Monday, April 18, 2011

Charles Taylor on "Excarnation"

I've grown more and more agitated with the gnostic understandings that many Christians have of humanity and what happens to people when they die.  I recently attended a funeral in which the preacher referred to the persons body as a "shell."

At the Stone-Campbell Journal Conference a week and a half ago, Luke Timothy Johnson helpfully addressed Paul's understanding of the resurrection and the body as seen in 1 Corinthians.  Much of his presentation was very similar to N.T. Wright's work on the matter (see Surprised by Hope or Resurrection and the Son of God).  It's refreshing to hear presentations like Johnson's because I so rarely hear those issues discussed in churches.

Charles Taylor has a very helpful discussion of gnostic or disembodied views of humanity in A Secular Age.  He calls it "excarnation," which he defines as "the steady disembodying of spiritual life, so that it is less and less carried in deeply meaningful bodily forms, and lies more and more 'in the head'" (771).  While I am a person who enjoys reading, thinking, writing, etc., I am more interested in an understanding of theology which is not just in the head, but deals with our embodied lives.  This includes not just service towards others, but worship practices that use our senses our senses of sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell.  So, for instance, our practices of the Lord's Supper should not be rationalistic and introspective, but times in which we commune with God and with one another and "Taste and see that the Lord is good" (Ps 34:8).  As Taylor says, "Christianity, as the faith of the Incarnate, is denying something essential to itself as long as it remains wedded to forms which excarnate" (771).

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