A tantalizing subject is the the relevance of the incarnation for gospel proclamation. Let us remember that the first Christians were not given a private revelation of the Nicene and Chalcedonian Creeds in advance. The evangelistic sermons of the early church did not begin with Four Spiritual Laws about the holiness of God, the sinfulness of humanity, and the need for an incarnated savior to bear the sins of the world. The Christology of the first decades and even the first two centuries of the church was a work in progress and a messy one at that. The mind of the church came to the conclusion that the biblical materials are explained by way of affirming Jesus’ pre-existence, co-equality, and co-majesty with the Father. I do not doubt that the Apostles and early leaders knew that Jesus was from God and shared an existence with God in some form, but I do not think that they necessarily had the same theological precision in their thinking that we find in the later creeds. In light of that, I often ask my students the provocative questions, “Do we have to tell people that Jesus is God in our evangelistic proclamation?” Normally they say “yes, of course!” and I can hardly blame then. But as we look at the classic summaries of the gospel in Rom 1:3-4, 1 Cor 15:2-4, 1 Tim 2:8 and in the speeches in Acts, we observe that the affirmation of Jesus’ sonship pertains not to his ontological status as God person of the Trinity as much as it applies to his salvific agency and messianic office. Jesus is sent from God to enable us to be reconciled to God, but the gospel presentation itself does not require an absolute statement of Jesus’ co-equal deity with the Father. Thus, incarnation is the presupposition of the gospel, not its content. But the incarnation is no less significant for that fact. For if there was no incarnation, then there would be no good news for which we can speak. The proclamation of the gospel, accept of course in the case of Muslim evangelism and dealing with cults like Jehovah’s witnesses, does not have to cover a theology of incarnation. Rather, it is the subsequent exposition of the gospel, the reading of the Gospels, and further exploration the identity of the one crucified, risen, and exalted that leads us to affirm the deity of Christ in catechetical instruction for the converted.
Incarnation and Gospel