Much of my study time just now is spent preparing a keynote theological address for a gathering of ministers. I've long been persuaded that kenosis is an essential theological category for understanding the nature of Divine love. If God is revealed in Jesus, and God's love is Christ-like, then kenosis far from being a marginal sidelight, is the shining centre of the love of God incarnate in human life, crucified for a broken world, and resurrected in a power that remakes creation. The Colossian Christ of chapter 1 is the same Kenotic Christ of Philippians 2 and the same exalted Christ of Revelation 5,the lamb slain in the midst of the throne. The title is " 'This is love's prerogative, to give, and give, and give.' Trinitarian Kenosis as a Model of Ministry."
I fully recognise kenosis is a contested idea, especially if it is made the primary interpretive category in Christology. But whether such primacy is claimed or not, kenosis seems to me indispensable as a way of exploring what we mean when we talk of the love of God. I am interested that there is now considerable research activity around the theme - Bruce McCormack, David Brown and Paul Fiddes in systematic theology, Michael Gorman and M S Park in New Testament, Paul Fiddes and Timothy Herbert in pastoral theology. (By the way, David Brown's volume due out in a month or two is an SCM paperback - priced £50 - from this we conclude that kenosis is expensive, or at least to buy this book you need a kenotic (self-emptying) credit card!!!)
My own encounter with kenotic theology at its most persuasive is in the seminal work of W H Vanstone, Love's endeavor, Love's Expense - in 1977 I paid £2.95 (please note SCM) for this slim book that is worth its weight in platinum. I've given it as a gift almost enough times to buy David Brown's SCM volume. It has shaped and inspired and energised and quality tested my ministry from the start. I don't read it uncritically, but its central thesis about the nature of love as precarious, with no guaranteed outcomes, instinctively investing itself in the good of the other, as that in God which seeks the response of relational love, seems to me to be congruent with a Gospel of love as self-giving, conciliatory and transformative.
What I'm trying to do is explore kenosis as that in the love of God that is evident in the intra-trinitarian life of God. Moltmann of course is a major influence here - but so is Michael Gorman more recently, where kenosis is linked to the cruciform shape of divine love. But there are other thinkers - and just as important there are stories of human loving and caring that are themselves primary evidence that far from being a demanding passion ever tempted to selfishness, love is defined more by indefatigable goodwill, persistent kindness, self-expending energy for the other, self-donating in emotional gift, self-emptying not as a habit of self-negation, but as a pouring out of ourselves into the lives and blessing of others. In that sense kenosis isn't a contested theological concept - but an ideal of ministry in which the basin and the towel, the table and the cup, the open arms and outstretched hands of welcome, express that finest of book titles, Love's Endeavour, Love's Expense.