Vos Contra Kenosis

b)…On the contrary, however, modern kenosis doctrine, itself pantheistic in origin, has explained the incarnation itself as a extinction or emptying of deity.

—Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics, ed. Richard B. Gaffin, trans. Annemie Godbehere et al., vol. 3 (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012–14), 191.

The love of Christ.—The love of Christ St. Paul views chiefly as manifested in His Death (2 Co 5:14f.), or in His life as entered upon and lived with a view to and culminating in His Death (Ph 2:5ff.). The Incarnation is an act of self-kenosis, not in the metaphysical, but in the metaphorical sense (AV ‘made himself of no reputation’), hence is described in 2 Co 8:9 as a ‘becoming poor.’ It ought to be noticed that the love of Christ, as well as that of the believer, is in the first place a love for God, and after that a love for man. Christ lives unto God, even in the state of glory (Ro 6:10), and gave Himself in the Atonement a sacrifice unto God (Eph 5:2).

—Geerhardus Vos, The Collected Dictionary Articles of Geerhardus Vos (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2013).

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  1. Dr. Clark, love your blog and find it very helpful. I’ve noticed that oftentimes you cite these older quotes to address some contemporary controversy (e.g., historic quotes on the Trinity during the recent CBMW/Reformation21 debate). Is there some contemporary controversy regarding kenosis that’s currently talking place which these quotes are addressed to? I’m a bit embarrassed to express my ignorance here. Thanks again. You have truly inspired me to study the Reformed Confessions.

    • Tim,

      There may be. I had a question from a correspondent and I had the impression that this may be a topic evangelicals are discussing. If they aren’t, they will be. American evangelicals are currently resuscitating Rauschenbusch’s “social gospel,” mucking about with the Trinity and divine simplicity. so I expect them to turn back to kenosis at any moment. As biblicistic American evangelicals, as we’ve seen in the Trinity discussions, the history of the church is alien to them, they do not live in ecumenical creeds and they creeds do not live in them. Therefore, they are almost bound to revive all the great heresies in the history of the church.

      Thanks for the encouragement.

  2. Dr. Clark,

    I’m enjoying these recent posts about the wrong views of the meaning re: “the self-emptying of Christ.” If you’re familiar NAR (New Apostolic Reformation) and others of that ilk, they tend to gravitate to either heterodox or heretical views of the kenosis. Some of my good friends have bought into NAR wholesale, and I’m always hearing how Jesus emptied himself of his divinity, or the omni attributes in order to model Spirit-filled and Spirit-empowered living. The idea is that if Jesus can do it, strictly as a man, who was totally dependent upon the Spirit, then we can do it, too.



  3. You could say it also smacks of Deism, as God the Clockmaker has sent his Son the
    God(clockmaker)-man unto this earth(clock), if he was a Kenosis man that is!

    fortunately for us the God-man who was sent into the world had the fullness of the
    Godhead dwelling bodily within himself, this Son of God who came down from heaven
    who even was in heaven whilst as an incarnate man, so I take it he was simultaneously
    omnipresent whilst on earth but his body was not ubiquitous (whilst were on heterodox
    Lutheran Christology).

  4. Perhaps these words from Charles Wesley’s infamous hymn “And Can It Be” (1738) are rattling around in people’s heads. The third verse has “Emptied Himself of all but love” which we typically sing after a sermon on Php 2. I stand there but refuse to sing those words. I’ve noted it in other Reformed hymnals but these words are changed to something Orthodox.

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