This morning I was reading the lectionary’s epistle passage assigned for this Sunday (Phil 2.1-13) and then read Dave Warnock‘s post on what makes an evangelical. He writes, ‘The Christocentrism has been redefined (no incarnation, just the cross),’ when he speaks of evangelicals’ emphasis on the cross when compared with their use of the incarnation (or rather, their lack of it). This isn’t about his post, really. I agree with most everything he says in it. Just reading his post and the Philippians passage one after the other, I did start wondering about how much emphasis can we put on the incarnation, especially with regard to the cross.
How much does the Bible emphasise the incarnation, anyway? Of course, I realise it’s there. Obviously, with Matthew and Luke’s birth narratives and John’s opening prologue. Even in Paul in the verse I mentioned above. Still, none of the biblical authors seem to make that big a deal about it, especially compared with the Eastern Orthodox, for whom it is central (e.g., their theology of icons is based in their understanding of the incarnation). Yet overwhelmingly, the message of the gospel hangs on the cross (and resurrection – Paul did say he preaches Christ crucified, but it would make little sense without the resurrection).
From my experience of my evangelical upbringing and friends, Dave is right: evangelicals don’t seem to make much of the incarnation. The virgin birth was a doctrine to believe in, but if we were honest, it didn’t have any practical value other than to ‘prove’ something about Jesus (or the Bible’s inerrancy). I don’t want to lose the understanding I have now of the incarnation and what it means to say in Jesus we have God in human form. Still, what is the proper balance, especially if Paul and others didn’t make much of it?