“The fact is that God loves to draw near to us through nature, theophany, and incarnation. God loves to take on form and make himself accessible. MOST PEOPLE, I SUSPECT, THINK THAT GOD CHOOSES TO BE ASSOCIATED WITH A BODY, WHILE BEING HIMSELF FORMLESS. That may be so, but it is also possible that God has a body in some way we cannot imagine and therefore, that it is natural for God to seek out some forms of embodiment. I DO NOT FEEL OBLIGED TO ASSUME THAT GOD IS A PURELY SPIRITUAL BEING WHEN HIS SELF-REVELATION DOES NOT SUGGEST IT. It is true that from a Platonic standpoint, the idea is absurd, but this is not a biblical standpoint. And how unreasonable is it anyway? THE ONLY PERSONS WE ENCOUNTER ARE EMBODIED PERSONS AND, IF GOD IS NOT EMBODIED, IT MAY PROVE DIFFICULT TO UNDERSTAND HOW GOD IS A PERSON. What kind of actions could a disembodied God perform? Embodiment may be the way in which the transcendent God is able to be immanent and why God is presented in such terms. I would say that God transcends the world, while being able to indwell it. Perhaps God uses the created order as a kind of body and exercises top-down causation upon it” (Clark Pinnock, “Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness.” Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001, pages 34-35).
Clark Pinnock’s quote above was one of the most interesting quotes I stumbled upon in his work, “Most Moved Mover.” Over the last few posts here, I have been looking at so many statements Pinnock has made about Classical Arminianism, Calvinism, etc. But here, in his chapter on “Scriptural Foundations,” I finally got around to diagnosing the philosophical problem Pinnock faces. Yes, the chapter was about “scriptural” matters...but Pinnock’s problem is philosophical.
In his starting sentences of the above quote, Pinnock goes into a discussion of God’s embodiment. In other words, Pinnock entertains the idea that God could have a body: “Most people, I suspect, think that God chooses to be associated with a body, while being himself formless.” I think that God’s embodiment can clearly be seen in the Incarnation (Phil. 2:5-11), when Christ was conceived in Mary by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, raised as a Jewish boy, grew to become a man, and experienced the baptism of John and the confirmation of sonship and ministry by God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. In fact, the word “Incarnation” means “incarnate,” or “in” “carne,” the word “carne” being a parent word of our “carnivore.” The word “carnivore” refers to someone who eats meat (or flesh). So the word “Incarnation” refers to “in the flesh,” or “the act of Christ’s coming to earth in the flesh” or “the act of Christ’s coming to earth in human form.” This is why Paul is so quick in Philippians 2 to state that Christ “had come as a man in His external form” (Phil. 2:7, HCSB) and that He “assumed the form of a slave” (2:7).
But, make no mistake---the act of the Incarnation is so memorable and so special (for one, if not many reasons) because Christ CAME IN THE FLESH! As the apostle John states it, “The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14, HCSB). The fact that Christ came in the flesh, not only that Christ came to earth, is also significant. If Christ’s coming in human form was not significant, then we could conclude that Christ had always had an embodied form and that He possessed an “eternal humanity.” Dr. Ken Keathley finds an idea of eternal humanity troubling, and so do I. I think that to assert this idea that Christ always possessed a body not only “deifies” human flesh (which is absurd), but also erases the Incarnation. Why was Christ’s coming so special if Christ always had a body? I’m not saying that Christ could never have come to earth. There are biblical indications that seem to show that Christ indeed did come to earth in a pre-incarnate state, one of them being when the Angel of the Lord appears to Samson’s parents, Manoah and his wife. When Manoah asks for the angel’s name so he and his wife could remember him in honor, the angel responded, “Why do you ask My name,’ the Angel of the Lord asked him, ‘since it is wonderful’” (Judges 13:18, HCSB). After the encounter with the Angel of the Lord, Manoah then exclaims, “We’re going to die...because we have seen God!” (Judges 13:22) The “Angel of the Lord” has a capitalized “A” for Angel in most translations because the “angel” sent to Manoah and his wife was no ordinary angel. And the label of “wonderful” that the Angel gives Himself seems to be clearly revealed in the coming of Christ, who is called “Wonderful Counselor” (Isaiah 9:6).
However, what I am asserting is the uniqueness of the Incarnation; and the event itself becomes “down-graded” should Pinnock’s idea of God having “embodiment” be true. After all, why does God take on the form of man when clearly, He could have appeared to earth many times without it? God takes on human flesh because His atoning sacrifice on the cross would require it. While mankind sinned against God and had to pay the penalty, only God could pay the debt and rise from the dead. And both needs were met perfectly in the God-Man Jesus Christ.
But what about the Trinity members of Father and Spirit? Are they embodied? Pinnock does not seem to distinguish between Trinity members when he discusses the idea of embodiment, but this next section raises red flags:
“I DO NOT FEEL OBLIGED TO ASSUME THAT GOD IS A PURELY SPIRITUAL BEING WHEN HIS SELF-REVELATION DOES NOT SUGGEST IT. It is true that from a Platonic standpoint, the idea is absurd, but this is not a biblical standpoint. And how unreasonable is it anyway? THE ONLY PERSONS WE ENCOUNTER ARE EMBODIED PERSONS AND, IF GOD IS NOT EMBODIED, IT MAY PROVE DIFFICULT TO UNDERSTAND HOW GOD IS A PERSON. What kind of actions could a disembodied God perform?”
God has to be embodied, in Pinnock’s thinking, in order to be deemed “a person.” But where biblically do we ever find God being labeled by the biblical writers as “a person”? The only time we find God being labeled “a man” is in the person of Jesus Christ. But notice what happens when Christ dialogues with the Samaritan woman in John 4:
“God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24, HCSB).
What did Jesus mean when He told the Samaritan woman that “God is spirit”? The most fitting answer, in my opinion, at least, is that Christ wanted the woman to know that God is not contained in one place (“an hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem,” Jn. 4:21). In addition, however, I think the affirmation that “God is spirit” testifies to the truth that God is not like man (in that man is flesh). God’s essence is completely distinct from humanity’s. But what about Pinnock’s remark that “I do not feel obliged to assume that God is a purely spiritual being when his self-revelation does not suggest it”? Doesn’t John 4:24 suggest in some manner that God IS a purely spiritual being? If so, doesn’t this mean that God does not have a body, like humanity?
I think at this point that it is safe to say that Pinnock is grasping at straws. From the Word of God, we find that “God is spirit,” meaning that God is immaterial, while man himself is “material” (flesh). If this is the case, then why would the “immaterial” need a “material” substance such as a body (even if it were not a fleshly one)?
And what about Pinnock’s remark that “if God is not embodied, it may prove difficult to understand how God is a person”? I will tackle this issue in my next post.