The Purpose of the Incarnation

Anselm's question, Cur Deus Homo?, Why did God become man?, will be discussed more fully in chapter 6 on salvation. For the primary purpose of the Incarnation, according to the Christian creeds, was 'for us and for our salvation'. However, philosophically minded theologians have given some thought to the wider implications of that 'for us'. One way of doing so is to ask, as Austin Farrer did, whether Christ would have come even if the human race had never sinned. Farrer's answer was a categorical yes:

Christ would still have come to transform human hope, and to bring men into a more privileged association with their Creator than they could otherwise enjoy. For it is by the descent of God into man that the life of God takes on a form with which we have a direct sympathy and personal union.40

(Farrer is here siding with the Franciscans against the Dominicans in a well-known medieval dispute.) Swinburne expresses some doubt as to whether there are strong arguments allowing us 'to say what God would have done under certain unrealized circumstances', but he does consider a number of reasons, over and above the soteriological ones, why God might well become incarnate. Incarnation would manifest divine solidarity with God's creatures; it would demonstrate the dignity of human nature; it would reveal the nature and extent of God's love for his personal creatures; it would exemplify an ideal human life; and it would provide uniquely authoritative teaching. A sixth reason, based on God's willingness to subject himself to suffering and evil, spells out the themes of solidarity and love, and will, of course, play an important role in soteriology, as we shall see in chapter 6.

I have endeavoured to make similar points myself by asking what would be lost from Christian faith if incarnational Christology were abandoned in the way suggested by the authors of The Myth of God Incarnate. In summary, the elements that would be lost include experience of God's presence and love in person; revelation of the trinitarian implications of the divine love as it is in itself in the inner life of God, experience in prayer and sacrament of Christ as living Lord, recognition of Christ's cross as God's cross in our world and the eschatological hope of Christ as the human face of God with whom we are to be united for all eternity.

All these factors are, of course, moral and religious considerations rather than philosophical ones, but they are pertinent to philosophical theology, insofar as they reinforce the case for taking incarnational Christology seriously. They contribute to spelling out the inner rationale of the doctrine of the Incarnation and provide reasons, as Swinburne puts it, for the theist to expect an incarnation.43 The relevance of such a notion vis-a-vis assessment of evidence for the Incarnation will be discussed in the next section.

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