Beliefnet
Mark D. Roberts

This week I’ve been speaking at the West Coast Presbyterian Pastors Conference at Mt. Hermon, California, in the verdant mountains above Santa Cruz. That’s rather ironic, given the fact that I am no longer a parish pastor and no longer living on the West Coast. My involvement at this conference also helps to explain why my blogging has been a bit irregular this week.)
My theme for the week is “Refreshment for Muck-Sucking Pastors.” Yes, I realize this title needs some explanation. Perhaps I’ll provide that later on. For now, however, I want to comment on something said by the other main speaker at the conference.
james jim edwards whitworthI’ve been teamed up with Dr. James Edwards, the Bruner-Welch Professor of Theology at Whitworth University in Washington. Jim Edwards has a wide range of expertise, especially New Testament studies. At the conference he’s been doing a series of word studies on Greek words such as episkiazo (to overshadow), schisma (tear, schism), and proserchomai (to approach). Jim is a fine scholar and an engaging speaker. It’s been a privilege to join him as a speaker and to sit at his feet.
Jim began his teaching with one of those broad questions that tease the mind: What is the most central doctrine of Christianity? Which doctrine makes Christianity truly Christian? Immediately my mind began cycling through basic Christian beliefs: the existence of God, the Trinity, the love of God, the goodness of God, the grace of God, salvation through the cross, etc. Before Jim answered his question, I had settled on the one doctrine that, it seemed to me, is the hub of the wheel of Christian theology.
When Jim answered his question, I felt like an elementary school kid who got the right answer on the daily puzzler. His take on the most central doctrine was mine as well. That doesn’t mean we’re right, of course, but it does raise the likelihood that our answer has merit.
What do Jim Edwards and I think is the most essential or central of all Christian doctrines? The incarnation of the Word of God. The extraordinary fact that the God of the Universe, the God who is spirit, became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. As the Gospel of John celebrates, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Why is this doctrine so central to Christianity? Well, for one thing, as Jim noted, it is that which sets Christianity apart from other religions. To my knowledge, none of the major religions of the world believes that God became a human being. Many of them, like Islam, for example, find the notion of the incarnation to be blasphemy. Moreover, within Christian theology, the incarnation accounts for the saving efficacy of the cross and resurrection. Salvation comes through Jesus Christ because he is both God and human. The incarnation doesn’t save us, but it makes salvation possible.
The incarnation also is the center of the Christian view of divine revelation. Though we believe God has revealed himself in creation, in Scripture, in community, and in our hearts, the paramount self-revelation of God is Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. Christians believe that Jesus reveals, more fully and perfectly than anything else in all the universe, the character of God: his righteousness and justice, his grace and mercy, his kindness and love.
What do you think about this? Agree? Why? Disagree? Why?

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus