I Am an Incarnational Christian: The Theology

I Am an Incarnational Christian: The Theology August 12, 2011

Although, I confess, I liked the term “kerygmatic Christian” at first, I’ve come to see why “incarnational Christian” is the term that best suits us — those of us who would like to portray to the world something about the type of Christianity that we’re pursuing.  What I will write below has already been articulated by earlier commenters on numerous posts.

To use old categories, incarnational has both “vertical” and “horizontal” aspects to it.

First, the vertical (although, of course, I don’t think that God is “up” and we are “down”).

Incarnational emphasizes what many of us believe is the most significant act of God in the history of creation: that God incarnated Godself in the person, Jesus of Nazareth.  To hear Paul sing it in Philippians 2, even the crucifixion is a subset of the true miracle, incarnation:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Note well, the two active verbs in this hymn are “emptied” and “humbled,” not “crucified” or “died.”  The emptying of God is incarnation.

For a couple millennia now, the Christians in the East, known as the Orthodox, have considered the incarnation to be the most important work of God — just look at the works of John Chrysostom and other Eastern fathers.  So we are simply joining them when we identify ourselves as Christians who put our emphasis on the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus.

And second, the horizontal.  To be an incarnational Christian also means that we consider it our responsibility to enflesh the good news of the Jesus today, to work out our salvation with fear and trembling in acts of charity to our fellow human beings, to, in the words of Francis, “preach the gospel at all times; use words when necessary.”

Elsewhere, Paul exhorts us to be ambassadors of the reconciliation that Christ accomplished — reconciliation between God and humans.  In other words, the very same work that Jesus did — incarnational work — is now our task.

So, to say that I am an incarnational Christian means that I 1) emphasize the miracle of the incarnation, and 2) attempt to incarnate the gospel in my own life every day.

Comments on these initial theological musings welcome.

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