Part three of The Divine Embrace is entitled “The Challenge: Returning Spirituality to the Divine Embrace,” which is an excellent encapsulation of Webber’s point: we don’t need to find anything new, we simply need to recapture the church’s original understanding of spirituality, rooted in God’s Story, in God’s Divine Embrace of us and the rest of creation. Crucial to this understanding is the concept of the Incarnation, of God fully embracing humanity. This is a 180-degree turn from much of the evangelical church today. Webber states
… Christian spirituality is not an escape from this world, rather it is the discovery and the experience of spiritual purpose in this world.
This morning I was reading a magazine devoted to church planting issues, and as is typical, the issue of being missional was addressed. As I read the discussion, it occurred to me that the reason that the issue of missional is such a hot topic today is that much of the evangelical and emerging church does not have a clear understanding of God’s story. If our lives are merely focused on “getting saved,” getting others saved, and getting to Heaven, we’re missing the big picture. This is something that the liturgical, confessional traditions have not forgotten. As Richard commented the other day, the liturgy is “the enactment of the story of God, of creation, incarnation, and re-creation, and of the reality of God’s kingdom, on Earth as it is in Heaven.” This is also what we, the Church, are all about.
Spirituality, or our mission, is to reenact God’s story of creation, incarnation and re-creation. This is “what the Father’s doing” as it’s put in the gospel of John; it is rooted firmly in our understanding of God’s incarnational embrace of us. This is God’s story.
The Bible presents 3 clear types or images that demonstrate God’s story:
- creation & re-creation: Jesus makes all things new
- 1st Adam & 2nd Adam: Jesus, God incarnate, did what we could not do
- exodus event & the Christ event: “The ultimate restoration of the whole world is pictured in the Exodus event.”
God’s incarnational embrace recapitulates the human condition; He is re-creating us, and will re-create his creation. He is making all things new.
As we can see, the central concept of the Incarnation, of God fully embracing humanity, without any implication that the physical is in any way less holy than the “spiritual,” is essential to understanding not only God’s story, but our story.
So how do we respond? In Acts 2, Peter preaches 1) repent, 2) be baptized and 3) receive the Holy Spirit. Setting aside the common transactional interpretation, both repentance and baptism reflect a rejection of an identity with the world, and an ongoing identification with the story and purposes of God. Receiving the Holy Spirit, as we know, is the seal, or guarantee, of that identity. As opposed to a typical evangelical understanding, even our repentance – our identifying with God and his purposes – is a response to God’s embrace. Baptism, then, also is not a testimony of our action, but a testimony of the Incarnation, of God’s embrace.
This, then, is our part of the story. God embraces his creation (us), and we respond daily, continuously to that embrace. In this ancient (pre-modern) understanding of the Gospel, the focus is not on us, but on God. If you have been raised with a modern Evangelical worldview, you can perhaps see that this way of thinking changes everything. As Webber states,
… the baptized life has a mission in the world. It is not life-denying or life-escaping. Rather, living the baptized life is a participation in God’s vision within the life of the world.