The Communication of the Great Accommodation: Christian Talking and Theology

This is always a hard one for me; knowing how to communicate, especially online, about deep theological reality is a tempest. Any given audience represents a moving target. For one person one lexicon might be way too deep, for abstractjesusanother, this same lexicon might be like their ‘daily bread’. So audiences are continuums, and trying to communicate to a continuum is always the challenge a communicator faces, from one moment to the next. That said, can the Incarnation provide an analogy for how, de jure, or in principle how we ought to articulate theological truth? Puritan of renown, Richard Sibbes thinks so; he writes,

Preachers should take heed likewise that they hide not their meaning in dark speeches, speaking in the clouds. Truth fears nothing so much as concealment, and desires nothing so much as clearly to be laid open to the view of all. When it is most unadorned, it is most lovely and powerful. Our blessed Saviour, as he took our nature upon him, so he took upon him our familiar manner of speech, which was part of his voluntary abasement. Paul was a profound man, yet he became as a nurse to the weaker sort (1 Thess. 2:7).

That spirit of mercy that was in Christ should move his servants to be content to abase themselves for the good of the meanest. What made the kingdom of heaven ‘suffer violence’ (Matt. 11:12) after John the Baptist’s time, but that comfortable truths were laid open with such plainness and evidence that the people were so affected with them as to offer a holy violence to obtain them?

Christ chose those to preach mercy who had felt most mercy, as Peter and Paul, that they might be examples of what they taught. Paul became all things to all men (1 Cor. 9:22), stooping unto them for their good. Christ came down from heaven and emptied himself of majesty in tender love to souls. Shall we not come down from our high conceits to do any poor soul good? Shall man be proud after God has been humble? We see the ministers of Satan turn themselves into all shapes to ‘make one proselyte’ (Matt. 23:15). We see ambitious men study accommodation of themselves to the humours of those by whom they to be raised, and shall not we study application of ourselves to Christ, by whom we hope to be advanced, nay, are already sitting with him in heavenly places? After we are gained to Christ ourselves, we should labour to gain others to Christ. Holy ambition and covetousness will move us to put upon ourselves the disposition of Christ. But we must put off ourselves first.

Again we should not rack their wits with curious or ‘doubtful dispositions’ (Rom. 14:1), for so we shall distract and tire them, and give occasion to make them cast off the care of all. That age of the church which was most fertile in subtle questions was most barren of religion; for it makes people think religion to be only a matter of cleverness, in tying and untying knots. The brains of men inclining that way are hotter usually than their hearts.[1]

It almost sounds as if Sibbes is advocating for an anti-intellectualism, but I don’t really think so. What he is advocating for and from is an anti-intellectualist anthropology wherein the intellect as seen as definitive of what it means to be human. What Sibbes is advocating for, as Ron Frost has so ardently argued for in his PhD dissertation on Sibbes, is a theo-anthropology that isAffective; that sees the heart (in a so called tripartite faculty psychology) or motive-center as definitive of humanity–so very Augustinian.

But I don’t really want to get into that further here; I simply want to acknowledge that being clear with various audiences on-line is a tempest (and so this is why there are comment threads connected to each post). I think the answer to this is that we ought to understand that theological engagement is not just about in-formation, but that it is about formation itself. The best frame for this is that we take a dialogical approach to things; one that is formed by the realization that we are in a discussion. I think this is what the Incarnation is; a conversation, the way of life between God and man in Jesus Christ. It is through this conversation and mediation that we can know and penetrate the holy of holies of God’s life through the broken body of Jesus Christ–the veil torn. And so with this as the analogy, we move forward one with the other in dialogue and koinonia; we stretch each other into the accommodation that is God’s life. We don’t accept the status quo, we don’t allow the culture to tell us what the standards are; no, we allow God’s life to impose upon us, to contradict us, to make us repent so that we might grow further into the grace and knowledge of God, who is Jesus Christ.


[1] Richard Sibbes, A Bruised Reed (Nook Edition), 25-6.

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3 comments

  1. I was following Sibbes here, and totally agree! we have discussed the problems of your erudite expostulations for those of us who don’t like to think so hard. But I have worked to move in a direction that allows me to read you without getting a headache! 🙂 (formation indeed!)
    I know you have many followers who have read and absorbed a lot of this material but those of us who have come late to the table still need to hear things in our lowly language. Keep on plugging away Bobby.

    BTW you lost me with this sentence ”What Sibbes is advocating for, as Ron Frost has so ardently argued for in his PhD dissertation on Sibbes, is a theo-anthropology that isAffective; that sees the heart (in a so called tripartite faculty psychology) or motive-center as definitive of humanity–so very Augustinian.”
    What????????????

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  2. Thanks for quoting Sibbes here, Bobby, and for sharing the difficulty of communicating in this forum in a meaningful (Christlike) way. The heart of it is about serving one another! The Eternal Son came down and humbled Himself and served us where we were. But He also raised us up to sit upon the heavenly throne with His Father!

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  3. @Steve,

    Thanks. And I will have to explain tripartite faculty psychology later. I have somewhere in my posts, so I’ll have to dig some of them up for you later.

    @Jerome,

    Amen to that!

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