Review of And Was Made Man: Mind, Metaphysics, and Incarnation by Robin Le Poidevin

February 23, 2024

Poidevin, Robin Le. And Was Made Man: Mind, Metaphysics, and Incarnation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2023, 256, $84.00, hardcover.


And Was Made Man by Robin Le Poidevin is an original, creative, and daring reflective proposal on the metaphysics of the incarnation. Poidevin is emeritus philosopher of philosophy at the University of Leeds. He is well-known for his work in the metaphysics of time having authored several books and numerous essays. Though he is an agnostic, Poidevin is interested in the philosophical issues raised by the incarnation and active in publishing in the various areas of the philosophy of religion.

The book is divided into two main parts: (1) models of the incarnation and (2) various problems or challenges to the incarnation. He covers four broad models. First, on the relational compositional model the Son as joined together with a concrete human nature, thus the Son becomes a part of (though not identical to) a divine-human composite. Second, on the transformational compositional the Son, by acquiring a concrete human nature, is transformed into a divine-human composite. Third, on the divided mind model, which may or may not be “compositional,” the Son has two steams of consciousness in the single person. Finally, on kenotic Christology, there is significant variation but there is unity by treating the Son as giving up certain divine properties in becoming human. The main problems for the coherence of the incarnation he introduces relate to divine embodiment, divine necessity, divine goodness, and the incarnate God’s relation to time. Each of these problems are relatively standard objections to the divine becoming human. How could an immaterial object become material? How could a necessary being die? Etc. Therefore, the first half of the book is designed as an introduction to existing views whereas the second section is focused on original and creative responses to common problems in Christology.

Throughout the book Poidevin advances a form of kenotic Christology wherein the Son “gives up something” to become incarnate (p. 93). He argues it is the ideal model for addressing these pressing Christological issues. As such, he believes kenoticism is profoundly emotionally, theologically, and philosophically satisfying. Notwithstanding, Poidevin’s main goal is philosophical and not theological. He seeks to determine if the incarnation logically and metaphysically possible. And his conclusion is that it is possible. It is possible given a kenotic model wherein God gives up omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, immateriality, self-sufficiency, and meta-ethical status (pp. 212-213). On Kenoticism there is a more satisfying answer to all four of the incarnational problems he introduces. For example, he argues that unless we appeal to kenosis the Son cannot be wholly embodied since it is impossible for a human brain to be omniscient, and thus, the divine mind isn’t really “embodied” (p. 139). Similarly, he suggests that while the Father is absolutely necessary the Son is conditionally so since otherwise the Son couldn’t truly be human since humans are not absolutely necessary (p. 166). Radical as such an account may be, whether it is true is another matter that Poidevin does not consider.

Irrespective of what one makes of Poidevin’s thesis, he is an especially lucid writer, providing refreshingly clear accounts of the various terms and concepts throughout his work. It is clearly organized and serves as a useful introduction to some of the important philosophical aspects of the incarnation. It is further quite obvious that Poidevin has decades of teaching experience in philosophy as his brief descriptions of the various metaphysical options for topics like time are especially useful. For example, in less than four pages he introduces the various main views on the metaphysics of time, offer reasons to accept and reject each view, and provide his own preferred rationale for one of the models. Such skill in lucid brevity is rare.

While Poidevin’s book is well written, well organized, and well explained, it suffers from several potential weaknesses. First, Poidevin suggests that his account of the incarnation is more theologically satisfying throughout the work though at the end he pleads innocence by claiming that since he is not a theologian he must defer to theologians to make such a judgment (p. 212). While it is surely appropriate to be modest if one is a philosopher and dealing with theological matters, surely it is more appropriate to simply own any mistakes outright or to refrain from making strong claims about them.

Second, Poidevin’s account is likely to be unsavory for nearly all Christians except for the most radically revisionist. A kenotic account like Poidevin offers, that requires God—even if only the Son—to give up omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, immateriality, self-sufficiency, and meta-ethical status is no small cost. Further, Poidevin suggests there are numerous other unorthodox requirements or expectations for his model. For example, he thinks Social Trinitarianism (one of the requirements for his view) is better off simply accepting tritheism (p. 114). He thinks the only way to avoid the implication of tritheism is to accept a version of relative identity which he finds deeply troubling. If one is to remain committed to classical forms of logic and identity, they will be better off, and will be left with three gods. Elsewhere he thinks elements of Arianism cannot be avoided (p. 168). These are steep costs for any Christian account of the incarnation and most would likely consider it heretical. Proposing alternative models of the incarnation is certainly acceptable—especially as an academic book—but proposing radically revisionary of this sort will gain few hearers.

Third, Poidevin makes some curious claims at points in his book. For example, he suggests that “the creation of free beings is thus a kenotic act insofar as it involves a stepping back from full control of the created order” (p. 101). Whether one is a libertarian about freedom or not, surely this account of divine action is at odds with most traditional accounts. God does not act in a one-to-one fashion with creation. It is part of his nature as divinely transcendent that he can non-competitively act while we act freely simultaneously. A similar curious claim comes from his chapter on divine embodiment. He offers three theories of God and space: occupation, identity, and knowledge and power. Either God is present by occupying every space, by being identical to space, or by having knowledge and power over space. However, these are by no means the only categories. And his definition of occupation is rather strange. For example, the section would have greatly benefited from interaction with the seminal works of Ross Inman who has published variously on accounts of omnipresence in venues he is surely familiar with like Oxford and T&T Clark.

So, how should the biblical-theological student interact with this book? For the student desiring to understand much of the philosophical categories and how they impinge on the doctrine of the incarnation, this resource presents a helpful guide. The student will find a wide range of careful and readable definitions and examples. However, a biblical-theological student from a traditional Christian background will find the book rather off-putting given its massive revisionary requirements. It should be noted that the book is not an undergraduate level text. It is best suited for graduate students and requires some level of prior philosophical-theological knowledge even while it offers definitions. Given this, I have trouble providing a firm recommendation of the book. While I personally disagree vehemently with most every conclusion in the book I did find it well-written and clearly argued. Two virtues that are not easily dismissed. Therefore, I may recommend it to graduate students for specific contexts. However, I would strongly avoid recommendation for undergraduates or those Christians not involved in academic study of religion.

Jordan L. Steffaniak

Wake Forest, NC

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