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Relating Kenosis to Soteriology: Implications for Christian Ministry amongst Homeless People

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Abstract Christian ministry amongst homeless people is often characterised by division between the ministry itself as social action by independent voluntary organisations, and congregational life. This is arguably the result of sociological forces, but is also compounded by the prevalence in mainline churches of ethically lacking popular versions of penal substitution that privatise spirituality. We argue that in addition to strengthening the ethical content of such teaching, it is important to offer alternative theological tools that challenge Christian self-understanding. Kenosis is just such a tool. In a brief historical sketch of biblical and theological approaches, we suggest that it is the ethical, narrative understanding of kenosis, rather than preoccupation with philosophically-orientated Christological debates about the locus of the apparent ‘emptying’ of divine attributes, that is central to understanding kenosis. What we label the necessary ethically kenotic dimension to salvation is then explored, an area in which we are influenced by current biblical scholarship on ‘justification’ in Paul by participationist-inclined scholars, particularly the work of Michael Gorman based on the Philippian hymn and his emphasis on justification by co-crucifixion. Kenosis as a ‘selfishness emptying’ that leads to co-resurrection is an integral and ongoing part of the soteriological process of theosis. Relating kenosis to soteriology in this way has implications for church work amongst homeless people, and we suggest that when also taking into account current social work research, churches receive an imperative to offer ministry that is community orientated, relational, self-giving and absorptive.

Affiliations: 1: Regent’s Park College Oxford


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