: A Practical Guide to a Life of Miracles [Treasure House/Destiny Image, 2003, Shippensburg, PA], Bill Johnson teaches New Order of the Latter Rain (NOLR) doctrine, a teaching denounced as heresy by the Assemblies of God (A/G) in 1948.  This teaching includes Dominionism – that Adam lost dominion of the world to Satan, Jesus won it back, and it’s up to the church to wrestle it from Satan [pp 31-33 (all page #s from 1st edition)].  Integral to NOLR doctrine is the Manifested Sons of God (MSoG) teaching which includes diminishing Jesus Christ to a mere man having surrendered His divinity when the Word became flesh (at the Incarnation) and subsequently re-attaining His deity at the Resurrection.  This is by virtue of the heretical kenosis doctrine (self-emptying) using Philippians 2:5-7 as a proof-text [pp 79, 85 fn. 3].

In “His self-imposed restriction to live as a man” [p 29], Johnson claims that Jesus “had NO supernatural capabilities whatsoever” [p 29] clearly reducing Jesus to a man given that God is in very essence supernatural.  Even though Johnson makes the statement, “[w]hile He is 100 percent God, He chose to live with the same limitations that man would face once He [sic?] was redeemed” [p 29] Johnson negates this with “He had No supernatural capabilities whatsoever” and “He laid his [sic] divinity aside as He sought to fulfill the assignment given to Him by the Father…” [p 79].  One could construe Johnson’s “while He is 100 percent God” statement as present tense as opposed to past tense (i.e., during the Incarnation) especially in light of his numerous statements pronouncing Christ’s humanity at the expense of His deity including “the anointing is what linked Jesus, the man, to the divine enabling Him to destroy the works of the devil” [p 79].

This diminution of Jesus Christ’s deity is crucial to MSoG doctrine as Jesus “became the model” [p 29] for all to follow “to do as He did and become as He was” [p 138] in order to attain our own divinity as fully manifested sons (and daughters) of God.  This glorification of mankind is spoken of by distorting I John 4:17, “As a sculptor looks at a model and fashions the clay into its likeness, so the Holy Spirit looks to the glorified Son and shapes us into His image.  As He is, so are we in this world” [p 145].  According to NOLR doctrine, Jesus can only return once the ‘church’ body receives this perfection as his tweet on August 20, 2011 illustrates: “Jesus is returning for a bride whose body is in equal proportion to her head.”

Bill Johnson also claims that Jesus did not receive the title of Christ until His baptism by John in the Jordan [p 79] which is at odds with Luke 1:35/2:11.  And, while at the very beginning of chapter 7 he states correctly that “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah” [p 79], he subsequently changes “Christ” to mean simply “the anointing” – an anointing that all can receive [pp 80, 133-35] even describing it as tangible and transferable [p 135].  He is more explicit in his book Face to Face with God describing Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan as the ‘baptism of the Holy Spirit’ [pp 21-22, 58, 77-80]: “The baptism of the Spirit comes to anoint the church with the same Christ anointing that rested upon Jesus in His ministry so that we might be imitators of Him” [p 77, Face to Face].  To be clear, Johnson is referring to this as a second ‘baptism.’

While the Greek word Christos is translated primarily as anointed in the Old Testament, in the New Testament Christos is translated each and every time as “Christ” referring exclusively to the person of Jesus Christ our Savior.  To change the definition of “Christ”, as in the person of Jesus Christ, to “anointing” is to pave the way for all to be “Christed” as the “Christ anointing” quote above in Face to Face with God makes clear.

Johnson goes on to claim that all those against ‘the anointing’ – i.e., ‘the anointing’ as he defines it – are antichrist.  This is illustrated in the following two statements: “The spirits of hell are against the anointing, for without the anointing mankind is no threat to their dominion” [p 80] and, “The spirit of antichrist is at work today, attempting to influence believers to reject everything that has to do with the Holy Spirit’s anointing” [p 81] (see here for more details).

Bill Johnson is leading many into apostasy and my heart grieves for these.  May the Lord have mercy upon us all.

Book Review: Exploring Kenotic Christology by C. Stephen Evans (Ed.)

[C. Stephen Evans, ed., Exploring Kenotic Christology: The Self-Emptying of God. 2010 (2006 Oxford University Press), Regent College Publishing, Vancouver, BC.]

C. Stephen Evans’ compilation of modern essays on kenotic Christology brings together a number of current proponents of the kenosis theory with a few adherents of the historically orthodox view.  The essays are written by philosophers, theologians and Biblical scholars all professing Christian faith.  Certainly, some strides have been made in attempting to articulate a more coherent (and varied) kenosis doctrine since Gottfried Thomasius first proposed his theory in the mid-nineteenth century.  Yet, there are still problems inherent in any literal ‘self-emptying’ and/or ‘self-limiting’ doctrine with respect to the Word (Logos) when compared to Chalcedon and, by extension, Scripture.

Exploring Kenotic Christology: The Self-Emptying of GodConfusingly, some use the term kenosis as a way to define the Word’s (Logos’) necessary limitations qua human while neither divesting divine attributes nor limiting the usage thereof during the Incarnation, which is in actuality merely defining Chalcedonian orthodoxy.   For example, to claim that Jesus is limited in power yet God the Son is omnipotent is consistent with historical, orthodox Christianity.  Yet others in modern times use the term in ways far removed from the starting point of orthodoxy, even going so far as denying pre-existence.  Thomas R. Thompson explains: “Kenoticism is now applied to various Christological projects that differ significantly from the intent and strictures of nineteenth-century advocates” [p 102].  Thankfully, the essayists in this volume all affirm the Logos’ pre-existence, though some depart from orthodoxy in other areas.  On the more orthodox end, we have scholar Gordon Fee in his working definition as “some form of self-limitation of divine prerogatives on the part of the earthly Jesus” [p 29].  However, others use the term in the sense of either ontological kenosis (the Word no longer retains certain, or perhaps any, divine attributes) or functionalist kenosis (the Word retains all divine attributes yet restricts the usage of some or all).  For the benefit of the reader, the type of kenosis will be listed with the explanation of the essayist(s)’s stance in this review – ontological or functionalist (which will also be collectively identified as “unorthodox”), as opposed to orthodox (fully Chalcedonian/Biblical).

Not surprisingly, Fee, a renowned exegete, offers the most Scriptural examination of Jesus Christ’s earthly life.  He cautions against overly humanizing the divine or improperly divinizing the humanity of the Incarnate Christ, for to do the latter is a sort of “naïve docetism.”  Fee does an excellent job of debunking James D.G. Dunn‘s exposition of Philippians 2:6-11 as an ‘Adam Christology’ [30-32].  While not technically kenotic (excepting perhaps a modern understanding of the term), Dunn asserts that the Apostle Paul understood Christ as a man (Adam) rather than the pre-existent Logos who was subsequently made flesh [Dunn, Christology in the Making 1980,Westminster; pp 113-128].  Fee provides a fairly thorough exegesis of the Philippians passage illustrating that the best way to understand the ‘self-emptying’ is metaphorically rather than literally.  At times he seems to be propounding a functionalist kenosis [34], yet it appears Fee is merely explaining the Biblical grounds with which to approach the study of the humiliation of Jesus Christ [the Incarnation from conception to Cross and subsequent burial] to stay within the bounds of Chalcedonian orthodoxy [29].  Fee neither attempts to explicitly debunk any of the historically unorthodox kenosis theories (save Dunn’s) nor fully define his own stance.

Bruce Fisk agrees with the logic of kenosis, yet his essay focuses primarily on comparing the Philippians hymn (2:6-11) with contemporaneous Graeco-Roman fiction and how the Christ-hymn might have been understood by first century readers.  While interesting in its own right, it sheds only a small to moderate amount of light on the discussion of kenosis in this volume as Fisk, frustratingly, neglects to specifically state his own position.  To be fair, he does explain portions of the text by providing some commentary of orthodox scholars with whom he agrees (or seems to agree), with opposing viewpoints as well.  Furthermore, to his credit, Fisk touches on the problems in defining the Greek (transliterated) harpagmos [in verse 2:6b – see further explanation in section C of Rodney Decker’s exegesis – updated here] given its limited usage both in Scripture (only one time) and extra-Biblical material, noting that he himself leans toward the view of Moule, Hoover and Wright that Christ “did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited” [63-4].

Ruth Groenhout compares kenosis (self-emptying) in general to feminist thought, arguing that self-sacrifice is not antithetical to feminism: “When placed in the context of a robust notion of self-worth, and when oriented toward service to the Kingdom rather than purposeless self-abnegation, self-sacrifice is an appropriate call for all who call themselves followers of Christ” [311].  She makes a somewhat useful analogy of Christ’s state of humiliation in comparing fairy tale kings who temporarily dress as peasants, setting aside the prerogatives of royalty, who subsequently return to the throne receiving again their full due [297].   Noting that some feminists dismiss Christ’s sacrifice out of hand merely because He was male, Groenhout opines: “His life, death, and resurrection, however, are not intrinsically tied to his masculinity, but to this humanity” [312].  While this is a very profitable essay in its own right, it does little to advance the discussion of the kenosis theory.

Thomas R. Thompson provides a useful history of nineteenth century kenosis, discussing various models and their resultant criticisms from the right and the left.  In summation, Thompson asserts that any non-kenotic theory devolves into paradox with contradiction (in distinction from merely paradox) which makes ‘classical’ (19th century), or modern, kenosis theories more palatable in comparison.  Better, according to Thompson, to accept some paradox “pushing beyond contradiction, if possible” [110] in explicating a kenosis theory.  With this in mind, he claims that the W. F. Gess model (the Logos truly BECAME flesh as a human soul and gradually regained deity throughout the Incarnation – a true metamorphosis of the divine Logos) is “the most consistent and coherent” [111], while conceding it failed in the claim of deity.  Yet incredibly (especially in light of the fact that he’s at least cognizant that the Word was to sustain the cosmos [94], cf. Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:17), Thompson believes this kenotic motif provides the most promise, asserting that a Gessian model can somehow “make the deity claim”, concluding with, “But, that is the argument for another work” [111].   This most extreme of the ontologically kenotic theories has been described by La Touche as “incarnation by divine suicide” [“The Person of Christ in Modern Thought” in L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans; p 327].

Edward T. Oakes expresses an understanding of the mystery of the Incarnation: “To explain that paradox by saying ‘the infinite has emptied itself to become finite’ certainly resolves that paradox.  But if one interprets self-emptying too univocally or too radically, the paradox is not just resolved but abolished” [218-219].  Oakes then proceeds to expound on an essay by Hans Urs van Balthasar putting forth a view that Jesus “descended into hell”, i.e. Sheol, to die there, between the Cross and the Resurrection (which, perhaps to some, could well be a logical conclusion to ontological kenosis, given that Christ took on the sins of the world [cf. 2 Cor. 5:21]).  He even seems to suggest that Jesus went to Gehenna, the lake of fire: “Sin is burnt up, as it were, in the fire of this love, for God, as Scripture says, is a consuming fire that will not tolerate anything impure but must burn it away” [240].  To support the view, Oakes/Balthasar use the Apostles’ Creed and much-disputed Biblical texts, primarily 1 Peter 3:18-20, the disparate views of which are aptly described by R.C. Sproul who admits his own view is in the minority: “I would hasten to add that most views of this passage are in the minority, since there is no majority view on the meaning of this text…” [St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: 1-2 Peter, Crossway; p 125].  Wayne Grudem explains the various theories related to this passage in the appendix of the TNTC of 1 Peter, taking 37 pages to do so.  Neither Sproul nor Grudem construe this passage as remotely kenotic, and Grudem contends the phrase in the Apostles’ Creed (descended into Sheol) is not in the earliest versions of the Creed [Systematic Theology, Zondervan; pp 583-588, cited from Schaff, Creeds of Christendom] and, on that basis, omits it from his systematic [p 1169].  Orthodoxy vehemently denies Jesus literally died in Sheol, much less Gehenna.

Not wishing to “abolish the paradox”, Oakes asserts that Jesus Christ was literally the Word ‘become’ flesh [218, 236] (a la Gess, as Thompson proposes above); subsequently, the second person of the Triune Godhead actually becomes wholly separated from the rest of the Trinity post-Cross [similar to the ‘Jesus Died Spiritually’ heresy of some Word of Faith teachers], at which point the kenosis is “subsumed” into the Trinity and the Trinity is “transformed” [241].  Oakes ends his essay with his admonition to “leave the paradox as stark as possible” [245].

In the Thompson/Cornelius Plantinga Jr. chapter the authors assert that kenosis theories are dependent upon the adoption of a ‘social’ view of the Trinity, but one that does not go so far as implicit or explicit tritheism [as Oakes’ essay does so implicitly].  While I’m not so sure that the authors make their case, there are other problematic issues put forth.  Again, the Gessian kenotic theory is the preferred model [170, 176].  In speaking of Gess’ view, Chafer aptly describes it thus, “This theory is so untrue…that it needs no minute refutation” [Systematic Theology, Kregel; I.380].

In asking the question “Is kenosis orthodox?”, Stephen T. Davis sets out to ‘prove’ that kenosis can be congruent with the Chalcedonian view that the Incarnate Christ was fully human and fully divine, “I am suggesting a kenotic theory as a way of interpreting Chalcedon” [115].  Davis does not propose a fully formed theory; he merely attempts to show that kenosis (vaguely defined) is orthodox.   To counter the charge that a kenosis entailing a ‘laying aside’ or restricting of the ‘omni’ attributes denies divine immutability Davis claims “soft immutability” such that “God is not fickle, capricious, mercurial, or moody; God’s holy and benevolent nature remains ever and eternally the same; God is faithful in keeping God’s promises; God’s aims and intentions for human beings do not change” [135-36].  But how does that square with Psalm 102:27 and Hebrews 13:8, as well as Colossians 1:15-17 and Hebrews 1:3 (and others noted below)?

In the introductory chapter it is stated that the Evans/Davis jointly authored closing essay “attempts to draw together some of the main strands made by the proponents of kenotic Christology today” as a challenge to “traditional theories” [24], with the concluding essay itself asserting that only a “full-fledged” kenosis provides “the best hope of an account of the Incarnation that is genuinely orthodox and yet does complete justice to the biblical portraits of Jesus” [321].   While no specific theory is proffered in the final essay, the authors do claim that Jesus Christ “lived his life in complete and continuous dependence on the Holy Spirit” which, while one could potentially argue that this view is not out of the bounds of Chalcedon, runs contrary to the Biblical witness [cf. John 5:21-25 (Christ acting divinely of and by Himself while incarnate by giving eternal life to whom He chose); John 2:19/10:17-18].  This dependence on the Holy Spirit implies at minimum a functionalist kenosis, but an ontological kenosis can be derived from this as well.

In his own essay, Evans promotes an ontological kenosis such that the claim is that if God is omnipotent then to be so necessarily means He should be able to forego His omnipotence.  Thinking this through, Evans rightly notes, “If he has given up omnipotence, he cannot use omnipotence to get it back” [213].  Excellent point.  Evans, however, explains, “That is why the glorification of the Son is described by Scripture as accomplished by the power of the Father” [213].  While I don’t believe this can be backed up Biblically, there are other problems with this view.  Both John 2:19 and 10:17-18 indicate that Jesus was in fact omnipotent as He raised Himself on the Third Day [In fact, the entire Trinity was involved in the Resurrection as other Scripture attests: Holy Spirit – Romans 1:4/8:11; Father – Acts 5:29-31/Galatians 1:1/Ephesians 1:17-20; God – Acts 2:24/Romans 4:24].  Moreover, John 2:11 makes the explicit claim that Jesus performed the miracle at Cana by His own inherent powers which “thus revealed his glory”.

Asserting that a kenotic theory should adhere to Chalcedon, Ronald J. Feenstra begins his essay with a brief Christological history starting with the events leading up to and the making of the Chalcedonian Creed.   He then proceeds to propound an ontological kenosis by distinguishing between ‘essential’ and ‘accidental’ attributes of divinity, similar to Thomasius’ “immanent” and “relative” attributes.  However, as in Davis’ view [Logic and Nature of God, London: Macmillan and Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983; p 124] God is, for example, “omnipotent-unless-freely-and-temporarily-choosing-to-be-otherwise”, borrowing this idea from Thomas V. Morris [152].

In favor of the orthodox view and specifically critical of the unorthodox theories, Edwin Chr. van Driel‘s essay notes the “polemic twist” of the unorthodox kenosis proponents.  While classical theologians see the Incarnation as an addition (of a human nature/body), the ontological or functionalist kenotic sees it as a divestment or necessary self-limitation of certain divine attributes instead.  Adopting a metaphor borrowed from Marilyn McCord Adams, van Driel calls the divine nature of the Word a “power pack” with the human nature acquired at the Incarnation an additional “power pack”.  Thus, the incarnate Christ had two complete “power packs” in one person.  Van Driel believes a satisfying kenotically orthodox account can be found in Chalcedon, keeping in mind Constantinople III (AD681) which further specifies a two-willed (and, van Driel construes, a two-minded) Incarnation.

Similarly, Sarah Coakley asks if modern kenosis “rests on a mistake”, and looks at patristic exegesis (Cyril, Nestorius, Gregory of Nyssa) of the Philippians hymn/poem as a way to show possibilities existing in the communicatio idiomatum to arrive at a coherent Chalcedonian, Biblically orthodox Incarnation, as opposed to an ontological or functionalist interpretation.  Disappointingly, Coakley stops short of fully codifying a theory concluding her essay with an admonition to “re-embrace alternative readings of kenosis that take the communicatio tradition seriously, along with its understanding of the radical difference of status of the ‘divine’ and the ‘human’” [264].  (Oliver Crisp, in his book Divinity and Humanity [Cambridge, 2007; {see my review}], uses a similar methodology promoting a fully formed theory which he terms “divine krypsis”. He defines it as not being kenotic (though one could argue, ‘quasi-kenotic’) in the manner of Evans, Davis, et al since the Logos is not limited in any way.  This works in virtue of the perichoretic relationship of the divine nature to the human in hypostatic union, while restricting any transference of essences or properties to either nature.)

While I will agree with the following statement in the Davis/Evans jointly-authored final essay that “Christology is THE Christian doctrine” [313], I do not agree with their kenotic conclusions on this all-important subject.  In fairness, however, the authors state just before their concluding remarks: “We believe that the challenge of kenotic theory will be helpful even to those who eventually reject a full kenotic theory.  For a kenotic account will stimulate those who reject it to think more deeply about the meaning of the Incarnation and do more justice to the full humanity of Jesus” [321].  I don’t disagree, as there are those who lean more towards divinizing Jesus’ humanity.  One must keep both the human and the divine natures in proper balance/tension.

This book mostly fails to fulfill its billing as from the back cover: “It is an attempt to make sense of the traditional [i.e., Chalcedonian; pp 1-2] Christian claim that Jesus of Nazareth was both human and divine by developing the idea that to become human God the Son temporarily emptied himself of some of his divine attributes.”  The reason it falls short is two-fold: 1) the essayists promoting a literal self-emptying fail to take into account the whole of Scripture [primarily Colossians 1:17/ Hebrews 1:3, John 2:19/10:17-18 & John 5:21-25] from which Chalcedon is drawn; and, 2) those who promote (or seem to promote) an historically orthodox view (that Jesus did not literally empty Himself of some of His divine attributes) are in opposition to the back cover’s claim.  And, frustratingly, neither camp fully explicates a viable theory, though some (Coakley, van Driel) come closer than others.  But this in no way renders the work fatally flawed; rather, this illustrates that whoever wrote the back cover commentary was either ill-informed of its contents or did not think through a proper synopsis.

A minor criticism: the book does not segregate those preferring (or seeming to prefer) a historically orthodox position from those who favor modern kenosis which can be confusing as one reads along.

All in all, the book is thought provoking both for those of orthodox persuasion and those favoring the more unorthodox kenotic views and is therefore well worth the read for either camp in investigating opposing views.  Be forewarned, unless one is well-versed in Christological issues and somewhat aware of the various kenotic theories, this book will be a challenging read (as it was for me) and likely a difficult read in spots.  Yet, it is this reader/reviewer’s contention that this volume deserves a close study as a way toward a (re)consideration of one’s own position on “THE Christian doctrine”.  Proper Christology is indeed central to the Christian faith.  Distortions can lead to heresy, and faulty Christology has negative implications on the Trinity and the Atonement.  Full adherence to Chalcedon is imperative, keeping in mind the full counsel of Scripture from which the Creed was codified.

Three (maybe 3.5) out of five stars overall for inducing further reflection on this subject.

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