Doctrinal Musing on Theological Anthropology: Part 3 of 4

Contemporary culture has sought to answer the question about human identity through various disciplines, and this has resulted in numerous secular images of humanity. These images include: 1) Humanity as a machine, emphasizing utility and functionality. 2) Humanity as an animal among animals in the animal kingdom. 3) Humanity as a sexual being driven solely by sexual motivation and energy. 4) Humanity as an economic being focused on and striving after economic survival and gain. 5) Humanity as a pawn of the universe, meaning that humanity is at the mercy of universal forces and controlled by destiny. 6) Humanity as a free being with the responsibility of self-determination and decision-making. 7) Humanity as a social being, a cog in the wheel of community.[1]

In contrast to the ideas of contemporary culture, there are scriptural references in both the OT and NT that portray humans as created in the image and likeness of God which informs the Judeo-Christian concept of human identity. In Genesis, there are several mentions of the uniqueness and sanctity of humanity because they were created in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26-27, 5:1, 9:6). The apostle Paul refers to the image and likeness of God in several of his letters. James mentions that humans were “made in God’s likeness” (James 3:9).

When considering the meaning of the image of God, there are three main views: the substantive view, the relational view and the functional view. The focus of the substantive view is the idea that the image of God is a physical or psychological quality or set of qualities in humans. A challenge to the substantive view is that it is often narrowed to one aspect of human nature, mostly the intellectual dimension which implies that the image of God may vary from person to person.[2]

The focus of the relational view is the claim that the image of God is not inherent in people, but is present when they are in relationships and community. A challenge to this view is that it does not account for how it is that humans are able to have relationships. In other words, the view does not delineate how humans are different from other creatures.[3]

The focus of the functional view is the idea that the image of God is something that humans do, specifically in their exercise of dominion over the creation. A challenge to this view is that in Genesis 1 the imagine of God and dominion are distinguishable.[4]

These views can be integrated, and so to that end, I offer some joining remarks. The image of God is universal within the human race, and it is not lost as a result of the fall or sin. Moreover, there is no degrees of the image of God, and it is not correlated with any other variables. The image of God includes aspects of the substantive view, the relational view and the functional view. Nevertheless, in the overall scheme of things, the image of God in human beings corresponds with the relational life of the Triune God and is fulfilled in human community and ultimately in God’s kingdom community.[5] In relationship with the Triune God, people will experience the πλήρωμα (pléróma) “fullness” of the image of God and the new humanity.[6] Stanley Grenz writes,

[B]eing-in-relationship with the triune God not only inherently includes, but is even comprised by being-in-relationship with those who participate together in the Jesus-narrative and thereby are the ecclesial new humanity. As the indwelling Spirit proleptically comprises the new humanity as the imago dei after the pattern of the perichoretic life of the triune God, the Spirit constitutes continually the “self” of the participants in Christ’s ecclesial community and, by extension, the “self” of the world.[7]

This is the joy and hope of the Jesus community and is the life and light to a world that is lost in their depraved humanity and confused about their human identity.

Therefore, the image of God implies that humans belong to God and experience full humanity when they are in a correct relationship with God. Humans created in the image of God means that they are valuable and sacred and must be treated as such with dignity and compassion. Since Jesus is the ultimate revelation of the image of God, humans should pattern their lives after him[8] and perform (live out), as image bearers, their part of the theo-drama of redemption.

Footnotes: Continue reading “Doctrinal Musing on Theological Anthropology: Part 3 of 4”

Social Justice Theology

A good place to start in a conversation about social justice is with the blessed Trinity because after all the Trinity is social and just. God-the Father, God-the Son and God- the Holy Spirit exists in community, a perfect relational society. The Trinity created humans to join their righteous/just society, but humans turned from God and became totally depraved by sin. In response, the Trinity initiated their plan of redemption which culminated in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension. This drama of redemption is about the ultimate social justice work. A sacrificial work. A social act and a justifying act, forgiving humanity’s social sins and social injustices against God and others. Through Christ, a new social reality and a new humanity was created. Out of the bad social situation, new creation!

By the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ ministry is continued, transforming the new social entity (the Church) into a people who are “eager to do what is good” (Tit 2:14), into a people who “act justly” and “love mercy” (Mic 6:8), into a people of the social, just and peaceable kingdom of God. This kingdom social reality calls Christ followers to sacrificially live and serve like Jesus and turn away from socially unjust behaviors. It calls us “to break out of our ecclesiastical ghettos and permeate non-Christian society”[1] This involves taking the whole gospel to the whole person to the whole world.

To participate in social justice apart from Jesus and the gospel is wanting the beauty and goodness of the kingdom, but without the King. This doesn’t work. John Stott wrote, “Good Samaritans will always be needed to succor those who are assaulted and robbed; yet it would be even better to rid the Jerusalem-Jericho road of brigands.”[2] Yes, the world would be better without bandits, but in our own efforts, we can not rid the injustice in our world. Only Christ and his gospel can transform humanity’s unjust hearts of stone. If any social justice cause is set above Christ and his gospel, then it is idolatry and all one’s social justice acts are like filthy rags. Christ and his atonement should be the foundation of one’s social justice acts.

Christ’s atonement is about sacrifice, enabling reconciliation on the vertical plane. Christians should sacrifice their lives as reconciling ambassadors on the horizontal plane. We should give of ourselves for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of others. Our sacrifice should be compelled by his sacrifice. Our sacrificial service should witness to the ultimate sacrificial servant. Social justice theology should be focused on the theology of the cross which should drive one’s concern for justice and reconciliation throughout human society.                    

[1] “The Church and Evangelism” in The Lausanne Covenant

[2] John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2006), 285.

Today’s Hymn: Be Thou My Vision

Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art;
Thou my best thought, by day or by night;
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father and I, Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise;
Thou mine inheritance, now and always;
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart;
O King of glory, my treasure Thou art.

O King of glory, my victory won;
Rule and reign in me ’til Thy will be done;
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall;
Still be my vision, O Ruler of all.

Doctrinal Musing on Theological Anthropology: Part 2 of 4

The Judeo-Christian faith has historically believed that humans were created from the dust of the earth by the God of Israel (Gen 1:26-27, Gen 2:7-8, 21-22, Deut 4:32, Isa 45:12). The Genesis account of the creation of Adam and Eve as archetypes was unique in the Ancient Near East (ANE). Other ANE writings portray human beginnings in collective terms meaning that an entire, already civilized, population of people were created (polygenesis).[1] Sumerian texts describe humans breaking out from the earth. Some Egyptian texts mention people being formed from clay that was mixed with the tears of deity. Akkadian texts describe people being formed from the flesh and the blood from a slain deity as a result of the chaotic conflicts between the gods.[2] Moreover, other ANE texts portray the origins of humans by describing humans as created by the gods for servitude or slave labor. These accounts portray humans taking over the drudgery work of the gods while the gods rest.[3]     

The ANE context contrasts with contemporary discussions about beginnings and origins. In today’s context, there is an emphasis on scientific explanations particularly that of naturalistic evolution which claims that the cosmos and humans began purely by naturalistic processes apart from any involvement of a supernatural being. However, on the other side of the debates, is fiat creationism which argues that God created everything by a direct act apart from any naturalistic processes. From a more evolutionary perspective, deistic evolution and theistic evolution argue that God used evolutionary processes in creating everything, but they differ from each other in the degree of God’s involvement in the process. The prior claims that God started the evolutionary process, but then he withdrew allowing natural law to take over. The later posits that God began the evolutionary process, but he continues his involvement. A more mediated position is progressive creationism which emphasizes God’s creation of everything in several steps over time and argues for microevolution (evolution within kinds) rather than macroevolution (evolution across kinds). However, progressive creationism particularly agrees with fiat creationism in the direct creation of humans by God.[4]

In view of the contemporary debates, I do not take a dogmatic position on the beginnings of humans due to the belief that the aesthetics of the creation narrative should be emphasized. The creation narrative is part of the overarching theo-drama of redemption, and I posit that there is a de-dramatizing of the script when people engage in the contemporary debates on beginnings. Thus, my preferred method of discourse when engaging with Genesis 1-2 is to use narrative or theo-drama language rather than to use creation vs. evolution language.

The theological meaning and purpose of human creation is manifold, but suffice it to say, humans are part of God’s creation, and so they are dependent upon him for their existence. Humans must recognize their unique place in the universe and the reality and value of kinship within the human race. While humanity is truly wonderful in God’s creation, they are not the highest being in the universe, and so humans must recognize and accept their finiteness and their limitations. They must live to glorify, worship, love and serve God.[6]

Footnotes: Continue reading “Doctrinal Musing on Theological Anthropology: Part 2 of 4”

Sunday Prayers

We have seen the true Light. We have received the Heavenly Spirit. We have found the true Faith, in worshipping the indivisible Trinity; for he hath saved us. O Lord, Let our mouth be filled with Thy praise that we may hymn Thy glory; for Thou hast counted us worthy to partake of Thy holy mysteries; preserve us in Thy sanctification, meditating on Thy righteousness all the day long. Amen. (A Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians, The Divine Liturgy)

We praise you and thank you, O Most Holy Trinity, for the light and power that you have bestowed upon us. Graciously grant us the grace to faithfully love you with all our hearts, with all our soul, with all our strength and with all our minds. Help us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices in service to you and your kingdom. Give us glimpses of you glory so that we will be sanctified and transformed more and more into the image of Christ, our loving savior and king forever and ever. Amen. (My Prayer)

Today’s Hymn: There is One Lord (Taize)

There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
There is one God who is Father of all.

Bear with one another in love and charity,
be humble, be patient, be selfless, be as one.

There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
There is one God who is Father of all.

There is one body, there is one spirit,
there is one hope to which we are called.

There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
There is one God who is Father of all.

We are all to come to unity,
in our faith and knowledge of the son of God,
until we become perfected in the fullness of Christ.

There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
There is one God who is Father of all.

Doctrinal Musing on Theological Anthropology: Part 1 of 4

The term anthropology is derived from the greek words ἄνθρωπος (anthropos) meaning “human” and λόγος (logos) which may mean “study.” Anthropology typically refers to the study of humans through the natural sciences or the social sciences; however, from a Christian perspective, the doctrine of humanity is referred to as theological anthropology.[1]

Naturally, humans desire to understand themselves by seeking answers to important human being questions. This might involve questions about beginnings which refers to the scientific facts of human beings coming into existence or questions about origins which goes beyond beginnings and focuses on the purpose and meaning of humans.[2] There may be human conceptual questions or constitutional questions.

With such questioning, secular anthropology has posited many naturalistic and socio-cultural answers, but theological anthropology believes that God reveals the true answers about human beings in Holy Scripture.[3] Through theological anthropology people can begin to understand the overarching theo-drama.

God enacted his part of the theo-drama of redemption by creating humans, and this sets the stage for the rest of the drama. “God created humans in his own image as spiritual-bodily beings”[4] to glorify, love, obey and serve him. God gave humans the authority and responsibility to manage and steward the created world. Instead, humans disobeyed God and failed to live out his intended design of being a community who reflects the imago dei (Latin; meaning, image of God). Through the willful disobedience of the first humans, all humans have become accomplices and have become separated from God and from the imago dei community.[5] All are in a condition of rebellion, spiritual blindness, slavery and death. Thus, all are in “a woeful and hopeless state”[6] and are incapable of delivering themselves from this situation. The Apostle Paul writes, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom 7:24 ESV).

This is not the end of theological anthropology because the theo-drama continues and culminates in the life and ministry of Jesus. Through Jesus’ redemptive life, death, resurrection and ascension, humans may receive salvation that will spiritually regenerate them, deliver them from sin and reconcile them to God and to one another. When humans receive salvation, they enter into Jesus’ new humanity. The Apostle Paul writes,

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace” (Eph 2:14-15 NIV).

God spiritually renews humans in this life and will bodily renew them at the final resurrection upon Jesus’ second coming. At this point, humans will enter into God’s everlasting kingdom where they will live with him and will praise him for all eternity. This is the joy and hope for humanity, and a summary of theological anthropology affirmed by Christians. Theological anthropology also involves exploring the specifics of human beings, which typically includes more detailed study of the beginnings and origins of humans, the image of God in humans and the constitutional nature of humans. These are the topics that future posts will cover.

Footnotes: Continue reading “Doctrinal Musing on Theological Anthropology: Part 1 of 4”

Moral Knowledge

In discussing moral knowledge, I begin with the presupposition that the Judeo-Christian God exists as the one, true, eternal, holy, morally perfect, omniscient, omnipotent creator of the universe. Thus, I will also presuppose that because God exists objective moral values exist. I recognize that the use of modus tollens which posits that objective moral values do exist and therefore God exist could also be used as part of the argument, but I prefer to start with metaphysical ontology and then move to the Theo-drama of redemption which culminates in the life and ministry of Jesus.

The Triune God performed his part of the Theo-drama by creating the universe and by creating human beings in his image. When human beings were created, they became a  part of God’s redemptive drama, and thus they became actors (participants) in the storied community. Since human beings were created in the image of God, they have moral epistemological and pragmatic capabilities, but they have to learn the moral language of the divine actor. For example, the Israelites had to learn and live the language of “Shema” (Deut 6:4-9) and to embody holiness as God is Holy (Lev 11:44-45). They developed moral knowledge, virtue and character by being in the storied community.

Likewise, when Jesus was asked about the most important commandment, he spoke the language of the storied community of God by referring back to the virtue of love that was to be embodied in God’s community people (Mark 12:28-34, Matt 22:35-40). Moreover, Jesus connected his teaching with the language of past narratives by often saying, “You have heard that it was said…but I say to you… (Matt 5). Jesus was inaugurating new kingdom language, virtue and character that was to be learned and embodied by those of the Jesus community. The kingdom of God has come upon us in the life and ministry of Jesus. He is the King of the already-not yet in full kingdom of God. In this paradox, moral ethics takes place. His “kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” He is the one who we must look to for moral knowledge, virtue and character. Through his redemptive suffering, death and resurrection, we can enter the Theo-drama where we can also learn and embody the language, virtue and character of our redeemer.

After Jesus’ ascension, the Jesus community had to wait for the Holy Spirit who would come and continue Jesus’ ministry on earth. The Holy Spirit empowered and instilled moral knowledge, virtue and character to the early Jesus community and eventually orchestrated the completion of the divine drama script (scripture). The Holy Spirit continues to perform his part of the Theo-drama by leading the church community in kingdom virtue and ministry. Thus, through the acting of the Holy Spirit, we as the storied people of God can have moral knowledge, virtue and character of God, but this only takes place within the storied community of God. We can not have God’s moral knowledge, virtue and character independently or in isolation, but rather these are formed through narrative and language within community.

Thus, as the storied people of God, we can speak the divine language and enact the drama in new and contextualized ways. By entering and participating in the drama, we will be formed with the character, virtue and morality of Christ. From this perspective, people can rise above mere human language and culture by looking to the history of Israel and the Church and entering into this storied community while speaking and living according to God’s morality.

A Friday Reflection: Shalom

For the most part in life, I am a transparent person; however, there are those times when I try to present an “everything is okay” facade in the midst of trials, turmoil, disappointment or failure. I don’t want others to see my struggles and pain, and so I hide behind a mask while sweeping my problems under the rug and denying my lamenting soul. What would others think if they knew the status of my life? What would God do if I laid out my complaints before him?

Then there are the times when the storms of life get so frantic that there is no hiding or denial. Everyone sees what is going on. It’s like the moment in the biblical story of Job when Job’s friends heard about all his adversity and all the things that had happened to him and upon seeing him, they were astonished and disturbed by his condition (2:11-13). What to do in these times? Typically for me, I go all comatose in distraction and comfort. Now some distraction and soothing is good when it comes to helping to mitigate the challenges and to regulate the emotions, but often it gets to the point where I completely depend on my own devices to alleviate my discomfort or to experience respite from the harshness of life.

As Christians, God calls us to be people of “shalom” (Hebrew translated, “peace”). The basic meaning of this is that we are to be in peaceful relationship with God and others, and we are to be agents of God’s peace in the world. For this post, I want to focus on the deeper meaning of shalom which involves the idea of flourishing, wholeness, delight, or the inner sense of satisfaction. Shalom is the way things ought to be in the world and in our lives. How are we to be people of shalom in the midst of trials, turmoil or disappointment? How do we live and experience shalom when, like Job, we may face circumstances where others would advise us to just “curse God and die” (Job 2:9)?

Shalom can only come from God. We cannot manufacture shalom, and so in the midst of challenges and chaos, we should resist the urge of trying to fix our problems all on our own. We should resist the urge of denying that there is real brokenness that we face. We should resist the urge of living with constant distraction so as to self-medicate ourselves. We cannot experience and live God’s shalom while living a facade or while hiding behind masks or while being in a comatose state of distraction or comfort seeking.

In order to experience and live God’s shalom, we need to turn to him in silence and solitude seeking his wisdom, strength and comfort. We need to make time in our busy and often noisy schedules to silently sit and lament before the almighty and loving God of the universe. We need to receive the shalom that is ultimately in Christ Jesus. Through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, we have a present and future hope. No matter the trials or pain in this life, we can experience shalom knowing that Jesus has triumphed and that upon his return all things will be put back to right.

Nevertheless, in the meantime during this challenging earthly life, we also should be open to others by receiving and giving care and support as the body of Christ. We have one another and we need one another as expressions of God’s shalom.      

Today’s Hymn: Glory to you, my God, this night

Glory to you, my God, this night,
For all the blessings of the light,
To you, from whom all good does come,
Our life, our health, our lasting home.

Teach me to live, that I may dread
The grave as little as my bed,
Teach me to die, that so I may
Rise glorious at the aweful day.

O may I now on you repose,
And may kind sleep my eyelids close,
Sleep that may me more vigorous make
To serve my God when I awake.

If I lie restless on my bed,
Your word of healing peace be said,
If powerful dreams rise in the night,
Transform their darkness into light.

All praise to God, sustaining us,
Redeeming and transfiguring us,
Thanksgiving in eternity,
All praise, beloved Trinity.

(From A New Zealand Prayer Book, Night Prayer)