Friday, 1 January 2010

Incarnation - Future Fulfilment and Identification

Incarnation – Future Fulfillment

The Incarnation[1] is a fundamental and foundational doctrine within the Christian faith whereby it is recognized that God has acted in a unique and distinctive way; the eternal Son of God coming in flesh to the world that was made through him.[2] The Word made flesh and dwelling among us, is the means through which God will ‘reconcile to himself all things.’[3] And it was ‘for this purpose, then, the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God entered our world.’[4] The Incarnation is not merely about God identifying himself with us (although it undoubtedly is about that), but that God becomes one of us and embraces the fullness of our humanity in order that he might fully restore humanity and all of creation. That restoration certainly happens through the means of identification that the Incarnation enables, yet restoration also occurs through Christ fully becoming a part of our existence and experiencing all that humanity experiences. Because Christ has assumed the fullness of humanity he is capable of healing all of humanity otherwise, as Gregory of Nazianzus states ‘that which he has not assumed He has not healed’.[5] Christ, therefore, did not grasp at equality with God, but humbled himself to become nothing in order than he may be exalted to the highest place by God.[6] This journey of descending and ascending was in order that Christ may fill the whole universe[7] and in doing so enable humanity and creation to journey to an ‘eschatological perfection’[8]. This idea that creation is on a journey towards perfection rather than being returned to an original perfection is first seen in the work of Irenaeus who sees that creation and redemption are intrinsically combined, mediated by the Son and the Spirit.[9] Consequently, Irenaeus understands the Incarnation in terms of Adam being created in the image of the eternal Son ‘with the goal of being perfected in that image.’[10] Creation, therefore, has a goal, an eschatological direction to become what God always intended it to become. Not merely a returning to something pervious, but an intention to become something it has yet to be, something it never has been; something better. Without doubt Christ becomes one of us and identifies with us in fullness, ‘the invisible becoming visible, the incomprehensible being made comprehensible, the impassable becoming capable of suffering’;[11] yet Christ has become one of us so that we might reach the goal to which God has called us to.[12] This goal therefore, is for all of creation to participate in the communion of the triune God,[13] to share in the relatedness of the Son to the Father, to ‘participate in the divine nature’[14] and escape the consequences of sin. The Incarnation reveals to us a God who identifies himself with us and a God who desires us to become something more than we are at this moment and truly incarnational mission must ‘in-flesh’ this concept of future fulfillment, of people and communities becoming something more than they are now, something they have never been before; something better. And without doubt both Big Life and Charis seek to bring about a better life for those they minister to. Yet incarnational mission must also wrestle with identification and what it means to participate and identify with a community, and it here that we continue.

Incarnation – Identification

The Incarnation as identification is not about God resembling us and taking upon himself an ‘outer garment, like a beggar-cloak of a king who dresses up in order to seek out the love of a beggar-girl’,[15]it is about God stepping into our humanity and journeying with us through that humanity. From his birth in a cattle-shed to his death on the cross, Jesus fully identifies with the humanity that he created taking upon himself the limitations, conditions, temptations and struggles of humankind.[16] The Son assumes our humanity and takes on a body shaped for him by the Spirit of God the Father, identifying himself with us and deeming all of creation to be ‘good’[17] yet corrupted and contaminated by sin. Furthermore, the goal of humanity, to reach the image of the resurrected Christ and to find fulfillment in him, has been distorted and disorientated, and rather than humanity moving towards the Son and his image and therefore finding life, sin has caused all of humanity to turn away from God and lead us into sickness and death, both spiritually and physically. Yet in Christ identifying himself with us he reveals to us our condition, both good and bad; for in the humanity of the Son we see the goal of all humanity and also recognize how far we have wandered away from the goal that had been intended.[18] At the cross the Incarnate Son of God takes our place, and in taking our place ‘it is decided what our place is’.[19] This revelation of our place reveals our need for salvation, not in terms of ‘getting to heaven’, but salvation in terms of complete and total healing from our ‘sin-sick’ state.[20] Sin has utterly contaminated all of creation and therefore humanity is in need of renewal and healing from our sin-sickness. That Christ fully identifies himself with humanity means that through him humanity may be fully healed and restored from its disorientated and contaminated condition; sin-sickness has a cure. Consequently, incarnational mission embraces this concept of identification, healing and future fulfillment and seeks to bring about healing and hope within the communities it is being worked out in.

[1] ‘What is the meaning of the incarnation? A tear of divine pity.’ Barth, Karl, Theology and Church p 225

[2] John 1:10-11, Colossians 1:15-17

[3] Colossians 1:20 NIV

[4] Athanasius, On the Incarnation, II 8, accessed via on 28th October 2009

[5] Gregory Nazianzus, Epistle to Cledonius the Priest Against Apollinarius accessed via on 28th October 2009

[6] Philippians 2:6-11

[7] Ephesians 4:8-9

[8] Gunton, C., The Triune Creator, p 55

[9] Irenaeus, Against Heresies, III xviii

[10] Colwell, J., Promise and Presence p 46

[11] Irenaeus, Against Heresies III xvi 6, accessed via on 28th October 2009

[12] Philippians 3:14

[13] See Volf, M., After Our Likeness, p 129

[14] 2 Peter 1:4 NIV

[15] Frost and Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come, p 36

[16] Hebrews 4:15

[17] ‘God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.’ Genesis 1:31a. The Incarnation reveals that God is not appalled it his creation, but delights in it, willing to become a part of it.

[18] ‘This particular man Jesus Christ, therefore, is not to be considered and judged on the basis of some general preconception about human reality. Rather, every man, and the universal truth concerning man, is to be understood from this particular man.’ Barth, Karl, God Here and Now p 6

[19] Barth, Karl, Church Dogmatics. Vol. IV/1 p 240.

[20] This is a term Stanley Hauerwas uses to understand humanity as sinners and this sin disorientates our nature and us. See Hauerwas, S., ‘Sinsick’ p 192 cf. Colwell, J., Promise and Presence p 199-201

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