Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Upstream: incarnation

There is no salvation without God embodying us, without the Word becoming flesh. Becoming one of us as well as one with us, Jesus the Son of God assumed the burden of our sin and guilt and dying on the cross made the one, full, final, complete, sufficient sacrifice for the sin of the world. The death we should die, the human-God experienced instead, for our sakes. Without this incarnation there would be no Christian faith, Christian hope or Christian love. Upstream of all Christian theology - of all talk about the God we meet in Jesus Christ - is the incarnation.

This also applies to Anglican theology!

Also, it is Advent, so a good seasonal time to talk about incarnation :)

Here, on this blog, a particular interest is in what theology means for our life in the world. So an "upstream" interest in the incarnation is simultaneously a "downstream" interest in working out how we live as Christians, as Anglican-shaped Christians.

Might that mean, I ask here, since the "downstream" interest is in life in the 21st century situation and not in the 1st century situation, that we should think about what the incarnation might involve in this century?

That is, what kind of man would Jesus be if he were incarnated in (say) 21st century Aotearoa New Zealand? What would he do and say? When asked about the controversial issues of today, how would he respond?

Thinking this way is not idle speculation. The church is "the body of Christ" so the incarnate God actually dwells in the world today and receives those questions and gives responsive answers. But it is a little complicated because the church often does not speak with one voice out of the one body. Might we discern that one voice if we reflected carefully on "what would Jesus do and say" today?

That careful reflection would need to start with the actual record of the incarnate Jesus (the gospels) and the first expression of the "body of Christ" developing that record as it engaged in a "new situation" (the epistles). But it would not stop there. It would always be worth asking, "If Jesus were walking the streets and byways of Aotearoa New Zealand, what would he say when we asked him questions, when we called on him to offer wisdom and insight on issues of our day, as he did in the first century?"

An associated question could be, "As we work on what it means to be followers of Jesus in 21st century society, what would be an approach to being church(-in-the-world) which both accords with the epistles and does not bring the gospel into disrepute (Titus 2:5b)?"

Easy questions to ask; harder to answer. Not least because it is well nigh impossible to attempt to answer them without our already at hand dispositions and presuppositions intruding!

Could we Anglicans, for instance, seriously rethink the church without insisting that it still have bishops, priests and deacons? All are mentioned (albeit priests=presbyters) in the New Testament, but the New Testament does not prescribe our particular construction of ministry orders.

Yet, the alternative, walking away from such questions and continuing to muddle along as we currently do, may not be much of an option. For starters, unless we radically rethink what we are doing, we may cease to exist!

What I have been challenged about, recently, by Bowman Walton (here), and by others elsewhere, (off-blog) is to tackle the questions I raise above with a "kingdom" mindset.

What did Jesus come to establish? It was the kingdom of God?

What does that involve? Precise orders of ministry? No. The kingdom of God is abundant life lived in direct relationship to God as Ruler of that life. In Pauline terms (cf. Romans) it is the "obedience of faith."

Put in other words, a constant challenge posed by the Incarnation is to keep the main thing the main thing, to think "big picture" and to destroy all idols (so that God truly is King).

To give an example as I close - better get this out before Christmas - and a timely one as the new female Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally is announced, the enduring question of the ordination of women as priests and bishops.

Would Jesus, incarnate in the world today, take account of and work with the new mode of women participating equally with men in social, economic, political, educational and cultural life? Or would he bewail this modern development and sternly admonish us to get back to the old ways? Would his great apostolic interpreter, Paul, prescriptively set down 1 Timothy 2:11-15 for today's church?

I think not.

In this world of flesh and blood, the Word entering, engaging and encountering us as one of us would continue to proclaim the Kingdom of God, calling all, men and women, Jews and Gentiles, bosses and workers into it, commanding us all to participate equally in doing God's will on earth as it is in heaven. In neither heaven or the Kingdom of heaven is there gender discrimination.

The incarnate Jesus today would make that clear! The body of Christ on earth today is becoming clear on this matter (albeit faster in some places than in others ...).

For Anglicans working out what it means to be Anglican, what does the incarnation mean for theology/hermeneutics today? The English Reformation was one meaning for "today" of the 16th century. The first Anglican missions in Aotearoa New Zealand were another meaning for the "today" of the 19th century Down Under.

So, what does being Anglicans following the Incarnate One mean today?

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There is NO invitation here to resume discussion of That Topic. The implication of "incarnation" as a hermeneutical consideration can be discussed on your own blog or Facebook page. Or, EVENTUALLY, when we resume discussion here ... after the Working Group's final report.

NOTE: In the background to this post and others in a series of "Upstream" posts is this comment by Bowman Walton, recently made here:

""I hope you will not despair of the loss of sight here of your appeal for debate about what is upstream rather than what is downstream."


It is worthwhile to try to identify the upstream assumptions that bedevil downstream discussion, so from time to time I try. My inspiration is the patient work of that 1922 CoE commission on doctrine that reported in 1938.

But even they admitted to a difficult problem: better thought had overtaken the positions that they were trying to reconcile. This could happen to That Topic in the C21 as it happened to the notion of *eucharistic sacrifice* in the C20. For subversive example, what if Romans 1:18-32 really is *prosopoeia*?

November 18, 2017 at 4:19 PM"


Father Ron Smith said...

Peter, may I repeat your injunction in the body of this post?:

"There is NO invitation here to resume discussion of That Topic. The implication of "incarnation" as a hermeneutical consideration can be discussed on your own blog or Facebook page. Or, EVENTUALLY, when we resume discussion here ...* after the Working Group's final report."

In the light of this, I will be taking a holiday from your blog - until the conditions* you state here are fulfilled.
Have a Blessed Christmas!

Anonymous said...

Before straight answers, Peter, a few heuristic thoughts.

Our scriptural resources for thinking about the incarnation include the OT, if we can learn to read it in a more christocentric way. The Psalms, Daniel 7, the several appearances of the Angel of the Lord, etc. Vanhoozer is right that the NT is best read as an improvisation on the cantus firmus of the OT that was occasioned by Jesus.

The three orders of ministry are probably inhibiting us less than some outdated thinking about organisations in general that sometimes locks us into unhelpful patterns in churches in particular.

Jesus in the C21 would be similar to the Jesus of the C1 in one interesting way-- he would be a local figure in a very global way. Although we cannot quite imagine Jesus apart from his ministry in Galilee, he was even then and especially in that location obliquely responding to Hellenisation and Rome. So Jesus today would be in some places new to the Church, but just so, he would also be in the whole global village.

Finally, Jesus then already was and would again be today more like a virtue ethicist than like the modern sort of legalist, and so believers in him today, like those in him in the C1, will have a vivid sense of how soul-change is an end of obedience to God.


Peter Carrell said...

Great thoughts, Bowman
We cannot invent Jesus (either a construction of a first century Jesus with no connection to OT or a 21st century one with no connection to the gospels and epistles) - which is my sense of what you are saying above!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Peter. This is still not a straight answer, but by way of the above, a paraphrase of what I think your OP asks--

Given that the incarnation in C1 Gerasa or Emmaus was presence by the power of the Holy Spirit, to whom would the Son want to be available in C21 A/NZ and what would this look like?

Is this close?


Bryden Black said...

Two quick particulars Peter and Bowman (with half an eye on Blessed Isles too!):

1. Women’s status etc.: Mark 10:11-12. Either Jesus is ignorant of the legal status of women - that they were unable to divorce their husbands - or his point is lain elsewhere: that they too are as equally responsible/accountable for the well-being of marriage as husbands. Jesus raises the status of women! As he does in a number of places ....

2. You suggest we try to view the opening section of Romans as prosopoeia. Even if Paul is ‘indulging’ in classic rhetoric, it is a form which still echoes at many points Gen 1 and Wis 13-14. I.e. one which drives at the consequences of false worship - of which any and all are, in some form, guilty. Which leads inexorably to worship’s renewal, Rom 12:1-2, the fulcrum of the whole argument, after the display of “mercy” in chs 1-11 and their due consequences.

Anonymous said...

"You suggest we try to view the opening section of Romans as *prosopoeia*."

Bryden, my question is about Douglas Campbell's claim in Deliverance that, after some sly preliminaries, St Paul has opened Romans with an attack on a judaising false Teacher. According to Campbell, he first mimics or quotes his opponent's argument against grace, which does indeed have-- validly or not-- LXX echoes. The apostle then demolishes the Teacher's argument. Only then does St Paul begin to build his own case for the true gospel on the ground thus cleared. If, in construing the rest of Romans, the exegete is not constrained by 1:18-32, then the gospel that he finds may also be less qualified by the Teacher's view of the law. For speculative example, a student of Douglas Campbell, Richard Hays, and Stanley Hauerwas argues in a recent dissertation that this sort of reading points to an account of human agency better fitted to an ancient virtues ethos than to the modern legal one. While not conclusive, this has the ring of truth.

Now any new reading of Romans 1 would probably affect scriptural discussion of a certain unmentionable matter, if only by making it a rather smaller detail in St Paul's rather larger scheme. I have no opinion on how such a reading would cash out. A plan to relate Campbell's Deliverance to John Barclay's Paul & The Gift is among my reasons for suspending judgement for the time being. But as it stands, a reasonably strong argument that Romans 1:18-32 may best be read as *prosopoeia* shows that "better thought may yet overtake the positions that we have tried to reconcile" here. QED


Bryden Black said...

Yes Bowman; I'm aware of DC's stance; and his clips are fun as well as informative. I like the covers of his books too - apparently the work of his wife! At this point I too am far from sure how it shifts the flow of the argument of Romans, esp 1-4, 5-8; or rather, 1-3:26, 3:27-8. For while 5:1-5 surely sets up 8:17-end, acting as a break and preface, I am persuaded that ch.4 via NTW has far to say than is often credited, tying in to 3:27ff.
I have yet to digest JB and Gift BTW other than hearing him here in Chch a few years back. And Gift fits rather nicely with GGR and LDL ...!

Anonymous said...

A postscript and an answer.

Postscript. Psalm 119 is not celebrating what most of us here think of as law, and the apostles cite OT law in ways that we would never dream of doing with any expression of obligation that we know. The flip side of Bryden's comments about the modern notion of subjectivity is that the modern notion of obligation grew up along with it as its twin, and suffers the same critiques, however those may be argued. In fact, an indirect way to Bryden's general position is to critique the modern notions of obligation first, and then see what is left of the sort of self that they necessarily presuppose. Hence my recent use of *modern* to qualify such words as legal, legalism, etc. For a first look at the general problem, one can still do no better than to read the article by Elizabeth Anscombe that first framed the philosophical problem of *obligation* 60 years ago--

--alongside the one by Krister Stendahl that framed the exegetical problem of the *self* five years later--

If one wonders why the House of Torrance has made so much of the difference between *covenantal* and *contractual* understandings of the divine-human relation, or how Douglas Campbell (influenced by Robert and Alan Torrance) can write a thousand pages about what happens if Romans 1:18-32 is *prosopoeia*, these are not bad places to start.

Answer. Jesus is seeking persons, in A/NZ and everywhere, whose identity is not wholly in him and whose sense of their several vocations is not wholly from him. I mean *vocation* here in a broad pauline way that includes, not just one's profession, but the totality of what one has received from God's providence, the place in the scheme of things that has been given by the Creator.