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Syncretism - Reconciliation or fusion of differing systems of belief, as in philosophy or religion.
Incarnation - The doctrine that the Son of God was conceived in the womb of Mary and that Jesus is true God and true man.
When I was introduced to the word, "syncretism," it was a description of the terrible things native Africans do to Christianity if they are left to themselves. They contaminate the true gospel with their ancestor worship, tribal rituals, drums, and immodest clothing. The way it was described to me, syncretism was a horrific practice that should be confronted by all means.
Nothing was said about Western syncretism. It was as if syncretism was only possible with "those people" over in Africa.
Later, lots later, I heard about the word, "incarnational." That was a good word. Jesus was incarnational. He came from perfect Heaven to fallen Earth, not merely to take a little look-see, but to become one of us. TO BECOME ONE OF US. This kind of sacrifice was beautiful and something that we should always follow to the best of our ability.
Does anyone besides me see a huge double message here? To avoid syncretism we must extract ourselves from culture, yet to be incarnational we, must not only engage culture, but in some way, become one of "them."
What I think has happened is that as culture is concerned, syncretism is the accusation used for people doing Chrisatianity differently than the "the group I am in," while incarnational is the excuse we use to indulge in the culture in which we find ourselves. Syncretism is an accusation while incarnational is a self-congratulation.
The obvious American syncretism is the institutional greed of a consumer-obsessed culture. American Christianity has a long history of letting money speak too loudly in the church.It is what kept slavery going for so long and it is what keeps poverty in place right now. Oh, but how incarnational sounding we make our huge building campaigns.
OK, I didn't really want to get into that, but rather than avoid syncretism or to assign that label only to other cultures, why not self-asses when our inescapable syncretism damages the love of God?
With the judicious use of intentional syncretism, we will be nearer to pursuing the incarnational path of Jesus.
Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law.
I Corinthians 9:19-21