Posted by: gcarkner | July 6, 2021

Incarnational Spirituality: a new horizon 6

Incarnational Spirituality: a new horizon 6.

Seven Principles of Incarnational Theo-Praxis.

a. A philosophically derived negative theology (via negativa) must not be allowed to supplant the revelation of the supernatural mystery in Christ (R. Gawronski, Word and Silence. 2015, 75-132). See my YouTube video: The Way of Zen versus the Way of the Incarnation. This is to distinguish mystery from the mysticism of the un-word (found in Zen). The incarnation is the deepest, richest and most permanent source of infinite divine mystery in the finite order. It assumes that the transcendent Creator God of Jewish monotheism is the same God who became fully incarnate (enfleshed) in Jesus of Nazareth. Humans have no fuller access to the Creator other than in the incarnate Christ. We know this by reflection on the events of history rather than mere speculation. Humans do not invent, but instead recognize, this reality. The incarnation becomes a fresh and profound hermeneutic on God’s relationship to humans, his pursuit of them and identification with their struggles.

b. Theologians and pastor leaders must allow God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ to interpret itself in the lives of believers through the work of the Holy Spirit. In Jesus, we see revealed the holiness of one transparent life of sacrificial love. Theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar is against abstract, modern re-interpretations or epic views such as those found in German philosopher G.F.W. Hegel. The problem of epic theology is that God tends to be either absorbed into the cosmos (pantheism) or he is totally banished from it (atheism/exclusive humanism). Aberrations from the incarnation always entails some sort of reductionism, some distancing from full particularity, full reality. We want the whole truth about God’s presence and impact in the world.

c. Christian theology (Kevin Mongrain, 2002, 204) must always maintain that the eternal divine realm and temporal created realm are separated by an absolute ontological gap and this gap is bridged, but not erased, by Christ’s mission of redemption. It remains one salvation narrative in two acts: creation and redemption. The incarnate Word interprets itself through the Spirit as ontologically asymmetrical yet with a mutual glorification of time and eternity, finite and infinite, human and divine. Incarnational theology and spirituality is focused on both the temporal and eternal at one time. In other words, a theo-centric perspective can coexist and be consistent with a cosmo-centric and anthropo-centric perspective. This offers an important balance, issuing in theological holism. God, Creation and Humans are all key players in this drama; we are interested in theology, science and anthropology at the same time. 

d. The Johannine Comparative (K. Mongrain, 2002, 204): The allure of Christ leads to the experience of the ‘ever-greater’ mystery of God. The glory and wonder of the Christ continues, opens up reality to humans, as they realize the power of the resurrection is made available to them in their lives and in community (Ephesians 1: 19-23). He is the enticing window into the divine that opens the potential to be known by, and to know God. Christ both fascinates and leads us into more authentic freedom. Contemplation of the incarnation is a key element to a robust, integrated theology. The divine Word is the total expression of God in human flesh. Jesus himself is the Gospel, the Word-Deed. Jesus is the Mission, the Answer to the longing of human hearts and forgiveness from guilt and shame. This anchors us amidst a changing and fragile world of upheaval.                

Unlike systems in which the word is uttered out of silence, in Christianity, the eternal word is uttered from the eternal fullness of the Father, and the Incarnation from the fullness of the Trinitarian life. In the word of words, fragmented utterance, Jesus becomes the speech of God to man and man to God. On the Cross, that speech gathered into an incoherent, formless cry as He enters the great emptiness of death, as the Word given over to silence [temporarily]. (R. Gawronski, 2015, 172)

e. Furthermore, the unity of creation and redemption, the synthesis of faith and love, contemplation and action shows that faith must be lived by both word and deed in order to be fully grasped and understood. There is an irreplacable existential dimension of faith. Contemplation is not sufficient to authentic faith in the incarnate one. Theodrama plus praxis, doctrinal teaching plus ethics, are a critical combination to avoid Gnosticism on the road to truth, beauty and goodness, to true and fulsome religion, to personal renewal and growth. We find this beautiful balance in Paul’s letters. He always includes one or more chapters on how we are to live out the gospel of the kingdom in daily life, within the context of Christian community and the larger world in which we live. The redemption continues in an ongoing fashion in our relationships and communal lives (see below a sample of what James Davison Hunter brilliantly articulates as faithful presence, 2010, 237-54).

f. Based in the unity of Christ and the church, any legitimate Christian theology and praxis must locate itself within the context of ecclesia (Christian community) and be fully accountable to its historic mission. Abstract, high-flying theologies imposed from outside can become a big problem and lead to much distress and confusion. This keeps theology, ethics and spiritual formation from becoming esoteric, ahistorical, unaccountable and ungrounded, even Gnostic. Theology and praxis thereby become public automatically, challenging dehumanizing forces within society, challenging the post-truth trends of our day. The church must practice incarnation as a model of love, joy and generosity (Philippians 2). University of Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter opines on this note:

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. (J.D. Hunter, 2010, 252)

Faithful presence is a palpable interpretation of the incarnation of the Christ in and through the church, into the world of everyday life, society and politics. Epiphany speaks of a motivating divine presence dynamic within human culture. We want the whole truth on this front. It answers the question: “What does love require?”

g. Called and missioned disciples (Jesus followers) rightfully spread the deeds as well as the sayings of Jesus, following his example. They follow Matthew 25 in caring for the stranger, the homeless, the prisoner in his name. Messiah gets rearticulated as suffering servant deeds, attitudes, posture, ethos. In the beginning, there was the Word and the Deed. Creation was Deed-Word (R. Gawronski, 2105, 166-69): “God spoke and there was light”. God’s word is so identified with God’s deed that we can never distinguish between what is God’s Word and what is God’s deed in revelation; they are quite entwined.  Everything about Jesus was word and everything about him was also deed.  Seamlessly connected, the deed explains the significance of the word, the word/teaching the significance of the deed or miracle. Christian community is primarily an action/praxis of God, an active participation with God in communion, one that carries through the redemptive drama into the contemporary world to provide healing and wholeness.

Incarnational theology is rooted in profound underlying dynamics: the unity of Creation and Redemption; the unity of Old  and New Testaments (covenant-narratives); the unity of Christ and the Church. The New Testament makes the amazing claim 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, a presence, not a mere idea or a philosophy. Jesus is reason personified, the raison d’être and purpose of it all. The narrative is clear. He is the answer to our deepest questions: Why are we here? What is our calling or purpose? Where are we going? Who are we really working for? What do we love? God’s speech is embodied, full-blooded, not flat, lifeless or atomistic. Kevin Vanhoozer (2009) calls the incarnation a communicative action. It is loaded with spiritual vitality, inspiration, hope and meaning.

Dr. Gordon E. Carkner, Meta-Educator UBC Postgradaute Students, Author, Blogger, YouTube Seminar Leader

Gawronski, R. (2015). Word and Silence: Hans Urs Von Balthasar and the Spiritual Encounter Between East and West 3rd edition. Kettering, OH: Angelico Press.

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. 

Mongrain, K. (2002). The Systematic Theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar: an Irenaean Retrieval. New York, NY: Crossroad Publishing Company.

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

Daniel J. Treier, Incarnation. Pages 216-42 in Christian Dogmatics: Reformed Theology for the Church Catholic. Edited by Michael Allen and Scott R. Swain. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2016.

Vanhoozer, K.J. (2009). Is There a Meaning in This Text?: The Bible, the Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. 

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