Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
At this time of year, we celebrate the incarnation: “the act whereby the eternal Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, without ceasing to be what he is, God the Son, took into union with himself what he before that act did not possess, a human nature, ‘and so [He] was and continues to be God and man in two distinct natures and one person, forever.’”
Many of have been taught about the incarnation through reading the historical accounts in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. And there are other biblical texts that also address the incarnation, e.g.. John 1:1, 14; Romans 1:3; 8:3; Galatians 4:4; 1 John 4:2 , along with some early Christological hymns such as Philippians 2:6-11; Colossians 1:15-20; 1 Timothy 3:16; 1 Peter 3:18-22; and Hebrews 1:2b-4. Added to this are the recollections of the Christmas story being reenacted as part of the annual church children’s Christmas program. And added to this are the hymns and choruses associated with the truths we celebrate at Christmas, including the heart of Christmas: the incarnation.
I remember well when many of these teachings of the person and work of Christ crystallized for me in the fall of my first semester at TEDS. One of my first courses was God, Man and Christ. It was an incredible learning and worshipful experience. We would begin each class with singing and prayer, and then the professor would begin the lecture. It wedded together theology and doxology, biblical truth and worship.
At the conclusion of the semester, my wife and I traveled home to visit family for the Christmas holidays. It was a lengthy trip, so we listened to Christmas music. As I was driving, Charles Wesley’s classic Hark the Herald Angels Sing came on the radio. Having learned this song as a child, I sang along. Now on the other side of this course at TEDS, I sang with a new, different and deeper meaning. In verse 1, the expression “God and sinners reconciled” had new significance. When we got to verse 2 and I sang the phrase “veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail the incarnate Deity” I was overcome with the importance and reality of the incarnation and I wept.
Since that course, and many others, and since that experience, and many others, I have been drawn to know God in all his fullness. Although I confess sometimes it can be knowing for the sake of knowledge, in my more sanctified moments it is theological knowledge for the sake of knowing God for the purpose of the worship of God.
Any understanding of the incarnation begins with the text of Scripture, as noted above. Then those texts must be understood within the canon of the Scriptures, so that there is an engagement with the theology of the texts of Scripture, a theological theology, which begins in God and ends with God. Furthermore, we consider how the church has understood these issues and articulated them throughout the history of the church.
This methodological format has been followed in the recent book written by Steve Wellum, God the Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of Christ. In light of the remembrance of Christ’s incarnation, which we remember and celebrate at Christmas, Steve highlighted 10 Things You Should Know about the Incarnation. He has focused on texts of Scripture summarized in the theological summaries. I include only the summary statements, so I encourage you to read the whole essay as an aid to the worship of God in all his fullness, particularly as we focus on the incarnation.
Steve will be joining us for our EFCA Theology Conference. He is one of a line-up of excellent speakers we have to address key biblical, theological, historical and pastoral issues related to the Reformation, as we celebrate the 500th anniversary Luther’s posting of his 95 theses, along with its legacy in in the EFCA.
You can register here. Plan to join us!
Warren Anderson: Greg, In Christian bioethics we are rightfully concerned about the abortion issue. A few years ago someone posed this question to shed light on the matter of when life begins. “When did Jesus become a zygote (a fertilized egg)? Of course the answer is, at the instant of conception. That is when He became God Incarnate. I was discussing this with Don Carson a year ago. His first comment was that 23 chromosomes from Mary united somehow with 23 chromosomes supplied by the Holy Spirit. And that was the beginning of God in flesh. It follows just as logically that each of us begins life at conception. All the genetic material is there, and God knows us then–and before (Ps. 139).
Greg Strand: I wholeheartedly concur, Warren. Thank you for continuing to read and comment.