The Anointed Son: A Trinitarian Spirit Christology

TAS.pngHabets, Myk.

The Anointed Son: A Trinitarian Spirit Christology

Princeton Theological Monograph Series 129

Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2010. Pp. ix + 329. Paper. $37.00.

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With thanks to Wipf  & Stock for this review copy!

Myk Habets lectures at Carey Baptist College in Systematic Theology, Hermeneutics and Ethics, and has lectured in theology and ethics at the University of Otago, BCNZ (now Laidlaw College), and Pathways College. He has published articles on the Trinity, pneumatology, and soteriology, in such journals as Scottish Journal of Theology, New Blackfriars, Irish Theological Quarterly, Journal of Pentecostal Theology, and American Theological Inquiry.

Habets is an ambitious theologian and The Anointed Son: A Trinitarian Spirit Christology is an ambitious work in which he advocates a model of Spirit Christology that “articulate[s] the relationship between the ‘person’ of the Holy Spirit and the ‘person’ of the Son, both in the incarnation and in the work of redemption including the intra-Trinitarian relations.” (pp. 4-5) Habets’ project is one that wishes to complement, rather than replace, the historically dominant Logos Christology which has focused on the deity of Christ, sometimes to the obscuring of his true humanity.

Habets doesn’t contend for functional Christology (i.e., Christology from below) over and against ontological Christology (i.e., Christology from above) but rather seeks to hold the two in unison without one dominating the other. When one takes pride of place then heresy ensues (in the form of either Docetism or adoptionism). Likewise, he’s adamantly opposed to Christology eclipsing Trinitarian theology or pneumatology, as has been the trend historically speaking. “What a Spirit Christology seeks to achieve is to bring the role of the Holy Spirit back into focus in all of the manifold expressions of his relationship to Jesus and the Father.” (p. 161)

After an introductory chapter summarizing the book’s contents Habets lays out his approach in the second chapter which is a Christology “that proceeds from below to above,” without one eclipsing the other, what he calls “an inspirational-incarnational Christology.” (p. 51) The third chapter takes a brief look at both Logos and Spirit Christology in the patristic period up until the 5th century noting the dominance that Logos Christology achieved in the church. The fourth chapter lays out Habets’ interpretive method which he calls a “retroactive hermeneutic,” a hermeneutic in which the post-Easter experience of Christ in the Spirit bring to mind Jesus’ life, words, and deeds. “In this sense, the present and the past correspond such that the present does not contradict the past, nor vice-versa.” (p. 103) The fifth (and longest) chapter examines several episodes from Jesus’ life that highlight his relationship with the Spirit and establish his identity as both God and man. The remaining chapters situate Spirit Christology within Trinitarian theology (chapter 6) as well as outlining the development of a “Third Article theology,” i.e., a theology that begins with the Spirit (chapter 7), and finally detailing the relevance of Spirit Christology for systematic theology as well as Christian life and ministry. A 38 page bibliography, 6 page Scripture index, and 4 page subject index complete this volume.

Habets has a lot going for him with his proposal for a Spirit Christology. To start, it does justice, for the most part, to the biblical record. By beginning with the Spirit’s role in Christ’s life and seeing how throughout his incarnate career he operated as a man filled with and empowered by the Spirit, Habets is able to maintain the genuine humanity of Christ without denying his true deity. He’s also quite correct to highlight the close relationship between the person and work of Christ so that soteriology is incorporated into Christology (this was, of course, a mainstay of patristic thought). It also makes a great deal of sense to explain the Christology and pneumatology in mutually constitutive terms in light of the mutually constitutive relationship of Father, Son, and Spirit in the immanent Trinity (see p. 129). There’s also something intuitive about this “Third Article theology” seeing as how we, as believers, first experience the Spirit in salvation. As one who holds to an Arminian soteriology I believe that the Spirit is the one who enables us through God’s prevenient grace to respond to the gospel. So while we might first hear about the Son it is the Spirit (working according to the Father’s will) whom we first experience. Lastly, I can appreciate that Habets is not seeking to replace Logos Christology with Spirit Christology, but rather wants them to complement each other. When held together they help to safeguard against the possible errors that can result from each on their own. There’s much more to agree with but I’ll limit myself to these major points.

But for as much as I appreciate about Habets’ project there are some things that I’d take issue with and others that I’m simply unsure of. On the literary level Habets simply takes too long to explain exactly what he means by “Spirit Christology.” It’s not until chapter 4 that we’re really sure what exactly Spirit Christology entails but for the first three chapters he uses the term frequently. One is left having to employ his retroactive hermeneutic in order to make sense of the first few chapters! On the theological level I think that Habets overstates at times the pitfalls of Logos Christology. While there is always a risk of deviating into Docetism this is far from a necessity if left unchecked by Spirit Christology. The fact remains that there have been plenty of orthodox believers throughout the centuries who have not fallen into the trap of Docetism and this without the aid of Spirit Christology. I also find myself unconvinced that Chalcedon doesn’t speak to contemporary concerns (see pp. 21; 193). Truth is truth in any era and if what Chalcedon said is true then it’s as useful for contemporary Christology and ancient Christology (Habets himself affirms belief in the tenets of the Symbol of Chalcedon which, against his claims otherwise [p. 261], I find to present a constructive conception of the one person).

Perhaps my biggest point of disagreement is that the Son was separated from the Father (and Spirit) on the cross which resulted in the Father and Spirit undergoing a kenosis along with the Son. Habets seems to want to have his cake and eat it too when he claims that there is no ontological separation on the cross but rather an economic one. (see p. 166, n. 189) One is left wondering what it means exactly for there to be a separation in the economic Trinity and how this is possible without there also being a separation in the immanent Trinity. We’re left with statements like, “In death the Spirit also underwent a kenosis whereby he committed himself totally to the Son,” (p. 165) and “Now, for the first and last time, on the cross, this experienced relationship was severed… For the Father a loss of paternal experience, for the Son the loss of filial experience, for the Spirit a loss of experienced community,” (p. 167) but this is much more than can be gleaned from Jesus’ cry on the cross which contrary to the view taken in this book is actually a cry that points to the Father not forsaking the Son. The psalmist certainly felt forsaken, as Jesus undoubtedly did, but we learn by the end of the psalm that God was with him the entire time and that his prayers were to be answered. Jesus’ cry is almost surely meant to direct the hearer to the entire psalm which ends in vindication. As above with my agreements, there is much more to disagree with, but I’ll limit myself to these points so as to not make this review incessantly long.

In short, The Anointed Son is a thought-provoking foray into contemporary Christology, and a work that deserves a wide reading. Habets is clearly knowledgeable about the subject matter, but more than simply being knowledgeable, he’s passionate about it. I commend him for seeking to explicate a Christology that fits nicely into Trinitarian theology without jockeying for position against it as well as recognizing the integral role that pneumatology plays in Christology in the Christian Scriptures. His prospects for Spirit Christology as it relates to systematic theology and Christian ministry are promising even if still a ways off. And while I may disagree with certain points of his presentation, I can say that he’s not alone in holding such positions, so even if I think them incorrect they’re far from being on the fringe. I can gladly recommend this volume to any and all students of both Christology and Trinitarian theology—it addresses both subjects so well that I hardly know where to shelf it in my library.

B”H

24 thoughts on “The Anointed Son: A Trinitarian Spirit Christology

  1. Thank you for the review! I would love to interact more on some of the specific points but will hold myself back for now, given this is your blog and you get to set the rules! :-) Thank you again for the kind words and also for the critical interaction. Blessings,

  2. Myk: Feel free to correct, challenge, or otherwise rebuke me in any way you see fit. I welcome the interaction. I will warn you in advance that the “separation on the cross” issue is a bit of a hobbyhorse of mine so don’t expect to gain a convert no matter how eloquently you defend your position. ;-)

  3. Hi Nick, fair enough. Let’s talk about that then.

    In my book I was careful (I thought) to nuance the discussion so that the separation was experiential not ontological, and had to do with Jesus the incarnate Son, not simply the eternal Word. Thus the incarnate Son experienced separation from his Father and the Spirit in a particular way, and so did the Father and the Son. But there was no ontological separation. I limit this, then, to the economy. I think this is legitimate. I go into this in technical detail in an essay of mine: ‘Putting the “Extra” Back into Calvinism.’ Scottish Journal of Theology 62 no.4 (2009), 441-456. [DOI:10.1017/S003693060999010X] If you have access to that I would love to know what you think. Thanks!

  4. Myk: Yes, I recognize that was what you were arguing for, but that’s where I thought you wanted to have your cake and eat it too. What I can’t wrap my head around is how an economic or experiential separation is possible apart from an ontological one (but then again, I can’t wrap my head around a lot of things — that’s why I write blog posts and other folks write books ;-). I’ll have to see if I have access to the issue of STJ that your article is in. I do have access but I’m not sure how current it is. If/when I read it maybe I’ll post some thoughts in a separate post and we can discuss it there. If not, then at the very least, I’ll come back here and say something.

  5. Just checked. Unfortunately I do not have access to that issue. There’s a year delay so since it was published in November I’ll have to wait until then to read it (unless you’d like to email me a copy).

  6. Email me Nick and I will send the article.

    Re. an economic separation is possible because Jesus has two wills/two energies. Thus he can experience something as man and not as God – simpliciter. God does not literally thirst, for instance, but the incarnate Son does. Thus the Father can experience the loss of intimacy with his incarnate Son because the Son died. In your original review you say the citation on the cross from the psalms shows the Father did NOT forsake the Son, but that is not fully correct (with all due respect). For the psalmist he was not forsaken becasue he did not die. The Son, however, became ‘Sin’ and did die the sinners death for us and in our place. So he was forsaken, he was the guilt offering, the sacrifice, the substitute, and he took the death penalty – unlike the psalmist. I think Richard Bauckham does a great job unpacking this in his excellent book ‘Jesus and the God of Israel.’ So for Jesus to die a sinners death for us – vicariously – he also has to experience the reality of death – and that is an absence of the Father’s good pleasure and filial relationship. Here, I think, we can’t have our cake and eat it too! :-) Either Christ died in our place and as sin, or he did not. Now the Father did not ultiamtely forsake him – that is the resurrection of course. So the story did not end here. But in the psalm citation let us not be too quick to gro from easter Friday to easter Sunday – from death to resurrection. Otherwise we collapse the resurrection into the cross.

    Re. kenosis – yes I use this in my book, with grave reservations and think the idea of kenosis still holds promise, although it is riddled with such nonesense today that I wonder if it is still a useful term to use without being misunderstood.

    I uphold the ecumenical creeds fully and I do like Chalcedon, my critical comments in the book were not over its theology, merely to say we need to continue to translate and interpret orthodoxy for new contexts, not change the orthodoxy. I probably could have made that clearer.

    Finally, there is no point having cake unless one can eat it too! Ha ha :-) Can’t blame a guy for trying, right…?

  7. Interesting again. Yes, as an Anglican I am certainly creedal, and the Ecumenical Councils are profound truth! And certainly the fence around these many aspects of truth and mystery. When available I would love to read this work.

  8. Amen Fr Robert! I am currently teaching a course on Christology and we are working through the ecumencial councils. creeds, and confessions – and I am LOVING it! I hope my students are too :-)

  9. Nick,

    I didn’t realize you were Arminian . . . sorry this is a bit off topic. It makes sense that you wouldn’t want to hold to something that has Calvinisticum in the name ;-) (just playin’).

  10. Myk: We have different views of atonement (i.e., you seem to affirm penal substitution while I do not) which affects how we each view what happened on the cross (and in Psalm 22). I reviewed Bauckham’s book a while back and nowhere was I more critical than in his final chapter on precisely this point. I’ve also been critical of William Placher and Tim Chester for making the same point. So at least I’m consistent. ;-)

    And while I’m certainly no monothelite I do think we veer dangerously close to Nestorianism when we speak of Christ doing this or that as man or God. I believe that the hypostatic union is such that we must say that God (the Son, not simplicter) literally thirsts just as we’d say that God (the Son, not simpliciter) became incarnate.

    Just for my edification, was the last bit about upholding the creeds in response to me or Fr. Robert? I hope that I didn’t make it seem like I thought you were against the creeds in any way. In the review I did mention that you affirmed Chalcedon. I didn’t take you to be saying that orthodoxy needs changing; I just thought that you were perhaps underestimating the relevance of the old statements in today’s climate.

    Bobby: Good one! :-P

  11. Hi Nick,

    I am a card carrying evangelical Calvinist! :-) So your Arminianism and rejection of some form of penal substitution will, of course, put us at adds.

    My comment on Chalcedon was in response to the review, yes. Just wanted to go on record as orthodox.

    You last comment above has to do withthe communicatio idiomatum – and I deal with taht a bit in my book Theosis in the Theology of Thomas Torrance, adn the article on the extra Calvinisticum, of course. And yes, it is the “Person” of the Son who does everything, but doing something as man is different from doing something with no reference to his humanity – ie the extra Calvinisticum doctrine. But I am guessing that with your committments (what I can make out) you would probably reject the extra Clavinsiticum and probably have more of a Lutheran doctrine on the communicatio idiomatum. Nice chatting! :-)

  12. Myk: Indeed—had I lived during the Reformation era I’m sure I would have accused my Calvinist brethren of being Nestorian in some sense or another. ;-)

    BTW, I requested a review copy of Theosis in the Theology of Thomas Torrance on two occasions and was never met with a reply from Ashgate. :-( Would that they’d price their books more reasonably!

  13. The “Reforming Theosis” essay was written while I was doing my PhD and so reflects the PhD work. The Theosis book is the fuller version, of coruse.

    I then did a critical interaction with my friend Gannon Murphy in Theology Today on the issue – his article and mine are worth looking at too: Habets, ‘“Reformed Theosis?” A Response to Gannon Murphy.’ Theology Today 65 no. 4 (January, 2009), 489-498. [ISSN: 0040-5736] .

    While I am shamelessly promoting myself why not also alert you to another essay on the theme which you may enjoy: Habets, ‘Walking In mirabilibus supra me: How C.S. Lewis Transposes Theosis.’ Evangelical Quarterly: An International Review of Bible and Theology in Defence of the Historic Christian Faith 82 no.1 (January, 2010), 15-27. [ISSN: ISSN: 0014-3367]

  14. Nick,

    Rejection of Penal Suffering eh. Would you also reject the Satisfaction ideas? Have you read P.T. Forsyth? The older writers, like Dale, Denney and Mozley are penal. I am also penal myself, as a classic Anglican & Reformed. Though I like Forsyth’s Satisfaction view.

    Have you read: Pierced For Our Transgressions, Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution; Jeffery, Ovey, Sach (Crossway 2007)?

  15. Fr. Robert: The only satisfaction idea I’m familiar with is Anselm’s and I don’t personally find it persuasive. I’ve read parts of Pierced For Our Transgressions but not the entire book.

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