Richard Rohr on Incarnational Christianity

Years ago, I proposed that those of us looking for an alternative to the labels “evangelical,” “mainline,” and “liberal,” instead rally around the term Incarnational Christian. In today’s email meditation, Richard Rohr writes something along those lines:

Paul, a good Jew, quotes Deuteronomy, “The Word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (Romans 10:8), and begins with a challenge that we still need today: “Do not tell yourself that you have to bring Christ down!” (Romans 10:6). He knew that God had overcome the human-divine gap in the Christ Mystery once and for all. God is henceforth here, and not just there.

This is Christianity’s only completely unique message. Full incarnation is what distinguishes us from all other religions. This is our only real trump card, and for the most part, we have not yet played it. History, the planet—and other religions—have only suffered as a result. Incarnationalism does not put you in competition with any other religions but, in fact, allows you to see God in all things, including them! It mandates that you love and respect all others.

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Am I a “Liberal Christian” (According to Roger Olson)?

Roger Olson

Roger Olson recently posted a piece on why he’s not a “liberal Christian.” He said that he came to this conclusion after reading a bunch of liberal/progressive Christian blogs. Roger’s a great blogger, but one of his failings is that he never provides hyperlinks. This post is no exception. He doesn’t name the blogs or tell us who is a liberal blogger, in his opinion, and who is just getting over their fundamentalism (like he is).

Probably some readers think I’m hanging out on the far left, but you only need to read the comments to find a bunch of liberals who think I’m a raving conservative (on some issues). That’s why I’ve fought repeatedly to be listed among both the progressive Christian bloggers and the evangelical bloggers here at Patheos.

(Excursus: It bugs me that in the Patheos channel listings, “Evangelical” is its own category, but “Progressive Christian” is the name of the other channel. Why not “Evangelical Christian” or “Progressive.” This isn’t just a grammatical plea for parallel construction — I think it says something.

A lot of us know that neither “progressive” nor “liberal” is quite right. That’s why I waged a campaign to be called “Incarnational Christians.” Let the conservatives have “evangelical,” but let’s use a similarly theological signifier for ourselves.)

Since Roger doesn’t tell us who is who in his list, I’m left to guess about myself. I was never a fundamentalist, and I was only vaguely evangelical — anyone who attended Fuller Seminary when I was a student will tell you that my relationship with evangelicalism was an uneasy one. So I’m left to go through Roger’s rubric to see if I am, indeed, a “liberal.” Here’s his list, and my responses:

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I’m an Evangelical Pastor?

In her column on my marriage views, “Separation of church and state in marriage?“, Lisa Miller introduces me to her readers as “one well-known evangelical pastor in Minneapolis.”

“Well-known”?  Debatable.

“In Minneapolis”?  Yep.

“Evangelical pastor”?  I don’t think so.

To me, a pastor is someone who pastors — that is, someone who shepherds a group of people (usually referred to as a congregation), and who does that in a church (i.e., an InterVarsity staff person on a college campus is not, to my mind, is not a pastor).  While I occasionally preach, and even perform the odd wedding and funeral, I’m not a pastor.  She should have called me an “ordained clergyman.”  (I would also think that the Washington Post style guide would require her to refer to me as “the Rev. Dr.”  But that’s another issue altogether.)

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I Am an Incarnational Christian: The Tactics

The reason that I’ve been pushing this new label, incarnational Christian, is that I don’t feel that the options available to me work.  I may be an evangelical Christian, a liberal Christian, or a progressive Christian.  I may even be a mainline Christian.  But each of those terms has its own shortcomings, as I’ve written about in previous posts.

I’m looking for a new label, a new category.  And, honestly, as another presidential election approaches, I want a way to describe myself to friends, reporters, and blog readers that does not rely on the old, politicized categories.

To recap:

  • Yes, everyone has a label within Christianity.  Go ahead and tell people that you’re “just a Christian.”  It doesn’t work.
  • Evangelical has become a political and cultural marker, and I don’t fit in the same camp as James Dobson.
  • I’m not particularly liberal.
  • I don’t know what progressive means.
  • And I’m not mainline because I don’t live in the suburbs of Philadelphia.

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