Incarnational Ministry

The book, Incarnational Ministry, the presence of Christ in Church, Society and Family (1990, edited by Christian Kettler & Todd Speidell), features essays in honor of Ray Anderson. Ray (now deceased), is widely regarded for advocating an incarnational approach to ministry grounded in a Trinitarian, Christ-centered theology. According to the editors, this approach emphasizes...
...the critical significance of Christ's continued ministry through his church... [a ministry which] cannot be conducted as a mere matter of technique, as if the social and behavioral sciences contributed more to the practice of ministry than theology itself. Theology that is true to the incarnate Savior will inform and enable ministers of Christ's church to understand better, and participate in more effectively, the ministry of Christ through his church. (pxiv)
Referencing Thomas F. Torrance, the editors define incarnational ministry as, "the ministry of God in becoming a person in Jesus Christ, the 'Personalizing Person,' who creates 'personalized persons' by taking upon himself our humanity." (pxiv)

In the book's first essay, The Distinctive Character of the Reformed Tradition, Torrance notes that God, through the Incarnation, has communicated to humanity not just information about himself, but himself in his own personal being and doing as the Triune God of love.

Torrance notes that this reality has vital implications for Christian doctrine, including predestination, election and judgment. Rather than referencing timeless decrees of God, these doctrines, rightly understood, reference the loving activity of the triune God (who is love), in and through the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ.
In choosing humanity for fellowship with himself, the electing God...wills to set aside everything contrary to his eternal purpose... There are not two wills in God, but only the one eternal will of his electing love. It is by the constancy of that love that all who reject God are judged. The gospel tells us that it is only in Jesus Christ that election takes place. He embodies the electing love of God in his own divine-human person... In Christ the whole electing and covenanting love of God is gathered up to a head and launched into history. Before Christ, apart from him, or without him, God does not will or do anything, for there is no God behind the back of Jesus Christ. (p4)
Torrance also calls for a Trinitarian, incarnational teaching of the ordo salutis (order of salvation). Thomas Aquinas and other theologians of the middle ages erred in teaching an order where union with Christ follows justification and sanctification. Calvin and other protestant reformers vehemently disagreed, understanding that...
It is only through union with Christ first that we may partake of all the saving benefits embodied in him: Union with Christ thus precedes justification and sanctification... Christ himself is not only the agent but the actual matter or substance of election... To be united with Christ is to be joined to him in his life of faith, obedience, prayer, and worship, so that we must look away from our faith, obedience, prayer, and worship to what Christ is and does for us in our place and on our behalf. (pp6-7, and see Gal 2:20 in the KJV translation, which speaks of living by Christ's own faith)
It is here that the doctrine of the vicarious (representative-substitutionary) humanity of Jesus comes front and center:
It is through a real union with Christ in his vicarious humanity that all that he has done for us in himself becomes ours and we are made to share together what he is...It is in that incarnational and atoning way that justification has to be understood, not just in terms of imputed righteousness but in terms of a participation in the righteousness of Christ which is transferred to us through union with him [what Calvin, borrowing from the Greek fathers, called the 'blessed exchange']. (p7) 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Can people get out of hell?

Does everyone have the Holy Spirit?

Theology and Biblical Studies - What's the Difference?

The missional character of the church

The nature of our union with Christ

Ministry: sharing in what Jesus is doing

Question on John 3:36

Torrance on the church and its mission

The link between theology and mission

What about mission?