A few weeks ago I was watching a fairly important conversation between Randal Rauser and Doug Groothuis about whether or not Progressive Christianity is a False Gospel on the Unbelievable? Podcast via YouTube and this section of the video made me want to jump up and scream.
Specifically, it was when Randal Rauser – who was defending Richard Rohr’s description of the Universal Christ – reads from a section of Athanasius’s “On The Incarnation of Christ” [specifically from section 17: How the Incarnation did not limit the ubiquity of the Word, nor diminish His Purity (Simile of the Sun)] the following quotation:
“For He [Christ] was not, as might be imagined, circumscribed in the body, nor, while present in the body, was He absent elsewhere; nor, while He moved the body, was the universe left void of His working and Providence; but, thing most marvellous, Word as He was, so far from being contained by anything, He rather contained all things Himself; and just as while present in the whole of Creation, He is at once distinct in being from the universe, and present in all things by His own power — giving order to all things, and over all and in all revealing His own providence, and giving life to each thing and all things, including the whole without being included, but being in His own Father alone wholly and in every respect —2. thus, even while present in a human body and Himself quickening it, He was, without inconsistency, quickening the universe as well, and was in every process of nature, and was outside the whole, and while known from the body by His works, He was none the less manifest from the working of the universe as well.”
And then, noted philosopher and apologist, Doug Groothuis responds by saying this:
“I hope that Richard Rohr is saying what Athanasius said, but my reading of both of them would say that Athanasius is fully Orthodox, and he defends a unique and distinct incarnation. Rohr says the Creation was the first Incarnation [of Christ] and that the Incarnation continues. You never find Athanasius using that kind of language.”
Here’s why this exchange drove me a bit insane: Because Groothuis seems to dismiss, not only what Athanasius says in the quotation above about Christ being incarnated in Jesus and present everywhere else in the Universe at the same time, he also manages to gloss over what Paul says about the Incarnation in Philippians, Colossians and Ephesians regarding how “Christ is all and is in all” and how “we are all filled with the fullness of him who fills everything in every way”, etc.
Athanasius, like Rohr, affirms that: “[Christ] was, so far from being contained by anything, He rather contained all things Himself; and just as while present in the whole of Creation, He is at once distinct in being from the universe, and present in all things by His own power — giving order to all things, and over all and in all…and was in every process of nature…”
So, my immediate question to Dr. Groothuis regarding his perceived understanding of the Incarnation of Christ is this: “When exactly did Christ become “all and in all” and “fill everything in every way” as Paul suggests in Eph. 1:23?”
Groothuis seems to take the position that it’s “heretical” to suggest that the Creation itself is the first incarnation of Christ, as Rohr claims. Yet, then at what point did Christ fill all things in every way? Was it after the Incarnation of Christ that he filled everything in every way? If so, doesn’t that suggest that Christ was somehow created, or that Christ didn’t come into being until the First Century at the birth of Jesus?
If anything is to be considered heresy, I think it is this, not the ideas that Athanasius and Rohr propose.
Rohr and Athanasius are in agreement that Christ “contained all things [within] Himself” and that “while [incarnated] in the whole of Creation, He is at once distinct in being from the Universe and [at the same time] present in all things by His own power…and was in every process of nature.”
So, what’s the real disconnect for Groothuis here? Why does he insist that Athanasius never said that “Creation was the first Incarnation” when, actually, that’s almost exactly what he says in the passage that Rauser quoted from above?
The only thing I can come up with is that Groothuis has a bias against Rohr and he can’t afford to challenge someone like Athanasius when confronted with the reality that both theologians are in complete agreement: Christ was first incarnated in Creation before the Incarnation of Christ.
Otherwise, I can only assume that Groothuis just doesn’t like this idea of Christ being incarnated in Creation, prior to the Incarnation of Christ in the body of Jesus, because of the implications it forces him to accept.
How can anyone who considers themselves to be an apologist and a philosopher of Groothuis’s pedigree deny that Christ is eternal, without beginning or end, and, therefore, fills everything in every way, as Paul [and Athanasius, and Rohr] affirm?
Again, to my frustration, no one in the aforementioned conversation pressed this question to Dr. Groothuis, and sadly, I am left to vent my confusion for your edification.
To further underscore this idea of the Universal Christ, I want to share a marvelous video clip of Rohr explaining this view using plenty of scripture to prove his point:
What’s beautiful to me is that, if we could truly grasp this reality, we might finally come to realize the Oneness of Christ with all things – and all people – and the Kingdom of God might finally become a reality on Earth, as it is in Heaven.
Imagine if we could realize, at last, what Jesus promises we might one day realize: “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” [John 14:20]
Perhaps then the heartfelt prayer of Jesus might finally come to pass:
“…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” [John 17:21-23]
That’s my prayer, too.
If anyone knows how to get in touch with Dr. Groothuis please contact me. I would dearly LOVE to record a video conversation with him about this specific objection he seems to have between what Athanasius and Richard Rohr [and I, myself] have to say about the Universal Christ.
Otherwise, I hope this post helps you navigate the discussion with a bit more clarity.
The Universal Christ incarnated in all Creation long before the Incarnation of Christ in Jesus.
Today, you and I are the ongoing Incarnation of Christ in the world moving forward.
Christ has no body now but yours.
Whatever you are doing in the world is what Christ is doing – or will ever do – in this world.
The world won’t change until we change.
Let the transformation begin!
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Keith Giles is the author of the hot new bestseller, SOLA MYSTERIUM: Celebrating the Beautiful Uncertainty of Everything, available now on Amazon. Keith is also the host of Second Cup with Keith, a new solo podcast available now on the Ethos Radio App, for Apple and Android and on Spotify. Keith is also co-host of the long-running HERETIC HAPPY HOUR PODCAST.