A CONSERVATIVE CHOICE FOR THE MINORITY'S VOICE

The Word Became Flesh


By Eric Rauch

As promised, we are continuing our look at Andy Crouch’s new book, Culture Making. Although I made the statement last week that I believe Crouch’s book is probably the most important contribution to the cultural debate from a Christian perspective in a long time, this does not mean that it is without its weaknesses. One of these weaknesses is the near neglect of the doctrine of the Incarnation. As we will soon be gratefully leaving Halloween behind us and looking ahead to Thanksgiving and Christmas, I think a short excursion down a rabbit trail is in order. Not that the Incarnation is a rabbit trail off the cultural debate highway. In fact, without the Incarnation, the cultural debate itself would be a rabbit trail. Since Crouch seemed to miss the significance of the Incarnation in his book, we will discuss this crucial doctrine on our own.

 

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We do ourselves a great disservice every Advent season by not talking enough about the implications and the importance of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. Although every Christian knows the details and the story of the first Christmas, they often tell it with such a romantic gloss that it loses its real power. Christians generally view the Incarnation as a means to an end of getting Jesus on the Earth so that He can then be crucified and resurrected. While it is true that the Gospel depends squarely on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, so much so that the Apostle Paul calls it the “first importance” (1 Cor 15:3-4), we must never forget that Jesus had to become flesh first in order to be here to die and rise again. If we overlook the Incarnation and focus only on the “big three” of the Christian faith-namely Creation, Fall, Redemption—we run the risk of becoming gnostic in our thought and worship.

The Incarnation is one of God’s many inscrutable designs that “make foolish the wisdom of the world” (1 Cor. 1:18-31). The gnostic error can manifest itself in one of two ways: by over-emphasizing the spiritual, or by over-emphasizing the physical. Typically we think of Gnostics as being pious wishful thinkers, often summarized as being “too heavenly minded to be any earthly good.” But the social gospel crowd is every bit as Gnostic as its spiritual counterparts, with a different focus. Either of these two extremes falls into the “wisdom of the world” category. In His infinite grace and mercy—displayed most powerfully in the Incarnation—God proclaims loudly that it is not one or the other, but both. Robert Webber explains the situation well:

The biblical and historical understanding of the incarnation is that God becomes creation. He takes into himself all the effects of fallen humanity spread throughout his creation. He assumes all of creation in the womb of Mary in order to reverse the effects of sin and “bring it into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Rom 8:21). The death and resurrection of God in Christ is then not a “release of the soul from its imprisonment to the material realm” (as Gnostics and the new spirituality assert) but a second act of creation, the redemption of the whole created order. Now, as Paul states, “the whole creation [is] groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Rom 8:22). That is, the whole creation has been “born again” so to speak, and now waits for its final deliverance. The whole creation, from the perspective of the Christian narrative, is pregnant and awaiting redemption.[1]

Webber rightly understands the importance of the Incarnation as it pertains to the Christian responsibility to make and take dominion of the world. God did not only create the world as a “thing,” He became a part of it Himself, He indwelt His creation. But Webber misses the point as well by constantly pointing his readers back to the Garden as the ideal that God will “recreate.” The progression of the Gospel in the world and the victory of the “children of God” does not lead them back to a Garden but onward to a city. Crouch does good work in Culture Making explaining the significance of cities as cultural epicenters and it is highly important that we don’t miss the fact that the Bible ends in a city, the New Jerusalem, not a garden. Christ’s Bride is progressing, not regressing. We should not be following Joni Mitchell, looking for a path “back to the Garden,”[2] but following Christian and Hopeful to the Celestial City.  Most Christians do not see the point in cultural renewal and restoration because they do not understand the importance of the Incarnation. As we approach the Christmas season, pastors would do well to teach their congregations about this most crucial Christian doctrine, and how it directly affects their lives, their families, their communities, and their churches. Only by recapturing the sheer awesomeness of the Incarnation can individual Christians and churches be armed to make a forward advance to the City of God.


[1] Robert E. Webber, Who Gets to Narrate the World? (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2008), 75-76. (Emphasis in original.)

[2] Lyrics from the song “Woodstock,” made popular by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. http://www.lyricsfreak.com/j/joni+mitchell/woodstock_20075381.html

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