Alister McGrath on Incarnation

Alister McGrath on the difference between space and time and place and history

The doctrine of the incarnation [in T. F. Torrance’s Space, Time and Incarnation] was framed in terms of how God could enter a world of space and time. At times, Torrance’s analysis seemed to concern how a transcendent God could be positioned using the four coordinates x, y, z, and t. While this was undoubtedly theologically significant, it seemed to stand at a certain distance from a more biblical account of things. Here, the emphasis fell upon the expectation that God would enter into the lives and history of his people Israel. Where Torrance spoke of space and time, the Bible seemed much more concerned with place and history. …

In 1978, the noted Old Testament scholar Walter Bruggemann … argued that, to make sense of the theological concerns of ancient Israel, a fundamental distinction had to be made between “space” and “place.” “Place is space which has historical meanings. … Place is space in which important words have been spoken which have established identity, defined vocation, and envisioned destiny.” …

We must learn to speak of God entering, not just into space and time, but into our place and our history. The measure of God’s involvement is no longer described mathematically, in terms of some abstract metaphysical trajectory, but personally, in terms of God’s entering into and inhabiting the realities of human existence. To say that God enters into place and history is immediately to highlight the divine inhabitation of our world – not as a geometrical coordinate, but as a living human being, existing and acting under conditions that are manifestly ours.

from “The Cultivation of Theological Vision: Theological Attentiveness and the Practice of Ministry,” in Perspectives on Ecclesiology and Ethnography, edited by Pete Ward, 117-118, (Eerdmans, 2012).

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