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Chalcedon: God’s GPS?

Cleaning out my feed reader, I remembered I wanted to link to this post by Greg Boyd: “Hellenistic Philosophy and the Problem of Chalcedon.” Boyd is happy to affirm the truths affirmed in the definition of Chalcedon, that in Christ the human and divine natures are combined “without confusion…change…division…[or] separation.” But he is wondering how much of that language was necessitated by certain prior philosophical decisions that tended to draw the church away from an incarnational basis for doing theology. Here’s his conclusion:

The question, then, is how a God whose very definition is anti-anthropomorphic can become a human? How does a God whose essence is above time and change become anything new? How does a God who is above emotion and suffering suffer and die on the cross? This is the God-world problem of the Xenophanes tradition, but with a vengeance! And, so far as I can see, there is no coherent answer to these questions. The most that can be said is that it happened Asunchutós, Atreptós, Adiairetós, Achoristós. But, as I’ve said, that hardly renders the concept coherent.

If we instead start and end all of our theological reflection on the person of Jesus Christ, I suggest we will not be inclined to define God in contrast to humanity and the world, and thus will have no philosophical problem affirming that God became a human in order to save the world. Had the early church fathers remained Christocentric in their theological reflection and shunned the excesses of the Xenophanes tradition, it might have been enough to simply affirm, with Scripture, that Jesus is fully God and fully human.

Now go read how he got there.

Connie gave me a GPS for my birthday. (Rebecca named it Athena because Athena told Telemachus where to go when he was searching for his father Odysseus.) You punch in the destination you want to get to and it plots how you can get there. If you miss a turn or take the wrong exit, it calculates an alternate route to get you back on track. If Boyd is right,  perhaps we can think of Chalcedon as a kind of “alternate route” back to the simple biblical assertion that “the Word became flesh” (Jn 1:14) made necessary because the church—orthodox, Monophysite, and Nestorian—had previously taken a “wrong turn” into Greek metaphysics.



  1. Anne says:

    I think Chalcedon was actually part of cementing the wrong turn, though. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Nestorian or monophysite. But I sympathize with the Alexandrian “miaphysite” view — where it is, after all, all about Christ.

    Weren’t the next few councils after Chalcedon mostly figuring out how to live with the mess it made? In my more pessimistic moments, that’s how it looks to me.

    And on that cheerful note … 😉

    Take care & God bless
    Anne / WF


  2. D. P. says:

    You may well be right, Anne, and I’m also sympathetic to the Alexandrian position, especially given the dirty political dealings that figured into how the whole thing got “resolved.” I think Lutherans and Baptists both tend to be firmly planted in the “why can’t we just use the language that’s already in the Bible?” camp 🙂

    I think Chalcedon was probably the best statement possible given the philosophical climate of the day, but maybe that’s just my natural optimism coming out. (As a co-worker says sometimes, “You optimists are cute!”) I think I would say that the “mess” had already been made when the fathers started trying to think of Jesus’ relation to the Father in Greek metaphysical terms. They probably had to do that for evangelistic and apologetic purposes, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with submitting what you believe to the scrutiny of other peoples’ questions, but even so it did create a mess!


  3. SingingOwl says:

    R. named it Athena. Man, she IS smart. 🙂

    We have one too, but we named it Sally. Ken says he couldn’t name it Simon because it is a she. So it is Sally for “Sally says…”


  4. D. P. says:

    Well, we’ve been reading “The Children’s Homer” at bedtime lately. 🙂


  5. SingingOwl says:

    Kris has the complete works of Shakespere in abridged children’s edtions somewhere. They are extensive enough to be good and simple enough to be absorbed by an intelligent young reader. I’ll maybe have to find “The Children’s Homer” for Trinity when the time comes!


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