Christian faith stands or falls on truth of incarnation, theologian insists

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WACO—A small and timid doctrine of Christ represents the deepest and most serious problem facing the practice of ministry today, Scottish theologian Andrew Purves said at Baylor University’s Truett Theological Seminary.

“Who is the incarnate Savior of the world?” Purves asked as he delivered the Wilson-Addis Endowed Lecture, held in conjunction with the Winter Pastors’ School at Truett Seminary.

“In this question, we are trying more faithfully to understand who God is—(the one) who has revealed himself to us, encountered us and brought us into relationship with himself precisely in, through and as this man, Jesus of Nazareth.”

How God became flesh

The question of how God became flesh in Jesus, revealing himself to humanity, is central to Christianity, said Purves, a professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

“The church and the Christian faith stand or fall on the reality and truth of the incarnation. The human baby of Bethlehem is God,” he said. “The incarnation is the event in which faith associates the eternal God with contingent history, and attributes saving significance to it.”

Incarnation involves miracle and mystery that demands a worshipful response, he insisted, saying: “We do our Christology on our knees. … Revelation is received in faith, and the mode of reception is gratitude and wonder.”

Filled with amazement

Confronted by the miracle of God in Jesus, he said, “We find ourselves like little children practicing the piety of becoming bug-eyed, for we are filled with amazement.”

God wants to be known by humanity, but it is knowledge involving the mystery of Christ as fully divine and fully human.

“Christ, clothed with his humanity, proclaims his message in word, life and deed,” Purves said. “Christ is in his humanity not only the author and agent of our salvation, but is in himself in our flesh the source and substance of it. … Christ himself is the atonement.”

Mystery of atonement

The mystery of atonement begins with the miraculous conception and birth of Jesus and is crowned by resurrection and ascension, he said.

“As at the birth the Son is veiled in flesh, at the resurrection the Son is unveiled, bodily resurrected out of human sin and death to the glory of his perfect union,” he said.

The virgin birth underscores the truth of redemption and salvation as entirely at God’s initiative, he emphasized.


“Incarnation was the entry of eternity into time, grounded in God alone. … Out of Mary, a sinner, comes the sinless man, who bears upon himself the sin of the whole world,” Purves said.

“And as Mary is sanctified by her son, so too, we are given to share in his holiness through union with Christ. Thus the redeeming grace is revealed. God takes the initiative to do what for us is impossible to do, as we are given to share in the life of Christ and thereby in the new creation, which he inaugurates.”


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