Col 2: 9-10: For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form,
and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and
- Heb 2:14-15: Since the
children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he
might destroy him who holds the power of death--that is, the devil-- and free those who
all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely
it is not angels he helps, but Abraham's descendants. For this reason he had to be made
like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high
priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.
Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being
The doctrine that God was incarnated as a human being is one
of the central beliefs of orthodox Christianity. By it we affirm that Jesus our Messiah
became one of us in order to bear our sin and save us. We also affirm that by his
incarnation that God has reminded us that Jesus can sympathize, even identify, with our
human failings and weakness, though without sin. Likewise, the doctrine of the
incarnation stresses that God in Christ valued the physicality and bodily nature of his
creation enough to share in it. This is an extension of Christian beliefs about the
creation of the world, for what God called "good" he also hallowed by entering
The term "incarnational" is often used by
Christian scholars in a number of fields to stress what we as Christians should do in
emulation of our Lord's example. Our lives of service should seek to
"incarnate" Christian principles in the particular, historical circumstances we
have been given. We should not assume that what Christians do in one culture will
easily carry over into another. How a church worships in Seattle may not be the same
as one in Bombay. This also stresses that history and culture are essential factors
to take account of. After all, if God, who is Truth, chose to enter history in a
particular place and time, then to ignore our particulars, is to make a fundamental
mistake about the very conditions in which truth is received, practiced, and discovered.
This has a number of applications in the field of
- We should not ignore our own time and place. We should
be willing to study and create within contemporary practices of the novel, poetry, essay,
theatre, etc. Christian truths can be expressed in these milieu, and people of faith
can profit from these works. We are born for this time, so to speak.
- We should recognize that we interpret literature from a
particular historical context. Christians of different eras and cultures, while they
are bound to share many of the central doctrines of the faith, are also bound to stress
different things, ask different questions, and apply Christian teaching in different ways.
What a Christian in Africa notices about a play by Nigerian Wole Soyinka may be
different from what a counterpart notices in the U.S. We each have to re-incarnate
our practice anew.
- We need a theory of literature that seeks to account for time
and eternity, for the body and the soul, for the individual and the community, and for the
objective world and the subjective experience of it. Christ's incarnation represents
the intersection of time and eternity, history and the universal. As such, we can
never make truth wholly personal and subjective or wholly social and objective.
This third point is especially important when thinking about
how the artistic process is understood. In western culture, there have been,
according to M.H. Abrams, four broad paradigms of art: the mimetic, the expressive,
the objective, and the pragmatic. The mimetic, from the word mimesis,
argues that fiction derives its power from a representation of the world. Even when
that work includes fantastic or mythical elements, it still has to work from what is
there. The expressive insists, on the contrary, that literature's power derives from
the artist's creative expression and not from any relationship to the world. The
objective stresses that the work of literature is a self-contained object with its own
properties separate from the author's intentions, the historical context, or readers'
responses. The pragmatic, on the other hand, focuses on what the text produces in
An incarnational theory will seek to appropriate the best in
each of these. It will value the world and history as an arena where truth is
discovered, so it will look to a mimetic model which takes nature and life seriously, as
it will look to a pragmatic model that will take the experience of readers' seriously.
It will also recognize the particularness of the art object and seek to balance
this with the internal intuition and expressivism of the author. Yet it will also be
suspicious of these when they seek to make idols out of human works. It will reject
any idea that seeks to divorce itself from history or that seeks to make truth a created
thing rather than a holy given. For example, the objective theory in some
formulations seeks to almost escape history, placing the story or poem outside those
concerns. The expressive theory tends to put self at the center of knowledge, rather
than grounding that knowledge in God. The pragmatic theory in some versions tends to
make the same mistake, claiming that human readers and communities "create"
truth for themselves. The incarnation reminds us that truth may be found in history
but it is not confined to history. God in Christ has come to us from without, even
as he speaks a language within. We can not lay aside either side of this truth.
* * * * *
Central Insight: The Incarnation reminds us
that truth speaks in particular languages and cultures. We must account for both the
historical and the eternal.
Suggestions for Application: Try showing why
one should stress both the historical context, as well as the personal subjective
experience of the author, in order to understand a text. Or show what an author, who
claims to be a creator of his or her own truth, is overlooking