Modern Christological Trends -- By: A. M. Stibbs

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 01:1 (Summer 1956)
Article: Modern Christological Trends
Author: A. M. Stibbs

Modern Christological Trends

A. M. Stibbs

Reflections on a recent notable book

The book [“The Incarnation: Trends in Modern Anglican Thought,” by Lewis B. Smedes. Kampen. J. H. Kok, 1953.] provides a discerning and detailed survey of the relation and accommodation of theological ideas and Christological doctrines to the various scientific, psychological and philosophical schools of thought of the last sixty years. The writers most quoted are rightly described as “liberal Catholic” and “modern Anglo-Catholic,” and include C. Gore. R. C. Moberly, Wm. Temple, O. C. Quick, L. S. Thornton, E. L. Mascall, A. G. Hebert and A. M. Ramsay. Dr. Smedes’ able survey is most revealing in its indication of the various governing ideas which inform and inspire Anglo-Catholic faith and worship, and determine Anglo-Catholic views of the Cross, the Church, the Sacraments and the way of salvation, or rather of human integration and fulfilment.

Let us make some brief selections from Dr. Smedes’ findings. Three current movements of thought conditioned the approach of the contributors to “Lux Mundi” (1889~(i) natural evolution, (ii) philospophical idealism. (iii) higher criticism of the Bible. These writers thought they could have it both ways, and welcome such current ideas without abandoning Christian faith. By resort to a “Kenosis” theory Gore was able to argue that errors in matters of fact need not in the least impugn Christ’s moral perfection. This “had the appearance of a theological emergency measure.”

In the thought of Wm. Temple and O. C. Quick such “Kenosis” ideas were superseded by ideas of divine fulfilment. The essence of God is self-realization through self-sacrifice. God did not empty Himself in the Incarnation—He took a big jump towards realizing Himself. More recently, in the thought of E. L. Mascall and L. S. Thornton, such ideas have been complemented by ideas of human elevation and fulfilment through the Incarnation. In Christ, through its union with God, human nature is supernaturalized or taken up into a higher metaphysical perfection. What is needed to complete humanity is perfect filial response. This exists to begin with only in the divine Son and is achieved by the organic creation only when it is taken up into His activity. This means consummation through the Incarnation rather than salvation through atonement. So there has been (to quote Wm. Temple) “the development of a theology of the Incarnation rather than a theology of Redemption.”

Men may now share in the achievement of the Incarnation through incorporation into Christ’s human nature. This means a genuine metaphysical re-creation, an ontological change in contrast to the Protestant idea of atonement as a “lega...

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