Rolheiser’s theory of incarnational theology is very important especially in these days where even religion is very much in vogue. Today, people get into religion for a variety of reasons. If what the crowd wants is prosperity, they can have it by simply joining a particular denomination. If the clamor is popularity or celebrity status, there are groups that cater to that specific need. Religion has become very much like a general merchandize store that caters to a wide range of needs.
It is true that if only man would turn to God, his deepest and real need (which is basically spiritual) is going to be met and it would set his life for a life long journey to wholeness. However, the end of true religion is not about meeting people’s “wants;” it’s not even about man. It’s all about God. Rolheiser’s incarnational theology deals with what God wants of us. It deals with what God or Jesus longs for His people to do for this world. As the author pointed out (p. 74), Jesus does not want admiration as most people regard Him, but imitation.
As good as it is to hold Jesus to a high level of admiration, it is not enough and it is not this kind of treatment that He is looking for in His people. Even imitating Jesus alone, according to Rolheiser, falls short of what God wants His people to go through with regards to His presence. He wants them to “undergo His presence so as to enter into a community of life and celebration with Him. ” Of course, as in all true spirituality, the real source of it is Christ Himself. He is the central focus of Christianity.
We have found and understood life’s meaning in Him. For Christians, everything revolves around Jesus. Our church life, our theologies, (i. e. theology of work, family and interpersonal relations, money, etc. ) and our understanding of ourselves, are all related to our grasp of the Person of Christ (p. 73). For Jesus (God) to be seen and felt by the world today depends largely on how much do we experience His presence in our lives. Incarnational spirituality proceeds from the life of Jesus Himself.
Everything else in the life of a Christian, no matter how important it may look like, is merely a “branch” as it is Jesus who is the “Vine. ” The challenge Rolheiser is putting forward in his treatise is the continuing living out of Christ’s life today as it was lived by Jesus Himself more than two thousand years ago. For Rolheiser, “the Word” who “became flesh” in Jesus can and must continue to become flesh today through the lives of His followers. It is only through this kind of incarnational understanding and living of Christ’s life that the world will ever recognize and see God.
By living out our experience of Christ’s presence in the here and now and in full view of all, we are putting on flesh to God, as the author would have put it. This is what “giving skin to God” means. The implications of this kind of spirituality are obvious. First of all, it calls for a stop to a dead kind of religion which has no relevance and not responsive to the needs of the times. Secondly, it corrects the wrong view of incarnation which is historical.
Rolheiser suggested that though this understanding of incarnation is historical and biblically correct, it is nonetheless insufficient (p. 76). It is like treating the tip of the iceberg. Incarnation, Rolheiser suggested, should be continuous; i. e. must be repeated today as it happened in the actual incarnation of Christ more than two millennia ago. Christians today must represent Jesus in the same way that He represented the Father during His day. Since Christians are the body of Christ today, that name should be exactly true of their identity in this world. If ever the world will look for Jesus, it should find Him in the persons that constitute His body.
In conclusion, it is also my conviction that there is a need today for an understanding of incarnational theology. Christianity needs not be vague or hazy when looked at by people who seek to understand it. And most of all, God and Jesus must be properly represented by the church. The Bible teaches incarnational spirituality just as Rolheiser has tackled the subject in his thesis. Christians are the body of Christ, and as such, they should literally act in this world today in the way Jesus would if He were here physically.
Reference: 1. Rolheiser. (year). Incarnational Spirituality.