POC Blog

The random technotheolosophical blogging of Reid S. Monaghan

Packer - Knowing God - Week 3 – Chapter 5 – God Incarnate

The mystery of Jesus is the mystery of divine personality…
So wrote Scottish nobleman James Stewart. Chapter 5 of Knowing God is a marveling at the incarnation of Jesus Christ. The very God, became a man in the person of Jesus Christ. The infinite invaded the finite, the holy mingled with the fallen world. Not as aloof deity so distant from the world he had made, but setting his own feet into space and time to accomplish the mission of the ages – the redemption of a people who would declare and display his glory and worth to the delight of their Creator. Packer begins by discussing the teaching of the Incarnation as a chief stumbling block before men and nations – many who have marveled at Jesus in history and today (Arians, Muslims, Unitarian Universalists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Chistadelphians) have fallen short from the New Testament revelation of Jesus Christ. The apostles who walked with Jesus, talked with Jesus, ate with Jesus saw otherwise – they did not hesitate to worship Jesus as God and to portray him as God incarnate. This doctrine, though lofty and inspiring great marvel, make the other teachings again Jesus seem quite easy to believe. If he be God, then his miracles, his knowledge of people’s thoughts, his resurrection from the dead – seem quite small works for the God who flung space, time, and matter into existence with a mere word. It seems that Christians can get cozy with this doctrine – that the Son of God!!! Was born a baby in Bethlehem – may this truth always cause a pause and wonder in the soul and not be just an accompaniment to other Christmas activities. No doubt can be maintained that the New Testament writers, particular that of John, intended to explain to us the nature of Jesus – that he indeed was the Word (the Logos) that was with God and was God – this Word became flesh – and through him all things were made that have been made. This Jesus was Fully God. The second half of the story, as Packer writes, is that Jesus was not only fully God, he was also fully man – one person, two natures or essences in union in the matchless person of Christ – indeed, the mystery of divine personality. Packer then explains that the Word became flesh in order to die a death for the atonement of sins…as he writes:

The crucial significance of the cradle at Bethlehem lies in its place in the sequence of steps down that led the Son of God to the cross of Calvary. JI Packer, Knowing God, Americanized Edition (Downers Grove: IL, Intervarsity Press, 1993) 58.

Packer then delves into some discussion of kenosis theory (see link for explanation) – rejecting it for many problems, primarily it does violence to the New Testament teaching that Jesus exhibited the attributes of deity – and in no way laid them off in becoming man. I don’t have the time today to go into all the issues surrounding this discussion – but found it interesting. I do think that Packer’s solution in the Father by his will constrained the action and knowledge of the Son is on its face satisfactory – but, I already sense he has unsolved problems that remain. For instance, if by fiat the Father constrained the knowledge of the Son for a time on earth – then it seems we cannot avoid the conclusion that their was a time that in the Son – omniscience was not quite “omni” – The essential divine trinity maintained omniscience – but the person of the Son had less than full knowledge at a certain time. This perhaps can be focused in the person of the Son and not in the essence of God – but this starts to sound like some sort of kenotic theory. But perhaps this is where Packer lands on Page 59 – a voluntary laying aside of certain glory, restraining his power to take on a poor and lowly estate on our behalf. Interesting but I must move on Packer sees the Incarnation – the highest of beings, stooping low to serve, to redeem, to be made poor and die on our behalf as something which should cause us a believers to be humbled and serve likewise. I could not agree more with his assessment of many of us today on page 63:
Nor is it the spirit (of the incarnation) of those Christians—alas, they are many—whose ambition in life seems limited to building a nice middle class Christian home, and making nice middle-class Christian friends, and bring up their children in nice middle-class Christian ways, and who leave the submiddle-class sections of the community, Christian and non-Christian to get on by themselves. JI Packer, Knowing God, Americanized Edition (Downers Grove: IL, Intervarsity Press, 1993) 63.
Packer says this is not the way of Jesus in the Incarnation but rather:
For the Christmas Spirit is the spirit of those who, like their master, live their whole lives on the principle of making themselves poor – spending and being spent – to enrich their fellow humans, giving time, trouble, care and concern , to do good to others – and not just their own friends – in whatever way their seems need. Ibid, 64.
I must echo an Amen and a Prayer – Lord rescue me from such ends as well.