October 21, 2017

Evaluating Incarnational Ministry (3)

Taigen Joos

clip_image002To continue the discussion from the previous two posts, incarnational ministry brings with it some concerns. One of those concerns is a misunderstanding of key biblical texts. In this post, I offer two more critiques.

Incarnational Ministry Overemphasizes the Humanity of Jesus

In reading the various literature regarding this topic, the emphasis on Jesus’s humanity and human serving comes to the forefront. In their book, ReJesus: A WILD Messiah for a Missional Church, Frost and Hirsch argue for a return to a proper Christology. In this discussion, they state, “When Jesus is just true light of true light, and not flesh and blood, we are only ever called to adore him, not follow him.”[1] Here they overemphasize the humanity of Jesus while downplaying His deity. Jesus is both God and man; fully God and fully man. One aspect cannot be neglected, nor can one be elevated above another. He is the perfect God-Man.

In focusing on Christ’s humanity, this gives the incarnationalist a platform upon which to build his house of social work. The incarnationalists also purport that in His humanity Christ shunned personal goods and wealth, rebelled against ungodly authority, and was constantly getting on the nerves of those in power.[2] I would argue, however, that in seeking to emphasize the humanity of Jesus, even to the brink of sinful tendencies, the incarnationalists in essence de-emphasize the deity of Jesus, and are in danger of theological heresy.

Incarnational Ministry De-Prioritizes Gospel Proclamation

Incarnational ministry is akin to a holistic approach to ministry and being “missional.” Those aspects focus not so much on gospel proclamation, but rather social involvement in various ways in one’s community. While no one within the incarnational movement rejects or ignores the gospel, the proclamation of the gospel is almost viewed as secondary, while service and community involvement are viewed as primary. Frost and Hirsch argue that Jesus spent about thirty years in relative anonymity among the people, doing what normal people do, without any kind of outward proclamation of who He was. However, we have one instance recorded when Jesus was twelve years old, where He told His parents that He must be about His Father’s business (Luke 2:49). There was an obvious recognition of His true identity, not just as a man, but as the God-Man. He knew that He must be active doing His Father’s business, even at age twelve. While the gospel writers were not moved by the Holy Spirit to record much of anything from those first thirty years, we cannot conclude that Jesus was functioning as somewhat of a monk in seclusion. He was busy in the Father’s work.

Getting back to the point, incarnationalists de-prioritize gospel proclamation in favor of more social activity within the community. However, that carries with it great dangers. One author writes, “History teaches us that those who embrace a social agenda eventually find themselves with a social agenda only and no gospel.”[3] The incarnationalists believe that a life of service better aligns oneself with the mission of Jesus, rather than simply the proclamation of the gospel. However, as DeYoung and Gilbert state, “The mission of Jesus is not service broadly conceived, but the proclamation of the gospel through teaching, the corroboration of the gospel through signs and wonders, and the accomplishment of the gospel in death and resurrection.”[4] James and Biedebach concur when they write of the recent missionary activity in Africa, “… numerically speaking, social action efforts are outstripping gospel proclamation efforts, and compounding the problem is the fact that social relief missions do not seem to easily lend themselves to fulfilling Christ’s commission to make disciples.”[5]

Social concerns and service are not to be completely wiped out of the mind and life of the believer, but they are not the focal point of the mission of the believer. We are called upon as Christians to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. Acts of service and social activity may play a role in that mission, but service and social activity, in and of themselves, do not fulfill our mission as believers. It is the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ that must remain in the higher position of priority.

Editor’s Note: Part (4) is planned to run on Thursday.

Part One is here, Part Two is here.


Taigen Joos is the pastor of Heritage Baptist Church in Dover, NH. He blogs at A Beggar’s Bread, where this article first appeared. It is republished here by permission.

  1. Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, ReJesus: A WILD Messiah for a Missional Church. (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2009), 19. []
  2. Frost and Hirsch, 20. []
  3. “A Movement Torn Apart” in For the Sake of His Name: Challenging a New Generation for World Missions. (Allen Park: Student Global Impact, 2002), 44. []
  4. Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert, What is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 57. []
  5. Joel James and Brian Biedebach, “Regaining our Focus: A Response to the Social Action Trend in Evangelical Missions” in Master’s Seminary Journal, Volume 25, Number 1 (Spring 2014), 31 []


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