John Hick's "Metaphor of God Incarnate"

When I read Hick's Myth of God Incarnate some years back, I wrote on this site the following:

I have found very little in the way of substantiative objections in this matter. Even the forebodingly-titled Myth of God Incarnate [JH.MG], and the subsequent essays in Incarnation Myth: The Debate Continued [MG.IMBC], spend a great deal more time ASSUMING that the incarnation is a falsehood and explaining how the idea came about than actually explaining WHY the incarnation is a falsehood in and of itself.

The authors repeatedly assert that the incarnation concept is "unintellgible" but more often than not fail to explain why; when they DO attempt an explanation on the rare occassion, it is marred by fundamental errors of understanding and logic, often descending into the very anthropomorphism they so decry among incarnationists.

It appears that John Hick heard some of this sort of criticism, as in this subsequent work he makes some effort to offer a few explanations. Not many. Hick is still overly impressed with his own self-perceived objectivity: opponents are emotional wrecks, while he is a calm, reasoned voice. He still prefers to avoid depth argumentation on topics the resolution of which he wishes to take for granted (eg, Jesus' alleged mistakes on the end times [5] -- preterism would resolve Hick's issues here nicely -- and such questions as the dates and reliability of the Gospels). Hick still thinks that Christian exclusivity is a serious problem [7] while still not recognizing the innate self-contradiction in his own claim that inclusivity is the exclusive truth.

Hick of course is exceptionally vulnerable on these and other hard-data points. Anyone who uses Mark 10:18 as a proof against Jesus' claims to divinity [27] is manifestly still using outdated scholarship on the subject, and his evaluation of Jesus' actions as sinful in instances like Mark 3:31-5 [77] show that for a professed pluralist, Hick is remarkably without knowledge about the ways of other cultures than his own.

And so it is no surprise that Hick tries to get them over with, without discussion, as quickly as possible so that he can get to the subject where winsomeness will persuade an audience that something is amiss, and that is, with incarnational theology (loaded down with a side of "sins of the church," [80ff] complete with such errors as the standard about 1 Cor. 14 and women).

Incarnation is far from a simple concept, and it would be remiss to claim that we know every aspect of the mechanics of incarnation. Hick seems to think, however, that unless the whole concept is explained 100% to his personal satisfaction, and every last mystery is solved, we have an innate right to say it is impossible. For some unfathomable reason, this isn't that way we are to react to things like (say) cosmology that still have plenty of mysteries to solve; I don't see Hick thinking the universe does not exist at all because we don't have all the mechanics of a quasar down pat.

Some of Hick's errors, where incarnation theology is concerned, are of course born of incomplete knowledge. His bewilderment over the Trinity [43] ends with a treatment of Wisdom theology; and the whole question of how Jesus, when not eg, using the property of omniscience, can still be identified as "God", is resolved very simply under the ancient rubric of what is defined as identity: Not what you do or who you think you are, but what others within your "ingroup" say of you, is more critical).

In most cases, though, Hick insists that since he can't resolve a question, such as how the "two natures" of the Chalcedonian creed work [51], the whole concept is incoherent and in need of rejection. It is ironic to watch Hick trying to refute the likes of Thomas Morris and Richard Swinburne, whose ideas he is clearly not able to comprehend in full; for in the end, his "answers" to them amount to little more than, "but that doesn't answer ALL questions I could possibly come up with," or, "how do we know THIS didn't happen" or even, "I don't get it".

For example: Hick says [60] that if Jesus was not free to reject the Spirit's guidance and enlightenment, he could not be fully human. But where and how did Hick presume to define "human" in such a way? In this light Hick it is ironic that Hick criticizes those who he claims stipulate definitions to allow certain things to be true [73]; he does the same himself. If any definitions cohere, it is those of writers of the contextualizing documents of those centuries, but Hick doesn't seem to even think of such a thing. (The answer here: "Human" here simply would mean part of the collective ingroup possessing human flesh descended from Adam. There would be no place for modern psychological categories.

To finish things off, Hick offers a seriously decontexualized commentary about how terrible atonement is [112] (because there's blood and pain involved, of course), as he professes to be looking for something that will "make sense" to the 85-90% of people in Europe not going to church. In case Hick missed it, "seeker friendliness" doesn't work here in America, and it won't work there either: All it produces are pew-hoppers on an endless quest to relieve their boredom and itchy ears. The end result of such things we find in the likes of Hick: People unwilling to do serious research once they find an answer they are comfortable with, and who think finding that comfortable answer amounts to finding the correct answer.

It is not the ideology that needs repair -- but the people.