Posted by: gcarkner | June 27, 2021

Incarnational Spirituality: a new horizon 5.

Incarnational Spirituality: a new horizon 5.

Building on the Infrastructure/Foundation of Wisdom

Our globalized world can be confusing, even overwhelming with the current speed of change (Yuval Noah Harari, 21 Lessons for the 21st century). We are going through revolutions in biotech (especially Epigenetics) and infotech (Artificial Intelligence) and still face the nuclear and climate threat. The clash of superpowers hoping for world domination is regularly in the news. We clearly need discernment to traverse such an age. Who do we trust after all the questions raised by the pandemic? What can we count on for good policy? How do we solve our intractable global problems?

The New Testament makes the amazing claims that Jesus is, in the flesh, the wisdom of God and the power of God (I Corinthians 1: 24), the nexus and integral relationship of faith and reason. As divine logos (John 1: 1-4), he is the transcendent word made flesh, the underwriter of all human thought and language. Truth ultimately is found in a person, not a mere philosophy. Jesus is deep reason personified, the raison d’être or meaning of it all. The narrative is clear amidst these provocative claims. The incarnation is a communicative action (Kevin Vanhoozer, 2009), not just letters, words, propositions or sentences. It is spiritually saturated with wisdom that offers a foundation for our future.

We are called to seek such wisdom (discernment) with all our energy, to take captive our minds to his Lordship (II Corinthians 10). We are called to change the way we think and perceive reality–our entire worldview. In other words, we need his oversight, his scrutiny as we think harder and act more practically and responsibly, as we pursue noble character and virtue. He is intensely interested in our new ideas and thoughts for a more just world (one that includes the marginalized and the broken).

Jesus is the omega point, the ultimate fulfillment, of every human spiritual, religious, moral and philosophical aspiration. The Apostle Paul claims such as he opens a dialogue with the Greek philosophers on the Areopagus in Acts 17. He connects with them through their own poets and philosophers. It is the incarnation that shows he has healed the broken semiotic relationship between word and world (J. D. Hunter, 2010) that is endemic in late modernity. The Creator of all things, all peoples, has come to live among us. He is public truth, available to examine by everyone of every belief persuasion, every form of scepticism. He adds that je ne sais quoi , that “something more”, the chance to make sense of life itself–a window on the river that runs through it. Jesus is wisdom of God, the shalom of God in the flesh, full presence, providing for us a fulness and fecundity of existence.

Wisdom shows up as an Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) personification in Proverbs 8. Lady wisdom provides a framework and a profound motivation for our thinking and reflection, our discernment. It addresses some of the perennial problems we face: grinding poverty, inequity, oppression, governmental and business corruption and overbearing control, insatiable greed, pride and entitlement. Heaven knows that we need wisdom today, as a book by Professor Eugene Soltes reveals (Why They Did It: Inside the Mind of the White-Collar Criminal, 2016). Jesus as personal wisdom from God cries out with insight to late moderns in the public squares of our towns and globalized mega-cities: “Come to me. Learn from me. Take a minute. Let’s talk about the constructive way forward. Let’s deal with your anger.”

There is a sense in which Jesus draws together all the words of Old and New Testaments. He is the fulfillment of all the promises made to the ancient Hebrew patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Israel) and the prophetic utterances and longings of the ancients, the Jewish Messiah, fulfilling the promise of redemption, renewal, and justice for the poor (Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way, 2007). Humans have spent much time anticipating someone who could show a better way to do politics and economics and promote human dignity. He entered this world to save us from our own destructive violence and vengeance, while teaching us the higher wisdom of God (James 3:13-18). His life is a unique story, a powerful human narrative of restoration and renewal, of resurrection. It forms the apex of God’s compassionate, redemptive initiatives.

People need not suffer a shallow, purposeless existence, or give up their freedom of speech, reason or identity to stripped-down materialism, manipulative determinism, addictions to social media or propaganda wars of the right and the left. They can live a richer, fuller lifestyle, living for the other. Philosophical theologian Jens Zimmermann’s summary insight on this point represents a fresh articulation of reality within the infrastructure of wisdom. Jesus lived no ordinary life of a good moral teacher. He is rather a sure anchor in the storms of life, hope in the midst of despair.

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, 2012a, 264-5)

Divine active poetic language or speech act (John Searle) 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. Jesus the Son was there with the Father and the Spirit at creation’s dawn, calling it forth into fruitful existence, motivated by love. He is the creative source of all human life, of the moral good and justice, of imagination and artistic expression. Divine speech continues in Jesus as the robustly truthful Son of God–public truth. As divine logos, he provides the very architecture of creation. Biology and meta-biology are a whole in Christ; science and human meaning join in synchrony. Isaac Wimberley give an artistic rap rendition of The Word below.

He is God’s true revelation, located and embodied truth, claiming that, “If you hold to my teaching, you will be my disciples. Then you will understand the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8: 31-32). These words have had a profound impact down the centuries. In a separate blog post I reflect of What is Truth and Why Does it Matter? We can count on him as the solid way forward. There is palpable power in these words for human sojourners. Jesus is the way of wisdom, the way of deep structure integrity and personal wholeness. He is the sign of something more to the world, the signifier of God’s great interest in mankind and the signified as the goal of all history. Musician Kari Jobe’s rendition of the song Forever captures something of the breadth and complexity of this insight. There is a very fruitful dialogue possibility for those who are curious about the resurrected man. It has earth-shaking implications.

This insight on wisdom demonstrates that we must look beyond mere human flourishing in terms of safety, self-interest and sustenance, towards the fullest benefit to mankind, our fullest humanity, a thick self. We need to dig deeper and climb higher. In the birth, life, teaching, sacrificial death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus the Christ, we are offered a new architecture for human society. His life, care and teaching represent an inspiration, a gripping and tantalizing call to a higher life, a journey up the challenging mountain of moral growth and a breathtaking perspective on human machinations and self-dealing. The Word is a symbol of a whole new relationship between humanity and the cosmos. It also poses many questions to push out the bounds of what it means to be human, raising the bar to expand our identity way beyond the closed-off immanent frame. Yet, it is also extremely relevant to the practical issues of everyday social and political life (raising children, sorting out disputes, voting and responsible government).

One implication of the incarnation is that Christianity is no mere religion, it is the participation in the very life of God. This presence defined by Christ is true and ideal human image bearer (R. Middleton). He clears the brush to our full humanization. Others before him, including Israel as a nation, have tried to measure up to the noble kingly and priestly calling of Imago Dei. The incarnation (John 1:1-5, and14; Colossians 1: 15-20) provides a vision to restore late modern broken relationships such as racism and radical economic inequality. He can heal us from fragmentation and disenchantment, bring us back from the abyss of nihilism and paralyzing hate. It is in this world, this neighbourhood, that Christ offers change (Jim Wallis, The (Un)Common Good).

Both Christ himself, and the church which he left behind upon his ascension, are an incarnation. At their best, they act out a faithful presence (J.D. Hunter, 2010, 237-54). This conviction involves an important union of Christology and Pneumatology. We find it in the Apostle John’s writings in John chapters 14-17. It is the unity of Christ-Spirit and the church. They are always working together as part of the Trinity. Redemption in Christ blossoms into harmonious social communion, avoiding extreme individualism, without dismissing the importance of the creative, entrepreneurial individual. Here is a quote from Hunter:

I have argued that there is a different foundation for reality and thus a different kind of binding commitment symbolized most powerfully in the incarnation. The incarnation represents an alternative way by which word and world come together. It is in the incarnation and the particular way the Word became incarnate in Jesus Christ that we find the only adequate reply to the challenges of dissolution and difference. If, indeed, there is a hope or an imaginable prospect for human flourishing in the contemporary world, it begins when the Word of shalom becomes flesh in us and is enacted through us toward those with  whom  we live, in the tasks we are given, and in the spheres of influence in which we operate. When the Word of all flourishing—defined by the love of Christ—becomes flesh in us, in our relations with others, within the tasks we are given, and within our spheres of influence—absence gives way to presence, and the word we speak to each other and to the world becomes authentic and trustworthy. This is the heart of the theology of faithful presence.

~James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: the irony, tragedy and possibility of Christianity in the late modern world. OUP, 2010.

The vision of the incarnation is that one becomes a unique person with a distinct role and responsibility to play out in the community’s effort to transform the entire created order (Romans 8). This individual human uniqueness is rooted in the absolute uniqueness of God and Christ. “In redeeming the created order, Christ redeems social relationships among creatures, relationships that are intrinsic to created human nature” (K. Mongrain, 2002, 199). He came to heal and unify humanity, not to fragment or to polarize people into tribes. Incarnation affirms and elevates the whole human in their fullest context and promotes servant leadership. Theodrama according to Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar says:

The audience’s nonneutral, contemplative awareness forms a “communion” between the author’s (God the Father) vision, the actor’s (Jesus the Christ) visible embodiment of the vision on stage and the audience’s (human) cooperation in the presentation of the vision. The audience is invited on stage into this theodrama by the Holy Spirit to participate in the play, thus opening themselves to being enraptured by the divine mystery revealed in Christ’s incarnation. (K. Mongrain, 2002, 201)

The drama of the Word unfolds wonderfully in the life of the church. The witness of the Spirit is also part of the incarnation. He is against any disincarnate or Gnostic spiritualization. The closer one comes to the Son, following his call, the more unique, free and interesting one will become. The notion of emptying oneself in love characterizes Balthasar’s view of reality, from the relations within the Trinity, through the creation, incarnation and saving work of Christ, onto the expected response of the creature in self-giving love” (R. Gawronski, 2015, 163). This incomprehensible love of God meets humanity on understandable and practical terms, promoting shalom.

Jesus Christ addresses each human being individually: each must decide if they will bear the Name of Christ and accept the unique mission God has for them. It is only by identifying with this mission that humans become persons in the deepest, existential and theological sense. Their personhood is not dissolved as in Gnosticism, but enhanced as they receive the word and partake, become articulate world and culture makers (Andy Crouch, Culture Making). They see and are seen, know and are known. God’s great work of art inspires them to become creative artists in their own right.

Dr. Gordon E. Carkner PhD, Meta-Educator with UBC Postgraduate Students, Author: Mapping the Future; The Great Escape from Nihilism; Ten Myths About Christianity.

–YouTube Channel:

Peterson, E. (2007). The Jesus Way: a conversation in the ways that Jesus is the way. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

–Crouch, A. (2008). Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling. Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP.

Hunter, J. D. (2010). To Change the World: the irony, tragedy and possibility of Christianity in the late modern world. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

–Kevin Mongrain, (2002). The Systematic Thought of Hans Urs von Balthasar: an Irenaen Retrieval. Herder & Herder.

–Zimmermann, J. (2012). Incarnational Humanism: a philosophy of culture for the church in the world. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.

–von Balthasar, H. U. (1993). Theo-Drama: Theological Dramatic Theory. Ignatius Press.

–Gawronski, R. (2015). Word & Silence: Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Spiritual Encounter Between East and West. Angelico Press.

Wallis, J. (2014). The (Un)Common Good: How the gospel brings hope to a world divided. Grand Rapids: Brazos.

Harari, Y. N. (2018). 21 Lessons for the 21st century. New York: Penguin.

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