I’m an Incarnational Christian

I’m an Incarnational Christian August 8, 2011

Although the poll is still open, it seems that we have a clear winner in last week’s challenge to replace “Progressive Christian.”  You chose Incarnational Christian.

I think it’s a really good choice, and I’m going to post this week about what I think it means.  But before I do that — and inevitably cloud the water — I’d like to hear what you think it means.

So, even if you voted for one of the other choices, please leave a comment answering this question:

What does it mean to you be an incarnational Christian?

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  • “I am an Incarnational Christian” to me means that I practice the presence of Jesus Christ through the infilling of the Holy Spirit in order to bring the life of Jesus Christ to ALL who need grace, love and mercy.

  • Bluetexan

    Means very little to me. I’ll stick with progressive or emergent. Takes much less explaining to do.

  • It sounds almost Eastern (I guess that’d be a “reincarnational” Christian), but on a literal, linguistic level, it seems to pretty clearly indicate a dedication to manifesting Christ as precisely as possible, becoming as close to a stand-in as is mortally (earthily?) possible.

    But I also don’t have enough faith in peoples’ critical capacities to be able to really react with anything more than a “that sounds weird lol”.

  • Being an incarnational Christian would mean that you don’t only agree with the Bible in word, but in deed also. Where it says that we should clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit the incarcerated – the incarnational Christian acts upon those as literal commands. Incarnational Christianity goes beyond putting money in the offering plate for church outreaches. It requires actual time and effort. It also is much more inclusive than the terms “emergent” and “evangelical”. Because there is room for both sides of the political spectrum. A right-wing anti-abortion advocate who runs an abortion alternative ministry for pregnant teens could very proudly proclaim herself as an incarnational Christian. As could the left-wing anti-war protester who renounces the violence of empire for the peace of God. It may very well do quite a bit to bring both sides to a middle, more so than divide.

    • Bluetexan

      “Because there is room for both sides of the political spectrum. A right-wing anti-abortion advocate who runs an abortion alternative ministry for pregnant teens could very proudly proclaim herself as an incarnational Christian. As could the left-wing anti-war protester who renounces the violence of empire for the peace of God.”

      With all due respect, I don’t want to be lumped in with the anti-abortion fanatic. It just goes against what I’m about, and what I think the Gospel is about. Thus my desire to stick with progressive and/or emergent.

      I think BECAUSE Incrarnational can be used by “both sides” it is a bad choice. Just my two cents.

      • Blake

        I think this misses the original point. Evangelical or even Fundamentist could also be used by “both sides”. Emergent is certainly very much about getting down to the fundamentals, after all, just with a different view about what actual constitutes the fundamental nature of Christianity.

        Choosing a label isn’t particularly about the English meaning of the word, but rather about the in-grouping/out-grouping and the newly claimed meaning.

      • You raise a valid point about what it actually could mean, but you also seem to be implying that the anti-abortion activist is inherently fanatical. I’m not trying to argue or anything, just an honest question from one pro-choice person to another. I also don’t think you’re necessarily wrong, I just didn’t know if I was missing something else.

        And it’s really hard to ask a question like that without sounding like I’m being passive-aggressive, sarcastic, or condescending; please try to trust that I’m being earnest and not looking to start a fight or anything.

        • Bluetexan

          No offense was taken. I’m just raising my objections.

          Let’s all get real here…we keep talking about the “body of Christ” and “one church” and all, but when are we going to come to the realization that (Evangelical) Christianity has moved beyond denominations and groupings. (Evangelical) Christianity has now split into DIFFERENT religions altogether (you could argue that Christianity as a whole has been for a long time…Roman Catholics v. Eastern Orthodox v. Protestants).

          Frankly, I practice a completely different kind of Christianity than say a very “conservative evangelical.” And I don’t expect to “win” them to my camp and I hope they don’t expect to “win” me to their’s. We are on different missions for a different God/Jesus.

          Just calling it like I see it.

          • Agreed. Excellent points all. Thanks for the clarification.

          • Jim W

            If we’re on different missions for a different God/Jesus, one of us is wrong. I might be on a different mission from you, but if you think we worship a different God, you might want to explain that.

          • Jim, the way I see it is that there are several different Jesuses (Jesi?) based upon fundamentally different interpretations of scripture (or complete wholesale conjuring of new “interpretations” in order to justify certain political beliefs).

            To take an example based on something I heard recently, if you were the owner of an arms manufacturer who supplied weapons for military use, inscribing scriptural reference on the side of one your barrels would seem, at least to me, to completely contradict the Jesus of John 18:11, who unquestionably rejected violence, even in self-defense.

            I know this is a (somewhat) reductive example, but Scott Roeder, the man who murdered George Tiller–during a church service, fittingly–clearly denote a doctrinal, dogmatic, and ideological difference so many chasms wide that it’s nearly impossible to say that Roeder, who shot a man to death in a place of worship, worships the same Jesus worshiped by Tiller, who was killed while serving as an usher in his church.

          • Bluetexan


            Do you consider Mormans or Jehovah’s Witnesses to be Christian? Do they follow the same God/Jesus you do?

            Beyond that, Andy is barking up the tree I speak of. I hear conservative evangelicsls spitting mad about taxes and government and abortion and homosexuals, et al and those issues are somehow addressed by their God/Jesus. My God/Jesus tell me the complete opposite on those and many issues, or does not address them at all. My God/Jesus teaches a completely different set of principles that conservative evangelicsl adhere to.

            Personally, I think they are wrong (just as they believe I am wrong). We are living in two different worlds and we follow a different God/Jesus.

          • Bluetexan


            I shall go one step further than my post above, which pointed out a lot of political/social type differences. I also disagree with most conservative evangelicals on the concepts of heaven/hell, atonement, salvation, etc. So it goes beyond just politcal/social differences. The heart of our Christianities are in different places.

            And you know what? That’s okay. But I’m not inclined to try and dream up new group labels so that we can all “just get along.” We need to just be honest about the whole thing and then let each of our religions go their seperate ways.

          • I’d like to think I’m a man of decency and morality (whatever the latter means), but I can’t really claim to be a Christian inasmuch as my views of epistemology and pretending otherwise would be disingenuous and sort of inaccurate, but as far as human intereaction, I do my best to be as Christian as I can. Accordingly, I”m absolutely shocked at how different the views of so many “Christians” are, especially considering that they truly believe their immortal souls to be in danger and I’m not necessarily a believer.

            Or, in better, less self-aggrandizing terms, I find the behavior of many of my “secular humanist” (read: atheist) friends to be far more in line with literal obedience to and emulation of Jesus Christ than, say, Dobson/Fischer/Perkins/their ilk. And maybe this comes down to that nonsensical argument that we don’t need to worry about helping people here on Earth, but focus only on the afterlife (especially when it comes to the gobbernmint takin’ my moneys!). I’ll never understand how some people can operate with such a great deal of cognitive dissonance (and I grew up a liberal Mormon, so I know from cognitive dissonance).

          • Bluetexan: dead-on.

          • Kimberly Glenn

            I think we are all “in” the same camp if we are Christ believers, no matter the flavor of the practice. I also think God is big enough to hold all of us in one hand. We should quit acting like our way is the only or the correct way. We cannot know that. Denominational differences are worship comfort zones to me. It’s good occasionally to step out of your own. And for heavens sake – love your neighbor even if you disagree with your neighbor.

            We all need to “be” it – Christ-like, that is. That’s what incarnational Christianity means to me.

  • Sparra

    Here comes my concern, and why I didn’t vote.

    As soon as you post what you think it means, I’ve got something to disagree with and be ‘other’ than.

    We’ve already got a church split there between the open and incarnationals, with the intellectual ones who understand kerygmatic being smug in a coffee shop somewhere.

    • i happen to know the fellow who suggested the term kerygmatic chrisitan. though he may be intellectual (and does understand what it means), he’s far from smug. he does like coffee shops, though.

    • Joe McClurg

      I have trouble with any kind of labels. I don’t like them, tho I know it is all the rage of modernity to identify, label and cross-reference. The danger I see is the temptation to resort to the same we/they, in/out disputes which are raging in the North American church. Some of the posts I’ve read here seem to support that thought. I refuse to identify myself with any group, whether it is called incarnational, emergent, emerging, or whatever. Sorry if I am offending anyone but that’s the way I see it.

  • I see the term incarnational Christian as living out what you actual believe; not because of what you’ve heard, been told or even read, but because it’s the essence of who you are. Being the Body of Christ is a very literal expression and means followers of Christ are literally His hand and feet until He returns. We are His physical manifestation on Earth while He is not physically here.

  • Steve Walon

    To me, being an incarnational Christian is making the conscious choice to practice Christ’s life and teaching in daily living, to the extent that tangible characteristics can be seen.

  • Incarnational emphasizes grace. It’s because of grace that God became human and allowed us to receive grace upon grace. Incarnational Christian means we believe in the God of non-violent love – who transforms us and the world through becoming human. We killed the fully God and fully Human One. In Jesus God became the Scapegoat of human beings – only to offer grace, peace, and forgiveness in return. It is there that we learn God has nothing to do with violence and revenge, but rather that God loves even the enemies of God. Thus, if we are going to call ourselves “Incarnational Christians” it means that we acknowledge our need to be transformed first, then we participate in that transformation that leads us into the spirit of love, grace, and forgiveness.

    Go with Incarnational. The world needs it.

  • Jim Armstrong

    Being as how this is in simple terms, “in the flesh”, I would suggest that it moves from follower to emulator to idealling absorbing the essence of Jesus in our bones, …being Christ in the world (perhaps as the old hymn suggests, being Christ’s hands).

    But this terminology does suffer from the “code” aspect, meaning something (though not even all that simply agreed upon and articulated within the Christian community, …evidently). So of these five, I would have to go with Open Christian because it does convey a message of openness, even if it is not explicit as to what kind of openness is intended. On that basis, there is an invitation to relatively “open” conversation.

  • Nick

    For me “Incarnational Christian” means that I affirm the incarnation of God on this earth in the man Jesus in the 1st Century AD, and the incarnation of God continues today through his church, by the indwelling of his spirit in his people and the people actively living out the way of Jesus. Christianity is not merely a set of beliefs and idea, it is not merely a lense to view the world with, but Christianity is an active lifestyle that shapes the world.

  • Tripp

    I thought this was gonna win but I’m not a fan.

    • CJ

      Yea same here.

  • a perception could be that by implication other people are not incarnational Christians. The term sounds a bit, well, self-aggrandizing. This is all based on my perception of the word, but it’s a name I could never live up to.

  • Simon

    I should say that I don’t think I would use it as a label, but I quite like some of the things that Incarnational Christianity might emphasise. E.g. that God is interested in filling bellies not just hearts, that the life in Christ / Kingdom of Heaven is about what our bodies do here and now, not just what happens to some disembodied aspect of our psuche after death. Incarnational Christians might *beleive* all kinds of different things in their heads and their language, but find some common expression in their (ortho-)praxis. Incarnational Christians might be interested in “charismatic” healing as well as “political” justice. Finally Incarnational Christians would value the real bread, wine and water of the sacraments – not just some imaginational gymnastics of what these material items might “represent”. I think a good dose of Biblical materialism would be a healthy pharmakon (toxin / therapy) for the western church, in which we rediscover some things which have been neglected along our history and reintegrate some of those less highly regarded aspects of our experience, which may well be far more attactive than those we like to present.

  • Jim W

    First a reply to “BlueTexan”: Short answer to your question about Mormons, JW’s; No I don’t consider them to be Christian. They have both added and subtracted from the Bible. They’ve added nonsense about the planet Kolob (Mormons), salvation is by works, etc. JW’s deny the divinity of Christ among other things. Far too much to go into here.
    As far as you, yourself, BT; if you believe you’re going to work yourself into a better place-how’s that going for you? If you don’t believe that you’re a sinner in need of a savior and that Jesus is that Savior, you’re lost, too. Just as much as anyone else who hasn’t trusted in Jesus Christ as the living Son of God to forgive their sins. So, I guess we do worship different gods. Like I originally said, one of us must be wrong.

    • Bluetexan

      Thank you for proving my point. Indeed we do practice do different religions. Have a nice day.

  • Jim W

    Next to Andy Sherwin: Sounds like you believe you can be good enough to work your way into whatever eternal possibilities there may be. God says no one is good enough. No one can possibly do enough to earn anything except eternal damnation. Only through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ, can any of us be saved. Once you realize that you’re not good enough, then you can accept God’s gift of eternal life. It’s offered to all, but you have to want it, and people don’t want it as long as they believe they’re good enough on their own. It’s putting God first, replacing ourselves as our own little gods. Until we see that truth, we’re cannot worship God, loving Him with all our hearts, minds, and strength, nor can we love our neighbors as God has told us to, either. We might think we do, but we don’t.

    • Actually, that’s not what I believe (although it wasn’t an unreasonable assumption). I’m concerned only about doing my best, and claiming full belief in a system of divinity that I often find problematic would be disingenuous, and I can’t believe that any god who could possibly exist (or, at the very least, any god worth worshiping) would, in His/Her/Its perfect, omnipotent understanding, not prefer I have integrity.

      I’m no atheist, but I’ve never been able to understand why someone would willingly submit themselves to a specific subbelief system that inherently belittles them, such as what seems like your brand of Christianity (I have theories, though). BlueTexan is right when (s)/he indicates an actual, honest-to-goodness difference between your strain and theirs.

      And in response to what it seems like your last sentence or two is implying (and apologies if I’m misreading/misinterpreting), a god that places his/her/its own glorification above the literal survival of its creation is a vain god, not a loving one. That said, I can truly appreciate the intersections between belief and altruism, and even if we disagree on the path or specifics, it seems like we’re both very concerned with the well-being of our human family (can you tell I’ve been going to a hippie church?), and that’s good common ground.

      • Jim W

        Andy, I’m glad that we seem to agree on a common good-the well-being of our human family. We do differ on the ways and means, though. It’s not enough to feed their bodies, their soul must be fed as well. Remember that Jesus said to fear God who can kill us for eternity.
        And yes, God does demand our all, our worship, devotion, whatever you want to call it. As (Ibelieve) Francis Chan put it, if God is indeed perfect, the most incredible being in existence, He deserves whatever glory and honor we can submit to Him. To do anything less is to set ourselves up as our own gods and lessens the true God.
        God (nor I) have never suggested you or anyone have anything less than complete integrity. Don’t know where you got that idea. But dooing your best isn’t enough. You can’t do enough to earn God’s salvation. If you ever figure out how, write a book. Popes and priests throughout history have tried to convince people when they had done enough, and no matter what, it’s never been enough. hence the concept of purgatory. Sorry, only God’s grace provides us with the means of salvation. And until we accept that grace, our works are filth.

        • Bart Stratton

          I like Jesus teaching us to love God. You don’t have to understand God to love God, nor do you have to have perfect devotion, you just have to develop your ability to love. Every human can cultivate his capacity to love.

        • I too am glad for the common ground, and I similarly agree that the feeding of souls is incredibly important; I do think it’s clear, however, that we have drastically different interpretations of how to accomplish that, which is fair enough.

          I didn’t mean to make it sound as though you were questioning my integrity and I appreciate your willingness to say that you were not. And if Heaven and Hell as conceptualized by contemporary Christianity (or certain non-the teachings of Rob Bell-loving branches of it, anyway) do indeed exist, I’m probably screwed, based on what I’ve been told.

          But I find myself in a sort of positive feedback loop of damnation, don’t I? I’m indeed a man of faith, but can claim no sincere affiliation to Christianity. Christian principles, sure, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’m picky and choosy and generally only go for (or try to go for, anyway) the tactile, earth-bound ones (love your fellow man, do good unto others, feed the hungry, etc.) that are in a lot of ways less quantifiable. The one that I do my absolute best at is to be honest in all of my dealings with my fellow man and deceive no one. Accordingly, if I were to claim a traditional (perhaps “traditionally evangelical” might be more accurate) acceptance of Jesus Christ as my personal savior and the only possible path toward avoidance of eternal conscious torment, I’d be disingenuous. And maybe that grace is indeed enough to paper the dishonesty in my heart that such an acceptance would bear, but at the same time, I wouldn’t be a recipient of it anyway, since I had only claimed to accept it.

          I know that my dilemma(s) with this are certainly not common, and maybe you’re right and I can’t do enough to earn God’s salvation. But I automatically cringe at and reject any notion that emulation of Christian principle on a temporal earth is “filth.” I cannot believe in a god that would set up a club of exclusivity while simultaneously giving segments of His/Her/Its creation (like me) a worldview and critical framework to inherently reject that as morally dishonest.

          But regardless, I do appreciate the more or less civil tone. that this has maintained. Thanks to all.

  • Jim W

    Sorry, forgot to reply to BlueTexan about the Scott Roeder/ George Tiller comment.
    George Tiller was a murderer. So was Scott Roeder. Roeder was as much a Christian as that lunatic in Norway. In other words, neither of them was Christian. Don’t throw out examples of obvious lunatics doing lunatic things to discredit real Christians. Might as well say that Tiller was a great doctor on the lines of Fleming (invented penicillin). In reality, Tiller was another Mengele, just as twisted and perverted. Neither was Christian.

    • Scot Miller

      “George Tiller was a murderer.” Hmmm… You do realize there is a difference between killing and murder. Murder is the morally unjustified taking of human life. Abortion is the termination of a pregnancy, either by nature (“spontaneous abortion”) or by intervention. Even if a fetus is a person from conception (which is hardly self-evident), there are many situations in which one would be justified in killing the fetus (e.g., in the case of ectopic pregnancy, the fertilized egg implants in the fallopian tubes instead of the uterus, and without an abortion both the fetus and the mother would die as the fetus grows in the mother). Moreover, the assumption that a fetus is morally equivalent to a person is dubious at best… certainly not consistent with scripture (Ex. 21:22-25). So it is intellectually and morally confused to accuse Tiller of being a “murderer.”

      But, if you really believe that all abortions are immoral, I would recommend that you don’t have an abortion. But strong convictions don’t count in moral arguments. You need arguments, not beliefs, to convince other members of the moral community.

      • Excellent, Scot.

      • Jim W

        I do believe that abortions are immoral. Murder is immoral. Abortion is murder.
        And don’t worry about me having an abortion. I’ve participated, and it was murder. Worry about yourself. I’m willing to accept God’s forgiveness, but you won’t even recognize that you need it.

        • Scot Miller

          “Your belief” does not count as a moral argument. Sorry.

          Moreover, your belief is still conceptually confused. For your belief to make any sense at all, all I can assume is that you must consider all killing immoral: therefore, you must believe that killing in abortion is murder, killing in self-defense is murder, killing in war is murder, capital punishment is murder, etc. While that would be logically consistent, it fails to recognize legitimate factual differences between situations of killing. Killing in self-defense, for example, is typically held to be morally permissible, since a proportionally significant reason exists for killing another person. In an ectopic pregnancy, the fetus will die and the mother will die unless an abortion happens. Nothing can be done to save the fetus in that situation, but an abortion can save the mother’s life. So abortion is morally justified as killing in self-defense. That, of course, makes your belief (“All abortions are immoral”) false; I can show you at least one case where it is not immoral. And if that exception is made, then your belief is false. Sorry.

          And thank you so much for you concern about my accepting God’s forgiveness. Fortunately, God is love, and God forgives everyone, even if they don’t recognize it. So I’m not worried about your forgiveness, just offering you some advice.

          • I wish there was an “Agree with everything Scot Miller just said” button because I’d click the crap out of it.

            • Love the thread you guys have going here. I’ll chime in with another post tomorrow.

      • Bart Stratton

        No one has the ability to decide who is “real” Christian. In fact, history is full of mass murderers who slaughtered other Christians over differences in belief. The Airforce for years taught a nuclear war class in which it was stated that war was part of the “natural order” & Jesus was a warrior who would want us to nuke our enemies. Do we just wave our magic wand & say that’s lunacy and the Chaplains are obviously not Christian? Or de we bite the bullet & deal with violent theological tendencies? The Left Behind Series feature Christians shooting other people. We have Christians ministers who have told their congregations that “real” Christians will have a civil war with “false Chrisitans” to control America. We have authors like J Stevens Wilkins who have written that the Civil War was a struggle between the orthodox Christian South and the “Godless” North. And on it goes. Human beings have limited capacities for love, compassion and understanding. The most insecure of them pick up the Bible and find a book that supports their fears and puts them in the center of a divine struggle where violence against those whom they fear is justified. They are Christians and it’s up to other Christians to help them towards a more Spiritual view of life. We really ignore our calling when we pretend they fear-driven, violence-prone, superstitious members of the body of Christ are OK and then disavow them when they go other the edge and commit mass murder.

  • ‘incarnational christian’ …first, it affirms the incarnation of the divine in the form of human flesh, jesus christ (as mentioned above by nick). it celebrates his life (as well as his death, burial and resurrection), and implies a desire to emulate his way of living in our daily lives (e.g., filling bellies and not just hearts, as mentioned by simon). it suggests an emphasis on not mere words, but action — yet is still pregnant with theological and intellectual meaning (which is both valued and important. words matter).

    it seems to me that the term ‘incarnational christian’ takes seriously the charge of 2 corinthians 5 -knowing what it is to fear the lord and being compelled by the love of christ- to reconcile ourselves and others to God. the term resurrects the literal orthodox understanding of ‘christianity’ — that we are to be followers of the Way, living like jesus. that we are, in fact, his ambassadors on behalf of God.

    i believe the focus of an ‘incarnational christian’ is more about me helping others find and follow christ and less about arguments on who is/isn’t a christian (as if we have the ability to judge such a thing); less about championing the crusader’s cause of converting as many people as possible to ‘my way’ of thinking and more about following the way of jesus; less about fighting to ‘keep people out’ of the kingdom of God because of their sexual orientation or opinion on the theory of atonement or whether or not they believe in MY understanding of hell, and more about inviting people to experience jesus.

    ‘incarnational christian’ reminds us that our allegiance is not to a certain denomination, doctrine, political party, or dogma; but our allegiance is to jesus. i think that’s the point not only of our term, but of our faith.

    but i could be wrong.

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  • An Incarnational Christian (short version) is one working to fulfill Jesus’ prayer for all believers (see John 17:20-26)

    … so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.

  • Balance Points

    This term means absolutely nothing to me and I venture to bet that it will mean very little to nothing to anyone on the *outside* who is looking to feel *included*; this term only serves to further exclude those who we wish to bring in and truly show God’s infinite abyss of abiding love to and for.

    If it were up to me, and it certainly is not, I would choose to first drop anything that relates to any one type of Religion all together. So pertaining to “Christian”, that word would have to be dropped in order to have the feel of an open and non-denominational, welcoming status. Then after dropping the Christian Religion, I would insert the word “Liberated” in order to give the feel of being set free, as Jesus said, “those who are in him are free indeed”.

    Therefore the end result would be something like, “The Liberated Followers of The Way”, or just “The Liberated Way”, or “The Liberated Followers”.

    My point is, as soon as you go placing any specific denomination on your *brand* or *label*, you begin excluding a whole lot of people, just the opposite of what you say your intentions *are*. Branding is *everything*.

    • I’m a little dusty on my critical theory, but I want to say it was Foucault that said (paraphrasing, obviously) that classification is control. I think that applies to this, as well; by applying a label to something, we wish to control something. In this case, trying to find a new label seems like a way to control the reactions of others, which is in no way wrong, I don’t think. But the point that BlueTexan seems to have implied several times–that similarity in denomination isn’t necessarily a similarity in practice–indicates that the names themselves might not mean much.

      Which isn’t to say that this is fruitless or pointless; I work in marketing, and Balance Points is exactly right about branding being everything. Watching the church(es) mutate and evolve and devolve and shift together is like looking at oil and water; they may both be liquids, but some things won’t ever really settle together, and I think that intra-faith differentiation may be something similar.

      That said, I’m totally a secular humanist. (only half-joking. guess which half!)

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  • Steve, IC

    I certainly prefer this self-understanding of what I am trying to be — maybe sometimes I can be. I would say I am trying to be an incarnational Christian. I have my moments – and hope those moments become more numerous.

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