Incarnation and Gospel

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.

  • Christopher Hays

    Genau.

  • Christopher Hays

    Genau.

  • John Dickson

    oh, you’re a heretic!

  • John Dickson

    oh, you’re a heretic!

  • Anonymous

    Nice work, Mike!

  • Anonymous

    Nice work, Mike!

  • Rance Darity

    Super! But I guess, in the case of Muslims and J. W.’s, we do not have to make exceptions either.

  • Rance Darity

    Super! But I guess, in the case of Muslims and J. W.’s, we do not have to make exceptions either.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QKHXWRMMHKVHDS3SHIFWTH7NYQ Scott

    Dr. Bird, this post is important because it highlights a fundamental misunderstanding of how to posit the function of Trinity and Incarnation in relation to the Gospel in theolgy. Fr. John Behr, Prof. of Patristics and Dean of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary tackles this issue head on in the following essay, ‘The Paschal Foundation of Christian Theology:

    http://www.svots.edu/sites/default/files/2001-06-svtq-behr.pdf

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QKHXWRMMHKVHDS3SHIFWTH7NYQ Scott

    Dr. Bird, this post is important because it highlights a fundamental misunderstanding of how to posit the function of Trinity and Incarnation in relation to the Gospel in theolgy. Fr. John Behr, Prof. of Patristics and Dean of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary tackles this issue head on in the following essay, ‘The Paschal Foundation of Christian Theology:

    http://www.svots.edu/sites/default/files/2001-06-svtq-behr.pdf

  • magi whyte

    accept or except? (sixth last line)…interesting points though

  • magi whyte

    accept or except? (sixth last line)…interesting points though

  • David Burnett

    not sure about some of this…

  • David Burnett

    not sure about some of this…

  • MarieP

    A point in the sermon this morning reminded me of this post! The Epicureans and Stoics in Acts 17 said Paul was proclaiming “foreign gods” when he preached to them Jesus and the Resurrection. These philosophers certainly would have had some sort of understanding of the Jewish religion, so why did they think Paul was proclaiming a “foreign god” to them? Something of the divinity of Jesus must have been said, either implicitly or explicitly. I like how you said, “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.” I’m thinking you can’t get too far into the gospel before people are going to be thinking, “This Man must be God! How can He be such a Prophet, Priest, and King and Lord of all and not be God Himself?”

  • MarieP

    A point in the sermon this morning reminded me of this post! The Epicureans and Stoics in Acts 17 said Paul was proclaiming “foreign gods” when he preached to them Jesus and the Resurrection. These philosophers certainly would have had some sort of understanding of the Jewish religion, so why did they think Paul was proclaiming a “foreign god” to them? Something of the divinity of Jesus must have been said, either implicitly or explicitly. I like how you said, “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.” I’m thinking you can’t get too far into the gospel before people are going to be thinking, “This Man must be God! How can He be such a Prophet, Priest, and King and Lord of all and not be God Himself?”


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