The Rev Kevin Thew Forrester, Bishop-elect of the Diocese of Northern Michigan, has released this statement in reference to questions about his views on Christology. Cafe readers have been discussing those views here.
Centrality of the Incarnation
Kevin Thew Forrester
There is a pivotal theological assumption to all of my life and theology, which is quite clear to the diocesan community of Northern Michigan.
My theological formation is deeply rooted in the theology/Christology/anthropology of Karl Rahner. Rahner affirms that “Christology is the end and beginning of anthropology.” The pivotal assumption on my part is the centrality of the Incarnation – the God-man, Jesus Christ. Here, my Incarnation theology is more in the tradition of the Wisdom literature of the Scriptures, the Church Fathers and the Orthodox tradition (in contrast to that of Anselm). The Incarnation is the very reason for creation, so that God might graciously share the Divine life with the “other”.
The Incarnation reveals the true nature of God as well as the true nature of humanity. I love the ability of the Fathers to speak clearly about the sanctifying and saving nature of the Incarnation, specifically as it relates to the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. Kilian McDonnell, in his marvelous book, The Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan: The Trinitarian and Cosmic Order of Salvation, explores this in some detail, drawing upon the groundbreaking research of Gabriele Winkler. (A fine article by Winker is “The Earliest forms of Ascetism,” in The Continuing Quest for God: Monastic Spirituality in Tradition and Transition.) In the baptism at the Jordan, the Incarnate One is revealed according to many of the Church Fathers as “Spirit-filled and as Only begotten (First-born) of the Father” (Winkler). Gregory of Nazianzus says that when Jesus is baptized by John, Jesus “sanctifies the Jordan.”
What the Incarnate One touches, he sanctifies and saves. Again, Gregory of Nazianzus declares that “Jesus comes up out of the water and he makes the cosmos, which he carries, to ascend [out of the water] with him.” Here we come to part of the significance of Rahner’s statement that Christology is the end of anthropology. But Gregory has carried it further. The Incarnation has the power to sanctify all the cosmos. The Father, Jacob of Serugh, speaks poetically of Jesus consecrating all waters: “The entire nature of the waters perceived that you had visited them – seas, deeps, rivers, springs and pools all thronged together to receive the blessing from your footsteps.”
As I understand it, the Incarnation is the living font from which flows the gracious capacity for our own transfiguration in Christ. Fallen and blinded by sin (I would continue to affirm that the problematic doctrine of “original sin” retains significance) the sanctifying touch of Christ is a soteriological embrace as well as a divinizing one. For me, the Wisdom tradition of the Scriptures, the Church Fathers and their theological lineage embody a theology of Incarnation with profound meaning for us today.