John Webster

The doctrine of the incarnation is an attempt at conceptual expansion of the church's confession that Jesus Christ is Lord. It is humble, delighted, repentant, and joyful repetition at the level of theological concepts, of the primary affirmation of the church: that the church's Lord, Jesus, is the incomparably comprehensive context of all creaturely being, knowing and acting, because in and as him God is with humankind in free, creative, and saving love. Theological talk of the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ is thus the orderly intellectual exposition of the divine self-exposition; it is a constructive (and therefore critical) attempt to trace the movement of the being and act of God the Son who takes flesh.

To write in such terms is to invite the reproach that confession and critical inquiry have been fatally confused. But theology would be wise not to rise too swiftly or with too much determination to protest against the reproach. Partly this is because the charge of "foolishness" is a permanent accompaniment for any authentically Christian theology which is serious about struggling against sin in the intellectual realm: the reproach identifies that the question of the regeneration of the mind can never be laid aside in the way in which theology responds to its critics. Partly, again, theology's reluctance to make a response of the kind for which its critics might hope is a function of the fact that theology is a positive science, that is, a mode of intellectual activity ordered towards a given reality of a particular character. Theology cannot establish on transcendental grounds the conditions of possibility of its object, neither to itself nor to its critics. To attempt to do so would be to adopt a perverse stance towards the object, one which would, indeed, be almost a willful rejection of that object and its claim. For that object - God incarnate, the Word made flesh - is not one more matter for the free play of intellectual judgment. Rather, the object is itself judge, wholly and originally; and perhaps the test of the authenticity of any theology of incarnation will be whether it emerges from that judgment or prefers, instead, to establish an independent colony of the mind from which to make raids on the church's confession.

This chapter proceeds in three stages. First, it gives a more extensive account of the task of a doctrine of the incarnation along the lines just indicated; second, it identifies some characteristic features of modern Christian thought which have impeded unanx-ious pursuit of that task; and third, it offers a dogmatic expansion of the Christian confession which tries to display its intellectual and spiritual architecture. We proceed, that is, from orientation to archeology and thence to exposition.

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