A soft breeze stirs and all my thoughts are blown Far out to sea and lost. Yet I know well The bloodless word will battle for its own Invisibly in brain and nerve and cell. The generations tell Their personal tale: the One has far to go Past the mirages and the murdering snow.
The incarnation offers a transcendent turn to a new kind of humanism (centered in agape love) as articulated by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who faced the fragmentation, disintegration of self and society in the nihilism (sinister cynicism) of Nazi Germany in the early twentieth century. Relativism definitely led to will to power leadership and truth was subverted by propaganda.
To be realistic, to live authentically in the world and before God, is to live as if the whole of reality has already been drawn up into and held together in Christ.... [It is] a fundamental hermeneutical claim to participate realistically and responsibly in the reconciliation of humanity in Christ. (Bonhoeffer, DBWE, 6: 55, 223)
There is no room for dualism in incarnational thinking/hermeneutic. He came to heal and unify humanity, not to fragment, not to separate faith and reason, body and spirit, natural and supernatural. Incarnation affirms and elevates the whole human, brings heaven and earth together. Jens Zimmermann, a Bonhoeffer specialist, writes (2012a, p. 275): “Bonhoeffer is a Christian humanist because he regards full humanity as the ultimate goal of God’s work in Christ.” Zimmermann has a strong scholarly track record of recovering the language of Christian humanism from its earliest days to the current era (see especially Humanism and Religion: a call for the renewal of western culture. 2012b) Bonhhoeffer’s thought is at the heart of his discourse on humanism.
There is a second aspect of incarnation, beyond Jesus’ particular presence on earth; it is God the Son’s presence in his church today. The church community offers an historical and cultural presence, performance and embodiment of God’s goodness, socially locating divine goodness in a human community and narrative. Christoph Schwöbel (1992, p. 76) notes that divine goodness, a communion of love in itself, “finds its social form in the community of believers as the reconstituted form of life of created and redeemed sociality.” Deceased Cambridge theologian and one of my PhD examiners, D.W. Hardy (2001, p. 75) underlines that the task of the church is to face into “the irreducible density of the goodness that is God in human society.” It is to communicate and mediate, finally to incarnate, this goodness in society. Goodness is empowered in the human theatre and human relationships; it comes as prophetic speech in many forms.
The incarnation, which is all about presence, answers some of the deep issues and problems in our great cultural transition from early to late modernity: affirming speech, the body/the physical, and the self/agency. Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter formulates an intriguing and constructive theology of faithful presence for the contemporary witness of the church (J.D. Hunter, 2010, pp. 238-54.) God uses this language to communicate to humans within the immanent frame that he identifies with them: his message is the offer of life marked by goodness, peace, truth, beauty, joy, fruitfulness—the shalom of an enriched flourishing. Shalom offers something to society at large (Ibid. p. 228) “a vision of order and harmony, fruitfulness and abundance, wholeness, beauty, joy and well-being.” In this sense, “Christians are to live toward the well-being of others, not just to those in the community of faith, but to all” (Ibid, p. 230). The shalom of God is the presence of God (Ephesians 2:14). Incarnation means that Christians are mandated with bringing this faithful presence to their circle of influence. It is sacrificial agape: