Jenson: Christ’s Preexistence

Today my wife and kids are out of town for a birthday party, so I had to opportunity to read Jenson’s chapter, The Christological Problem, after finishing both worship services. In this chapter, Jenson thinks critically about the Antiochene/Alexandrian christological controversy and begins to offer a constructive alternative. Citing Maximus Confessor and following his Christology to an extent Maximus did not, Jenson writes, “If we adhere to this and follow Maximus’ arguments to their end, we will say: the second identity of God is directly the human person of the Gospels, in that he is the one who stands to the Father in the relation of being eternally begotten by him (p. 137).” In the footnote, Jenson argues that sufficiently drastic NT scholarship should reach this same point.

One of the questions that arises from his discussion concerns the preexistence of Christ and is especially relevant as we contemplate Christmas. Where was Jesus before his birth and incarnation in Bethlehem? Jenson responds:

“…in the full narrative of Scripture, we see how the Son indeed precedes his human birth without being simply unincarnate: the Son appears as a narrative pattern of Israel’s created human story before he can appear as an individual Israelite within that story.”

“In the triune life, what ontologically precedes the birth to Mary of Jesus who is God the Son, the birth, that is to say, of the sole actual second identity of that life, is the narrative pattern of being going to be born to Mary. What in eternity precedes the Son’s birth to Mary is not an unicarnate state of the Son, but a pattern of movement within the event of the Incarnation, the movement to incarnation, as itself a pattern of God’s triune life (p. 141).”

Admittedly, this presses the boundaries of the ability we have to even speak and understand. However, I think it is important to consider these difficult questions – ironically the kinds of questions that children love to ask! Somehow we have to craft an answer from this deep theological reflection. Where was Jesus before he was born? He was somehow eternally moving toward incarnation within the life of the Trinity. Would that satisfy your 4 year old? It wouldn’t mine. I think we can safely answer this for a pre-schooler (and have any of us really developed much theologically beyond pre-school?) by saying before being born to Mary, Jesus was God and was with God. Clear? 🙂

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