both and …

December 22, 2007

incarnation.jpgTheology both helps faith and hinders faith, in about equal measures.  At its best, as Karl Barth once famously pointed out, it opens up new vistas of faith, allowing us to see the vast landscape of the Christian faith with the clarity of a Tuscan landscape on a sunlit day.  It brings a new intellectual depth to our faith, and helps us forge connections with other areas of life and thought.  At its worst, however, it conveys the deeply misleading idea that Christianity is simply about ideas, and that spiritual growth is measured in the accumulation of those ideas.

This misunderstanding is challenged to its very roots by one aspect of the Gospel narratives — the encounters of Jesus with individuals.  All four Gospels tell us of the encounters of Jesus, and the dramatic transformation this brought to the lives of tired, confused, rejected and wounded people.  Those who were rejected found acceptance; those who were wounded, healing; those who were broken were restored to wholeness …

Such doctrines [as ‘justification by faith’ and ‘salvation by grace’] risk becoming abstract ideas; in the ministry of Christ, however, they are living realities, which lead to changed lives.  Indeed, we might say that, where there is no transformation of life, Christ has not really been encountered at all.  He has only been seen from a distance.

Alister McGrath, Incarnation

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