Question #58: Briefly discuss the liberal kenotic theologians in contrast to the Biblical view on the self-emptying of Christ utilizing Philippians 2:5-11.

Christ who was in the form of God, was made in the likeness of men.
Christ who was in the form of God, was made in the likeness of men.

Answer: Kenotic theologians believe and “teach that Christ retained His divine self-consciousness and His moral attributes of holiness, love, truth, etc. but that He surrendered His non-moral attributes such as omnipresence, omnipotence and omniscience.  Godet believed such.”  Here are some theologians who also believed the same or some modified version of the kenotic beliefs:

Thomasius – that Christ gave up the relative or non-moral attributes.

Gess – that Christ gave up all the divine attributes.

Ebrard – that the divine was completely merged into the human.

Martensen – that the divine attributes were submerged to the human limitation of experience.

The objections to the above beliefs come from teaching of Scripture:

1) to give up an attribute would rob Christ of His deity,

2) no Biblical basis for distinguishing between moral and non-moral attributes,

3) the non-moral attributes were manifested in His life on earth, e.g., His omniscience (Jn 2:24; 16:30), His omnipresence (Jn 3:13), His omnipotence (note His miracles aplenty).  

“Philippians 2:6 confirms that Christ is ‘in the form of God,’ which means that from all of eternity, His essential qualities are that of God.  His ‘being in the form of God’ indicates that He subsisted in past time and still exists as God.  ‘He thought it not robbery’ means that Christ did not look upon this equality with God as a prize which must be seized lest it would slip from His grasp.  He did not grasp or try to hold on to being equal with the Father because this equality was already His by intrinsic right.”1

Philippians 2:7 confirms that Christ emptied Himself of the use of non-moral attributes for Himself obviously while He still have them.  In other words, He used these non-moral attributes to benefit others but never to benefit Himself–there was never a time that He did not possess these attributes but He willingly set aside His personal and independent exercise of them.

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1 Hoyle Bowman, “An Outline of Christology” Lecture Notes (Winston-Salem, NC: Piedmont Baptist Graduate School, 2011), 31.

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One-Minute Theology with Chaplain T features the question and answer portions of the Systematic Theology courses that were part of my seminary work at Piedmont Baptist Graduate School. I will be posting one Q & A everyday until my ordination council meeting set for February 2014.