Christ's Humanity in Current and Ancient Controversy

Fallen or Not?

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E. Jerome van Kuiken
  • New York, NY: 
    Bloomsbury Academic
    , July
     224 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Jerome van Kuiken's adapted dissertation, Christ’s Humanity in Current and Ancient Controversy, is thorough and learned. Having searched extensively through databases, van Kuiken only found four dissertations/monographs that dealt with the doctrine of the non-assumptus—Christ's assumption of a fallen human nature. His stated purpose is to move the debate over the humanity of Christ a step closer to resolution by analyzing the patristic retrieval from both sides [fallen vs. unfallen].

In Part 1, van Kuiken’s main interlocutors are Edward Irving, Karl Barth, Thomas Torrance, Colin Gunton, and Thomas Weinandy. Despite these theologians's initial agreement on the fallen human nature of Christ, van Kuiken reviews their nuanced differences. Irving describes the conception of Christ as one that prevents original sin. Barth and Torrance appeal to the a-enhypostatic tension in order to affirm the assumption of original sin while, at the same time, negating the effects once the divine person assumes a body-soul composite. Gunton argues for the assumption of a physical corruptible body, but without the necessary guilt therein contained. Finally, Weinandy keeps his Catholic roots firm and holds to the concept of Immaculate Conception. Nonetheless, Weinandy is adamant in affirming the fallen make-up of Christ in his human nature—maybe in contradiction to the Immaculate Conception.

In van Kuiken's entire exposition modern appeals to church fathers—both Latin and Greek—are common. Although some, such as Irving and Gunton see more continuity between those Fathers and the church today, Torrance blames the Latin tradition for a docetic tendency. For Torrance, the Latin tradition, starting with Leo's Tome, was unable to see the significance of Christ's fallen flesh both for the doctrine of the incarnation and atonement.

Part 2 deals with the defense of the unfallenness view among select modern theologians. Another five characters, mostly hailing from Great Britain, are chosen here, including Marcus Dods, A. B. Bruce, H. R. Mackintosh, Philip E. Hughes, and Donald Macleod. With most of these proponents reacting to Irving, this section seems rather unbalanced. If, as shown by van Kuiken, there is a development in the doctrine of the non-assumptus, its responses also become more refined with the passing of time, and this should have been noted here through detailed interaction with theologians such as Stephen Wellum and Oliver Crisp.

In the remainder of the work, van Kuiken carefully looks into both the  Greek and Latin church fathers. Although some Greek Fathers—for example, Gregory of Nyssa—might be more favorable to the language of a fallen or sinful humanity, no exact parallel can be found in Latin christology. The main christological parallel might be the virginal conception in which “God's Son breaks the hold of sin upon human nature so that his own humanity, like unfallen Adam's, is unblemished by sin, uncontrolled by Satan, and under no debt to die” (154).

The last part of van Kuiken's work is where the most promise lies. His combination of Sykes and Hastings’s taxonomies and “righting theology” sections bring clarity to terms that, more often than not, are used without further theological and metaphysical explanations. Terms like “assumed,” “unfallen,” “fallen,” “sinful,” and “sinless” are explained in their analytical framework so that theologians can have grounded conversations from now on. Worthy of attention is van Kuiken’s discussion of “unfallen” where he demonstrates that a dynamic relation through restoration might better communicate the act of assumption in an unfallen framework.

A moderately negative note might be van Kuiken's short treatment of the proponents of each viewpoint throughout the monograph. Each of the four chapters treats five theologians. This means that van Kuiken has chosen to analyze twenty theologians. Granted, this is a historical analysis of the development of doctrine, but when Barth is treated in less than one page (158) in the conceptual conclusion, it is doubtful that the Master of Basel is evaluated fairly.

Nonetheless, van Kuiken has achieved his goal of providing clarity to this debate. His examination of the language used for Christ's humanity and his call for unity in the usage of these concepts should be heard on both sides of this debate so that neither side continues talking past the other.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Rafael Bello is a doctoral student at the Southern Baptist Theological Union and research aide at James P. Boyce Centennial Library.

Date of Review: 
October 3, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

E. Jerome Van Kuiken is assistant professor of religion and philosophy at Oklahoma Wesleyan University.


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