W. Gary Crampton on the Incarnation
Below is a selection from the booklet, Christ the Mediator, by Dr. W. Gary Crampton dealing with the Incarnation. I provided this selection here because (1) it provides a helpful exercise for me as I grapple with the problems entailed in the doctrine of the Incarnation, (2) I am interested in continuing to examine the contours of the solution proposed by the late Gordon Clark, (3) I just feel like fanning the flames, and, (4) I enjoy watching Clark’s critics go bonkers.
Before jumping into Dr. Crampton’s theory of the Incarnation, I would like to preface the following remarks by stressing that I hold Dr. Crampton in the highest esteem. Next to perhaps John Robbins, he has done more to further an understanding of Scripturalism than anyone I know. His book, The Scripturalism of Gordon Clark, is an excellent introduction to the thought of Gordon Clark, and, By Scripture Alone, should be mandatory reading for every seminary student and any Christian interested in defending the centerpiece of the Reformation, sola Scriptura, against contemporary attacks by some of Rome’s most able apologists. His articles which have appeared in the pages of Trinity Review and elsewhere provide a wealth of sound theology found almost nowhere else today. As with virtually anything else from the pen of Dr. Crampton, Christ the Mediator is a smorgasbord of profound and beautiful truths concerning our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. Hopefully the selection below will provide a teaser prompting readers to explore the rest of Dr. Crampton’s well rounded and penetrating Christology.
Now, the first thing to notice about Crampton’s examination of the Incarnation is that he directly answers some of Clark’s critics (I wonder if any of Clark’s critics here will see themselves in Crampton’s discussion of the inadequacies of the “mainline” handling of the Incarnation represented by Louis Berkof and Augustus Strong). Next, he affirms Clark’s insistence that the solution to the problem of the Incarnation lies in carefully defining key terms, specifically “person.” Crampton quotes Clark approvingly:
Dr. Clark asks some very relevant questions: “If Jesus was not a human person, who or what suffered on the cross? The Second Person [of the Trinity] could not have suffered, for deity is impassable. If then the Second Person could not suffer, could [an impersonal human] nature suffer?”
Dr. Clark continues: “On the contrary, only a person can suffer.” Moreover, he ponders, since the Bible teaches us that Christ possessed a human consciousness, mind, and heart, and will, how can He not be a human person? Is it possible for “a man to be a man without being a human person?” Is the salvation of the elect accomplished “by the alleged death of an impersonal [human] nature?” No, says Clark, “the one who died on the cross was a man, He had or was a soul, He was a human being, a Person.”
While the above quotations from Clark are commendable, there is something rather odd here as well. In that last quotation from Clark, which is found on page 70 of The Incarnation, the sentence is rendered in the monograph as:
“the one who died on the cross was a man, he had or was a soul, he was a human being, a person.”
By identifying the human being or person who died on the cross as He or Person is to identify the Second Person as the one who died on the cross. Yet, that is not what Clark was saying or even implying. For example, Clark writes:
Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34 support this view: “My God, my God, why hast though forsaken me?” Since a rift within the eternal immutable Persons of the Trinity is absolutely impossible, Jesus is here speaking as a man.
For Clark, the man who died on the cross was a human person, not the Second Person in a human nature, whatever that might entail.
Interestingly, Crampton also agrees with John Murray who argued:
It may be that the term “Person” can be given a connotation in our modern context, and applied to Christ’s human nature, without thereby impinging upon the oneness of His divine-human Person. In other words, the term “nature” may be too abstract to express all that belongs to His humanness and the term “Person” is necessary to express the manhood that is truly and properly His.
Oddly, Crampton seems to think that the connotation of the term “Person” that is “necessary to express the manhood that is truly and properly His” is to simply assert that the human nature in Christ is “personal.” Rather than a human person with a human nature joined with a divine person with a divine nature, Dr. Crampton argues that “there is one Lord Jesus Christ, one God-man (i.e., the one Person), who possesses two distinct and inseparable natures, both of which are to be considered ‘personal’ in that He is fully divine and fully human.” Then he avers: “There is nothing impersonal about the divine or the human natures.”
Well, of course there is nothing impersonal about either a divine or a human nature, but calling a nature “personal” is a far cry from agreeing with Clark that “the one who died on the cross was a . . . human being, a person.” If we can say that a divine Person has a divine nature hence the divine nature is personal, wouldn’t it make sense to say that a human person has a human nature hence the human nature is personal? Where is this human nature that we see in the life of Christ so clearly expressed in the pages of Scripture derived from if not from a human person?
Earlier in his discussion dealing with the deficiencies with the “mainline” understanding of the Incarnation, Crampton writes:
If He [Christ], as Chalcedon properly contends, did take upon Himself a human nature so that, “according to the manhood,” He is “in all things like unto us,” then He had a human body and a human soul. Is He not then a human person? After all, the Bible repeatedly claims that He is not just a human nature; He is “the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).
However, and assuming I’ve understood him correctly, it seems Dr. Crampton is back asserting the same deficient “mainline” solution only this time modifying the term “human nature” by calling it “personal.” Aren’t we again left asking: Who died on the cross? A nature or a person? Crampton’s answer seems to be that “a personal human nature” died on the cross, but this doesn’t solve anything, much less answer Clark’s objections above. Evidently Jesus wasn’t a real human person after all, but rather Jesus was the divine Second Person who takes on a personal human nature. Again, I fail to see how attaching the word “personal” to some still undefined “nature” provides the connotation of the word person “necessary to express the manhood that is truly and properly His”?
It appears that while alluding to Clark’s clear and unambiguous definition of person, instead of actually applying it to the God-man, Jesus Christ, and thereby providing a solution to the problems Clark and Crampton both raise, it seems that Crampton simply avoids the question altogether. It is almost as if he sees the solution to the problem, sees what it implies, and reflexively reverts back to “one Person/two natures” position without defining either person or nature. This is unfortunate, because where Murray pointed to a solution, Clark actually solved the puzzle. Even if Clark is wrong it would have been helpful if Crampton would have at least articulated Clark’s position correctly and then demonstrated where Clark erred and how a two-mind theory (which Crampton does endorse) answers the Scriptural objections and theological concerned raised by Clark, Crampton, Murray, and others.
Interestingly too, according to Crampton the “two mind view of Christ” advanced by Thomas Morris has a long pedigree dating back to the 4th Century. As Crampton observers; “It is irrational, so these scholars said, to maintain that the God-man has only one divine self-consciousness. If this were the case, He could not be fully man.” I couldn’t agree more. Perhaps the answer to the puzzle, and one that doesn’t cross the boundaries outlined at Chalcedon, lies in the two-mind theory of Morris since I can’t seem to find it in Crampton. Of course, James Anderson in his book defending logical paradox in the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation, as well as biblical incoherence in general, examines Morris’ two-mind solution and while he agrees that it solves the paradox inherent in the traditional formulation, and while technically within the boundaries of creedal orthodoxy, violates it by implying a two-person solution, which brings us back to Clark.
It seems to be a Catch-22. Either accept that the Incarnation is inherently and hopelessly paradoxical, or be willing to consider views which by definition will be labeled as heterodox. That’s not to say that the traditional formulation is formally contradictory, it is not. There is nothing contradictory about saying Jesus is one Person with two natures. At least you would be maintaining, even if you never define anything, that Jesus is one in one sense and two in another. Problems arise in when you try to explain how one divine Person can be simultaneously eternal, omniscient and immutable, yet be ignorant of some things, grow in wisdom, thirst, and die. Natures, even personal ones, don’t grow in wisdom, thirst and die, people do and the Second Person of the Trinity can, according to His divine nature, do none of these things.
Now, perhaps there is a way to define “nature” in such a way, rather than just modifying it with the words “human,” “personal, or even “impersonal,” that will explain how a nature can grow in wisdom, thirst and die. Unfortunately, no one that I know of has provided such a definition. Instead of actually defining key terms (as Clark says: “define or discard”) so as to explain and make sense out of the Incarnation (after all, doctrinal formulations should explain not obfuscate the biblical data, shouldn’t they?), it seems the best anyone can do while remaining faithful to the historic orthodox doctrine of the Incarnation is to simply repeat nonsense.
Also interesting is the footnote from the publisher (Richard Bacon? Christopher Coldwell?):
Undoubtedly this is one of the most difficult, yet most sublime, of all the doctrines of the Christian religion. While the Blue Banner specifically denies a Nestorian explanation of the Personhood of Christ, it must also be admitted that much modern explanation of the Chalcedonian Creed is also deficient. We find much of the modern explanation of the term “human nature” to be ambiguous at best. As the Shorter Catechism (Q 22) clearly teaches, Christ had a true body and a reasonable soul. Another way of saying this is that Christ had everything that is involved in being human.
You would think that the publishers of the Blue Banner and Dr. Crampton would have welcomed Clark’s solution since they agree he not only pointed the way out but provided the much needed definition of “person” (capitalized or otherwise). They both admit that the modern explanations of the Chalcedonian Creed are “deficient,” yet they are clearly reticent to actually embrace Clark’s two-person solution most likely out of fear of being labeled a “Nestorian.” Admittedly, and given some of the remarks so far on this blog, I’d say this fear is real. There are many unthinking match throwers ready to tie to the stake anyone who even mentions a two-person theory, let alone consigning to the pyre those,like Morris and Crampton who propose a more modest two-mind solution. Yet, such fears, while not completely without merit, are not particularly warranted either. Even a critic as hostile to Clark as James Anderson recently wrote:
I concur with Clark that it wouldn’t be fair to charge him with the heresy of Nestorianism, since Nestorius clearly didn’t employ anything like Clark’s definition of ‘person’. (Who does?) However, the problem with Clark’s formulation isn’t that it is heretical. The problem is that it’s downright incoherent.
While I have to chuckle at Anderson claiming that Clark’s formulation is “downright incoherent” seeing that he wrote a book defending an impenetrably paradoxical Incarnation and a 1 Person/3 Person Trinity, he can at least see the difference between Nestorius and Clark. That’s not to say that Clark’s view can be harmonized with Chalcedon, it cannot, but if modern explanations of the Chalcedonian Creed are as deficient as both the publishers at Blue Banner and Dr. Crampton say they are, then perhaps Clark’s proposed solution, as radical as it may be, should not be so readily dismissed or ignored.
Christ the Mediator
Dr. W. Gary Crampton
The Unity of the Person
As we have seen, throughout church history, there have always been those who have denied Christ’s deity and those who have denied His humanity. It is also the case that there have always been those who have denied the Biblical view of the unity of the two natures in one Person. Rather than merely distinguishing between the two natures of Christ, the fifth century Nestorians31 divided Christ into two separate persons. Nestorianism was condemned at the Council of Ephesus (431). The fifth century Eutychians, on the other hand, averred that after the incarnation there was only one nature in Christ. This nature was neither fully human nor fully divine. Rather, the union produced a mingling of the two natures into a mixed third nature, a tertium quid. This view, which is also known as monophysitism (“one nature”), was condemned at the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451).
The Biblical view of the unity of the Person of Christ is taught in the Westminster Confession (8:2), which states of Christ that “two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one Person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which Person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man.”
Theologians call the union of the divine and human natures of Jesus Christ in the one Person the hypostatic union. At the incarnation, as taught by the Confession, the eternal Son of God took upon Himself a true human nature. From that time, Jesus Christ is, and always will be, one Person (that is, one God-man), with two selfconscious natures: one divine and one human. But here is where a difficulty arises. The Chalcedonian creedal statement, quoted above, along with much of mainline “Christianity,” has a different view. This view maintains that from the time of the incarnation, the Second Person of the Godhead is one divine Person with two natures: one divine and one human. Louis Berkhof, an advocate of this view, explains: “There is but one Person in the Mediator, and that Person is the unchangeable Son of God. In the incarnation He did not change into a human person, nor did he adopt a human person; He simply assumed a human nature, which did not develop into a human personality, but became personal in the Person of the Son. The one divine Person, who possessed a divine nature from eternity, assumed a human nature and now has both.”32 Augustus Strong is in agreement with Berkhof. He concludes that the one divine Person assumed an impersonal human nature. In other words, He did not unite Himself with a human person, but with a human nature “without personality.” 33
In this view, the one Person is not the God-man, but the Second Person of the Godhead. The difficulty, then, is that if Jesus Christ has two complete natures, one fully divine and one fully human, and yet is one undivided divine Person, how can that Person be said to be genuinely human? That is, if Jesus Christ is, as taught in Hebrews 2:17, and asserted by the Chalcedonian creedal statement, “in all things like unto us,” how is He not a human person? If He, as Chalcedon properly contends, did take upon Himself a human nature so that, “according to the manhood,” He is “in all things like unto us,” then He had a human body and a human soul. Is He not then a human person? After all, the Bible repeatedly claims that He is not just a human nature; He is “the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).
Moreover, if the self-conscious Person of the God-man is the Second Person of the Trinity, as much of mainline “Christianity” affirms, then the human nature would not be self-conscious. Yet, in Luke 2:52 we read that Jesus increased, not only in “stature” (i.e., physically), but also “in wisdom” (i.e., mentally), thus showing that Jesus’ human nature (for the divine nature being omniscient cannot increase) has a consciousness. But if the God-man has two consciousnesses, then He is two persons: divine and human.34
This was the matter with which Nestorius wrestled. And, as Thomas Morris points out, other early Christian thinkers, such as Gregory of Nyssa (c. 330-395), Gregory of Nazianzus (329-389), and Cyril of Alexandria (died 444), had also seen this problem. They did not go so far as the Nestorians by claiming that Christ was two separate persons. But they did hold to what Morris calls “the two mind view of Christ.”35 It is irrational, so these scholars said, to maintain that the God-man has only one divine self-consciousness. If this were the case, He could not be fully man. The responses to this problem have been abysmal. Sadly, one typical way of alleviating the difficulty has been the Kierkegaardian approach: place it in the realm of logical paradox. Another solution is to discard the Biblical teaching that God is impassible, and to suggest that the Second Person of the Godhead actually suffered on the cross.
These, of course, are no real solutions at all. In the final book that he wrote, The Incarnation, 36 Gordon Clark attempted to answer this conundrum. According to Dr. Clark, “the fatal flaw” in this matter is the absence of definitions. How does the Chalcedonian creed, and how do others, define “person?” How is “nature” defined? Herein lies the difficulty.37 Apparently, when the early theologians were formulating the doctrine of the incarnation, the terms used were somewhat ambiguous. But we must guard against any alleged solution that does not render the full humanity of Jesus Christ. And to speak of Christ’s humanity as an impersonal human nature (if there is such a thing), which becomes personal in the incarnation, does not solve the problem. Further, if the human nature becomes personal in the Person of the Son, then He is a human person. Dr. Clark asks some very relevant questions: “If Jesus was not a human person, who or what suffered on the cross? The Second Person [of the Trinity] could not have suffered, for deity is impassable….If then the Second Person could not suffer, could [an impersonal human] nature suffer?” 38
Dr. Clark continues: “On the contrary, only…a person can suffer.” Moreover, he ponders, since the Bible teaches us that Christ possessed a human consciousness, mind, and heart, and will, how can He not be a human person? Is it possible for “a man to be a man without being a human person?” Is the salvation of the elect accomplished “by the alleged death of an impersonal [human] nature?” No, says Clark, “the one who died on the cross was a man, He had or was a soul, He was a human being, a Person.”39
John Murray, an advocate of the Chalcedonian view, has nevertheless also seen the difficulty with “definitions.” He writes:
It may be that the term “Person” can be given a connotation in our modern context, and applied to Christ’s human nature, without thereby impinging upon the oneness of His divine- human Person. In other words, the term “nature” may be too abstract to express all that belongs to His humanness and the term “Person” is necessary to express the manhood that is truly and properly His.40
The present writer is in agreement with Clark and Murray on this point. It seems best, if we are going to retain the classic language on this subject (i.e., Person and nature), to say with the Westminster Confession (8:2) that Jesus Christ possesses “two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood,” that is that He is fully God and fully man. And that in the incarnation these two natures “were inseparably joined together in one Person, without conversion, composition, or confusion.
Which Person is very God, and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man.” That is, there is one Lord Jesus Christ, one God-man (i.e., the one Person), who possesses two distinct and inseparable natures, both of which are to be considered “personal,” in that He is fully divine and fully human. There is nothing impersonal about the divine or the human natures. Otherwise Jesus Christ could not be fully God nor fully man. As touching His humanity, Christ has a human mind or soul, and a human body. He is “the Man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).
It is also important to point out that at the time of the incarnation the divine nature of Jesus Christ, being immutable, could not and did not undergo any change. He did not set aside any of His divine attributes when He took upon Himself a human nature. In fact, He could not have done so and remained divine. As Wayne Grudem avers, “no recognized teacher in the first 1800 years of church history…[believed] that the Son of God [at the incarnation] gave up some of His divine attributes.”41 In the nineteenth century, however modernist theologians developed what is known as “kenotic theology,” from the Greek verb kenoo (“to empty”) which Paul uses in Philippians 2:7, where he writes that Jesus Christ “emptied Himself.” The theory is that at the incarnation, Jesus Christ “emptied” or divested Himself of (at least some of) His divine attributes. One of the reasons the modernists advanced this theory is that if it could be shown that Christ laid aside His omniscience, then it is easy to explain why He erred when He taught that the Bible is the infallible, inerrant Word of God.
This however is not what Paul teaches. As Robert Reymond42 has convincingly argued, what the apostle is saying is that Christ “emptied Himself” after He had taken upon Himself “the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:7),43 by going to the cross (verse 8). The action referred to in Jesus’ “having taken the form of a servant” is antecedent to His emptying Himself in His redemptive cross work. The Second Person of the Godhead, then, did not lay aside any divine attributes at the time of the incarnation. As noted, such is not possible, for He would have ceased being God. Rather, at the incarnation, Christ added something: a human nature. Or said another way, the Son of God, during His earthly ministry, never ceased being fully divine. He continued to exercise all of His divine attributes. Being immutable, He could not do otherwise. As John Calvin writes:
The Son of God descended from heaven in such a way that, without leaving heaven, He willed to be born in the virgin’s womb, to go about the earth, and to hang upon the cross; yet He continuously filled the world even as He had done from the beginning.44