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Incarnation: On the Scope and Depth of Christology

Niels Henrik Gregersen editor
Richard Bauckham
Gerald O’Collins
John Behr
Torstein Theodor Tollefsen
Jürgen Moltmann
Elizabeth A Johnson
Denis Edwards
Celia Deane-Drummond
Christopher Southgate
Holmes Rolston
Stuart Kauffman
Dirk Evers
Robert John Russell
John Polkinghorne
Copyright Date: 2015
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    This volume takes the reader on a journey from New Testament and early church views of incarnation to contemporary understandings of Christology. A prominent group of scholars explores and debates the idea of “deep incarnation”—the view that the divine incarnation in Jesus presupposes a radical embodiment that reaches into the roots of material and biological existence, as well as into the darker sides of creation. Such a wide-scope view of incarnation allows Christology to be meaningful when responding to the challenges of scientific cosmology and global religious pluralism.

    eISBN: 978-1-4514-6984-4
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Niels Henrik Gregersen
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)
    Niels Henrik Gregersen

    In contemporary culture, the Christian idea of incarnation stands in a curious twilight. On the one hand, many observers are ready to praise the Christian tradition for being an incarnational faith in which material existence is affirmed from beginning to end: the world of creation is material; God became flesh in Christ; Christian spirituality is sacramental, embedded in material signs; and Christians even expect a resurrection of the body. On the other hand, some of the same observers are critical of the traditional Christian claim that the divine Logos (the eternal Son, Word, or Wisdom of God) became blood and...


    • 1 The Incarnation and the Cosmic Christ
      (pp. 25-58)
      Richard Bauckham

      Some of the most remarkable passages of christological reflection in the New Testament speak of the relevance of Jesus Christ not only to other humans, but also to the whole of the nonhuman creation (especially Col. 1:15-20; Eph. 1:9-10; cf. also 1 Cor. 8:6; Heb. 1:2-3; Rev. 3:14). How can we articulate such a relationship today? To put it another way, how should we relate the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ to the presence and activity of God throughout his creation? In approaching this question, we need first to examine the idea of the presence of God in creation...

    • 2 Word, Spirit, and Wisdom in the Universe: a Biblical and Theological Reflection
      (pp. 59-78)
      Gerald O’Collins

      When St. Justin Martyr, St. Irenaeus, St. Athanasius of Alexandria, and other Fathers of the church took up and developed in various ways the theme of Christ as the preexistent Logos or Word of God, now universally present and active in the created world, they could draw on rich scriptural sources. In this chapter I want to reflect on those sources, illustrate how divine wisdom surpassed the divine word, and suggest what word and wisdom might say to contemporary theological and scientific thinking on the universe.

      The “word” (dābārin Hebrew andlogosin Greek) expresses God’s active will at...

    • 3 Saint Athanasius on “Incarnation”
      (pp. 79-98)
      John Behr

      That the Christian faith is an “incarnational” faith is self-evident. Yet what this in fact means is rarely thought through with rigor. Over the last couple of centuries, and for a variety of reasons, the central elements of the Christian faith have come to be identified with the Trinity and the incarnation: how God exists as a community of divine persons and how one of these divine persons entered into our time and space by the particular event of the incarnation. Defining the latter, theOxford Dictionary of the Christian Churchopens with the following:

      The Christian doctrine of the...

    • 4 Saint Maximus the Confessor on Creation and Incarnation
      (pp. 99-116)
      Torstein Theodor Tollefsen

      Saint Maximus the Confessor (580–662) presents probably the most developed and comprehensive doctrine of the cosmos in the early Byzantine era. Of course, he did not think in a vacuum, and his predecessors included Origen (third century), the Cappadocian fathers (fourth century), and Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (end of the fifth/ beginning of the sixth century). I have coined the termchristocentric cosmologyto characterize Maximus’s conception of the world.¹ InAmbiguum7, he says, “For the Logos (Word) of God and God wills always and in all things accomplish the mystery of His embodiment.”² The term used isensomatosis,...


    • 5 Is God Incarnate in All That Is?
      (pp. 119-132)
      Jürgen Moltmann

      The question of Niels Gregersen that is the title of this chapter includes the thesis, “God is incarnate in all that is.” By setting this in the form of a question, the discussion of the thesis is open. In this chapter, I shall examine the theological logic of this thesis. I shall take the idea up in a Christology from the incarnation of the Son of God to his death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead and elevation to thecosmocrator. With reference to the biblical use of the Hebrew wordsbasarandkol basar(“flesh” and...

    • 6 Jesus and the Cosmos: Soundings in Deep Christology
      (pp. 133-156)
      Elizabeth A. Johnson

      Ours is a time of awesome scientific discoveries about the universe that occur in tandem with massive damage at human hands to Earth’s fabric of life. In response, all the world’s religious traditions are searching their treasuries for wisdom that can make a difference. This chapter explores one line of thinking particular to the Christian tradition, namely, the theological meaning of Jesus of Nazareth, cherished as Immanuel, God with us. For centuries, emphasis has been placed on Christ’s significance for the human race as Savior from sin and death. Can this anthropocentric focus widen to include biocentric and cosmocentric dimensions?...

    • 7 Incarnation and the Natural World: Explorations in the Tradition of Athanasius
      (pp. 157-176)
      Denis Edwards

      For some Christian communities, the celebration of Easter begins on Holy Saturday night with the lighting of the paschal candle from the Easter fire. Then, in the light cast by the candle enthroned high on its stand, they listen to the reading of the Scriptures, beginning with the story of the creation of the world from the opening chapter of Genesis. They look back on the creation of the universe of creatures and on the history of salvation and see it all illuminated by the light of the crucified and risen Christ. This seems to be a particularly good image...

    • 8 The Wisdom of Fools? A Theo-Dramatic Interpretation of Deep Incarnation
      (pp. 177-202)
      Celia Deane-Drummond

      In this chapter, I intend to develop a systematic interpretation of deep incarnation with the aim of distinguishing more clearly what might be thought of as its distinguishing marks compared with a more generalized understanding of God’s presence or immanence in creation.¹ While the idea of deep incarnation is predicated on Christology and follows from its most expansive interpretation,² the idea of divine immanence is predicated on the belief in God as Creator. Divine incarnation and divine immanence are not disconnected, and I suggest that it is this dialectical connection that deep incarnation attempts to articulate theologically.³ Yet the manner...

    • 9 Depth, Sign and Destiny: Thoughts on Incarnation
      (pp. 203-224)
      Christopher Southgate

      I am very grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this collection of essays. I will begin my contribution by considering previous models of God as embodied in the world or incarnate in all things, and clarify how I think the concept of deep incarnation might be used appropriately. I will then consider the problem of particularity, which bedevils all traditional talk of incarnation. I will outline what I think is the most helpful way to understand the concept of deep incarnation, including consideration of the church as a prolongation of the incarnation. Finally, I will offer some indications as...

    • 10 The Extended Body of Christ: Three Dimensions of Deep Incarnation
      (pp. 225-252)
      Niels Henrik Gregersen

      The aim of this chapter is to develop the concept of deep incarnation in the three dimensions of materiality, sociality, and divine-creaturely suffering. “Deep incarnation” is the view that God’s own Logos (Wisdom and Word) was made flesh in Jesus the Christ in such a comprehensive manner that God, by assuming the particular life story of Jesus the Jew from Nazareth, also conjoined the material conditions of creaturely existence (“all flesh”), shared and ennobled the fate of all biological life forms (“grass” and “lilies”), and experienced the pains of sensitive creatures (“sparrows” and “foxes”) from within. Deep incarnation thus presupposes...


    • 11 Divine Presence—Causal, Cybernetic, Caring, Cruciform: From Information to Incarnation
      (pp. 255-288)
      Holmes Rolston III

      The prologue of John’s Gospel begins with the divine Logos in creation and concludes with this Logos becoming flesh. This isprologuetoGospel: a Christ event with cosmic significance. John says the Word “made his dwelling among us … the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The divine Logos becomes fully incarnate only when sacrificial redemptive love is taken at the pitch in the life, death, and resurrection of the Christ. By the end of the prologue John is preachingincarnation, but he opens with divineimmanence. One might...

    • 12 Natural Incarnation: From the Possible to the Actual
      (pp. 289-308)
      Stuart Kauffman

      This essay is the speculative work of a scientist. I do not believe what I will write, but I think it ranges from very conceivable and testable scientifically to barely conceivable. To make my own theological position clear, I am Jewish and have never believed in a supernatural God, so I am an agnostic. But I wrote a book,Reinventing the Sacred,¹ seeking a sense of God in the natural creativity of the living world. This culminated in the pleasurable experience of co-teaching with theologian Gordon Kaufman (no relation) at Harvard Divinity School in the spring term of 2009. Both...

    • 13 Incarnation and Faith in an Evolutionary Framework
      (pp. 309-330)
      Dirk Evers

      In this chapter, I want to explore how an understanding of incarnation as God’s transformative presence in creation can be elaborated in terms of the traditional Lutheran doctrine of justification by faith alone. First, I will point out that justification by faith implies a fundamental interrelatedness of divine presence and human existence, thus referring to a relational understanding of God and creation. Then I will analyze the fundamental distance between God and human beings and how through incarnation God overcomes this spiritual distance and reveals God’s presence in the fate of Jesus Christ. The third part of the chapter will...

    • 14 Jesus: The Way of all Flesh and the Proleptic Feather of Time
      (pp. 331-352)
      Robert John Russell

      “Is the God who is incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth present in and for all that is?”¹ This question raises crucial issues for Christian theology as it is reformulated in light of the natural sciences, particularly evolutionary and molecular biology, as well as by research in ethology, primatology, anthropology, and related fields. In this chapter, I will add physics and cosmology to the conversation and stress their importance to the task of theological reformulation.

      This question reflects the wonderful idea of “deep incarnation,” first proposed a decade ago by Niels Gregersen.² According to Gregersen, “The incarnation of God in Christ...


    • 15 Afterword: Reservations
      (pp. 355-360)
      John Polkinghorne

      To attempt to respond in adequate detail to the many and diverse insights in this book, which are shaped by ideas drawn from a wide diversity of sources ranging from biblical and patristic discussions to present-day thinking, would be too lengthy and demanding a task to attempt. Instead, I shall try quite briefly to indicate the considerations that make me reserved about an approach to thinking about God’s relationship with creation that places such extensive reliance on the concept of incarnation.

      Important as this idea is to Christian theology, it represents a very specific understanding of a very particular relationship...

    • 16 Deep Incarnation: Opportunities and Challenges
      (pp. 361-380)
      Niels Henrik Gregersen

      This volume has brought together essays by leading theologians, philosophers and scientists, some of whom have been working extensively for years on rethinking Christology in a contemporary age, while others have come into the discussion with suggestive proposals and critical questions from other disciplinary angles. While each contribution relates the concept of incarnation to the question of the wider nature of reality, most authors have also addressed the particular proposal of deep incarnation. In this chapter, my aim is to reflect on the lines of thought that have enriched the concepts of deep incarnation during our conversations and to respond...

  9. About the Authors
    (pp. 381-384)
  10. Index
    (pp. 385-397)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 398-398)