Rethinking the incarnation in time for Christmas

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When I reconnected with Christian spirituality two decades ago, probably the two most influential books in my spiritual development at the time were "Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition" by John Cobb and David Ray Griffin, and "God Has Many Names" by John Hick. (Since then, my thinking has been further influenced by the writings of Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan.) In subsequent years, I somehow managed to discard my copy of the Hick book, but recently I found a copy of it in a used bookstore and have found myself rediscovering how influential it has been in my thinking.

Just in time for Christmas, then, I offer here a comment that he makes in this book about the Christian idea of incarnation:

...it seems to me necessary to look again at the traditional interpretation of Jesus as God incarnate. Such a reconsideration is in any case required today by the realization that the historical Jesus almost certainly did not in fact teach that he was in any sense God; and also by the fact that Christian thought has not yet, despite centuries of learned attempts, been able to give any intelligible content to the idea that a finite human being, genuinely a part of our human race, was also the infinite, eternal, omnipotent, omniscient creator of everything other than himself. The proper conclusion to draw, as it seems to me, is that the idea of divine incarnation is a metaphorical (or, in technical theological language, a mythological) idea. When a truth or value is lived out in a human life, it is a natural metaphor to speak of its being incarnated in that life. Jesus lived in full openness to God, responsive to the divine will, transparent to the divine purpose, so that he lived out the divine agape within human history. This was not a matter of his being of the same substance as God the Father, or of his having two complete natures, one human and the other divine. Agape is incarnated in human life whenever someone acts in selfless love, and this occurred in the life of Jesus to a startling and epoch-making degree. Whether he incarnated self-giving love more than anyone else who has ever lived, we cannot know. But we do know that his actual historical influence has been unique in its extent.

8 comments:

John Shuck said...

I like that. Thank you. One of the issues with incarnation is the importance that it doesn't end with Jesus. As parable or metaphor it is a call (a lure--to use a process word) to be open to the sacred as Jesus was.

Matthew said...

>>the historical Jesus almost certainly did not in fact teach that he was in any sense God; and also by the fact that Christian thought has not yet, despite centuries of learned attempts, been able to give any intelligible content to the idea that a finite human being, genuinely a part of our human race, was also the infinite, eternal, omnipotent, omniscient creator of everything other than himself. The proper conclusion to draw, as it seems to me, is that the idea of divine incarnation is a metaphorical (or, in technical theological language, a mythological) idea.<<

Every conceptual framework creates it's own struggles. If reality is ONE- connected and interpenetrating where does the problem start? Why shouldn't Jesus have thought of and spoken of himself 'in any sense as God'?

The problem appears to derive from limited concepts, masquerading as unlimited ones. 'Lies' is used in this way.

Look at the language and phrasing in your quote from Process Theology:

>>Christian thought has not yet, despite centuries of learned attempts, been able to give any intelligible content to the idea that a finite human being, genuinely a part of our human race, was also the infinite, eternal, omnipotent, omniscient creator of everything other than himself.<<

...the problem COMES FROM limitations implied/imposed by the statements/system.

Jesus' approach was to 'heal'. He did this by guiding the fragmented 'through' their lost way of seeing (the difference between living the 'truth' and living a 'lie'), to discover their wholeness in the ONE. Plato's 'Allegory of the Cave' illuminates a similar path.

Process Theology is doing the same thing other theologies have done. It takes fragments, reduces reality to it's particular, preferred way of seeing it, then attempts to create a structure which makes the fragments look like they're not fragments, but are somehow pieces of the whole (but they're still fragments!). Whew, no wonder systems of thought are continually re-inventing their 'foundations and structures'!

Wholeness is easily found...simply look around without 'judging'!

Matthew

Mystical Seeker said...

My quote was not from "Process Theology"; it was from John Hick's book "God Has Many Names". Hick was not, to my knowledge, a process theologian.

Matthew said...

Mystical Seeker,

>>My quote was ...from John Hick's book "God Has Many Names". Hick was not, to my knowledge, a process theologian.<<

Thank you for the clarification. It appears I should have pointed my comments towards Hick's philosophical conclusions (not simply to Process Theology).

How has the quote you published from Hick's work been influential in your thinking?

Matthew

OneSmallStep said...

I actually think there's a huge difference between saying that Jesus was God, and Jesus was the Word. Given what Jesus represented and what he taught, I do see him as the incarnation of the Word, wisdom, love, and so forth.

Grace said...

Aren't each and everyone of us God 'in carnate' and The Word made flesh?

Each and every one...

Matthew said...

Grace,

>>Aren't each and everyone of us God 'in carnate' and The Word made flesh?

Each and every one...<<

You've summed up the main point very well. I'm in complete agreement with you!

I'm sure many will object to equating every 'carnate' person to Jesus. However, I like Jesus' response (as a way of seeing how he thought of his true family) to those who were claiming his 'family' were looking for him-

Mark 3.33 "Who are my mother and my brothers?" he asked.

3.34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, "Here are my mother and my brothers!

3.35 Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother."

Matthew

Theway2k said...

Perhaps John 17 is the best place to go find he is the incarnate God. Jesus speaks of His Oneness with the Father and the Holy Spirit and those believe on the Christ are also one in Christ. There are no specifics of Jesus saying He was incarnated from the Father; however the Son of Man who spoke often in parables so that those eyes to see and ears to hear may understand and those that refuse belief continue with blind eyes and ears.