Incarnation: Holding on to Our Tradition

21 Aug

An appreciation of tradition puts us on the road towards humility.

Pride listens to the council of self-reliance. You don’t need to know how we got here.
Just do your thing. Like a 17 year-old rock n’ roller, who wants to start a garage band, but knows nothing of Hendrix, the Beatles, Clapton, Dylan, the Stones, Queen, Zeppelin, Chuck Berry, BB King, and the like.

We do what we do today because of tradition. We are standing on the shoulders of giants. We are only able to break out and do something unique (and new?) because of the tradition we are standing on. To reject tradition, to ignore it and give it the proverbial stiff arm is to walk the road of pride which always leads to destruction.

Our faith as 21st century followers of Jesus, is built on a tradition.

A nearly 2,000 year tradition built upon creeds, councils, prayers, sermons, wars, sacrifice, bloodshed, tears, celebration, and worship. We cannot lose what those in this historical church have given us. John the apostle writes in his second letter: “Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward” (2 John 8).

While John may have been talking about many things, there is no doubt that he was talking about the Gospel and specifically the incarnation.

The incarnation is the fact that Jesus, who was the eternal Son of God, became a man. In becoming a man, he did not cease in being God. He was, and is, fully God and fully human.

We do not have to work as hard today to communicate the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was a real human being. Ancient historians have documented his brief life. The Jewish historian Josephus calls him a sophos aner, a wise man. We spend much more time communicating the truth that Jesus of Nazareth is God’s own son and the Savior of the world.

Nevertheless, we cannot lose this great doctrine of the incarnation. If we do, we lose the very heart of the Christian story. Here are ten reasons why the incarnation is so important.

1. Creation
Incarnation reminds us that God’s creation is good. Even though all of creation has been twisted by sin, the goodness of God has not been eradicated. We can still see God’s divine attributes in creation. We can still encounter God in nature, because the mountains, and trees, and flowers, and roaring oceans speak to us of God’s grandeur and holiness.

2. The Body
Incarnation reminds us that our physical bodies are good. We are a body as much as we are a spirit. There was a teaching that was popular in evangelical circles not too long ago that made the case that we are a spirit ( a spiritual being), that has a soul (whatever that means), who lives in a body. This is much closer to Greek philosophy (Platonism) than biblical Christianity. Our physical bodies are a part of who we are. We are not real human beings without our human bodies. We do have an immaterial component to our human nature, but to be a “spirit” without a body is to be exposed and naked.

3. Salvation
God’s salvation includes the salvation body. God’s desire is to save both our material selves and immaterial selves, both our spirits and our bodies. We do not “get saved;” we are being saved, rescued, and transformed. We currently in a process of spiritual transformation and when Jesus returns, we will experience physical transformation as our bodies our resurrected. Bodily resurrection at the end is foreshadowed now as God continues to heal people physically through his Church.

4. The Kingdom of God
God’s kingdom is physical. To say God’s kingdom is spiritual is to relegate it to mysticism or folk religion. For some time I would say that God’s kingdom was a spiritual kingdom, which confused the early disciples who were expected a political kingdom. However, what I meant by “spiritual kingdom,” is that the kingdom of God is not a militant kingdom. Jesus has waged war on a world gone wrong with the weapons of love and forgiveness and not guns and bombs. At the incarnation, God’s kingdom has broken into human history and it continues to expand as a physical kingdom through the Church.

5. Morality
What you do in your body is important. What you do physically affects you spiritually. There were people in the Apostle John’s churches who had left the orthodox faith, because they said they had not sinned (I John 1:10). They reasoned that since Jesus did not have a real body, then we could do anything we wanted to in our bodies without consequences. John argues against such theological nonsense. Jesus came in a real human body in order to transform all creation because of man’s sin (committed in physical bodies).

6. Redemption
God regained in the body what was lost in the body. Sin is physical and obedience is physical. Adam disobeyed, but Jesus obeyed. As Gregory of Nazianzus, the fourth century church father, put it: the unassumed is the unredeemed. That is, if Jesus Christ did not assume a real human body with a real human mind/spirit/will, then nothing of humanity can be redeemed.

7. Revelation
God chose to reveal himself in the incarnation. The word that the Bible uses for reveal or revelation means to “pull back the curtain. In the incarnation we see God in real life. Not God not a mystical religion, but God in human terms. He chose to reveal himself in a way so that we could begin to understand his character and nature.

8. Demonstration
Not only do we see who God is, we also see how we ought to be as human beings. Jesus is our example of a human living out his humanity to its fullest. When we question how we should live and how we should treat one another, we look at Jesus. He is the answer.

9. Righteousness
God is faithful to his promises to Israel. The OT promises salvation through a king, born of a virgin, born of the house of David, born in Bethlehem, born to put the government on his shoulders. God did not revoke those promises and disregard his covenant with Israel. He fulfilled his promises and remained in the “right” (thus the word “righteousness”) by send his son born of a woman born under the Levitical law.

10. Truth
God’s story from creation to consummation, from Genesis to Revelation is a story of God’s battle for truth. All idolatry is an attack on God’s truth. Idolatry is taking a good thing and making it a God thing. Taking something temporary and making it ultimate. God’s truth, which wages war against idolatry, is communicated through human relationships. This is not truth not as abstract philosophy, but truth as a person.

So yeah, I would say that the incarnation is pretty important. Let’s not lose it after the historic Church worked so hard to preserve it.


Posted by on August 21, 2009 in Theology


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8 responses to “Incarnation: Holding on to Our Tradition

  1. Kurt Johnson

    August 21, 2009 at 9:14 am

    Great thoughts on the incarnation. I have especially been resonating with #9 “the righteousness of God” refering to “Gods covenant faithfulness toward Israel and indeed the world” I’m working through “Justification” by NT Wright which lays out some really important stuff with Romans and Galations. In one sense, I esteem the traditions, and in another sense I am skeptical. Not about the incarnation, but of other theologies, some reformed, which Wright breaks down. Another issue with some of legends of the faith, is that they killed each other. One guy burns the other (repeat). How do you trust the theology of someone who goes out there way to kill a “heretic”? Several examples from church history come to mind. Certianly we should throw out someone’s work based on one mistake (historical or modern scenerio) but we ought to be at least skeptical of the theology of men had barberism occuring under the influence of their ministry and did not speak out, as you put it “with the weapons of love and forgiveness, not guns and bombs” What about whips, stakes, and guliteans? Anyhow, great post!

  2. Kurt Johnson

    August 21, 2009 at 9:16 am

    Correction:” certianly we should NOT throw out someone’s work based on one mistake.”

  3. derekvreeland

    August 21, 2009 at 7:20 pm

    I am working through Justification too. My comments on “9. Righteousness” were influenced by N.T. Wright. He has been very helpful for me. The traditions that I want us to hold to are the ancient traditions, the ones captured in the ecumenical creeds. I think that as we look towards those creeds: The Apostles’/Nicene/Chalcedon etc. These are the doctrines (traditions) that we hold in common as Christians. Reflections and discussion on these core doctrines is what can bring us (Catholic/Orthodox/Protestants) together. There has been far too much bloodshed and violence in the history of the Church, we need to find ways to have meaningful theological dialogue with the pen (or the keystroke) instead of the sword.

  4. tophet144

    August 22, 2009 at 7:16 pm

    “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs” – what if these words were spoken to you? Would you take offence? Just what ‘form of life’ is it that you must defend?

  5. derekvreeland

    August 23, 2009 at 3:48 am

    I do not think I would be offended if the “toss it to their dogs” statement was said to me. I hope I am thicker skinned than that. I don’t know if this blog talked about defending certain forms of life. It was much more about defending the human life of Jesus.

  6. tophet144

    August 23, 2009 at 5:06 am

    “This is what we think Jesus is like and this is what we think we must do to be like him” – doesn’t this yield ‘forms of’ life? –

  7. derekvreeland

    August 23, 2009 at 8:24 am

    Not sure I follow you, can your elaborate?

  8. Faith, Worship & Life

    September 15, 2009 at 6:32 pm

    Great post, Derek! And congratulations on your new edition. You’re just a couple of more away from your own reality show. Just think: the proceeds could go to enabling you to simply write for a living for the rest of your life.

    Back to other things of a more serious nature. I think your strongest point is that arrogance ignores the shoulders upon whom we stand. Among my own people I’m trying to get them to read at all. Among my own denominational leadership I’m attempting to get them to read a bit further back than “the early Methodists”.

    Thank you.


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