Chuck Smith is at it again. A few years ago I wrote about his view of Kenosis Theory and how it is an egregious error theologically, categorized by many as heresy. See this brief article on the CARM (Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry), which classifies it under the category “heresies”. Very simply Kenosis theory is an attempt to explain how Christ could be a man (with the limitations of humanity) and God at the same time and it specifically deals with Philippians 2:6-7.
This post is important. The nature of Christ, our definition and understanding of who He is, is a critical and primary doctrine. It has been debated, and is presently debated, yet there is a correct perspective. A singular and undisputed answer to the question of the nature of Christ that has been historically and traditionally affirmed and held to by the church. It is not up for grabs or re-interpretation. Here is the creed of the council of Chalcedon which has served as the defining voice of our understanding of the revealed Christ:
- We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach people to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood;
- truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body;
- consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood;
- in all things like unto us, without sin;
- begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood;
- one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably;
- the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ;
- as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us. **
From the discussions of the early church regarding the nature of Christ, and there were many, this statement established the agreed upon understanding of the early church regarding the nature of Christ. Rejected views included Arianism, Apollinarianism, Nestorianism, Eutychianism and others. Essentially what we believe about the nature of Christ is that he is one person with two natures. He is fully human and fully God, at the same time including the time of His incarnation. Kenotic Theory denies this essential understanding of the nature of Christ.
Kenosis theory denies the full deity of Christ during his human incarnation. It claims that Jesus laid aside his divine attributes of omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence while on the earth in human flesh. The various views of Kenosis often see those attributes restored to Jesus upon His ascension into heaven. This is the view put forward by Chuck Smith in the audio clip I have provided at the end of this post. He says that in order for Christ to become a man he had to lay aside his divine characteristics of omniscience and so forth, fully restored to that place later on.
Here are the problems:
- It is logically contradictory in that it states that Jesus is God and is not God at the same time. You cannot remove essential attributes of something and continue to call it that same thing. God is by definition omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent. A being that is not omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent is not God. The human nature of Jesus had all the constituent parts of humanity. The divine nature of Christ has all the constituent parts of divinity. That is what “fully human fully God” means.
- It confuses the natures of Christ. The doctrine affirms one person with two natures. When we emphasize the human nature in Christ (who touched me?; he sleeps; not knowing the hour; dying) we are careful not to confuse the natures. The distinction of the natures and the union of the natures (known in theology as the hypostatic union) maintain their integrity. Each nature is complete and full. Jesus is fully God (ie, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent) while at the same time fully human (able to be tempted, susceptible to death). Kenosis theory confuses the natures by robbing Christ of divinity simply because the Bible speaks of his real humanity.
- It robs the atonement. If Christ is not fully God, then the sacrifice of Christ on the cross is limited in scope. He would be unable to bear the full penalty of sin upon himself, only God could do that.
- It violates the plain meaning of the text. The passage in question is Philippians 2:6-7. In this passage we are told that “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, and being made in the likeness of men.” The context of this verse is humility and service and the injunction to follow the example of Christ. The example given is of the humility of Christ in attitude, the attitude of a servant that Jesus takes on supremely exemplified by becoming human. It says nothing of laying aside essential attributes of His divine nature, nor are we to lay aside any of our attributes in following this example. He did not regard equality of position something to grab, rather, he submits himself to the Father and carries out the mission of the incarnation. It says nothing of ridding himself of omniscience or any other attribute. The primary thrust of the passage is the example of Christ as a servant.
So we come to Chuck Smith. Why name names? Why not handle this personally, as the Scriptures say to do? Why not talk to your brother in private and if you convince him you have won your brother and settled a problem appropriately. I wish I could. I have been following this issue for a while and have written several emails and letters to Pastor Chuck and members of his staff. Although publicly Pastor Chuck says he responds to every letter he receives, I have received no response. My letters have been irenic and respectful. Some people are beyond the scope of my capacity to gain a voice or an audience. If any of you have that capacity, you should use it.
I believe this is important because the program that is broadcast locally on KWVE and globally via the internet and other radio stations is widely listened to and the claim on the part of Pastor Chuck is that this is the Christian viewpoint. He speaks for Christianity on his program. The program is “authoritative”, meaning there is a strong claim on the program that the answers we give are Biblical and reflect “the Christian” understanding of the Bible. In fact and with high irony, the answer given in the following clip is in response to a caller who is trying to answer a Jehovah’s Witness. Chuck’s answer is as wrong as the Jehovah’s Witness view he is criticizing as heretical. Brian Broderson criticizes the JW’s for not being corrected when they make clear errors. It is ironic how this same attitude is classically portrayed by themselves in this broadcast. Don Stewart is also part of the answer team, a fellow Talbot grad who generally does a good job but needs to go back and amend his statements regarding Jesus in this program.
I write this if not for anyone else but those who both read my blog and listen to Chuck. He is not a theologian and he is often mistaken when he talks about theological details. He is a great pastor and has a great legacy, but he is just a guy (he would be the first to say it). Listen carefully, and check stuff out. On this issue he is very wrong. I think the issue is important enough that someone of the stature and influence of Chuck Smith should not be given a pass on bad doctrine because he is likable.
So take a listen. This answer given is at minimum wrong, considered by most Christians to be heresy. (Pastor’s Perspective Broadcast, June 30, 2009. Clip begins at 49:36 and continues to 53:03)
Maybe you think I am overreacting and the issue is not that clear or important. Make a comment I would love to hear your perspective.
** Chalcedonian Creed. (2009, July 2). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 01:27, July 2, 2009, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Chalcedonian_Creed&oldid=299804459
Some thoughtful and interesting works on Philippians 2:1-11:
“The Frog Prince, The Matrix, and the Way of the Cross: A Meditation on Philippians 2:5-11” by Bruce Fisk
“Response to “The Frog Prince, the Matrix, and the Way of the Cross” by Bruce N. Fisk” by Telford Work