The Theologian - The internet journal for integrated theology


The Son Incarnate in a Hostile World

by Mike Ovey



Nietzsche defines the ultimate act of treachery thus:

To express to your fellow conspirator the hurtful suspicion that he might be betraying you, and this at the very moment when you are yourself engaged in betraying him, is a tour de force of malice, because it makes the other person aware of himself and forces him to behave very unsuspiciously and openly for a time, giving you, the true traitor, a free hand.»1

This remark bears on the subject-matter of this chapter which takes up two accounts of the Incarnation, both of which are associated with the charge that evangelicals undervalue and distort the Incarnation. Many evangelicals, of course, hear the charge with a mixture of bewilderment and horror. They would regard the Chalcedonian depiction of Jesus as fully divine and also fully human as non-negotiable, and are puzzled about quite why this charge of an inadequate theology of the Incarnation arises. The burden of this chapter is that those who make the charge are themselves guilty of it.

Most of this chapter will be concerned with the first of these accounts of the Incarnation, in which Christ is portrayed as the consummation of the cosmic process. This is justifiable given the influence the view has had on Anglo-Saxon theology, especially within the Church of England, and which continues to the present day.


Christ as the Consummation of the Cosmic Process (Christus Consummator)

We should start here with the essays of the book Lux Mundi (1889).»2 Such a point of departure is not obvious. It is important therefore to realise the significance of Lux Mundi. Michael Ramsey, later Archbishop of Canterbury, described the book as marking a 'new era' in Anglican theology,»3 with an alleged stress on the Incarnation,»4 marked, amongst other things, by a stress on the work of the Logos '…in the whole created world, in nature and in man, in art and in science, in culture and in progress…'.»5 Charles Gore, the chief proponent of Lux Mundi-style ideas was a profound influence on both William Temple (who had, of course, his own distinctive emphases) and Michael Ramsey. The former especially has been strongly influential in 20th century theology. Avis' evaluation of Gore is equally true for Lux Mundi as a whole: 'a dominant, though sometimes unrecognised influence'.»6 Lux Mundi is, then, both influential and representative, even if not always visible. Evangelicals who wish to grasp why others view them as they do must, therefore, start here.


Description - the context

Naturally, it is important to consider the context in which the Lux Mundi writers were working. Several major influences are at play. First, and perhaps most obviously, there is the contribution of Darwin and the thesis of biological evolution, which by this time had enjoyed increasing perceived success and acceptance through the work of men like T.H. Huxley. However, it should also be noted that by this time evolutionary thought had been and was being extended from the biological realm to other fields of human thought. 'Evolution' was therefore prayed in aid in a number of diverse, and sometimes contradictory, causes, such as laissez-faire economic organisation, Marxism, ethnic nationalism, segregationism, and desegregationism.»7

Secondly, by this time so-called critical scholarship was making itself strongly felt in English academic theology. A factor of particular importance here is the view then held by some that Old Testament religion has to be seen as emergent from, and fundamentally continuous with, the pagan religions of the Ancient Near East.»8

Thirdly, there was the need to act within the social arena, a clearly compassionate and laudable concern for Britain's poor. A 'strong' doctrine of the Incarnation was felt both to justify and to require engaged social and political actions by Christians.»9 Of course, such social concern was not initiated by, nor confined to, the Lux Mundi essayists, and indeed was embraced by those with much less novel theologies, but nevertheless the lives of several of the essayists bear testimony to this social concern.

Fourthly, there is the influence of so-called British 'Idealism'. By 1889 Hegelian influences were very definitely at work in Britain and a leading Idealist T. H. Green, was teaching at Oxford in the years preceding the publication of Lux Mundi. His students included some Lux Mundi essayists.

It is worth briefly sketching out some salient features of Hegelian Idealism. A distinctive trait is the view that human history is the process in which 'Spirit' (Geist) is realising itself and coming to full awareness of itself. History is to that extent a unified field in which diverse events and apparent conflicts have in fact a progressive effect. For Hegel, the Incarnation, at least as he understood it, fitted neatly in to this package, since it showed the ultimate unity between God and humanity.  Grenz and Olson thus aptly sum the conclusion of many that Hegel was a radical immanentist for whom the world's history was God's history.»10

Fifthly, perhaps more mutedly, the influence of B.F. Westcott, notably in some of his work on John's Gospel but more particularly in an essay appended to his commentary on the letters of John, a piece entitled 'The Gospel of Creation'. Westcott's point here was that 'the Incarnation was independent of the Fall.'»11 Certainly the circumstances of the Incarnation - its shame and so forth - were due to sin, but the actual idea of it was not.»12 There was a necessity for the Incarnation independent of the Fall.


Description - content

The distinctive theme of the essayists is an acceptance of cosmic process. Crucially, this allows some kind of co-existence with Darwinism, indeed a positive assertion that Darwinism is being applied to theology and religious studies. Evolution, claims J.R. Illingworth,»13 has '…altered our attitude to all knowledge.' He goes on:

Organisms, nations, languages, institutions, customs, creeds, have all cometo be regarded in the light of their development, and we feel that to understand what a thing is, we must examine how it came to be.»14

In this, as we have seen earlier, the essayists were not untypical of theorists of the time outside the biological sciences. They were simply deploying in 1889 a move made in other disciplines and areas of debate from the start of the 1860s if not earlier.

Such extension of evolutionary thought did, however, have its opponents. Four years after the essayists were embracing Darwinism for theology, T.H. Huxley, highly familiar with Darwinism, attempted in his Romanes lectures to distance evolution from ethics. After defining evolution as 'cosmic process', Huxley went on to argue that social progress depended on substituting ethical process for cosmic process, for cosmic process was a guide not to morality, but immorality.»15

Of course, the essayists were not in any case simply proposing a form of evolutionary thinking that was that of Darwin himself or Huxley.»16 The obvious difference is that the essayists did not accept an impersonal, let alone an atheistic, process. Evolution is crucially leavened by Idealism. Gore later put it this way: '[N]ature on the whole represents a progress, an advance.'»17 In this progress inorganic material gives way to organic, organic to animal, animal to rational or spiritual. Thus within the cosmos there is the emergence of Spirit or Mind.

This kind of thought marks out not just the liberal catholicism of Lux Mundi, but also informs the work of William Temple,»18 and bears substantial similarity to the thinking of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, whose work has proved and is still proving highly influential both in the Church and the New Age Movement. Temple and de Chardin both stress that in this process, the cosmos becomes conscious of itself as human individuals become conscious of themselves.»19

Within this framework of development or process '…Jesus Christ incarnate is the legitimate climax of natural development…'»20 The Incarnation is the natural outcome of the kind of process that god has set within the world. Hence one can describe this kind of Incarnational thinking as upholding Christ as Consummation of the Cosmic Process.



It is obviously important to describe the basis for this view. It must be stressed that the essayists' public self-image was that of loyal catholics, not simply modernisers.

Scripturally, Lux Mundi consistently appeals to John 1:9. It is not too much to say that this verse is pervasive in the essays. It is, though, not exegeted at length, but rather constantly referred to, with a particular interpretation being taken, perhaps, as self-evident.  The true light which enlightens everyone expresses the thought that all men and women participate in the light of Reason, including moral reason.

This understanding undergirds the project. It is absolutely vital to grasp this. It forms a lynchpin in Lux Mundi theology and its successors.»21 For it is because of this that one finds the degree of truth in other religions and philosophies: everywhere where men lived by the light of reason they were the friends of Christ. This at once justifies the appropriation of scientific achievement and philosophical truth on the grounds they are Christian truth.

If the understanding of John 1:9 is correct, the bible itself mandates accepting the alternative viewpoints and perspectives that honest and rational thinkers provide. It is therefore unbiblical on this view not to look at look at the teaching of 'secular' disciplines, but on the grounds that practitioners are illuminated by the same Logos who became incarnate. Ramsey writes that on the Lux Mundi view 'contemporary trends of thought, like evolution or socialism, are not enemies to be fought, but friends who can provide new illumination of the truth that is in Christ.'»22

To this must be added, certainly in the case of Gore, a particular understanding of the image of God in which humanity is created (Genesis 1:26ff). There is a 'real moral likeness of man to God.'»23 On this basis, while Gore would repudiate anthropomorphism, he does want to uphold a 'theomorphism', and the net result of this is that human qualities are the 'counterpart and real expression' of the divine.»24

Historically, some of the Early Fathers were claimed to support this approach. Gore cites in particular Justin Martyr, Irenaeus and Origen.»25 Thus, as the Tractarians had claimed before them, the liberal catholic essayists felt they were not in essence innovators

Academically, the essayists were fortified by Westcott's 'Gospel of Creation,»26 which, as we have seen argued that the Son would have become incarnate irrespective of the Fall.



The results of this approach are profound and serve to provide a basis for a number of stock criticisms launched against evangelicals.

First, this allows the Incarnation to function as a focus of thought in some ways separate from the Cross. Lux Mundi certainly did not attempt to deny redemption, but set this alongside, so to speak, the Incarnation. Hence comes the criticism that evangelicalism distorts Christianity by over-emphasising the Cross. Hence too the thought that the Reformers held themselves a distorted view of the faith through their focus on redemption (here the essayists were of course continuing the antipathy felt by some Tractarians for the Reformation).

This perception helps generate the charge against Cross-centred evangelical theology: 'there's more to it than that.' Thus Illingworth speaks of 'partial presentations of Christianity' in post-Reformation thought and that the Reformers paid 'scant attention to the other aspects of the Gospel' than soteriology.»27 The implication is that evangelical emphases on the Cross and Resurrection do not teach the whole counsel of God: evangelicals must move on beyond a theology of the Cross to something more full-orbed. Evangelicals do not teach the full evangelium.

Secondly, the Son appears here much more as an immanent principle guiding and indeed manifested by the world's historical process. The Hegelian trait is very strong here, since Hegelianism often has a dynamic and optimistic view of the historical process, an essentially upward spiral. In Temple's thought this appears to be true of the Fall as well. He comments that Genesis 3 is a 'Myth', but one which provides 'a true analysis of all natural human progress [emphasis added]. Man stumbles, by the impulse of his nature, into something which, by his misunderstanding of it, is first a source of new evils, but is the condition of a hitherto impossible good.'»28 Hence in part the tendency for liberal catholicism to see evangelicalism as dour and pessimistic, with its stress on the continuing desperate state of fallen humanity, an attitude summed up in the phrase: 'You're too negative'.

Thirdly, and largely because Christ is taken as an immanent principle universally present, the tendency is to provide an elevated place for human reason and evaluation. That can be seen in Gore's judgement '…philosophy was thus to the Greeks, as the Law to the Jews, a divine preparation for Him who was to come'»29 or Illingworth's '…the history of pre-Christian religion is like that of pre-Christian philosophy, a long preparation for the Gospel.'»30 It seems that here Gore and Illingworth go beyond seeing God providentially at work in the history of Greece as well as of Israel (an uncontroversial point: see e.g. Amos 9:7). The striking thing is that there is some kind of equating of pagan works and, say, the Old Testament as vehicles of divine expression. Hence those characteristic sentiments expressed against evangelicals: 'they are so narrow', 'they won't look outside the Bible'.

There are two similar but distinct points at issue here. One is whether human reason sits above the Bible. For Gore himself the evidence is perhaps ambiguous here. He is capable of referring to the Bible as 'the final court of appeal',»31 while elsewhere insisting that reason and in particular conscience must weigh any purported revelation of God.»32 This seems to run the risk that the Bible is the final court of appeal in those areas where reason and conscience determine that it should. In that case it is difficult to feel that Gore's adjective 'final' is in fact the mot juste.»33 To the onlooker this can create an odd spectacle. The bible will indeed be cited as authoritative for a particular proposition, but what will not be apparent is that the biblical text has been so accepted by a prior judgement of the reason. The appearance of biblical authority in such cases is perhaps misleading.

The problem, of course, that also then arises is whether the bible can function as a final court of appeal in those areas where the reasons and consciences of different people differ. This does, though, help explain some of the mutual frustration evangelicals and liberal catholics experience in attempting to discuss, say, sexual ethics. Evangelicals stereotypically will want to appeal to biblical teaching as the final Word of God, while liberal catholics may see that as a silencing of the voice of God in the individual reason and conscience.

The second issue that arises is the way that human reason and philosophy sits alongside the Bible, providing alternative and complementary viewpoints. To this extent Lux Mundi views of Christ as Consummation allows Chalcedonian Christology to combine with at least partial endorsement of other faiths.

As significant here is the elevation of reason within the church. Given that the church reasons with the mind of Christ for her members participate in him (this follows from the understanding of John 1:9 at least), the voice of the Church becomes insensibly blended with the voice of Christ. But note what follows: given the developmental, progressive view of history, the voice now must take precedence over the voice then. How is the voice now to be identified? Perhaps by office, as with a bishop. Or perhaps by a majority, as with a council or synod. In either case the voice now is invested with enormous authority since it is genuinely able to discern and articulate Christ's truth. From this, to take an Anglican example, flows the idea that the Church of England can by a process of Reception over time discern what the will of God is on particular issues. The church comes to a consensus over time.

This reflects a very considerable problem. Majoritarian forms of church government have considerable cultural appeal, not least on ethical grounds, the argument being that people should be able to contribute to their own ecclesiastical government, just as they have a moral entitlement to do so in their political government. Furthermore, a minority on a particular issue in political democracy is often perceived as being in duty bound to accept a majority verdict or decision. Not to do so invites the stigma of being 'undemocratic'.

However, a nagging question here is whether the majority can make mistakes. Is it possible for the voice now to speak mistakenly against the voice then? And if it is, would the voice now readily spot and acknowledge its error? It is difficult to see the 'cosmic process' thesis making this an easier task for the majority: rather, because of a prior commitment to seeing history as an upward spiral, the temptation will be continually to see the voice then as wrong on areas of disagreement. Church government on this kind of basis can readily carry an authoritarian tone, for all its apparent commitment to western democratic values.

'Authority' is the apt term here, because the logic is that those who resist, or dissent from, such decisions of councils or synods are disobeying Christ. The voice of the church now becomes the voice of Christ, and the voice of the bible becomes increasingly superfluous. The redundancy arises from the fact that either the Bible expresses something which current reason and conscience legitimates or something which current reason and conscience cannot accept. It is therefore entirely predictable on these premises that evangelicals are disdained as those who disobey Christ: 'evangelicals are antinomian and individualist'.

For these reasons, then, the liberal catholicism of the essayists and their successors inevitably leads to a somewhat negative view of evangelical believers. They can be depicted as those who fail to teach the whole counsel of God but distort the Gospel, as those who limit God's activity in the world, as those who fail to appreciate God's continuing goodness and as those who covertly disobey God's voice, while claiming to obey him. This might go some way to explaining the disfavour in which some Anglican evangelicals see themselves regarded. In view of the seriousness of the charges, it is worth now examining the basis on which these judgements are formed.



  • 1. biblical – a) John 1:9

Consideration must start with the Bible. It should be noted that this is not the imposition of an evangelical methodology, but rather a question of taking up the lynchpin of the Lux Mundi approach. It is, after all, because of an understanding of John 1:9 that the essayists justified their own inclusion of extra-biblical perspectives from science and philosophy and conscience. Is their understanding of John1:9 justified

By way of clearing the ground we note that John 1:9 contains a notorious difficulty. Does the phrase 'was coming into the world' qualify 'the true light' or does it qualify 'everyone'? This does not in fact affect the interpretation now under consideration, so no further discussion is required.

The Lux Mundi case is that light here means spiritual, moral and intellectual discernment, a light in which all human beings share. Westcott's commentary on John goes some way towards this when he comments:

No man is wholly destitute of the illumination of "the Light." In nature, and life, and conscience it makes itself felt in various degrees to all.»34

Elsewhere he notes of the Light as light of all:

…for all of us, in so far as we have received intellect and wisdom from the Word which created us, are said to be illuminated by Him.»35

It will, though, be noted that the Lux Mundi exegesis in fact tends to focus on the third of the areas of illumination mentioned in the first quotation from Westcott, that of conscience. This, of course, fits readily with the idea espoused by Gore, that humans are 'theomorphic' and mirror the values and attitudes of God.»36

In the same field of interpretation we find Temple remarking:

So it may be truly said that the conscience of the heathen man is the voice of Christ within him - though muffled by his ignorance. All that is noble in the non-christian systems of thought, or conduct, or worship is the work of Christ upon them and within them. By the Word of God - that is to say, by Jesus Christ - Isaiah and Plato, and Zoroaster, and Buddha, and Confucius conceived and uttered such truths as they declared. There is only one divine light; and every man is his measure is enlightened by it.»37

At this point one should note that this species of interpretation depends on taking 'illuminate' (phōtizei) in the sense of giving light so that men and women may see - as in the phrase 'he enlightened me'. This is within the possible range for the word. There are, though, other possibilities, to which we shall return.»38 For the moment we test the Lux Mundi construction.

In examining the verse we should start with context. John 1:9 shifts attention back to the Light after vv.6-8 have focussed on the witness of the Baptist. Verses 10-11 continue the focus on the Light and speak of the Light's rejection by 'the world' and 'its own'. The immediate succeeding context of v 9 is that of an unrecognised light, nuanced by the faith of some (v. 12) but definitely not all. The recognition of the Light in its coming of verses 9-12 is not universal. This lack of recognition has earlier been encountered in the Prologue back in v. 5, which refers to the Light shining in the darkness, yet without the darkness 'grasping' (katelaben) it, a double entendre of 'understand' and 'overcome'.

In this way, the immediate context of v. 9 is that of the Light's rejection, not a sharing or mirroring of the Light's values in the human race. This context of rejection produces no little discomfort for a reading which suggests universal enlightenment and moral discernment, and which stresses the continuing theomorphic character of the human race such that human qualities are the 'counterpart and real expression' of the divine.»39

The thesis that men and women have an innate illumination in conscience by the Light has to be treated with suspicion given also the rest of the Gospel. Temple does refer to the rejection of verse 10-11, and goes on to list factors which inhibit acceptance.»40 One is the human foible of attaching what truths they have to a purely human founder, not the Light. The other is the fact of 'prejudice and obsession'. Temple's problem is that this does scant justice to the factors the gospel of John itself sets out when describing human rejection.

These have already been discussed at some length in the previous chapter. Suffice it here to remark that rejection in 3:19ff is because men and women love darkness rather than the Light (v. 19) and in fact hate the Light (3:20) because their deeds are evil. The terms for 'evil' are best given a theocentric thrust, but this is not to the exclusion of ideas of moral/ethical corruption before God. 'Prejudice and obsession' does not grasp the depth of the problem that John outlines, because they do not capture the anti-God orientation to which the Gospel refers.

In a similar vein, Jesus in John 7:7 speaks of a hatred born of Jesus' testimony that the world's deeds are evil. Here again it is not just prejudice and obsession that constitutes the problem. One may compare too John 16:3 where false loyalty to God is traced back to lack of knowledge of God the Father and the Son. Given that 'knowledge' language in John is so firmly linked to relationship, it is very difficult not to see John 16:3 as indicating that rejection of Jesus is the classic hallmark of lack of relationship with God. John 1:10-11 envisage just this of the world and the Son's own people. This is extremely difficult to reconcile with views of 1:9 that require the presence of the Word in the world of men and women. These passages speak of an antipathy to God while the Lux Mundi thesis is that humans are theomorphic genuinely mirroring the divine in their ethical apprehensions.


b) John 1:9 and general revelation

It will, no doubt, be objected that the considerations outlined above demolish the concept of natural or general revelation. This, though, is to misunderstand the point that is being made. 'Knowledge' and 'revelation' in the terms of John's Gospel relate regularly to saving relational knowledge. This is borne out classically in John 17:3 and 20:31. Humans do not 'naturally' have this knowledge (see e.g. 1:18, 3:13). If they did, of course, the Incarnation would be superfluous in this revelatory aspect. Jesus, though, seems to regard the Incarnation as revelatorily necessary (e.g. John 17:6 - he reveals the name of God, with the implication that it was hitherto unknown).

Nor do we find a substantially different account in the seminal passage on natural revelation in Romans 1:18ff. Paul does not deny the objective fact of natural revelation (1:19), and indeed this serves to establish moral responsibility (1:20), but this is a suppressed truth (1:18), unprofitable in that sense for humans whose minds are now darkened and futile (1:21). In a similar vein Acts 14:16f speaks of a God who has a left a witness of himself in the good he has done humanity in general providence. Yet the context shows just the inadequacy of this witness for this audience, since they are indulging in sinful idolatry, from which Paul and Barnabas forbid them (Acst 14:15). The witness has not made the Lystrans wise.

More generally one may say that Providence and the gifts given to humanity in creation may indeed facilitate the creation mandate. Job 28:1ff makes this point in relation to the remarkable human technological skill of mining. Yet Job 28:12ff sets the pursuit of wisdom apart from these normal pursuits of knowledge of the physical environment and consequent management of it. Wisdom is not found in this kind of way, and instead humanity is dependent on God to speak to tell us what Wisdom is and where she/it starts (v. 28).

In this way Job 28 distinguishes between human knowledge that is not dependent on revelation and human knowledge that is 'spoken' to us. The problem is that the Lux Mundi construction tends to elide the two. That there is a difference between what God speaks and what humans morally intuit is clear from Mark 7:9ff where Jesus distinguishes sharply between God's command and the tradition of men. He does so precisely on the grounds of origin - it is because they have different origins that the activities of the Pharisees is so obnoxious.

The predictable riposte from a Lux Mundi position would be that certainly the 'corban' rule of v. 11 could not be attributed to the immanent Word (the Incarnate Word has, after all, just repudiated it). But this does not mean that the Word does not illuminate inwardly in other areas.

This response, though, has not grasped the extent of the problem. Had the Pharisees been asked they would not have owned up to abrogating the Word of God, as Jesus says they have (Mark 7:8). This might be because they really do not think they have done so and have made an honest mistake, or because they hide their antipathy from God's laws, perhaps even to some extent from themselves. On either view, they have a problem discriminating what is in fact God's law and word from what is their own invention. They themselves have no infallible sense of divine truth, apparently, that they obey correctly. As such, on any view, to authenticate something as God's Word they would have to look outside themselves, not to an inner light. The Lux Mundi interpretation understates just that need.


c) John 1:9 - other interpretations of 'illuminate'

Carson makes the point that the word 'illuminates' in any case need not have the sense of providing enlightenment.»41 He notes that another meaning, in fact a more primary one, is 'light up', as in 'he lit up the room'. The point here, to take the example, is not that the light means that the room can see, but that the room can be seen. So in John 1:9 this would yield the sense that the Light 'shows up' every man and woman coming into the world. The advantage of this interpretation is that it provides a far better fit with John 3:20,21 and the use of 'light' language there. It is precisely the showing up function that is in view. This also avoids the difficulties of reconciling the illumination of v 9 with the rejection of 1:10,11.

A slight difficulty with it is that 3:20,21 primarily deals with the Incarnation (v 19) and the reactions that follow that. Arguably John 1:9 looks more generally phrased. For that reason it is perhaps worth pursuing another line, which also highlights a further difficulty with the Lux Mundi  construction.

After all, the discomfort with Lux Mundi-style interpretations increases when looking at the associations of light within the Prologue. In v. 4 light is associated with creation and life. That association is all the stronger in 8:12 where Jesus is described as the light of the world (thus providing the title for the Lux Mundi essayists). However, the second half of the verse specifies the kind of light that Jesus is, he is the light of life, and the section as a whole speaks of a world in darkness (8:12) and facing death in sin (8:21 and 24). On this basis, light and life here are related to each other and stand opposite another related pair, darkness and death. This, of course, coheres with Old Testament use of light imagery. To give light to can be a paraphrase of give life, or quality of life to.»42 On this basis, the sense of John 1:9 is not that the true light illuminates in the sense of giving currently active reason and conscience to all alike, but rather that it illuminates all in providing creative life to all alike. This then adds piquancy to 1:9-12 where men and women reject the light who gives them life, and ensures there is progression and climax in vv9-13:

  • the Light gives creative life to all
  • but the world that was made through him rejected him
  • even his own people rejected
  • but he gave power to become children of God….

It is true that John does use light imagery in other ways than in relation to the giving of life. Illumination of character has already been mentioned (3:20,21).The obvious alternative example is John the Baptist who is also described in light terms (5:35). However, even here it does not amount to an internal light of understanding, but of revelation, something external. Moreover, exactly the point about John the Baptist is that his testimony or light is not understood and accepted, for the 'Jews do not accept the one to whom he testifies. The context of chapter 5 does not speak of innate understanding, but of refusal.

For these reasons, this passage does not support the Lux Mundi case for innate reason and conscience of a kind which independently knows and recognises God.


d) Genesis 1:26 and the image of God

The other passage which Lux Mundi writers and their successors invoked (again rather by reference than exegesis) is Genesis 1:26 and the creation of human beings in the image of God. Gore's point, as we have seen, is that this establishes a 'theomorphism' on the part of the human race, such that issues of reason and conscience are congruous between humans and God.

Of course, the immediate context of Genesis 1:26 does not raise issues of human reason and conscience. What is at stake rather is the position of humans as those whom God establishes as having dominion under him over the rest of creation. However, this does not mean that questions of rationality or personhood are irrelevant. Rather, they seem to be implied, for God's dominion forms a pattern for Adam and Eve, and that dominion is rational»43 and personal and righteous. Human dominion is within the context of God's dominion.

This, though, raises the question of Genesis 3, where human conduct stands at odds with God's dominion. Part of the irony here is that in implicitly rejecting the legitimacy of God's dominion, Adam and Eve in consequence also de-legitimate their own position as those holding dominion by the grant of God. Human conduct in Genesis 3 does not manifest the congruity of values between God and humanity, but rather that humanity has now embraced incongruous values. This sits but poorly with the 'theomorphic' estimate of Gore. It is as though there had been no Fall.

A possible response would be that Genesis 3 is, as it were, a one-off. Humans made a mistake, sinned even, but it did not change their fundamental theomorphic character.

The difficulties with this answer are legion. First, as early as Genesis 6:5, the bible signals a certain disinclination on the part of humanity to share God's values. This is instantiated in the history of Israel as she shows herself unable to keep the covenant at many points in her history, culminating in the conquest of the northern kingdom of Israel and the exile of inhabitants from the southern kingdom of Judah. In the New Testament the Pauline depiction of humanity in Ephesians 2:1ff as  having the values of the world and the ruler of the power of the air, rather than God, suggests a humanity that is not theomorphic in the sense Gore intends.

This is not to say that the dominion mandate of Genesis 1:26ff has been repealed (difficult in view of Genesis 9 and the Noachic covenant). It is, though, to observe a real discontinuity between humanity as created originally and as it is now.

Most importantly, though, the events of the Incarnation itself show, as the previous chapter argued, that humans do not have congruity of values with God. Rather there is a covert hostility.

Purely from the point of view of church history, Gore's case at this point looks suspiciously like a denial of original sin. This would be a curious position for a catholic in the Church of England to assume, given that the early Church condemned Pelagius' denial of original sin, and the Articles of the Church of England themselves assert original sin in Article 9.

The conclusion is that neither of the key passages establishes the anthropology that the Lux Mundi essayists require to make their project viable as a biblical approach.


2. Historical

We must turn now to the historical claims of the essayists. When condescending to detail, Gore, who like the Tractarians saw his catholicity including a deep appreciation of the Fathers, adduced Justin Martyr, Origen and Irenaeus»44 to support his thesis that the Incarnation is the consummation of the natural cosmic process.

This misrepresents Irenaeus whose dominant explanation of the Incarnation is that it is a recapitulation, or 'going over again', of the role of humanity in the cosmos. Christ is a second Adam who obeys and fulfils God's purposes for humanity, while the first Adam disobeyed, thereby frustrating God's purposes. Christ completed what Adam failed to do and in this way it was Adam's failure, not his laying of a foundation on which Christ could build, that brought the Incarnation. The Incarnation was the result of a process going awry, not a process going right.»45

As for Origen, one needs to set the Incarnation in the context of the rest of his thought. Origen was committed to the pre-existence of 'human' souls, not least on the basis that God must always have had objects on which to exercise his eternal characteristics of goodness and power.»46 God causes beings 'coeternal with himself.'»47 These human souls were originally in union with God, but their ardour and enthusiasm cooled and they fell away from God.»48 For Origen, enfleshment occurs after these pre-existent souls had fallen.»49 The exception is, of course, the soul of Jesus which cleaved perfectly to the Eternal Word of God.»50 The union of human soul and divine Word thus takes place before the physical Incarnation. That Incarnation was necessary precisely because human souls had become enfleshed and needed both to have God revealed to them and to be re-united with God.»51 Here again the stress is on dealing with our sinful state, not with the Incarnation of a natural process. Such process as there is has gone wrong.

Hence Origen's thought does not in fact support the point that Gore claims. Human existence in the flesh is not part of a positive natural process for Origen. Such a state is a mark of dysfunction.

The foregoing description makes it clear that Origen's account of the nature of creation and Incarnation is, to put it mildly, idiosyncratic. It should therefore be added that Origen's thinking attracted condemnation at the Fifth Ecumenical Council (Constantinople 553A.D.), where anathemata 1 and 4 are directed against the doctrines of pre-cosmic souls and pre-cosmic falls, while anathema 7 is directed against the pre-cosmic union of the soul of Christ with the eternal Word.

However, given the clear condemnation of Origenistic thought at that Council, it becomes puzzling that Gore should in any case cite Origen, not as part of the history of Christian dogma, but rather as an authoritative and representative source of patristic theology which supported the legitimacy of the Lux Mundi view of the Incarnation.

Turning to Justin Martyr, Gore has at first glance a better case. Gore rightly observes that Justin uses friendship with Christ terminology of pagan thinkers.»52 The rationale for this is frequently claimed to be the presence of the rational Word in human individuals. However, once again this account needs to be significantly nuanced by other material in the same work that Gore and Illingworth cite.

First, Justin's case was not that pagan religion was borne of a true knowledge of God (it will be recalled that Lux Mundi took a 'positive' view of pagan religion in the process of cosmic development). Rather, pagan religions were demonically inspired.»53 Whatever the indwelling Word was, it did not for Justin mean that pagan religions provided alternative valid perspectives on divine matters. Secondly, even where pagan philosophy (as distinct from religion)»54 was to Justin's mind objectively accurate, it still did not function as independent revelation or source of truth.»55 Instead, the point was that such speculations were biblically confirmed.

Thirdly, in fact Justin is not simply endorsing pagan thought as the independent product of the immanent work of the Logos. Justin envisages Plato as 'borrowing' from Moses.»56 The truth in Plato is attributable to his having read Moses. He accepts partial vision in pagan writers»57 and therefore argues for the superiority of biblical writers»58 - it is these one ought to read.

From that point of view, Justin does not simply envisage a process in human history of the emergence of truth in which the Incarnation is simply the culmination of a cumulative process.

For these reasons, then, Gore's attempt to ground his version of Christ as consummation of the natural process in the theology of these Fathers must be adjudged a failure.

The problem is, however, compounded by the theologians Gore does not cite on this issue. Gore advertised himself as a man deeply learned in patristic theology.»59 One would therefore have thought it difficult to omit discussion of Athanasius and his seminal work De Incarnatione ('On the Incarnation'). In fact Lux Mundi references to De Incarnatione fail to note that Athanasius takes the shame of the Incarnation with the shame of the Cross, joining what Lux Mundi wished to leave at least semi-detached. More significantly, Athanasius states not only that the Incarnation was necessary for salvation, but that the Incarnation was for our salvation, and 'for this reason only'.»60 In that sense Athanasius did not envisage a cosmic process in which the Incarnation was going to happen in any event.

In fact, Incarnation for the purposes of salvation fits neatly into the rest of Athanasius' theology. Other means of revelation of God have failed, as far as Athanasius is concerned,»61 and humans must know God truly if they are to be blessed. Our own innate sense of God and truth was insufficient for what we needed according to Athanasius, and was not leading us into progressively greater areas of truth. The Incarnation was not then to crown a basically successful, if fraught, natural cosmic process: it was to re-create a cosmos devastated by sin.

This omission of Athanasius on this point tends to highlight in any event the oddness of the authorities Gore actually does cite in support of his case. Origen's condemnation has already been mentioned, but Justin, Origen and Irenaeus all, of course, pre-date the great trinitarian and christological discussions of Nicaea and Chalcedon, which resulted in a formulation of the Incarnation in terms of its salvific purpose ('for us and for our salvation'). It is a curious feature that a movement presenting itself as committed to credal orthodoxy, as liberal catholicism was under Gore's guardianship, should not advert to this point, at least to argue that the creeds of Nicaea and Constantinople and the Definition of Chalcedon are capable of an inclusive meaning (other purposes for the Incarnation are possible too).

The patristic material has been reviewed at some length. This is necessary given the liberal catholic insistence on the authenticity of their 'catholicism', which includes its patristic support. Nevertheless, after this review, it is difficult not to concur with Avis' judgement on Gore: 'He follows the Tractarians in building up proof-texts from the fathers.'»62 'Proof-texting' readily carries the connotation of distortion and revisionism, and this connotation appears well-founded in the case of the handling of the patristic evidence.


3. Philosophical

This leaves the issue of the Idealism in the Lux Mundi school and its successors. Some have suggested that the primary debt of Gore in particular is not to Idealism.»63 It is certainly fair to comment that Idealists, including Hegel, are seldom mentioned by name in Lux Mundi. On the other hand Temple's Christus Veritas is suffused with Idealism, with comparatively little treatment of evolution. Others prefer to acknowledge the presence of Idealist strains, but putting this in terms of influence rather than dependence,»64 and this seems apt. The influence, though, is profound. It is precisely the Idealism that moulds the appropriation of evolution so that the process in question is personal and theistic, not impersonal, as it certainly tended to be with, say, Huxley. To that extent, it is the Idealism which is a dominant factor.

However, contemporary philosophy has often remarked on the totalitarian tendencies of Hegelian historicism and its derivative schools of thought, none more trenchantly perhaps, that Karl Popper.»65

The problem Popper highlighted is that a historical event within such a framework of historicism tends to be judged by its 'success'.»66 The individual or party able to appeal to some kind of success in the displacement of other ideas or worldviews is able to argue from that success to the legitimacy and propriety of the idea, its absolute rightness, at least for the moment.

This can open the door to claiming one's own (successful) opinions carry the force of the divine mind operating within the historical process. In fact, Popper is merely the last in a long line to feel suspicious of techniques that allow clothing one's thoughts with divine authority. One can go back at least to Sophocles, and a scene from the Philoctetes, in which Philoctetes appeals to the gods while he is being captured:


Philoctetes: …must I be dragged away
A prisoner before your eyes?

Odysseus: The will of Zeus
He is this country's king and I am his officer.

Philoctetes: You lie, foul villain, making God's word a lie
To shield your practices.»67


In a similar vein, Calvin decries parallel thinking in respect of the authority of church councils as being a species of tyranny within the church, since such immanentist thinking entailed God no longer ruling His people by His inscripturated Word.»68 It is partly for this reason that examination of Lux Mundi thinking is so important.

An objection to the above analysis might run like this. Granted the kind of philosophy of history that Hegel (and Marx) held tends to justify by success, is it an example of the genetic fallacy to make this criticism of the 'cosmic process' ideas of the Lux Mundi school? In this instance, the sting of 'genetic fallacy' charge is that one is condemning the Lux Mundi school because some ideas originate with Hegel: a sort of guilt by association.

However, this objection does not hold. A key feature of the Lux Mundi project is that the cosmic process is one in which the Word is present, and the Incarnation is the consummation of this. But the cosmic process as a whole is a progress (it is positive). It is very hard here to avoid the rule of thumb that 'later means improved', and that success is an indication of legitimacy. This is particularly so within the framework of Temple,»69 where the universe realises itself in the various human consciousnesses who make it up. When they adopt a viewpoint, that is the cosmos realising itself. In this way the Lux Mundi school adopts just those features of Hegelian Idealism that prove so troubling. On this view, the 'liberal' part of the label that the Lux Mundi essayists adopted has a curiously ironic ring.

Popper devastatingly observes that 'lie' within this historicist framework becomes a very difficult concept.»70 To develop this point, it is worth observing that a historicist framework may well start to distort debate: the purpose of debate is to succeed in persuasion. If one does succeed, so that the cosmic process adopts one's position, would this adoption not in itself make the position true (at least until the next stage of the cosmic process)? The risk here is that debate within a church or denomination that has adopted a Lux Mundi  approach will tend towards techniques of persuasion and plausibility rather than objective substance.


Concluding remarks

In sum, exegetically inept, historically distorted and philosophically suspect: it would surprise some that Lux Mundi has been so widely followed.


Christ as “co-sufferer”


We turn now to a second Incarnational theology, which is here described as 'Christ as co-sufferer.' A crucial contribution has been made here by J. Moltmann, whose work has proved highly influential, not least with Jon Sobrino and other writers of a liberation theology context in Latin America (a point stressed by Sobrino). This reminds one of the enormous concern felt by Latin American theologians over poverty and political oppression. Naturally, one may recognise the validity of the concern without feeling obliged to endorse uncritically the Incarnational theology which they have occasioned.

A key image is of 'Christ our Brother',»71 but particularly our brother in that he shows solidarity with us in our sufferings. It should be noted that, in contrast to the Lux Mundi approach, the Incarnation is taken very closely indeed with the Cross. The Cross is the natural capstone of Jesus' experiences in the Incarnation, in the same kind of way as the lives of many poor and oppressed end with some final act of violence by the authorities. One should say that the cross is the outcome of an Incarnation in a world 'situated in sin'.»72

The solidarity of Jesus' sufferings is an important feature here. He has a concrete experience of injustice as one of the poor and oppressed.»73 Hence Sobrino can comment:

In Jesus' case, his universal love was translated into a decision to be 'with' the oppressed and to be 'against' the oppressors, precisely so that his love could be 'for' all of them.»74

The stress is very much here on incarnational solidarity with the poor and oppressed. The poor and oppressed are sinned against, so that events like crucifixion happen to them, perpetrated by the rich and powerful. Thus the point is here that Jesus' death is a typical death, an ordinary death, at least ordinary for one of the oppressed.

Many find this approach attractive and helpful. In the hands of Moltmann it is a way of addressing the central theological question of theodicy, the justice of God. Thus God does care, is concerned and does repudiate the crimes of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The Incarnation and Passion show just that. Jesus is a member of a conquered race, in a backwoods area, of lowly social status. In the Passion he dies a death reserved for the refuse of the Roman Empire, and one his own tradition associated with being accursed.



Two points should be made at the start of any evaluation. First, obviously the theodicy question is a real one, vividly presented in Europe by the Holocaust, and visible daily in the poverty of some parts of Latin America. Equally obviously there are important elements of truth in the idea that Jesus shares our condition and experience (Heb 2:17-18; 4:15-16).

However, it is less clear that this theme of Jesus as co-victim is an adequate explanation of the Incarnation. It was stressed in the last chapter that hostility was a theme of the Incarnation. It is certainly true that hostility features in the co-victim scheme. Nevertheless the character of the hostility is subtly different. The last chapter drew out the biblical themes of hostility to the servants of God and hostility to the Son of God uniquely. The co-victim scheme tends to underplay both these aspects of hostility in favour of hostility directed against Jesus as a member of the oppressed classes. The Godward direction of the hostility is attenuated, with the result, to put it a little crudely, that the Incarnation and Passion discloses the problems between human beings, not between humanity and God, except in the derivative sense that God minds about the way humans treat each other.

This can have unfortunate effects. For the oppressed it can cloud the issue of their own relationship with God and the hostility that lurks there, perhaps even creating the impression of innocence before God. For the oppressor too his/her problem is fundamentally shaped in terms of treatment of other humans, rather than attitude to God. God tends to appear as a third party trying to redress matters within human affairs.

Of course, it is true that biblical ethics are enormously concerned with the treatment of one human being by another, but it would be inadequate to say that biblical ethics and norms are concerned exclusively with the horizontal dimension. The obvious example is the very considerable amount of material that deals with worship, both in terms of the prohibition on idolatry and also in terms of the regulation of the cult.

Furthermore, actions against fellow-humans are sometimes given a theocentric nuance. Thus oppression of the widow and the orphan is conceived as an insult to the creator, while in Psalm 53 David describes his sin as being against God. This is truly remarkable given that he has used power singularly oppressively by his abusive exploitation of the woman Bathsheba and his murder at once removed of Uriah the Hittite. Yet this almost stereotypical account of the abuse of the weak and vulnerable by the powerful is construed as a direct crime against God. He is the injured party too, not just an interested third party with sympathy.

The outcome of this attenuation of the sense of hostility against God is unfortunate. With it readily comes a weakened view of the propitiatory nature of Christ's death, for God correspondingly has less to be propitiated about, so to speak. With it too comes a tendency to envisage social amelioration in terms of relief of poverty and re-distribution of political power as solving humanity's most fundamental problems. On this basis, while the Cross retains a deep symbolic value and a real role as exemplar, its salvific effect may be understated.

Furthermore, it was noted above that part of the attraction of the Christ as co-victim thesis was its pastoral import. It gives us a God who cares for us and identifies with us in the griefs of our existence. Is this lost in the account of the Incarnation that sees it in the context of covert human hostility to God? Emphatically not, because not only do we have an incarnate Son of God who does share the burdens of our existence, the Incarnate Son also becomes incarnate knowing not merely human victimhood but also undeserved human hostility. This latter points underscores his grace and generosity. It certainly does not diminish it.

The conclusion then is that presenting Christ as co-victim is not a magnification of the Incarnation, but a diminution.


  1. F. Nietzsche Human, all too human 1878. part VI 'A traitor's tour de force' no. 347.

  2. Ed. C. Gore The first edition was in 1889. The edition used here is the 'fifteenth edition' 1899 London: John Murray, in fact a reprint of the twelfth edition of 1891. The extent of reprintng is an indication of the book's circulation.
  3. A.M. Ramsey From Gore to Temple: the development of Anglican Theology between Lux Mundi and the Second World War Longmans, Green and Co: London. 1960:vii.
  4. Ramsey From Gore to Temple pp. viii, 16
  5. Ramsey  From Gore to Temple p.3.
  6. P. Avis Gore: Construction and Conflict Churchman Publishing: Worthing. 1988:p.1.
  7. See G. Himmelfarb 'Varieties of Social Darwinism' pp314-332 esp. p.327 in Victorian Minds Elephant: Chicago 1968.
  8. See the descriptions in R.E. Clements Old Testament Theology: a fresh approach Marshall Morgan & Scott 1978.Basingstoke:158ff
  9. Ramsey From Gore to Temple p.1 sees B.F. Westcott as implementing the 'social corollaries' of the Incarnation.
  10. Grenz S.J. and Olson R.E. 20th Century Theology: God and the World in a Transitional Age Paternoster: Carlisle/IVP: Downers Grove 1992:38
  11. Westcott B.F. The Epistles of St John Macmillan: London 1905: 287.
  12. Westcott Epistles pp287,8.
  13. Illingworth in Lux Mundi p.132,
  14. Ibid.
  15. Documented in Himmelfarb, Victorian Minds pp.328-9.
  16. The two did in fact have their differences. See P.E. Johnson  Objections Sustained:subversive essays on evolution, Law and Culture Downers Grove:IVP. 1998:16-7.
  17. C. Gore The Incarnation of the Son of God Bampton Lectures 2nd ed. 1892:33.
  18. Temple's grades of being have slightly different terms: Matter, Life, Mind, Spirit. Christus Veritas London: Macmillan. 1924:4.
  19. Temple christus Veritas p. 68.
  20. Gore 1892:18.
  21. Ramsey in his Foreward to Avis' Gore comments that both Gore and Temple 'were sure that the light which enlightens every man was present far and wide in man's reason and conscience' p 4.
  22. Ramsey From Gore to Temple p.3.
  23. C. Gore The Incarnation of the Son of God p116.
  24. Ibid.
  25. Cited by Gore 1892: n 13 to p. 40.
  26. The first edition of Westcotts commentary on the johannine epistles was 1883.
  27. Illingworth Lux Mundi p.133.
  28. Temple Christus Veritas p.74.
  29. Gore 1892:42-3.
  30. Illingworth Lux Mundi p.150.
  31. Cited by P. Avis Gore: Construction and Conflict Churchman Publishing: Worthing. 1988: p. 32
  32. Avis Gore p.29 commenting on the way Gore followed Bishop Joseph Bulter.
  33. Compare J. Carpenter's comment Gpre: A Study in Liberal Catholic Thought Faith Press: London 1960 p. 91 '…once the revelation is acknowledged, reason is made the judge of its truth.'
  34. B.F. Westcott Gospel of Saint John John Murray:London 1882, 1937:7.
  35. Westcott John p.4.
  36. Gore Incarnation p.116.
  37. W. Temple Readins in St.John's Gospel London Macmillan139-40, 1968 p.9.
  38. D.A. Carson The Gospel according to John Eerdmans: Grand Rapids 1991 pp.123-4 sets out the basic range.
  39. Ibid.
  40. Temple John p. 10.
  41. Carson John 124.
  42. E.g. Ezra 9:3; Ps. 13:3; in the LXX apocrypha Sirach 34:20. Compare Ps 49:19.
  43. Note the patterns of ordering in Gen 1
  44. Illingworth also refers to Irenaeus and Justin Lux Mundi pp.135 and 147 respectively.
  45. For Irenaeus' concept of recapitulation see Against Heresies III.21.10 and 23.1 and V.19.1 and 21.1.
  46. See e.g. De Principiis 1.2.10.
  47. J.N.D. Kelly Early Christian Doctrines 5th ed. rev. A. & C. Black: London 1977:128
  48. De Principiis 2.8.3. and 2.9.2
  49. De Principiis  3.5.5.
  50. De Principiis 2.6.3-6 esp. 6.
  51. De Principiis 3.5.6.
  52. First Apology 46. Illingworth Lux Mundi 147 uses the same passage.
  53. e.g. First Apology .54
  54. This makes the distinction between Hellensitic philosophy and religion perhaps too clear-cut for objective accuracy but does follow the contours of Justin's own thinking.
  55. First Apology 23.
  56. First Apology 59, 60.
  57. 2nd Apology 13.
  58. Dialogue 6 & 7.
  59. See Avis Gore p.20.
  60. De Incarnatione 1.
  61. De Incarnatione 13.
  62. Avis Gore p. 20.
  63. Carpenter Gore p.85.
  64. Ramsey From Gore to Temple: pp. 9-10.
  65. The Open Society and its Enemies 4th ed. 1962 London & New York: Routledge  & Kegan Paul p. 78
  66. Popper 1962:66.
  67. Sophocles Philoctetes trans. E.F. Watling. 1953. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
  68. Institutes of the Christian Religion IV.8.
  69. Temple Christus Veritas.
  70. Popper Open Society II.68.
  71. Sobrino Christology at the Crossroads SCM 1978:106, commenting on the NT term 'first-born'
  72. Sobrino 1978:202.
  73. Sobrino 1978:124
  74. Sobrino 1978:125.

Mike OveyAbout the Author

Michael J. Ovey is Principal-elect of Oak Hill Theological College in London, and is on the Editorial Board of The Theologian.