Tag Archive: incarnation


i am loving this book tbV pickedup for me at The Warehouse by John Perkins. So much of it resonates with where my heart is for South Africa and, although he is using Americaland examples, so many of the truths still completely apply.


The well-known Martin Luther King Jnr “I have a dream” speech was the dream of the black person in Americaland. But to be honest, it could only be fully realised once the white people got on board [which required much personal soul searching and recognising of white supremacy in themselves and actively taking on systems] to help get the country to the place it needed to be [although i imagine it, like ours, is still not quite there]. Similarly, in South Africa, for any reconciliation and restitution to take place, it is going to take both white and black people [simply speaking, plus of course all the other people groups respresented here] working together to ensure that the dreams of the currently-have-nots are made possible and in reach.

i want to share two passages from this book so far that greatly moved me in this regard and the first one contains snippets of Dr King’s dream alongside their present reality [despite these words being written some 30 years ago, sadly in the light of #Ferguson and #BlackLivesMatter and more, there is still much work to be done]:

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‘The crowd erupted into a cheering, applauding, chanting, banner-waving mass of humanity. Dr King had to wait a long minute before he could be heard above the crowd.

Then his voice rang out with the now-famous words of this speech, “I have a dream,” in which he proclaimed in part: ‘Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we now stand, signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

…But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.

…There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can not be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied  as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like the waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

…I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American Dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.

…This will be the day when all God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning. “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

…When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

In these words, Martin Luther King captured many of my own hopes and dreams. His dream was my dream too. Yet at that very time God was at work in my heart, shaping a dream bigger than the American dream, a dream rooted in the very gospel of Jesus Christ.

Martin Luther King Jnr quote

As our little congregation in Mendenhall took shape my faith was approaching a crucial test. Mechanisation was displacing Mississippi sharecroppers, driving them even deeper into poverty. Racial tensions were rising. The problems plaguing our little community were so great, and we were so few. What could we do?

Did the gospel have the power to tear down evil traditions and institutions? Was there a faith stronger than culture? A faith that could burn through racial, cultural, economic and social barriers?

I remember as if it were yesterday how I started searching the Scriptures for principles, for a strategy I could follow. God’s answer came one day as I read the story of the woman at the well in John 4.

First, I noticed how Jesus approached the woman. He came to her on her territory. He chose to go through Samaria. Jews travelling from Judea to Galilee usually crossed over the Jordan river and went around Samaria because of their prejudice. A Jew meeting a Samaritan on the road would cross to the other side to keep even the shadow of the Samaritan from touching him. Jesus deliberately went through Samaria for one reason – He wanted to personally touch the lives of the people there.’

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The other two points that John mentions above, that i won’t go into detail in are:

[2] Jesus’ love, His bodily presence in a community, could reconcile people.

[3] He let her felt need determine the starting point of the conversation. 

i want to jump a whole lot of chapters forward in the book to share the next passage which resonates so strongly on my heart – the idea of incarnation, or as it is described in the book, Relocation. Living among the people you are going to be ministering to. tbV and i saw in Philly how valuable that can be in terms of relationship-building and even having any kind of understanding as to what they face on a day to day basis. It is encouraging to see many more followers of Jesus starting to take this more seriously and see that choosing where we live can play a huge part in the reconciliation and healing our country so desperately needs:

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‘As God’s agents on earth, we are responsible to live out this special concern for the poor. You cannot be and you ought not to be in the president’s administration unless you are committed to the president’s philosophy. In the same way you cannot effectively carry out god’s program unless you have the mind of Christ. To have the mind of Christ is to be especially concerned with the poor. It is to have a special compassion for the disenfranchised, for the aching in our society. And it is to act on that concern.

Whether we take the gospel to the poor, then, is not an incidental side issue: it is a revealing test of the church’s faithfulness to Christ’s mission.

How then shall we proclaim Good News to the poor? Once again Jesus is our model. “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory , glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” [John 1.14] Jesus relocated. He didn’t commute to earth one day a week and shoot back up to heaven. He left His throne and became one of us so that we might see the life of God revealed in Him. 

Paul says that we are to have this same attitude Jesus expressed when He humbled Himself: “Have his attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” [Phil 2.5-8]

Jesus was equal with God, yet He gave that up and took on the form of a servant. He took on the likeness of man. He came and lived among us. He was called Immanuel – “God with us.” The incarnation is the ultimate relocation.

Not only is the incarnation relocation: relocation is also incarnation. That is, not only did God relocate among us by taking the form of a man, but when a fellowship of believers relocates into a community, Christ incarnate invades that community. Christ, as His Body, as His church, comes to dwell there.

Relocating among the poor flies in the face of the materialism of Middle America. To consider relocating, then, forces us to confront our own values. Have we accepted the world’s values of upward mobility? Or have we accepted God’s values as demonstrated in the life of Jesus? That’s the issue.

As I speak around the country, some people find my words on relocation hard to accept. They ask, “Do all have to relocate?”

I answer, “Only those who are called have to relocate.” Then I add, “But if you’re asking the question too angrily, then you may be called. If you are uneasy about it, God may be calling you.”

If you resist the suggestion to relocate, you need to ask, “Why don’t I want to go and live among the poor and wretched of the earth?” Ask yourself the question several times. Your answer will be the reason you ought to go. 

If you have children, you may answer, “The kids in that neighbourhood don’t get a good education.” Then that’s why you need to go. you’ve just discovered a need! In moving to the neighbourhood, their need would become your need. The families in that community need others to feel that need with them, to make it their very own, to do something to improve the quality of education.

You might start a tutoring program, a preschool, a summer enrichment program, or even an elementary school. Whatever method you choose will grow out of relocating.

Now I’m not asking you to sacrifice your children. God gave us our children. They need a good education. If they can’t get one in the public schools, find another option. On the other hand, don’t overlook the educational advantages of sending your child to the neighbourhood school. Their increased understanding of the needs of the culture of the neighbourhood and the friendships they form may more than offset anything they give up academically.

Maybe you don’t want to move into the neighbourhood because of crime. Then that’s why you need to go. You’ve just found another need! Go identify with the people, help them understand the reasons behind the crime. Then work with them to solve the problem. Once you’ve relocated, once you’ve become one of them, you’re in a position to do that. People in an ethnic neighbourhood may hate the police. Refuse to share their hate, however justified: instead, commit yourself to now and the future.

Organise a neighbourhood watch group. Sponsor crime prevention workshops. Build positive, cooperative relationships with the local police. Invite the chief of police or the policeman on your beat to talk with church or community groups. Through letters to the police department, affirm those who do a good job: hold accountable those who do a bad job. Involve the policemen on your beat in community affairs.

In the past, our St. Charles neighbourhood in Jackson has had one of the highest, if not the highest, crime rates in Jackson. During the past year our community’s presence and our crime prevention efforts have cut the crime rate in half in our neighbourhood.

But you ask, “Can’t a suburban Christian minister to those who are aching without becoming one of them?”

And I answer, “Why on earth do you suppose these people have a welfare mentality?” It’s because outside “experts” have come up with programs that have retarded and dehumanised them. Yes, our best attempts to reach people from the outside will patronise them. Our best attempts will psychologically and socially damage them. We must live among them. We must become one with them. Their needs must become our needs.’

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And more. This really is a great book to get hold of and read. i hope these two extracts have helped catch some sparks into flame.

Do you have a good answer for why you live where you live? 

busy reading ‘Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture’ by Michael Frost and have little bits of paper and elastoplasts stuck within the pages where i really thort it was profound or spot on (if it was my book it would be folded pages but it’s not – it belongs to the theological library of stellenbosch which has absolutely no relevance so shut up already) and this was one of those pages:

From the chapter titled ‘Following Jesus into Exile’

‘Jesus humility is commended to us insofar as it is expressed in His commitments to identification and relinquishment. First, to follow Jesus’ example means that we should share His profoundly humble identification with sinful mankind (Phil 2.7b-8a). Second, those of us who wish to emulate Jesus should be aware of His equally humble willingness to empty Himself and make Himself nothing for the sake of God’s redemptive purposes (Phil 2.6-7a). The greatest example of both is His humiliating death on the cross (Phil 2.8b). To embrace an incarnational ministry, then, involves a willingness to relinquish our own desires and interests in the service of others. Of course, our suffering doesn’t atone for the sins of others, as Christ’s did, but our self-emptying or sacrificial love will direct people to the higher and more efficacious sacrifice of Christ. The exile will be called to also suffer, relinquishing wealth, worldly power, and position. Pity, condescension, or paternalism misses the mark; only a compassion that acts is acceptable in incarnational ministry. Thus, following Jesus’ example, incarnational Christian witness will include the following four aspects:

[1] An active sharing of life, participating in the fears, frustrations, and afflictions of the host community. The prayer of the exile should be, “Lord, let Your mind be in me,” for no witness is capable of incarnationality without the mind of Jesus.

[2] An employment of the language and thought forms of those with whom we seek to share Jesus. After all, He used common speech and stories: salt, light, fruit, birds, and the like. He seldom used theological or religious jargon or technical terms.

[3] A preparedness to go to the people, not expecting them to come to us. As Jesus came from the heavens to humanity, we enter into the “tribal” realities of human society.

[4] A confidence that the gospel can be communicated by ordinary means, through acts of servanthood, loving relationships, good deeds; in this way the exile becomes an extension of the incarnation in our time. Deeds thus create words.

So, if we take the incarnation seriously, we must take seriously the call to live incarnationally – right up close, near to those whom God desires to redeem. We cannot demonstrate Christlikeness at a distance from those whom we feel called to serve. We need to get close enough to people that our lives rub up against their lives, and that they see the incarnated Christ in our values, beliefs, and practices as expressed in cultural forms that make sense and convey impact.

When one theologian emailed me about what he believed to be my inappropriate use of the term “incarnational,” I replied by asking him what term he would use to describe the biblical, Christian impulse to draw near to those who didn’t know Christ, and for him to give me examples of how he did this in his own life and ministry. He didn’t reply. I’ve come to discover that there is a whole world of professional Christians who live primarily in the church or the Christian academy, and who determine what is the so-called true and proper terminology or the correct biblical procedure for mission, but who never seem to embody the ideas that they describe. On the other hand, there are theologically untrained people who are reading the Bible and intuiting new ways to create proximity with not-yet-Christians. These exiles often don’t feel appreciated or understood by the conventional church. They have been marginalised by their other Christian friends who thought their ideas or lifestyle too radical or too unsafe to accommodate. But they are on to something, and in their unorthodox practice reside the seeds of the survival of the Christian movement.’

i really really really like that, especially the four numbered points and the truth in this last paragraph… deeds thus create words. Mm. Yum

i have just started reading a book called ‘Exiles – Living Missionally in a Post Christian Culture’ by Michael Frost and wow i am really digging it – read it!

christians like to throw around the phrase ‘Jesus was fully man and fully God’ and that has never made sense to me – i understand that a carrot can be fully a vegetable and fully a food because both things are the same and one is actually a subcategory of the other (um if you’re not sure which one is which then this blog probly isn’t for you – go find something with pictures you can ‘ooh aah’ at) – but being fully God contradicts being fully man and vice versa. And so it has never sat well with me and it is also something that can’t – i don’t think – be backed up by scripture – it’s just one of those things that someone heard once from someone else and so it’s true and so we hold to its being true but we don’t really know why and we don’t really question

[and just to fully p.s. myself i don’t think it really matters either way – feels like one of those christian arguments people might fight duels to the death over like predestination and how the end times are going to play out which don’t really have any effect on how we live now so it doesn’t really matter but is an interesting thort to get your head round all the same]

anyways i really like how this book describes the whole concept. picture a picture (ooh, come back picture bloggists, this is for you after all) of a circle with Jesus in it and fully human and fully divine in it – that seems to be how the majority of people view this thing. then, the picture that i ascribe more to [which, yes, really doesn’t matter] is a picture of two circles – one with Jesus as human, one with Jesus as Divine – which overlap each other in the middle – so some bits of Jesus that were simply Jesus as Divine and some bits of Jesus that were Jesus as human and then this middle section which overlaps where Jesus is shown to be a bit of both

Michael Frost talks about how the place of incarnation (divine becoming human, so the overlap) is a dangerous place:

‘Probably the most dangerous aspect of the Christ story is the very nature of the incarnation itself. Jesus models that it is possible to be both God and human at the same time. This is for us, certainly, the most terrifying thought. Throughout history the church has retreated into deifying Jesus so thoroughly that the human Christ can’t be seen [actually maybe this is where this line of thinking actually does make a difference – brett]. If indeed Jesus is too human (or barely human at all) He calls from me a worrying response. He challenges my humanness and demands more from me than I can imagine offering. An overly deified Christ reduces my perceived response. To this otherworldly, superspiritual Jesus I simply have to offer my devotion, my worship, my adoration. By the grubby, human, peasant Jesus I am challenged that maybe it is possible to be human and Godlike after all. Nowhere in Scripture is this more disturbingly presented than in Jesus’ return to His hometown after the beginning of His messianic ministry. There, Jesus began teaching in the synagogue and received what to me has always seemed a deeply shocking response. The locals, His old boyhood friends and neighbours, are offended and say,

“Where did this man get the wisdom and these miraculous powers? Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” [Matthew 13.54b-56]

How distressing to us that Jesus could be the Messiah, the human incarnation of God, second person of the Trinity for thirty years and no one at home noticed! No one in Nazareth smiles knowingly and says, “I always suspected there was something strange about that kid.” Instead they wonder where he got all this messianic stuff. Somehow Jesus could be fully God and blend into Galilean society – hardly the most pious or sophisticated culture – without creating a ripple. This perspective on the incarnation bothers us because it dangerously invites us to follow Christ in all his ordinariness as well as His righteousness. The incarnation demands that we neither retreat into a holier-than-thou Christian ghetto nor give ourselves over to the values of secular culture. And let’s be honest: this is the most dangerous place of all. It is easier to imagine and embrace a closed fundamentalism that retreats into a Christ-against-culture mindset. We can picture Jesus there, all holy and pure, unsullied by the world around Him. We can also understand the capitulation to our host culture that some christians make. It would be easy to join those christians who abandon themselves to materialism, greed, and selfishness.

When responding as exiles in a post-Christian world, we are used to seeing some respond with despair and grief (the fundamentalists) and others with assimilation to the dominant values. What is much more disturbing to us is the example of a God who does neither, but instead answers with a fresh, imaginative, theological response. Jesus neither slides into compromise and sinfulness, nor fulfils our expectations of the holier-than-thou guru. The fact that both Matthew and Mark include this episode in their biographies of Jesus is remarkable. The story almost completely undermines claims about the divinity of Jesus. It is included because it is a dangerous memory for followers of Christ. We are called, like Christ, to be godly, but we are expected to live it out fully in the midst of others. There is no more dangerous path than the one trodden by Jesus.’

wow. wow. wow.

to sum up my feelings on the circle overlap – for me the fact that Jesus had to eat and drink and go to the toilet makes Him human and not God (God doesn’t have to do that) and the fact that He performed miracles and was resurrected makes Him God and not human (humans can’t do that) but the fact that He did the miraculous stuff while doing the every day stuff while limited to a human body makes Him both God and human with bits of overlap. semantics perhaps but perhaps also not – he showed that it is possible to live that life which is the thing that needs to hit me squarely . between the eyes, and does.

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