Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Our Missional God 17

posted by xscot mcknight

How does “who we are” impact mission in this world? This is the subject of the 13th chp of Chris Wright’s book The Mission of God. He addresses here subject I have addressed myself, so I was delighted both to see that he focused on our being Eikons of God and to see what he had to say.
Think about this one: How does who we think humans are shape our mission? Our work? Our interactions? I know we affirm that we are Eikons, but does it do anything to us when we are most frustrated? How does knowing that Democrats and Republicans are Eikons shape our interactions? Our policies?
To begin with, he addresses that we are in God’s image. And he goes to four points:
1. We are addressable by God — and this is both missional and it deals (though he does not take this up at length here) with those “who have not heard the gospel.”
2. We are accountable to God — because we are God’s Eikons, we are accountable to God.
3. We each have dignity and equality — because each of us is an Eikon.
4. The gospel therefore fits all: the gospel addresses us as Eikons.
We are created as Eikons for a task: to rule over, to keep and to care for creation. So Genesis 1.
We are created as Eikons in relationship: here Wright says something I liked and have not thought about enough, if at all. God makes the woman to be a “companion” for the man not just to compensate for loneliness but also to help in creation care, the task of humans in this world.
But Eikons rebel against God (what I call being “cracked Eikons”):
Sin affects us spiritually, mentally, physically, socially.
Sin affects human society and history — and here he does not shy away from affirming systemic evil and sin. Humans cause the problems but structures carry on the problems.
Sin spreads horizontally — to one another — and vertically — from one generation to another.
Sin affects the environment.
His paradigm is HIV/AIDS.



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Daniel

posted September 23, 2008 at 7:19 am


And sin affects all those areas because it affects our relationship with God.
A post worth meditating on! Thanks.



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John Frye

posted September 23, 2008 at 7:48 am


Unless we interpret “sin” against the grand wonder of being Eikons of God we will reduce the power and purpose of the gospel of the kingdom of God instigated in Jesus and carried on by the church.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted September 23, 2008 at 9:03 am


“God makes the woman to be a ?companion? for the man not just to compensate for loneliness but also to help in creation care, the task of humans in this world.”
Amen!
I think this is an extension of larger blind spot that has pervaded much of our theology: The place of our economic labor within the context of God’s mission. For far too many, our work is viewed as a distraction from (rather than an extension of) or relationship with God. When our economic labor is theologically considered it is most often cast in purely instrumental terms or it is dealt with in restrictive terms (i.e, what not to do in order to be spiritual, holy and just: Don’t lie and steal; don’t covet; avoid greed; give of your abundance; etc.)
Central to our eikonness is co-creative stewardship in relationship with God. Work is an expression of our eikonic nature. I think Wright helps move us toward a better perspective.



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Travis Greene

posted September 23, 2008 at 9:12 am


“We are created as Eikons for a task: to rule over, to keep and to care for creation. So Genesis 1.”
Is it possible there’s even more to it than this? That sounds like humanity’s role in Eden is largely one of maintenance. I think a sub-creative role spreading outward from the Garden is what’s implied in Genesis, particularly with the naming of the animals.
What does pre-Fall humanity imply for post-Resurrection humanity?



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Michael W. Kruse

posted September 23, 2008 at 10:25 am


#4
Travis, you’re hitting on theme here I’ve raised to the point of being obnoxious here Jesus Creed. :) The story begins in a garden and ends in a garden-city. It isn’t just maintenance. Creation is good but unfinished. It is bringing creation to fullness. With human beings being a part of creation, that means human culture and habitat as well.



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Patrick

posted September 23, 2008 at 6:41 pm


Travis and Michael,
I was struck by how little Wright’s narrative really depends on an idea of “pre-Fall” humanity at all (perhaps because he begins his story more with Exodus than Genesis). Which makes me wonder: to what extent does the idea of our creation as Eikons have to be grounded in empirical/historical claims about an actual prelapsarian state? I have always found it easier to believe in physical resurrection than in a time early on when humans were free of any conflict, suffering, or waywardness arising from the tension between their embodiment and the reflective consciousness that distinguishes them from animals.
How important is original (as opposed to actual personal or systemic) sin in a missional reading of the Biblical story? I notice also that the other Wright, in Surprised by Hope, seems more hesitant than he usually is when he talks about how our experience of transience used to be good but “mysteriously” got infected by sin…. Shouldn’t a good theology of the future cast a clearer light on the past?



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Michael W. Kruse

posted September 23, 2008 at 9:22 pm


Patrick #6
I’m not sure I agree with your assessment. I think Wright’s narrative does hinge heavily on the Fall. (See pages 429-433 for example.) Where I think Wright excels is in showing this is not first and foremost about a legal dilemma, but rather a relational dilemma. The primary impact of the Fall was not that laws were broken but that relationships were fractured. If there is no pre-lapsarian state, then what is all the language of redemption referring to? I don’t follow.
I will say that I think the pre-lapsarian state is deeply shrouded from a historical standpoint. But as an element within the Biblical narrative, I see it as indispensable. The biblical writers seem to affirm this as does the witness of the church through the ages. So I guess I would need to hear more of what you’re saying.



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Patrick

posted September 24, 2008 at 12:24 am


Michael,
I shouldn’t have spoken about NT Wright’s book until I’d finished it! I agree with you that a prelapsarian state is a crucial part of the story. I would say that it is the kind of beginning presupposed by the story’s end as we anticipate it. (I understand Judaism does not make a big deal about a “fall” in the way Christianity does, precisely because its story has a different shape.) It’s just that I have difficulty mapping that story onto the historical past. The incarnation is also a mystery, but in a way that makes some historical sense. The fall seems more mythical somehow.



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RJS

posted September 24, 2008 at 4:42 am


Patrick,
I agree with you — an initial perfect state of mankind followed by a literal historical fall (whether 6000 years ago, 40,000 years ago or 200,000 years ago) is the piece of the story I have the hardest time getting my mind around. In comparison the doctrines of incarnation and resurrection are child?s play.
It doesn’t help that most of the attempts to wrestle with it are fraught with internal inconsistencies and appear inconsistent with the available external evidence as well.
Yet — the doctrine of original sin in some form is essential.
Whenever Michael (and as he says – it is a common theme in his comments) emphasizes the garden, or Scot emphasizes the originating crack in the eikon I cringe. The pre-crack, perfect garden state is enigma. And then the church in all of its manifestations takes this in directions I find difficult to embrace (most especially Augustine and the reformed tradition).
This is worth more discussion.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted September 24, 2008 at 9:16 am


Patrick #8
“It?s just that I have difficulty mapping that story onto the historical past.”
You and me both. :)
Both the beginning and end of the biblical narrative are shrouded in metaphoric symbolic language (ex. How does a city descend from heaven to the earth?). Yet I believe both are about actual events that occur in space and time.
I understand Genesis 1 and 2 to be a highly metaphoric and poetic theological statement about origins. Yet one of the astonishing things about Chapter 1 is that the order in which things appear is the order in which we understand they appeared according to science.
If we place ourselves on the earth’s surface after Genesis 1:1, we are on a lifeless planet covered in water. The atmosphere is filled with debris and dust, impenetrable by light. (v.2 )
As the debris begins to clear over eons, light peaks through and there is day and night. (vs. 3-5)
The atmosphere begins to take shape. (vs. 6-8)
Land begins to appear as the atmosphere forms and the waters recede. We begin to see vegetation. (vs. 9-13)
As the atmosphere finally clears, we finally see the Sun and Moon who “rule” the day and night. (vs 14-19)
Sea creatures and birds appear. (vs. 20-23)
They are followed by the large land creatures. (vs. 24-25)
Then humans appear. (vs 26-27)
This not the complete scientific account but the account it gives is astonishingly in sync with the scientific record. It is also interesting that Gen. 2:19 speaks of God forming the animals out of the ground and 2:7 of man being formed out of the dust before life was breathed into him. Isn’t this a fitting pre-scientific way of saying evolution? Maybe God evolved the first proto-human and then transformed him by “breathing” life into him. Did something happen in history with this first human that is symbolically being conveyed to us in the story? I don’t know.
From the standpoint of history, what I’m struck by is the “coincidences” between the biblical story and what we know of natural history. It gives the story a feel of historicity. And yet other aspects of the story seem irreconcilable with our historical account.
From a theological standpoint, the story has strong theological statements, some of which are made poetically (ex. three days of separating, followed by three days of filling the separated entities.)
You’ll notice above I said “the story begins in a garden …” That is my way of being faithful to the biblical account without having to give a detailed reconciliation between science and narrative. I take on faith that there is some sense in which we are not now what we were intended to be and that we need redemption. I take it that the fact that the story begins in a garden and ends in a garden-city says something theologically significant, although I can speak with no precision at all about what that garden may have historically been or about what the garden-city will be like. Apparently it is enough that we have these symbolic components of the story in mind.
Those are some of my thoughts.



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mariam

posted September 25, 2008 at 2:32 am


Michael, I really liked your comments in 10. I haven’t had the same struggles with science vs theology because I came from a secular background so I came to the Bible first with a rationlist/post-modern mindset. So when I read Genesis and I see that order of creation which you describe above and how it fits more or less with how we understand the earth and her creatures evolved, I think “Hey! Look at that. That’s quite a coincidence!” My direction has been from expecting very little from the Bible – expecting it to be of very little relevance to our 21st Century lives to noticing how much of the time it actually seems to be right about things and is relevant to us- although I don’t expect to become an inerrantist any time soon:)
I like your idea that God is still creating, bringing creation to fullness and that He calls us to create with him. By the same token I believe He is still creating us. The notion that a sovereign omniscient God could create something in His image so imperfect that he/she failed the first real test of obedience and brought all of creation down with him is just silly. If evolution is the means by which God has brought us into being, then clearly our creation is an ongoing process and God is not finished with us yet.
Do I believe in a literal Garden of Eden? Probably not. What Genesis describes is not some sort of linear fait accompli but it brings together themes to tell the story of our evolving relationship with God. That it pulls these themes together in a narrative fashion does not mean it is a historical or scientific record. The important themes are these:
-God has given us everything we need to create or recreate Eden
-we screw up and hurt ourselves and creation without God’s help and guidance
-God will not abandon us but will stay with us and provide for us, even when we screw up
-God wants us to freely choose a relationship with Him and He wants us to choose to receive and obey him. That freely chosen relationship is more important to Him than our obedience at any cost.
God knew what would happen when he breathed sentience into primates. He knew that an awareness of the consequences of our actions combined with the underlying instinct for survival we share with our ancestors would make us painfully aware of our inability to be like Him – that the tension between what we are and what we should be would bring us suffering and pain. He knew that death would become part of our awareness as it hadn’t been when we were not sentient and with it the fear that motivates so much of our sin. But He knew that it was a necessary stage in our development – that creation comes of rearranging and arranging primal elements and that is not done without violence. And here I find myself surprisingly in agreement with the Calvinists – God planned “the Fall”. I don’t think He did it to glorify himself at our expense however. He did it so that we would grow.
He could have made us incapable of disobedience but he didn’t. Why? Obviously free will is a very mixed blessing for man but I think there must be something in it for God. I believe that His will is to eventually become one with His creation, to bridge the gulf that separates the physical from the spiritual, mind from matter, ether from clay. The incarnation of God in man, in Jesus, shows us the end result- the omega, the second Adam.
So to me the whole biblical narrative, the ongoing story is about our spiritual evolution, both individually and as a race. We don’t seem to have really moved very far out of OT sensibilities yet, but we are still infants in the span of creatiion. God has all the time in the universe to finish us.



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Travis Greene

posted September 25, 2008 at 2:00 pm


I’m very hesitant of dismissing sin, death, and evil as mere “growing pains” on our way to inevitable utopia. Defining the biblical narrative as one of spiritual evolution seems to be just repackaging the modern myth of progress.
Similarly, I think the biblical narrative strongly tells us that God provides much more than “guidance”. What Jesus does on the cross and through his Resurrection and the gift of the Spirit is more than sage fatherly advice.
There is continuity between the world we live in and the kingdom of God Jesus is bringing (the mustard seed, the leavened dough), but also radical discontinuity (the thief in the night).
But all that is about the future. The question here is the past. The Eden myth presents a radical change in humanity and reality before and after the Fall. Archaeology purports to present a gradual development from ape to fully sentient modern human. They would seem to be in conflict.
But I’m not sure they are. Does it matter, morally and spiritually, whether early humans wore clothes, or used primitive tools, or were illiterate? Is it impossible to imagine early human beings, finally aware of self and God (whether made so gradually or through a dramatic divine act represented by God’s breathing into dust), able to make moral choices, and choosing to worship God, love each other, and make their way in the world as God’s sub-creative image-bearers, naming the world as they find it, knowing nothing of sin? Is it impossible to imagine that somebody, somewhere, at some point in human history, was presented with the choice to obey God or seek their own glory–and failed (As C.S. Lewis says, this choice could have involved the literal eating of a fruit, but the question is of no consequence)? And that this failure began to infect the race, passing from parent to child not genetically, but by the simple fact that we are social beings and cannot help but learn from each other?
I don’t find it that hard to imagine what we should be like; Jesus and the prophets supply plenty to fund our imaginations. I don’t find it that hard to imagine that we were as we were meant to be, if only for a brief moment (or year, or century). The narrative of the Bible tells me there’s a reason the human race, and the world, is the way it is, but that doesn’t matter anymore because God has addressed the problem through Jesus.



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mariam

posted September 26, 2008 at 12:05 am


I don’t think that I would dismiss sin, death and evil as simply “growing pains” either. That would be bordering on flippant when they are THE problems the world faces. I also agree that God provides more than guidance and I also believe in the redemption God has offered us through Christ. However I was mainly addressing what I thought were the themes in the Genesis story, which sets up the problem in the narrative, as it were.
I agree that it is possible that there were sinless humans at some point in time and that one of them yielded to temptation but I don’t find it probable. As you take issue with the notion of human progress (however gradual) probably because you look around and see that man is still mired in sin, I find it hard to imagine that we were ever sinless, once we had the awareness and could choose our actions. I am trying to make sense of a story that seems to suggest that God would put temptation in the path of a naiive creature and not know what would happen and then curse mankind for what He must have known would happen. The only way I can make sense of this is to believe that, if God is both loving, just and omniscient, that what He allowed to happen needed to happen. If He is omniscient He knew what would happen. If He is loving He would not have permitted the disobedience which has caused us all so much pain and suffering, any more than a mother would allow a two year old to touch a flame unless He thought it necessary. And if He is just He would not curse us for something we could not help, or didn’t have the knowledge to understand the consequences. I have to believe that He allowed it to happen as part of our ongoing creation.



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