Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Incarnational Tradition and Covenant Path Marking

This is the last in our series of posts on legalism, which we have called covenant path marking because those who practice these acts see them as faithful embodiments of the covenant.

The Incarnational tradition, more accurately the sacramental tradition, is Foster’s weakest chapter, partly I’m guessing because he is Quaker. At any rate, he chooses Susanna Wesley, examines briefly divine aesthetics, and then looks at Dag Hammarskjold. As for its defining parts, Foster sees it as concerned with God as manifest through material means and that the material mediates the divine. There is a religious dimension and an arena for the everyday life.


[By way of critique: nothing substantial on the Lord’s Supper; nothing on Eastern Orthodox theology of icons, which is where this is most clearly elucidated; nothing on Roman Catholic churches and the like. Nothing on Alexander Schmemann’s For the Life of the World.]

The strengths: God is with us, it roots everyday life, gives meaning to work, corrects Gnosticism, beckons us Godward, the body becomes important, and deepens our ecological sensitivities. The potential perils include idolatry and the sense of managing the divine through the material.


When does the Incarnational tradition become covenant path marking: whenever specific embodiments of the faith — say the Lord’s Supper, baptism, candles, crosses — are identified with what they are intended to reveal or manifest or make present. Whenever we judge our own spirituality on the basis of whether or not we have “done one of these things” or whenever we judge others on that basis.

Covenant path marking is here to stay because of human nature. The mystery of the Christian life is that it is about union with God, communion with others, for the good of the world — and any means or any material embodiment or anything else that is designed to lead us to that can never be as important as loving God, loving others, or living in the Spirit. We need to keep in mind that we have a tendency to confuse the ring with the beloved.


We also need to keep in mind that what we value will become a covenant path marker, revealing to us that covenant path markers are good but not the end, not the goal toward which we strive.

Finally, we need to realize that everyone of us is susceptible to this problem, so let us quit thinking that others have the problem with legalism.

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posted June 16, 2005 at 10:05 am

this has been a very thoughtful series. Thank you for taking the time to post it.Your last paragraph sums it up for me – I identify ‘legalism’ with some other group of people, never my own tribe, or myself. When you call it covenant path marking, and ellucidate it so carefully, it’s much hard to escape some critical self-reflection.Thank you.

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john alan turner

posted June 16, 2005 at 11:42 am

I grew up in the Church of Christ. For us issues like baptism and weekly communion weren’t just used to judge a person’s spirituality but their salvation. What’s strange is that I now have the opposite reaction to legalism. I tend to identify it only with my tribe (Church of Christ) and find myself genuinely surprised to find legalism elsewhere. It turns out that not only did we think we were the only ones going to heaven — we thought we were the only ones who thought we were the only ones going to heaven.

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John Frye

posted June 16, 2005 at 12:22 pm

Scot, I, too, thank for this thought-provoking series. What’s next?It’s so much more fun pointing out other people’s legalism, isn’t it?

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posted June 16, 2005 at 3:55 pm

I agree, great series of posts.My interests now would be in hearing your assessment of the various path markers for the seven traditions.I understand your premise that each of these path markers potentially possesses some value to us all; but my question is whether or not several of these path markers are valid at all.In other words, should we all (from differing traditions) accept the path markers of each tradition as valid, or does the possibility exist that some (if not most) of these path markers are unfounded/unscriptural (however one like to take it) in the first place?If they’re valid, shouldn’t we all incorporate some form of them into our differing traditions?If they’re invalid, shouldn’t we at last dismiss the entertaining of them as pointless considerations?Does Foster provide any critique of the various path markers he categorizes, or does he merely assume the validity of each?

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Scot McKnight

posted June 17, 2005 at 5:13 am

Glenn,Starting to answer your question on my next blog. Thanks.

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posted October 27, 2005 at 5:24 pm

how would leonardo da vinci fall under the incarnational tradition?

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