Christological Confusion & China's Reforming Churches (part 7)

This is the seventh post in a twelve-part series on the current Christological confusion taking root in China's emerging Reformed community  (see part 1234 and 5 and 6).

Third Statement: Incarnation as the Assumption of a Body (Alone?)

Despite his apparent anthropological dualism, our brother does not actually affirm a two-stage incarnation (or refer to humanness as his soul). Origen believed Christ's human soul was un-fallen and pre-existent but also created and assumed by the Son at the beginning of creation. But here, Christ's humanness is said to be uncreated and eternal, not something assumed but "something within God's being."

So, there is only one incarnational moment, which involves the assumption of a physical human body by the one who is already human without the incarnation. Thus, in explaining the meaning of "Logos ensarkos, Word-in-flesh," he declares this:
About this "flesh", the Bible has made three important statements: (1) "the Father has prepared a body for me"; (2) the Son Himself took the form of a slave, thus inheriting a physical body from Mary; (3) the Virgin conceived and gave birth by the Holy Spirit, so God came to dwell among us--Immanuel.
He proceeds to explain from these three points why he is unwilling to call Christ's body (or flesh) created, which we will return to in part 10. The point here is to observe the apparent reduction of the incarnation to just the assumption of a physical human body. Again, in his words, "Christ was already in possession of an original and eternal form of human nature, and then after he came into the world, he came to possess an incarnate human nature, the nature of a human body."[1]

This statement could be read as reducing not just the incarnation, but created human nature to possessing a human body or some property we acquire "by virtue of having a body." He denies this, however, and prefers to say "a human being is human because there is human nature [in the sense of humanness] within him or her."[2] As already observed (see part 5), "humanness is the essence within human beings, the essence by virtue of which human beings are human."[3] But, according to him, the Son already possessed this from eternity and thus was a human being in precisely this sense. So, the Son did not assume human nature in the sense of humanness or become fully human when conceived in Mary's womb, but acquired just "the nature of a human body."

By insisting on the pre-existence of Christ's humanness, he arrests this view from collapsing into a Word-flesh or Apollinarian Christology. Although these statements suggest a broadly Apollinarian view of what the Son assumed in the incarnation, the speaker insists that the incarnate Son "has a [human] body, a soul, affection, reason, and a will just like us."[4] It is unclear whether his human soul is identical with his humanness prior to the incarnation (asarkos) or only as embodied (ensarkos), but humanness seems to refer to the spiritual (intellectual and volitional) aspect of Christ's human nature, and thus his humanity includes both body and soul, including the intellectual aspect denied by Apollinarians.[5]

Avoiding Apollinarianism, however, is little consolation.


[1] Third Recording. Also worth noting, the speaker identifies flesh with body and contrasts it to both the soul and what Jesus possessed prior to the incarnation.

[2] First Recording

[3] First Recording

[4] Second Recording

[5]  Hodge, Systematic Theology, pp. 421-23, interprets Emanuel Swedenborg's extensive but scattered comments on the incarnation as positing an eternal humanness in God that becomes materially manifest in time by the God's assumption of a physical body. Hodge is followed by Donald G. Bloesch, Jesus Christ: Savior & Lord (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1997), p. 137.