Friday, June 26, 2009

Quote: The Historic Understanding of the Incarnation

What lies at the heart of the Christian faith is the conviction that God is both Creator and Redeemer. He redeems what he creates. "For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all making peace through his blood, shed on the cross" (Col 1:19-20).

What God creates is good. The Fall is not an imprisonment in matter but a spiritual rebellion. Humanity chooses to direct life and unfold culture not according to the mandate of God but under the direction of the dark powers and principalities of this world. This, of course, affects life in the world. Instead of doing God's will in creation and making this world a theater of God's glory, humanity does the will of the evil one and turns life toward violence, hate, greed and the like. Humanity, which God created, then manifests evil in every structure of life -- political, economic, institutional, idealogical, family and personal relationships. So the world of God's creation, as Paul writes, is "subjected to frustration" and in "bondage to decay" (Rom 8:20, 21).

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.

The ancient church fathers developed a saying to capture the cosmic nature of the incarnation and subsequent redemption. The saying made popular in the ancient church is, "only that which is assumed can be redeemed." In other words, God, in the incarnation, took up into himself the entire creation, so that the creation redeemed by God himself is now to be once again, as in the Garden, the theater of his glory.

The ancient church understood the impact of creation, incarnation, and re-creation on all of creation, and that is why Christians were the leaders in the arts, in learning and in the sciences. The christian faith narrates the world and gives shape to culture-making and to all of civilization.

from Who gets to Narrate the world? Robert E. Webber. IVP. 2008.

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