I Am an Incarnational Christian: The Tactics

I Am an Incarnational Christian: The Tactics August 22, 2011

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.

I’m not going to campaign on behalf of this term.  I’m not going to put out a press release or build a new website.  If it catches on, great.  If not, then I’ll just be my own little tribe of Christian.

But, if you’re in on this with me, here’s what I think we can do:

  • Change your Facebook religion/philosophy to “incarnational Christian.”
  • Put it in the bio on your blog, on Twitter, etc.
  • Talk and post and tweet about what it means to be an incarnational Christian.
  • If a reporter asks you for a quote about politics, insist that you be identified as an incarnational Christian in the article.

What other tactics do you suggest?

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  • Wouldn’t the term “incarnational Christian” be the same as calling an apple “red apple”? In other words shouldn’t they by synonymous with one another? I understand the premise, but being incarnational should be a given amongst Christians. Nonetheless, I hope it catches. It would better define who we are… or should be.

    • Emeth

      Not all apples are red, and not all Christians are incarnational.

      I like this train of thought; it touches on the idea that we can no longer assume that a term means to everyone what it means to us, or has historically meant to others. It’s high time we were more specific.

      • Tony Campolo and his ministry is on to something very similar. He and his community call themselves “Red Letter Christians” which focus on the incarnational, kingdom aspect of Jesus’ teachings often associated with the red lettered text of the Gospels found in Bibles. I love the premise behind this and maybe Tony Jones has come up with a more succinct label.

  • Surely your in a catch 22 situation, if it catches on i give it a year or two before it becomes as meaningless as missional or emerging/emergent in which time if you haven’t someone else will have cashed in on the popularity with books, conferences and websites.

    Alternatively it will remain obscure and underground/used in which case every time you use it it will need so much unpacking, qualifying or description you could have just not bothered in the first place.

    That aside all the best to you.

    • Justin F

      If it always results in starting a new conversation, is that a bad thing?

  • *”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.”

    *”Christians who put our emphasis on the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus”

    *”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”

    “reconciliation between God and humans. In other words, the very same work that Jesus did — incarnational work — is now our task.”

    Evangelicals would concur with each of these points. Where the difference is is in the definition of the end objective. I would have to say that you are probably inclined to think that a higher “Christ-likeness” can be achieved, with an emphasis on the ability for continual progress if you just get the right formula. I am under the premise that there is a waiting, and a management. There will be progression and digression until Christ returns to enact a program by which continual progress can be achieved by fundamentally changing human nature. Tony, you seem to be more distinct in what sections of the Bible you disbelieve in rather than the portions you affirm. When you lay out your theological distinctive in positive affirmations as quoted above, any distinction between you and an Evangelical seems to be nonexistent The weird thing is that you seemed to have made this move to rename in order to move away from politically defined distinctives, and yet the renaming you are encouraging is stated in light of the coming presidential election. This is confusing.

  • Kevin Gasser

    I updated my facebook profile. They forced me to capitalize incarnational.

  • Steve Walton

    This entire conversation is admittedly frustrating to me. The last four bullet points in this blog post don’t have anythig to do with being an incarnational christian. I know that we’re primarily talking about language and definition, but I think encouraging people to update their facebook and address reporters (what?) completely distracts everyone from what being incarnational means. There is a huge difference between identifying yourself as an”I/incarnational Christian” and being incarnational. Because yes, give it time, and any possible definition of ourselves can become blurred by misunderstanding and overusage. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t care what I’m called. The ony
    thing I care to focus on is being someone who puts flesh to Christ’s life while here on earth today. Call it what you will, but I want only my actions to define me.

  • I am not usually an early adopter, but this one makes sense to me. We work to bring Heaven down to Earth, not waiting in anticipation of our escape from it. We evangelize differently (see Are You a Christian?), by working with the Holy Spirit allowing her to do Jesus’ work through us — heart-to-heart, soul-to-soul — rather than spilling out a formulaic list of logical arguments. Our friendships are different, deeper, more intimate, focused on the holiness in each other. For as I wrote this week, when we seek that holiness, we discover the image of God, rather than some idol. So on the surface, the lawn of an incarnational Christian might look like any other patch of Christian grass, but our turf is thicker and our roots run deeper. Just a thought.