Interview with Andrew Loke: A Kryptic Model of the Incarnation

December 18, 2015
Posted by Joe Gorra

Christian philosophers and theologians continue to work-out different models for understanding the complexities of the incarnation, especially in light of objections to the doctrine and fidelity to Christian tradition and witness. Andrew Loke recently published A Kryptic Model of the Incarnation (Ashgate, 2014). Andrew is Research Assistant Professor at The University of Hong Kong.

In the following interview, we discuss his ‘kryptic model’ and some of its implications in light of different approaches to the doctrine of the Incarnation. He also situates his model in light of biblical and historical theology interests. Finally, he offers some perspective on what the kryptic model might achieve among inter-religious and inter-denominational discussions.
When you stand in awe of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, what is it that most captures your imagination? Where does your mind begin to immediately wonder?

The Maker of the universe becoming a child on earth for us–what an astonishing thought! What a real historical event worthy of the greatest celebration! My mind and heart are captivated by those glorious carols which are sung every Christmas. I particularly like this line from “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”:

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
‘Glory to the newborn King!’

Is the messianic identity and mission of Jesus the central concern of the doctrine of the incarnation? If so, is the ‘metaphysics of’ and ‘theology of’ that concern a subsidiary interest or something else? How do you see this?

The messianic identity and mission are indeed central, but the doctrine of the Incarnation also needs to be defended against the accusation of incoherence by sceptics from various traditions (Jewish, Islamic, etc.) throughout the centuries.  They have pointed out, for example, that being divine entails being omniscient and omnipotent, but the New Testament portrays Jesus as having human properties such as being apparently limited in knowledge (Mark 13:32) and power (John 4:3-6).

Many Christians have responded by saying that the Incarnation is a mystery. This is true, but the inadequacy with simply replying ‘mystery’ is that, since the Christian wants to make meaningful statements by affirming, for example, that the divine nature includes omniscience and that Jesus was apparently limited in knowledge as stated by the Scriptures, he/she must demonstrate what is meant (or what could possibly be meant) by these statements; it is not enough to claim that it is a ‘mystery’ and leave it as that. Moreover, the Christian must ensure that the explications of these statements do not result in contradictions. The problem with asserting that one can make contradictory statements about Jesus (e.g. ‘Jesus has complete awareness of everything and complete unawareness of everything simultaneously’) is that the person who makes such contradictory statements is not affirming anything about Jesus. Affirming ‘complete awareness of everything’ and ‘complete unawareness of everything’ simply cancel each other out; it is like writing something and then immediately erasing it, such that one ends up with nothing that is affirmed of Jesus.

Therefore, in order to make meaningful statements about Jesus in accordance with the Scriptures and to rebut the charge of incoherence, the Christian has to provide a model to show how concepts like omniscience and apparent limitation in knowledge can be affirmed of Jesus such that no contradiction results. The work which has been done in this area by metaphysicians and theologians can help to address the accusation of incoherence and open up conceptual spaces, so as to allow the Scriptural account of the Incarnation to be affirmed in all its glory and illuminate our understanding of God and humanity.

Systematic philosophical and theological accounts of the incarnation attempt to weigh-in on serious metaphysical, exegetical, theological and historical problems with the doctrine of the incarnation. Rigorous analysis and problematizing of issues seems to be the main approach. What are the limits and opportunities of such approach in light of the central concern of the doctrine of the incarnation?

Such an approach can be useful for clearing away the obstacles to the reception of the Messiah as God Incarnate. In particular, offering a defensible model of the Incarnation can aid our understanding of Scriptural passages relevant to the Incarnation and protect us against heretical notions. It can also be helpful for resolving longstanding interdenominational disagreements concerning the Incarnation, such as those between Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian churches, Dyothelites and Monothelites, and Lutherans and Reformed theologians. A review of church history shows that these disagreements are to a large extent due to neither side being able to see how the position of the other side could be possible within the bounds of orthodoxy. For example, the Reformed theologians fail to see how the Lutheran’s position on the unity of Christ’s person could avoid compromising Christ’s humanity, while the Lutherans fail to see how the reformed position on the distinction of natures could avoid compromising his unity. Hence, proposing a defensible model that would address the concerns of both sides would be very useful indeed, and further work in this area should be encouraged. However, this should be done with a clear recognition of its limitation, namely that it is not intended to provide an exhaustive description of Christ, and hence does not aim to dispel all mystery.

What are the main theses of your ‘kryptic model’ of the incarnation?

The key insight is that a divine person can refrain from utilizing his omnipotence when he carries out certain activities, such as walking to a town in Samaria. One can therefore suggest that the Son of God did this by the finite strength of his human body instead of utilizing his divine powers, hence he could experience fatigue as portrayed in John 4:3-6.

Likewise knowledge can be understood as a kind of power which one can refrain from utilizing. For example, a person might have knowledge of calculus, even though he might not be consciously thinking about calculus all the time. This knowledge of calculus can be said to be in his preconscious: when he chooses to utilize this knowledge by directing his attention to it, that is, when he chooses to consciously think about calculus, he can become aware of calculus.

Since having knowledge of a certain thing such as calculus does not require a constant conscious awareness of that thing, the knowledge of all things by a divine Person does not require a constant conscious awareness of all things by him. Thus, it could be the case that a divine Person chose to let his knowledge of all things reside in his divine preconscious at the Incarnation, and he freely chose not to utilize all of the knowledge in his preconscious, so as to consciously experience our human limitations.

Concerning Mark 13:32, it should be noted that the Greek word οἶδεν which is translated as ‘know’ means ‘to have realized, perceived, to know’; this word is often used in the New Testament in a general way, e.g. to know a person, to be able to understand/apprehend/recognize (TDNT vol.5, pp.116-119). Therefore, in view of its semantic range, in this passage οἶδεν can be legitimately rendered as ‘aware’. Thus, Mark 13:32 can be read as ‘But of that day or hour no one is aware, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.’ This reading fits the context perfectly: the disciples would be hoping that the Son would reveal to them the day of his coming, but no one can reveal what he/she is not aware. For our purposes here, it is important to note that such an unawareness of the Son can co-exist with omniscience in the same person because, as noted previously, omniscience does not require a conscious awareness of all the things known. A divine person can use his omnipotence to restrict the scope of his conscious awareness as well as the utilization of his omniscience, and in this state of self-restraint the Son was genuinely unaware of that day; it was not a sham.

What do you take to be the most salient evidence in support of your model?

The New Testament portrays Christ as having divine powers including the knowledge of all things (e.g. John 16:30, 21:17), but not utilizing them in all situations (e.g. Mark 13:32 and John 4:3-6 noted previously). His divine powers were largely ‘hidden’ (‘Krypsis’ in Greek) during the Incarnation, and only utilized on certain occasions to reveal his glory (e.g. John 2:1–11).  This is what my model postulates.

What might be the most contestable aspects of your model?

Its complexity. C. Stephen Evans told me that one standard criterion for the plausibility of a hypothesis is simplicity, and that my model fares poorly in this regard, for it seems to be much more complicated than alternative models such as the Two Consciousnesses Model and the Ontological Kenotic Model, and at times it seems as if it labours with ad hoc additions such as ‘it is possible that…’

This is an important objection, but I think it is answerable. Simplicity is a virtue and the charge of being ad hoc is valid only if all other things are equal. In this case it is not the case that all other things are equal, because alternative models such as the Two Consciousnesses Model and the Ontological Kenotic Model have significant problems which disappear on my Kryptic Model. Given this, the additions that my model makes are not ad hoc, because they help us to make sense of the Incarnation, the historical evidence for which has been defended by distinguished historians of early Christianity (e.g. N.T. Wright, Craig Keener) and eminent philosophers of religion (e.g. Richard Swinburne, William Lane Craig). Additionally, it seems that a great level of complexity in the metaphysics is only to be expected given the sheer difficulty of the idea that a person could at the same time be a human as well as the Maker of the universe, thus the kind of additions that my model makes seems warranted.

What does your model make possible and plausible that other models fail to accomplish?

My model makes it possible to affirm that Christ had a single consciousness yet retained his divine powers at the Incarnation.

The plausibility of the model can be seen when we reflect on the following train of thought. Given that the Two Consciousnesses Model would entail the difficulties that Christ could have two contradictory self-consciousnesses simultaneously and that there could be an I–Thou relationship between these consciousnesses, which implies Nestorianism, Christ could have only one consciousness. Given the difficulty (which besets the Ontological Kenotic Model) of answering whether a divine person would still be divine if he were to give up his omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence (cf. Ps.147:4–5, Luke 1:37, Jer. 23:23–4 etc.), Christ must in some way be in possession of these properties (and this seems more consistent with Scriptural passages such as John 16:30, 21:17; Col. 1:17) but not utilizing them in all the acts that he did while he was in his incarnate state. This is what my model postulates of Christ.

In addition, my model answers other difficult questions facing the Divine Subconscious Model which have not been adequately addressed by previous versions of this model. For example, by postulating that the divine preconscious was not part of his human nature but was part of his divine nature, and that the divine nature and human nature were concrete and distinct parts of Christ, my model avoids a Monophysite mixture. Moreover, my model avoids Apollinarianism by postulating a human preconscious alongside a divine preconscious. While some recent advocates of the Divine Subconscious Model have denied Dyothelitism, I demonstrated in Chapters 5 and 6 that my model is consistent with the Dyothelitism of Maximus the Confessor.

Can you outline further work to be done by philosophers and theologians in light of your kryptic model of the incarnation?

The Incarnation is one of the central doctrines of Christian theology. It is the culmination of divine revelation, and therefore ought to determine our understanding of God and humanity. Christian theologian and philosophers working on the explication of Divine Attributes, the Doctrine of the Trinity and theological anthropology cannot afford to ignore how the Incarnation is to be understood. Working on these issues in light of this Kryptic model would involve, for example, the rejection of a strong version of divine immutability and essential timelessness, as well as the rejection of a physicalist account of human nature, as argued in Chapter 6 of my book.

Another potentially fruitful area of research concerns inter-denominational and inter-religious dialogues. Breakthroughs might be achieved by utilizing the insights provided by the Kryptic model to address the concerns and objections related to the Incarnation, which can be found in the writings of Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian churches, Lutheran and Reformed traditions etc., as well in the writings of Jehovah Witnesses, and Islamic and Judaist theologians etc. throughout the centuries. Hopefully, this would result in greater unity within the body of Christ, and more effective witness to the glory of the Incarnation.