William Lane Craig – (Neo) Apollinarianism (5)

According to nominalism, “being” – that which is common or universal in any given category – is no more than a “name,” a concept or term. Accordingly, the doctrine of the Trinity in this philosophy leads to tritheism. Excessive realism, on the other hand, associates the word “essence” with some subsistent thing that stands behind or above the person and so leads to tetratheism or Seballianism. – Herman Bavinck (God and Creation 2004, 299)

In the previous entries in this series, we have seen how Dr. Craig’s denial of realism (a position he calls anti-realism, rather than nominalism) has led him down the path of partialism (in which the three persons are not properly unified) and unitarianism (in which he implicitly treats the Trinity as though it were a hypostasis, and that hypostasis is the one true God, with the three Persons simply being a component of that single divine hypostasis). Up until now, these issues have been implicit and only come by way of deduction from his arguments. Another way to say that is that he would deny the implications, even though I think they are logically inescapable given his prior theological commitments.

Today that changes. As we turn the corner from Triadology to Christology, we see a shocking thing happen. Craig actually names his Christological model after someone whom the Church declared to be a heretic, naming it Neo-Apollinarianism. This model, as we shall see, doesn’t actually modify the arch-heretic’s understanding of the incarnation, but instead modifies the anthropology of the infamous Apollinaris.

Apollinaris, more or less, posited that a human nature is composed of three parts. The body, the spirit, and the mind (he would call this last component a rational soul). Thus, in an ordinary human person, there would be these three components. However, in the incarnation what we see is that the divine Logos (the second person of the Trinity) assumed a human body and spirit but not a human mind. Instead, the divine Logos, as a divine mind, served as the mind of the incarnate Christ. The result of this was a partial incarnation, which resulted in a God/man hybrid. This view was rebutted by Gregory of Nazianzus in a position that is sometimes called the assumptus.

For that which He has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved. (Gregory of Nazianzus, Epistle 101 in NPNF2.7)

Apollinaris, so argued the Nazianzen, postulated a Christ who could save our human bodies and spirits, because he united those to his divine nature and thus atoned for and restored them to their original integrity. However, our minds were not assumed, and thus his atonement could not heal them.

That brings us to Craig.

Now, it should be said that he presents a full constructive account of this position in Philosophical Foundations for the Christian Worldview, which I do not currently have access to right now. I have read the section several times and will be citing instead a brief response to a question on his website. The second edition of the book will be released soon and I will be reviewing all the applicable sections to see if there has been any notable change in his theology in these areas.

Craig essentially (pardon the pun) postulates that Apollinaris held an incorrect anthropology. From what I can tell he believes the heretic was wrong in primarily that he was a realist. So, applying his anti-realism to the problem he comes up with a solution. Or so he thinks.

Remember, for Craig such a thing as a nature doesn’t actually exist. Instead, what exists is discrete collections of attributes. So the Logos has a set of natures which he eternally was, and the incarnation is simply the taking on of another set of attributes. This has problems, but not necessarily heretical problems.

However, when we observe how Craig applies this, it takes a dangerous course.

Craig postulates that the divine Logos had all the attributes sufficient for human personhood, except a body. Thus, in the incarnation, the only thing which was assumed was a human body. Christ did not take a human soul, a human mind, a human spirit. He only took the additional physical attributes that a human person has, without taking any immaterial attributes that a human person has.

This results in a single person who is a single set of attributes. Some of those attributes are the attributes which the Logos had eternally, and some of them are the attributes which he gained by taking on a body. In a word, this is a monophysite Christology which is a blending of two natures, rather than a union without confusion. This results in a tertium quid, that is a new third kind of nature that is neither human nor divine. This, incidentally, was also a position rejected as heretical (also called Eutychianism). However, because of Craig’s definition of what a nature is, he would still explicitly maintain that Christ is two natures.

However, the other import of this is not as implicit.

It seems you’re not familiar with my proposed neo-Apollinarian Christology in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. It was crafted precisely because I think the usual model tends to Nestorianism for the reasons you mention. On the traditional model the human soul of Christ is not a person, which I find baffling. On my model the Logos, the Second Person of the Trinity, is the soul of Jesus Christ. By taking on a human body the Logos completed the human nature of Christ, making him a body/soul composite. So Christ has two complete natures, divine and human. (Craig 2011)

Three major issues to point out:

  • He has appropriated the name of the same heresy that I am accusing him of. He is not shy about the harmony of his view with Apollinarianism
  • He thinks the “usual model” is Nestorian. He thinks this because he believes that a soul is a person. I won’t be deep diving his anthropology more than this article. However, this in concert with his faulty ontology is the core causes of his Christology and Triadological errors.
  • Jesus Christ has no human soul. “The Logos […] is the soul of Jesus Christ.

So, while Apollinaris argued that the Logos was the mind (rational soul) of Christ, Craig argues that the entire immaterial component of Christ is the Logos. What was assumed in the incarnation was a body. This results in a Christ that, contrary to Scripture (Heb 2:17), is very much unlike us. His mind is infinite, my mind is finite. His spirit is eternal, my spirit is created. His will is immutable, my will is mutable. Only if, as the Chalcedonian Definition argues, Christ takes on a complete human nature can this be resolved. Christ must take on a finite human mind, a created human spirit, and a mutable human will in order to be our great High Priest.

I will close with the remainder of the Nazianzen’s statement.

If only half Adam fell, then that which Christ assumes and saves may be half also; but if the whole of his nature fell, it must be united to the whole nature of Him that was begotten, and so be saved as a whole.  Let them not, then, begrudge us our complete salvation, or clothe the Saviour only with bones and nerves and the portraiture of humanity. (Gregory of Nazianzus, Epistle 101 in NPNF2.7)

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5 thoughts on “William Lane Craig – (Neo) Apollinarianism (5)

  1. You can also take Heb 2:17 too far, according to your argument, and say that Christ had a sinful nature. This would lead Him subject to the wrath of God by reason of the doctrine of original sin.

    1. This obviously isn’t a full exposition of Hebrews 2:17, and I agree that it has to be properly nuanced to avoid what your indicating.

  2. Well, if he has lapsed into a heretical position, then he is a teacher/writer that should be avoided. It seems, from what you’ve indicated that he has indeed fallen into such a position. It saddens me that such a prominent figure as this has allowed his philosophical musing to trump his (presumed) orthodox Christianity. I think this should caution anyone enamored with philosophy that philosophy should always be in service to not in authority over orthodox Christian theology.

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