Eckhard Schnabel:

Some interpret Paul’s principle of “identification” as indicative of “incarnational mission.” The description of missionary identification with the term incarnation is not helpful–not because it might detract from Jesus’ “becoming flesh” (Lat. incarnatio) when he, the messianic Son of Man and Son of God, become a human being, but because despite all efforts of identification, an American missionary will rarely learn to speak Japanese without an accent, a black Nigerian missionary will never look like a Chinese, an English missionary from a privileged background will probably never fully understand the angst of an Argentinean campesino. (Paul the Missionary, 336)

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11 thoughts on “We Won’t Be Fully Incarnational”

  1. Miguel says:

    Saying the term incarnation is not helpful sounds like a silencing subjective opinion verses a dialogue creating discussion. No one speaking of being incarnational says that we can ever become fully so. But discussing how we may more enflesh the logos (message/gospel) is certainly helpful.

  2. Jim Wright says:

    Ummm… So if we can’t do it perfectly, then we should not be engaged?

    What ever happened to the multi-gifted Body of Christ, with every part joined together and participating to then build itself up through love (as we prefer each other over our own gifts and perspectives) into a mature image (i.e., incarnation) of Him? Eph. 4

    Just because I, or someone else, doesn’t fully reflect Him in the context where I’m sent (and so help us God regarding anyone who thinks he or she does), does that mean I am not to be joined together with others in nonetheless collectively being part of His expression here on earth?

  3. I wrote a post on this topic last year, and I think it is relevant to DeYoung’s point in this quote. I interact with Michael Horton, J. Todd Billings, and others on the question of using the doctrine of the incarnation as an analogy for ministry.

    http://missioconfessio.wordpress.com/2013/08/17/no-incarnational-analogy-a-response-to-kevin-deyoung/

  4. Kevin DeYoung says:

    Nothing in Schnabel’s quote suggests we should not be “engaged” or try to identify with those we live among and wish to reach. His point is that “incarnational” is not a helpful word to describe these efforts.

  5. TJ says:

    I think saying that incarnational is an unhelpful term because we’re incapable of doing it perfectly is like saying that love is an unhelpful term because we’re incapable of truly loving people as Jesus has.

  6. Kevin, I think I know what Schnabel is saying. However, to appeal to John Frame, I think there is a valid biblical perspective which warrants the Incarnation to be used analogically when discussing mission (John 17; Rom 10). I don’t think it is the most dominant perspective (“incarnational overload”), but it certainly is absent from Scripture.

  7. Miguel says:

    Theologian Andrew Walls writes, “Incarnation is translation. When God in Christ became man, Divinity was translated into humanity, as though humanity were a receptor language.” ~ http://theresurgence.com/2013/08/18/jesus-moves-into-the-neighborhood-through-bible-translation

  8. Nancye-Ruth Haworth says:

    I have recently come across “The Story” written by Kevin DeYoung.
    I would love to purchase about 20 of these goodnewstracts. Let me know how and where I can do this. Much appreciated Nancye-Ruth

  9. Kevin DeYoung says:

    Nancye-Ruth, I will try to get someone from Crossway to contact you about the tracts. Thanks.

  10. Daryl Little says:

    I agree with the author on this one. There is a world of difference, I think, in being an ambassador for Christ and “being Christ” for someone.
    We are to point to Christ, not be Him.

    Likewise, I’ve never liked the line “You are the only Jesus most people will ever see.” I think it equally sets us up for failure by teaching people to point to themselves rather than to Christ.

    We are flesh. We don’t need to become flesh.

    It reminds me of how, as kids, we looked at adults who tried to be kids as compared to those who simply were what they were. The former we mocked, the latter we had more respect for simply because they weren’t trying to be what they weren’t.

    I am not what people need. Christ is.

  11. Paul Janssen says:

    Surely some of Schnabel’s point is that, though the Westerner will never become completely, say, an Eastern African, In Christ God became fully human. There is at least a sliver of the problem with using “incarnational” for human action in analogy with divine action.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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