Last week, I kind of dropped an academic concept in your laps without doing much explaining of what it means to me, in my context. That was a mistake – I think highly of my readers and expect them to follow my arguments, but I also shouldn’t introduce large concepts without offering further explanation of them. That’s what this post aims to rectify, though it’s hardly comprehensive and I imagine the conversation on incarnational theology will be ongoing, as it is an important tenet of the progressive theology I’ve been developing for myself over the years.
Simply put, incarnational theology, to me, is the idea that that the physical realm and the spiritual one are integrated to the point that even attempting to separate them into one or the other is foolish. There is no “I” without my lived, incarnational experience, and there is no “you” without yours. This means that our bodies matter – all of them, in all forms.
I’ve seen some commentary recently that incarnational theology need not be concerned with the “lowest common denominator” of humanity, but rather is fine if it is only applicable within the ideal forms. In other words, those deviations from the “norm” – trans* identities, differing sexualities, disabilities, and mental illnesses – need not necessarily be taken into account in the development of an incarnational theology, because what is at the basis – humanity – remains the same.
This is a view I wholly and completely reject. Incarnational theology that creates a normative of cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied, neurotypical people does not function on an incarnational plain. It is Platonism disguised as incarnation, and necessarily a failure of theological reach.
The central tenet of Christian faith is that Jesus was both fully human and fully God. This has massive, ongoing theological implications for all – many of which are too involved to unpack in this space. But one thing is absolutely, completely important in this concept: bodies matter. Physical nature matters. And they matter precisely because God became flesh and lived as people lived.
This is a huge, important statement. God as human; God experiencing what we experience. God living, breathing, dying. God experiencing the gamut of our emotions, understanding pain, understanding oppression, understanding our human experience. If we create limits on that first Incarnation by limiting our own incarnational theology only to those bodies that are most common, we place limits on the God who poured Themself out to become “the lowest common denominator.”
An incarnational theology – a Gospel – that does not take into account the lowest of the low, the people despised and oppressed by society is no Truth at all. I’m repeating myself here, but this is a Truth I believe so firmly that I’m willing to risk being a broken record over it.
So your body matters, especially if it deviates from the norm. Because the God of the universe saw the human body as mattering enough that They became one, your body matters. It is important. You are not simply a soul residing in a meatsuit, a human chained to the comet of some cosmological deity. You are human, with all your imperfections, struggles, and physical differences. Just as surely as my physical experience of the world affects my interactions within it, my physical experience of my own self necessarily must affect my theology.
To do anything less is to do a disservice to the glory of the Gospel.