Augustine and The Scandal of Embodied Humanity

augustineI’ve been pondering a couple conversations I had with neo-Reformed friends this past week about the incarnation that brought to mind numerous similar conversations I’ve had with others as well. Things typically go well concerning the humanity as well as the divinity of Jesus until at some point I say, “And Jesus not only came as a human in the past tense, Jesus is still an embodied human even now.”

A statement like this always seems to disturb quite a few folks. One of my friends this past week replied, “But Jesus was resurrected … he ascended … he was re-instated as the second person of the Trinity, right?”

“Yes,” I said. “Resurrected as the Human One, ascended as the Human One, and included in the eternal divine fellowship of Father, Son, and Spirit … as the Human One. Is not the incarnation, and thus the humanity as well as divinity of Jesus; an ongoing, permanent reality? And necessary for historic orthodoxy no less?”

He only answered with a weak, “Well … I suppose it is.”

Now, let’s put the ‘re-instated as the second person of the Trinity’ comment aside (I’m not sure he realized just how problematic his statement here really was). And please keep in mind I’m not simply picking on my friend with this; but my grave concern here is something of a theological undercurrent I have seen from a great deal of conservative Evangelicals, neo-Reformed and otherwise.

That is – there is a (rather well documented) tendency to not only over-emphasize the divinity of Jesus in relation to his humanity but to actually wince when it comes his (continued and ongoing) humanity. The incarnation it seems to them is a scandal … a theological box to be checked off to fulfill all ‘righteousness’ so to speak … but in the end a scandal to be muted.

For those neo-Reformed, or others, who like to appeal to Augustine as their authority (or appeal to those who appeal to Augustine even though you’ve never really read Augustine yourself) consider these two quotes:

The first, on the incarnation…

God has “established and founded this faith, that man might find a way to man’s God through God made man. For this is ‘the Mediator between God and man: the man Christ Jesus’. For it is as man that He is the Mediator and the Way. If there is a way between one who strives and that towards which he strives, there is hope of his reaching his goal; but if there is no way, or if he is ignorant of it, how does it help him to know what the goal is? The only way that is wholly defended against all error is when one and the same person is at once God and man: God our goal, man our way.” (City of God, 11.2)

And the second, where we see that Augustine is not against the flesh…

The incarnation “showed that it is sin which is evil, and not the substance or nature of flesh … He showed also that death itself, though it is the penalty of sin – a penalty which He paid for us without sin – is not something that we are to avoid by sinful means. Rather, if need be, we should suffer death in the name of righteousness. For He was able to redeem us from sin by His own death, because He died, but He died for no sin of His own.” (City of God 10.24)

There is no muting of the incarnated and embodied humanity of Jesus or humanity in general for Augustine here. Let us then not mute the implications of the incarnation and humanity of Jesus, our liberating King. Our faith is unintelligible apart from incarnation (and Trinity).

Tell me: Why do so many run from embodied humanity – Jesus’ or ours?