Posted by: gcarkner | July 8, 2014

After Nihilism: Towards an Incarnational Outlook

Go Past Nihilism and Find a Better Orbit

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As we move beyond nihilism, we long to see culture reformed, heritage maintained, lives made whole, identities brimming with meaning. From one perspective, we want our full humanity back; we want the big picture on who we are, where we are and what our potential is. What is the discourse that can locate this renewal? Is it to be found in the language of incarnational humanism, an ancient tradition with many modern scholarly advocates? Language is an important means of God’s prophetic engagement with humans, the infinite in communion with the finite, all the while expanding the horizons of the finite. There is a profound significance about the Creator in dialogue with his creature, with his creation. We see this communication writ large in the incarnation; it is astoundingly important and yet often neglected today. How else can we engage agape love and the goodness of the divine in the fullest sense? It is a great gift (a bridge) to us humans which is meant to draw us upwards into a new dimension of life, a new caliber of thinking, finding a new centre to orbit around.

D. Stephen Long does an excellent effort of showing this complexity and nuances of this outlook in his important book God Speaking.

The certainties which the church has received as a gift require its participation in humanity’s “commom struggle” to attain truth. The human search for truth, which is philosophy’s vocation, is not set in opposition to theology’s reception of truth as gift. What we struggle to understand by reason we also receive by faith. No dichotomy exists between the certainties of faith and the common struggle by human reason to attain truth .… The truths humanity seeks by common reason (philosophy) and the certainties of faith can be placed over against each other such that each illuminates the other and renders it intelligible until the two ultimately become one, which is of course what the incarnation does in reverse. The concretion of the one Person illumines the natures of both divinity and humanity. (D. S. Long, God Speaking, p. 87)

Hermeneutic philosopher Anthony Thiselton says that the mystery of the incarnation is too profound for human discovery alone; it requires transcendent revelation and interpretation.

Christians claim Jesus as God’s Word (divine logos) made flesh, dwelling among us. Here God’s speech is embodied, full-blooded, not flat and lifeless, not reductionistic. It is a sign, a communicative action (Kevin Vanhoozer), more than the mere letters. It is poetic, prophetic, pedagogical, full of spiritual vitality revealed in a tangible historic person. The language of incarnation leverages the world and transforms individuals; it is strategically placed within the human story. The incarnation is the only adequate reply to the challenges of dissolution (loss of connection between word and world).

Christ the creative wisdom of God, and God’s active Word in creation, is enfleshed in the temporal-historical dimension of our world as the concrete Jewish Messiah, Jesus the Christ…. This is the Word through whom all things were made, and the Word hid in the eternal bosom of God, the Word who spoke through the prophets, the Word whose mighty acts defined the history of Israel. In Jesus the Christ this Word has become flesh, and the eternal has become temporal, but without ceasing to be eternal…. In Christ temporality and eternity are conjoined…. In the incarnation, creation, the world, time and history have been taken up into the God-man, who is the center of reality…. Faith and reason are inseparable because their unity is in Christ. (J. Zimmermann, Incarnational Humanism, pp. 264-5)

Language (speech act) starts with creation: God spoke and the heavens, the stars, the seas, the plants and trees and living creatures, man and woman came into existence in abundance. God’s word was enacted in a particular place and time in history. It makes space for drama. There is intense presence and place. When humans are addressed by God (the whole premise of Judeo-Christianity), they are drawn up into a transcendent dialogue, to reason and commune with their Creator, their ultimate mentor. A perlocutionary act is a robust speech act that produces an effect in those addressed through the speaker’s utterance. God speech has impact in all of human culture. Theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar (Word and Silence) sees the Word of God revealed in three rich and powerful ways: Creation, Scripture, and Incarnation, three different types of language, each powerful in its own right, each complementary to the integrity and impact of the others. The incarnation is God’s megaphone to late modernity with all its confusion, challenges and struggles.

By addressing us in person, God calls us ‘upwards’ into full human being, imago dei, agape love, beings with a higher meaning, image bearers, culture makers, gardeners and artists (Andy Crouch) responsible agents. This offers a tremendous personal and cultural driver for both the individual and common good. Many people sense God calling them to be something or someone more that they are (blowing their imagination), perhaps even to launch a journey, a quest. That is a sign of being addressed by, encountered by transcendence, by presence. It shows us the more of language and life, the more of our humanity. New qualitative properties emerge in our identity as we break free of our intense self-absorption. This dialogue with God re-interprets us afresh: we are investigated, challenged, moved and motivated by divine speech. Could we be hard wired for receiving and responding to this speech? Andy Crouch writes, “Making sense of the wonder and the terror of the world is the original human preoccupation. And it is the deepest sense of culture that most clearly distinguishes us from all the rest of creation” (Culture Making, p. 24). It is impossible to fully invent or make sense of life-world on our own. The game was already in motion before we arrived on the scene.

Christ is the conduit of God’s love—the culmination and fulfilment of every philosophical and moral aspiration. He is God’s goodness embodied. If there is a possibility for human flourishing, it begins when God’s word of love becomes flesh, is embodied in us, is enacted through us and in doing so, a trust is forged between the word spoken and the reality to which it speaks. It offers a renewal of orientation of cosmos to the human; Christianity is the participation in the life of God and in his presence, a presence as defined by Christ as true humanity. The incarnation (John 1:1-5, 14; Colossians 1:15-20) in particular provides a vision and a grounding to restore the broken relationship between word and world. The Advent, life, teaching, sacrificial death and resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ offers a profound new articulation of humanity as it can be.

 ~Gordon Carkner


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