Incarnational or Missional?

Incarnational or Missional? December 19, 2011

During this season of Advent, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the idea of incarnation — specifically, these words from author and activist Parker Palmer:

“The Christmas story is … about God taking the risk of showing up in the flesh, and all that comes with it. I think that’s a risk that we’re all called to — the risk of incarnation, the risk of embodying our values and beliefs, the risk of manifesting our identity and integrity in the world, the risk of being fully human. And it’s a risk that we shy away from. So the Christmas story for me is a constant reminder that the calling is really to be born and born and re-born again and again and again in the shape of my own true self …”

Those words are from this recent interview Palmer did with Travis Reed of Alter Video Magazine:

The idea of incarnation is central to the missional shift in the Church and in Christianity. “The risk of incarnation,” as Palmer puts it, is one very beautiful (and biblical) way of describing the invitation we have been given — to join God in the renewal of all things, to participate in the dream of God, to be a part of what God is doing in the world.

It’s not something we have to do. It’s, as Tripp Fuller puts it, something we get to do, it’s a privilege, a golden opportunity, if you will.

The problem is: our churches do not always look like this. In his chapter on incarnation in Signs of Emergence, Kester Brewin describes the problem this way, “God came all the way to us — yet we now expect people to come so far toward us in church.”

In her book Down We Go, Kathy Escobar advocates for using the term “incarnational” instead of “missional” for the kind of church and faith/religious community that she describes. I think it’s a powerful word, but I’m still a fan of “missional.” (Emergent Village, for example, has often been described as “a generative friendship of missional Christians.”)

Tonight, Kathy and I will be participating in a one-hour Twitter chat (9-10pm ET) to discuss and debate (in 140 character bites) this question of “incarnational” vs. “missional,” and I hope others will join in the conversation and/or follow along online (#missionalchat).

I’m planning to record a Skype videochat with Kathy during that time, as well, which I’ll be posting for my next edition of Missional Conversations. If all goes well, I hope to do this again on a monthly basis. Third Monday of the month = missional Monday / #missionalchat? We’ll see how it goes …

What are your thoughts on incarnation? Is “incarnational” a better than word than “missional”? Why? Or why not?

"When people who are not physically handicapped use the handicap stall, I just say to ..."

When the Golden Rule Fails
"I’m glad there is a end if we are suffering for a uncure thing I’m ..."

Thank God for DEATH: Could Anything ..."
"Church is boring. It should lose its tax breaks."

The Embodiment of God (Fast of ..."
"This was an awesome post! It really gave me a new perspective on relationships and ..."

Loss and Redemption in Relationships

Browse Our Archives

Close Ad