Christological Confusion & China's Reforming Churches (part 11)

This is the eleventh post in a twelve-part series on the current Christological confusion taking root in China's emerging Reformed community (see parts 12345678, and 9 and 10).

Seventh Statement: The "Unknown Humanity of God in Christ"

"Until recent times," Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen observes, "the idea of the pre-existence of the human nature [of Christ] was not only not affirmed but at times considered to be dangerous or even heretical."[1] This did not prevent the ever-provocative Karl Barth from contriving such a Christology, however. First hinted at in his Church Dogmatics, he later argued before the Swiss Reformed Ministers' Association that the humanity of God in Christ must have a central place in evangelical theology. Admitting that he and his cobelligerents had "moved [this perspective on God] from the center to the periphery, from the emphasized principle clause to the less emphasized subordinate clause" in their polemic against theological liberalism, he now considered its recovery an urgent task.[2] Since then a number of other theologians have played suit. Among them are Wilhelm Vischer, Donald Bloesch, Robert Jenson, Thomas Senor, and the already noted Webb.[3] Apparently, our brother in Asia should be added to this list.

Although he does not cite any sources for his statements (other than a few dubiously translated or interpreted places in Scripture), his language sometimes seems lifted right out of Barth's several discussions, including his claim that the eternal humanness of Christ is the uncreated "prototype" of humanity and "could be called the 'Un-known humanity of God in Christ'."[4] Here, for example, is Barth's discussing the creation of humans:
There is a real pre-existence of man... namely, a pre-existence in the counsel of God, and to that extent, in God Himself, i.e., in the Son of God, in so far as the Son is the uncreated prototype of the humanity which is to be linked with God... As God Himself is mirrored in this image, He creates man [5]
On the humanity of God, Barth declares "it is precisely God's deity which, rightly understood, includes his humanity" and that "His deity encloses humanity in itself." Humanity, he argues, is hidden within the divine being but revealed through Jesus Christ: "In Him the fact is once for all established that God does not exist without man." Again, "in the mirror of this humanity of Jesus Christ the humanity of God enclosed in His deity reveals itself." [6]

Barth understands that "the statement regarding God's humanity, the Immanuel, to which we have advanced... from the Christological center, cannot but have the most far-reaching consequences."[7] But the consequences are determined by the details of the particular view one advances. Despite the similarity of language, Barth and our brother in Asia arrive at their respective views on the pre-existence of Christ's humanity from distinct starting points and, in the end, hold distinct positions--the latter's even more exotic than the former's.

This is not the place to enter into a comparative study of Barth's view of Christ's pre-existent humanity and the variety of this species taking root in China today. But, as Barth correctly notes, any statement regarding the humanity of God in Christ will have profound consequences, some of which, as Kärkkäinen observes, have long been considered dangerous to the understanding of Scripture captured in the Chalcedonian definition set down in 451.


[1] Kärkkäinen, Christ and Reconciliation: A Constructive Christian Theology for the Pluralistic World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013), pp. 184-85.

[2] His 1956 address to the Swiss Reformed Ministers' Association was entitled "The Humanity of God" and subsequently translated into English and published in Karl Barth, The Humanity of God (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1960), pp. 37-65. See also Barth's Christocentric discussion of election in Church Dogmatics II/2 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1957), pp. 95-194 (especially p. 145), and of the creation of "real man" in Church Dogmatics III/2 (1960), p. 155.

[3] See, for example, Wilhelm Vischer, The Witness of the Old Testament to Christ, trans. A. B. Crabtree (London: Lutterworth, 1949); Donald G. Bloesch, Jesus Christ: Savior & Lord (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1997), pp. 132-43; Robert W. Jenson, Systematic Theology, vol. 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), especially pp. 125-45; and Thomas D. Senor, "Incarnation and Trinity" in Reason for the Hope Within, ed. by Michael Murray (Grad Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), pp. 238-59, especially 241-52. Bloesch also names Klaas Runia and Ray Anderson as proponents, p. 137. Like Matt Slick, President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, who states "Jesus is uncreated" several times in his article on "Jesus" available at, it is difficult to know Runia and Anderson intended to assert the uncreated humanity of Christ or were just speaking loosely about his pre-existence as the Son. After Barth, Jenson's views have attracted the most attention, including sharp critiques by Simon Gathercole, "Pre-existence and the Freedom of the Son in Creation and Redemption: An Exposition in Dialogue with Robert Jenson," International Journal of Systematic Theology, 7.1 (January 2005), pp. 38-51, and Oliver D. Crisp, "Robert Jensen on the Pre-existence of Christ," Modern Theology 23:1 (January 2007), pp. 27-45, the latter concluding Jenson's view is "simply incoherent," p. 42.

[4] Second Recording.

[5] Church Dogmatics III/2, p. 155.

[6] Barth, Humanity of God, pp. 46, 49, 50,  and 51, respectively (emphasis original). It is worth noting that the Barth's language regarding the humanity of God has spread far beyond just those who affirm Christ's humanity is pre-existent. Take, for example, the title to James Torrance's festschrift, Christ in our Place: The Humanity of God in Christ for the Reconciliation of the World: Essays presented to James Torrance (Eugene: Pickwick, 1989) or the language of Jürgen Moltmann in many passages of The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993).

[7] Barth, Humanity of God, p. 52.