Last night I was helping out at the Combined Churches' 'Carols in the Park' at Warragamba, in which my parents' church is heavily involved (my minimal contribution was to assist, in an ecumenical gesture, some of the young people from my brother's Anglican church down the road, who had set up a balloon animal stall for the children). Now one would think, given that it is Advent and Christmas is on the horizon, that this would be the logical time to talk about the Incarnation.
In between carols and musical items, there was a very well done puppet show put on by a Christian group, very professional and amusing and the children lapped it up, but the puppet talked about Jesus as King, and urged the kids to 'make Him your king'. All well and good, you might say, and fair enough. Then there was a short speech/sermon by the local Anglican minister, and he consistently spoke of Jesus as 'Son of God', but never as 'God'. Nothing truly objectionable there, either, you might say, and I can't really argue with that. No one expects you to use all of Jesus' titles in a short presentation.
But the fact is there was nothing said during the whole night that couldn't have been very easily accepted by an Arian. And this bothers me.
I mean, why would we shy away from the Incarnation? Surely this is Christianity's biggest selling point? What other religion is based on the idea that God (not 'a god' from a pantheon but 'the God') became human? Nobody else has anything like that! This is a word worth preaching. So why are we reluctant to talk explicitly about it?
On the face of it, you would imagine that the more gung-ho and evangelistic of Christians would see the attractive potential of this doctrine and make it the centre-piece of their evangelistic pitch. But it almost never happens. And then we're shocked and annoyed when, at Easter, some fired-up atheist on the radio deplores Christianity's belief in 'divine child abuse'. It never occurs to us that we've left ourselves wide open to the charge by talking about Jesus the way we do.
Nor is the Incarnation the only central doctrine we tend to sideline in public. I've recently been reading this book, which restates the classic Christian ideas about eschatology and shows how far we've drifted from them in the way we tend to talk about the afterlife and the end times. Too many Christians have believed for too long in a kind of Platonic afterlife with some Christian features, and the authentically Christian endgame (the General Resurrection) has all but fallen off the map. Last night provided another example of this when our Lord's resurrection was briefly mentioned thus : "Then on Easter Sunday, Jesus came back from the dead. So, if you believe in Him, when you die, you can go to be with Him forever." I cringed at that, and imagined N. T. Wright appearing and turning over tables and chairs a la Our Lord in the Temple.
Why don't we make more of these doctrines? They are, after all, utterly unique in terms of world religions and distinctively Christian. They are also unusual in their own right and attention-grabbing. And they have some shock value, particularly in a secular Western culture that still thinks it knows all it needs to about Christianity even though it has forgotten most of what it used to know. Idiots that we are, we've put the letters page (or maybe the cartoons?) on the front page and left the lead story for page six.