Let me begin by saying that I have met Mr. Kruger and heard him speak - though I do not know him well. He seems in person and in print to be quite intelligent, articulate and has a firm hand shake. I do not purport to know every intricacy of his theology of salvation, but I hope here to outline that some of the emphasis which he places on the soteriology of Christ - I feel - could be more balanced than what it is. I will here stress that I find his writing mostly useful, poetic and beautiful. But with this general thrust of his observations and conclusions I cannot agree.
Atonement is the over-arching term used to describe the events through which people were and are made at one with God. Suffice to say, atonement does not refer to any singular historical feat, but multiple actions and engagements initiated by God which both culminate in – and are continuing in the process of - causing people to be at one with Him. A human being cannot cause themselves to be at one with God, rather it is something which must be enacted on their behalf and ministered to/upon them, though this does not negate a personal necessity to engage with this transforming act of God in some way. The question is therefore what emphasis should be placed on the facets within these proceedings that have been enacted and continue in their effects. A view of the process of atonement which emphasizes the incarnation at the expense of the Cross, will inevitably place less importance on ongoing sanctification in the life of the believer and may additionally undermine the necessity of living according to The Spirit whatsoever. This view of the atonement confuses the purpose and activity (historical and current) of The Holy Spirit with the purpose and activity of Christ - in that the present person of the Spirit ceases to be the seal of salvation over and against the historical act of Christ(Field, 2009). If healthy emphasis is not placed on the Cross as a means to the goal of Holy Spirit-indwelling, then this particular outworking of the atonement loses much of its effectiveness in transforming the life of the believer. Alternately, if healthy emphasis is not placed on the Incarnation, then the impetus of love which it most clearly represents may become functionally absent from the life and practice of the believing community. That is to say that the love of God which predicates the incarnation may be lost in the personal benefit of the Cross.
Atonement primarily based on the Incarnation
The incarnation of the pre-existent Son of God into humanity wrought among many things, a unique union between humanity and the divine triune life. In the incarnation of The Son there is expressed the utmost solidarity of God with humanity in its fallenness. One particular facet of Trinitarian theology stemming from this is an understanding that when Christ became incarnate He caused that which was eternal to become attached to the historical. Therefore, the incarnation of Christ sets in place a defining moment of change which anchors the eternal Godhead in human History.
“…the life of Jesus Christ is to be understood as the living out, the enfleshment, not merely of a divine life, but of the Trinitarian life itself inside human existence. What happens in Jesus Christ is that the great dance of the Trinity is earthed and lived out as a divine-human reality.” (Kruger, 2000:32)
It therefore makes sense to state that in the incarnation, the Godhead suffered an ontological change. Far from being a diminishing of essence, it was the establishing of humanity’s pattern of fulfilment and glorification, and an adoption of that glorified humanity into the midst of the divine ontological essence. The incarnation does genuinely (in chronological-existential terms,) bring in Christ an ontological connection humanity and the Godhead. This healthy facet of the incarnation becomes unhealthy when – in the absence of an emphasis on the necessity of the Cross – it becomes viewed as the primary event through which Spiritual oneness / ontological indwelling with God comes to all of sinful humanity. Furthermore, expectation seems to stem from this view to assume that all of humanity is equally intimately united to the Godhead through of the existence of the hypostatic union alone - rather than the hypostatic union being seen as the establishment of the possibility of oneness, the initiation of redemption, the changing of the trajectory of humanity (See "Courtesy of Captain Koma"). This arises primarily when the intimacy between humanity and God in the Incarnation is not seen in light of the distinction that the Cross asserts between those that have oneness through Christ’s shed blood (and thereby the indwelling of The Holy Spirit,) and those that do not (Field, 2009). For example:
“…The difference between speaking of the vicarious death of Christ and the vicarious humanity of Christ is that one says that Jesus died in our place and the other says that Jesus is in our place. The one sees His righteousness exchanged for our guilt. The other sees our fallen human existence exchanged with Jesus’ human existence with His Father. What is substituted is not merely His righteousness for our sin, but His entire existence. His is a vicarious humanity in which we are given a new human existence with His Father.” (Kruger, 1995: 41)
“…The Son becoming Man means that you have nothing to do with trying to get into a relationship with God! To see God as a Man in Jesus is to literally see God and man already reconciled!... The truth is, IN JESUS, your entire life has been adopted and objectively saved. You had a connection with Triune God, in Jesus, as soon as you were born! You do NOT need to make a decision to get into Christ. Your decision to believe cannot save you, because you are already reconciled in Jesus, BUT your decision to believe this truth allows you to experience your reconciliation and salvation...” (Brassell. 2007: 3,4)
Thus, adoption or unity with God is seen as being solely historical and universal, rather than uniquely and severally individual and supernaturally instigated, occurring as an event in the present. The supernatural activity of individual regeneration is seen from this view as false - as nothing but cognitive realisation of an historical event is actually occurring. This view seemingly makes redundant any necessity of repentance and faith as distinct from intellectual engagement, that is to say, to be saved one need engage intellectually with a preset universal human condition, but one does not actually, genuinely move from real death to real life. Transformation does not arise inwardly from the Spirit’s indwelling and conforming of the human will, but from the individual’s behest to engage intellectually and conform cognitively and morally. This is, in effect salvation by information not indwelling. This cognitive salvation - void of actual Spirit regeneration - leaves the person ontologically unchanged in their capacity to please God, and in effect saves them only to let them continue unaided in their wretchedness (Breshears & Driscoll, 2007: 86). The Incarnation becomes not a means of conditioning the elect to make indwelling and oneness available, but is itself, the instigation of oneness. Salvation becomes somewhat binitarian in that the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit is replaced with functional gnosticism - get eh right knowledge and you are saved. Alternately, when inadequately attached to the necessity, authority and function of the Holy Spirit's indwelling and subsequent transformation of the individual, the enormity of the incarnation event may be seen to indicate such an overwhelming love for humanity as to negate the necessity for sin to be dealt with before indwelling can occur, that is, the love of God for sinful humanity is seen as so overwhelming that any necessarily juridical delineation is lost in Pro Nobis (Balthasar, 1994: 248).
The enfleshment of the divine Triune life in the incarnation of Christ is in and of itself (though expressing divine solidarity and love for humanity) not salvic or atoning - even though if un-tethered to the function of the Cross it may seem so. Rather, the incarnation is part of the means to Spirit-indwelling which is the avenue of oneness appointed for humanity, that is, holistic Trinitarian-effected salvation (Fee. 1996:15-21). The larger narrative and theme of atonement throughout scripture still emphasises the grand culmination of atonement as the dwelling of God among His people, but to emphasise the mutual/eternal indwelling of God and all of humanity as being through Christ’s hypostatic union and unique incarnation over and against being through The Holy Spirit’s indwelling and actual multiple acts of regeneration would be more than contrary to scripture: it would make practically redundant The Holy Spirit in the economy of salvation. Without the juridical exchange in and through the Cross, The Spirit of God and of Christ cannot indwell: there can be no abiding or mutual indwelling and no genuine nearness of Christ through His Spirit (Murray, n.d. 6). Without the Cross’ (juridical) removal of the condition of sinfulness and the indwelling of The Spirit there can be no real oneness for humanity irrespective of the existence of - or predicating passion behind - the hypostatic union. Jesus facilitated the spiritual/juridical conditions necessary to make possible The Spirit’s indwelling. Furthermore, in effecting this conditioning Jesus is proffering glory to The Holy Spirit in that the effecting (and restoration) of God’s intimate presence to His people remains in the hands of the one in whose hands it has been from the start: The Holy Spirit. Jesus makes possible the return of The Holy Spirit as the seal of God upon those that are His - he does not usurp The Spirit’s authority or function in the economy of salvation. Apart from the indwelling of The Spirit, Christ’s conditioning of the elect for the possibility of oneness remains unapplied, inert and unable to have real salvic worth to fallen humanity regardless of the hypostatic union.
It is true that the incarnation did knit humanity and the Godhead in the physical human body of Jesus Christ, however the overflow of this intimacy is received only by those that –through The Spirit (and therefore through the conditioning of the Cross) - are in Christ. The metaphysical enormity of The Son’s incarnation is not the sole truth from which atonement stems, neither is it to be exalted as the utmost of truths, the truth of all truths, or the truth of which one must become aware in order to have oneness with God. Were the atonement made only through the incarnation, the chief end of it would be in the cognitive realisation of it and not in the actual regeneration and faith caused by The Holy Spirit’s indwelling, that is, the truth of salvation would be in a cognitive realisation and an externally applied moral adherence rather than in supernatural regeneration and sanctification. Jesus would no longer be:
“… accessible – not to the probings of the historian nor to the speculations of the theologian but to the petitionings of the humble and penitent, who simply believe even as they try to understand.” (Bloesch, 1997: 57)
Salvation and abundant life would be limited to those with intellectual faculties adequate enough to grapple with the dichotomy of engaging with their existing condition of having been saved. Salvation would be intellectual not supernatural in its initiation and implementation and therefore moral not Spiritual in its ensuing transformation. It would also mean the Son’s universally applicable oneness to all of sinful humanity is void of change or interference on the part of humanity or The Spirit (as The Spirit’s regenerating indwelling presence is a void notion) and consequently insinuates that those sentenced to eternal damnation maintain this oneness with God as their oneness and also sentencing to damnation is unrelated to a presence or lack of the seal of The Holy Spirit: a person cannot not have oneness eternally. In short, there can be no spiritual delineation between the saved and lost - just a difference of 'understanding' or 'awareness'.
The incarnation alone is surely not the singular event of atonement and does not bring oneness with God to all of sinful humanity. To suggest that all humanity is at one with God through the means of the incarnation alone is to present a false hope and a false path to salvation and to remove the necessity and urgency of true regeneration and sanctification: a narrow gate that’s entered by knowledge and void of any ensuing path.
Election through the Incarnation
A view of the atonement based primarily on the incarnation necessitates predestination/election to be either non-selective with regards to the subjects (universalistic or semi-Pelagian) or for election to refer to something other than the subjects (Christ-centric). If atonement is primarily made through the incarnation, it cannot be that salvation was purchased for a select number if that number does not somehow include all Adamic people, as surely in the incarnation the solidarity of God is shown with all fallen humanity. Therefore, election may (must?) be universal in that all people were predestined to be saved and have been atoned for. Alternatively, if the atonement is based primarily on the incarnation then election may (must?) function outside of time in a semi-Pelagian sense, that is, people who become aware of the solidarity of God as shown in the incarnation become elected paradoxically: they have been atoned for but their election happens (supra-historically) as a consequence of their present cognitive engagement. Lastly, the emphasis on election may be shifted away from referring to people as ‘the elect’, instead referring to Christ as ‘the elect’. This projects the notion that election is only of Christ and is not and does not function as an election to be in Christ. Put simply, election is an attribute of Christ, and those that are in Him (though not elected) are elect because of His election as their conduit/thoroughfare and do not therefore have an existing election to become in Him as an attribute of their own. The person’s salvation is predestined to be through Christ rather than the person being predestined to become in Christ for salvation. This differs from the position of Christ’s incarnation being necessitated by the eternal Trinitarian decree that election would take place (The Son as Logos incarnandus elects subjects, the Son as Logos asarkos/incarnatus remains the object of election but not the subject of election)(Cassidy, 2009:54). The truth of election is here then, not hinged upon God electing some to be saved in Christ, instead, the truth of election is that it is Christ who is the elected one, for all to be saved through. This would mean then, the inexplicable intricacy of personal election and the sovereignty of God is replaced with a universally effecting election of Christ.
Atonement primarily based on the Cross (the soap-box of Kruger's which I like)
If atonement based primarily on the incarnation tends towards an un-biblical expectation of oneness for all of sinful humanity, a view of the atonement based primarily on the Cross – if unattached to the impetus of the incarnation – runs the risk of forming a distant, legal, heavily juridical and malevolent concept of God. If this concept of God becomes the undergirding reference for an understanding of salvation, then the hope of salvation cannot rest upon the passionate love of God for here God is just but not necessarily loving: juridical without loving impetus. Hope for salvation is, instead, resting on the individual’s adherence and perceived functional obligation to the juridical code. Though this juridical code may seek to extract no reciprocal effort to make its function effective, into the vacuum of negated works which grace causes, there will begin to echo from the individual an anxiety at the loss of control their own fate. This anxiety, coupled with a religious ‘fidgeting’ (Kruger 2000: 70-76) is the natural response of the individual whose hope rests not on the love of God - which caused the juridical justification- but on the juridical justification alone. The surrender of self-determination from the individual to God on the basis of a legal transaction alone (without knowing the impetus of the incarnation) leaves the person little understanding of the Holy ‘whom’ into whose hands they have commended themselves. It is here that anxiety echoes: into the interpersonal void which an understanding of the incarnation and its relational background shortcuts and prohibits (or inhibits), that is to say: if a person understands at least the passionate love, solidarity and wilful condescension of God as shown through the incarnation, then the void into which the person is seemingly placing their identity and value system and hope for life is now filled intimately and personally by God’s predicating love.
The intimacy and loving relationality of God as shown through the incarnation does not allow for a distant, unattached, coldly juridical and malevolent concept of God. What is seen, instead, is an immeasurable outpouring of predicate love - demonstrated in mutual glorification, overflowing with a constant desire to submit to one another for the greatest good of sinful humanity. It is this love which a view of the atonement based unhealthily on the Cross may neglect.
Though the active love of God in the wilful condescension of Christ is present at the Cross, and is also present through Isaiah prophesying that it was the Father’s will to crush Him out of love for humanity (Is 53:10), it is only in the incarnation we see the depth of God’s love in Christ’s mystical partaking of (and union with) sinful humanity - which brings the individual past the lesser-loving errors of Modalism and Nestorianism. Incarnational love means that The Son is lovingly and wilfully present in a way that a Modalistic saviour is not. The incarnational Son’s love is (in extending to a greater depth of sinful human depravity) more salvic than a Nestorian saviour’s love. It is this truly Incarnate love which breathes the narrative of which the Cross is the crux. It is this incarnate love which if absent from an understanding of the atonement leaves God as being actively - and indeed physically – present, and yet personally and emotionally absent or unattached. The absence of the full Incarnation from the concept of atonement gives the individual the knowledge that God saves, but not the security of hope in understanding that God loves to save (Balthasar 1994:259).
Election through the Cross
The incarnation-centric view of Christ as humanity’s conduit of salvation differs from the view of election unto salvation of specific persons as necessitated by the Cross. Election based primarily on the Cross necessitates a supra-historical limiting of the atonement to those for whom the Cross is made effective but necessitates a progression of sanctification - by The Holy Spirit - in those same persons. In the Cross, Jesus, having taken to Himself sinful human nature, and having taken to Himself (supra-historically) the specific sins of the elect (Confession. 1975:20), dies. Christ, in death, carries the sins out of the realm of judgement by law – juridically voiding them, He exchanges the sins of the elect persons with His blood and presents the elect persons (the church catholic) spotless before the Father. It is these specific persons that are presented spotless before the Father that the Cross of Christ dictates as elect, as those whose sins have not been exchanged with the blood of Christ cannot receive the seal of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Therefore the atoning work of Christ for the sins of the elect are limited to those whose sins are exchanged in and by Him at the Cross, that is to say, the Cross limits the atonement – and thereby election - to those persons who are in Christ. In the Cross, The Son is creating for the elect the condition whereby they may receive in due time the indwelling of The Holy Spirit for salvation and sanctification.
The Cross, therefore, dictates a path from election which the incarnation alone does not: the path of sanctification.
The Cross therefore presents a view of election that emphasises a God-centric end purpose for the elected persons where the Incarnation (improperly emphasised) indicates the human-oriented end purpose. This God-centric end purpose can, however, be convoluted and lead to an unhealthy over-emphasis and practice of trying to diagnose election in others if the final purpose of glorifying God is not maintained as paramount.
This difference in the views is that the Incarnation emphasises God’s predicating desire in election as being to unite humanity to Himself, to mutually indwell, to cause the ascent of Humanity into the divine, true Apotheosis, to cause the glorification of humanity. Alternately, the Cross emphasises God’s desire in election as being to transform humanity, to cleanse humanity, to sanctify humanity and to make a people who –through submission to The Holy Spirit - are a light to the world for the glory of God and not themselves. Incarnational election emphasises the glory of humanity, the election of the Cross - the Glory of God. The loss of either emphasis diminishes abundant living.
Differing Expectations of the Activity of The Holy Spirit on Living and Truth
The chief difference between the view of atonement based primarily on the Incarnation and the view based primarily on the Cross is the function of The Holy Spirit. An overemphasis of the work of The Spirit within the body of Christ could be said to lend itself to a negating of the activity or presence of The Spirit in the world generally. The Spirit, it's suggested, would have no ability to prepare the heart of the unbeliever. For example: If the role of The Holy Spirit as the one who regenerates and seals people is unhealthily emphasised at the expense of His activity of convicting of the world of sin and righteousness, then the very presence of The Spirit in the world may be completely missed. This would be an oversight of The Holy Spirit’s capacity to minister outside of the formal Church and a denial of any form of prevenient grace. Alternatively, and this is where I would probably disagree with Kruger again, if sinful humanity is united to God primarily through the Incarnation, then the traditionally attributed activities of The Holy Spirit understood to be ministered by His specific indwelling, would have to be extended to include all of The Spirit’s general activity in the world (seal, down-payment, first-fruits). What is generally taken to be the specific, sanctifying, sealing, regenerating work of The Spirit enacted upon a person in order to cause them to be reborn (Jn 3:6-7) ,to become something new in Christ, could therefore only be taken to mean what The Holy Spirit has enacted for all humanity. This would mean therefore; no functional difference between the life that was thought to have The Spirit’s specific indwelling and the life that doesn’t. If atonement is based primarily on the Incarnation then the only salvation oriented change in a person’s life regarding the Holy Spirit is cognitive awareness and not an actual supernatural change in the person’s Spiritual condition. There would, therefore, be no actual Spiritual distinction between regenerate and unregenerate persons. There would also be no real difference in The Holy Spirit’s intimate communing with person’s as He is poured out equally among all sinful humanity and metered only by intellectual Awareness. There is therefore no special authority given to Christian prayers, no real Spiritual rebirth from spiritual death into Spiritual life, no setting apart of an eschatological people - sealed by The Holy Spirit. The only remaining differentiation is cognitive awareness. To commune with God, one need not actually be born of The Spirit, one simply need become aware. This new intellectual perspective may allow the person to engage with the Holy Spirit that has always been there, but the person is not a new creation, just a more informed one. All are, therefore, called but none are chosen, there is no longer a difference between Spiritually dead and Spiritually alive, and real life is now found in cognitive revelation. The truth is not that you need life, but that you already have it. I disagree.
A view of the atonement based primarily on the Incarnation must be tethered to the juridical elements of the Cross so as to avoid presenting an un-true avenue of salvation to sinful humanity. Likewise, a view of the atonement based primarily on the Cross must remain tethered to the predicate love of God which - from such depths - necessitated the Incarnation so as to avoid a diminishing of the life which God has redeemed people into. An unhealthy focussing on either element at the expense of the other negates either the activity of The Spirit in the world or the vitality of the Spirit in the life of the believer.
Balthasar, Hans Urs Von. (1994). Theo-Drama: Theological Dramatic Theory. Vol4: The Action. San Fancisco: Ignatius Press. In the Tabor College Christology Reader.
Bloesch, Donald G. (1997). Jesus Christ: Saviour & Lord. Downers Grove, Illinois. IVP Academic.
Brassell, Timothy J. (2007). God’s Staggering Good News About Your Life. The Adopted Life. Available Internet: http://godlikesyou.files.wordpress.com/2008/03/gods-staggering-good-news-about-your-life-50.pdf
Breshears, G. & Driscoll, M. (2007). Vintage Jesus: Timeless Answers to Timely Questions. Wheaton, Illinois. Crossway Books.
Cassidy, James, J. (2009). Election and Trinity. in Westminster Theological Journal. Vol 71. Spring. (53-81) (http://www.wts.edu/uploads/images/files/71.1.Cassidy.Election%20and%20Trinity.pdf) (29th May 2009)
Fee, Gordon D. (1996). Paul, the Spirit and the People of God. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers.
Field, Bob. (2009). Notes taken from my personal reflections dating from 2005 to the present. Though surely not the first to reach these conclusions I have reached them as a consequence of my own reflection.
Kruger, C. Baxter. (1995). God is For Us. Blackwood, South Australia: Perichoresis Press.
Kruger, C. Baxter. (2000). The Great Dance: The Christian Vision Revisited. Blackwood, South Australia: Perichoresis Press.
Murray, Rev. Andrew. (n.d. pre 1928). Abide in Christ. London, Nisbet & Co. Ltd.