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Posts Tagged ‘salvation’

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Christianity is unmistakably anthropocentric. Right from the start it is humanity, not the animals, who is made in the image of God (Gen 1:27). It is they who are to “fill the earth and subdue it,” exercising dominion over the animals and being given the plants to eat (vv.28-29). Although the narrative attributes it to the fall, knowledge of good and evil becomes a distinctive of humanity through eating the fruit (Gen 3:1-7). And it may be rhetorical but Jesus places more value on human than animal life (Matt 6:26; 10:31; 12:12). Moreover God came to earth as a human, not an animal (John 1:14). Just as the first Adam sinned with consequences for all humanity, Jesus’ work of righteousness had universal human significance (Rom 5:18). The incarnation in itself had atoning value, and it was necessary that Jesus was fully human or we would not be fully saved. As Gregory Nazianzus famously argued, “That which was not assumed is not healed; but that which is united to God is saved.” Gregory’s statement is in polemical context, addressing Apollinarianism, yet it is still indicative of the anthropocentric climate of Christian theology.

Despite humanity’s centrality to the biblical story, Christian theology does not ignore the place of animals. God is creator of all. Not only Noah’s human family but all the animals are to be saved from the flood (Gen 6:19-20). It is only after the flood that God allows humans to eat the animals, possibly as a result of human violence (Gen 9:3). Whereas the other prophets imagine universal peace and worship of God for humanity, Isaiah’s eschatological vision includes animals: “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them” (Isa 11:6). This is in part fulfilled in Jesus’ coming. The gospel was not only for humanity but the whole of creation (Mark 16:5). Paul looks forward to a time when “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom 8:21), and acknowledges the universal significance of the gospel (Eph 1:7-10; Col 1:16-20; cf. Acts 3:19-21).

The problem then is not so much that Christian theology has no place for creation other than humanity, nor that this theology unanimously sanctions violence against the non-human. The problem is that humanity’s being accorded a central place in creation, revelation, and new creation implicitly maintains an anthropocentrism, even if there are resources for beginning to move beyond that. In creation it is humanity that is to represent God to the animals, and, through Jesus, again this gospel of universal significance is revealed first to humanity who are to represent God to the animals.

What role does humanity play in the salvation history of the animals?

Has God spoken to the animals apart from us?

How do the animals view us, God, and their place in the world?

What resources do evolution and pre-human existence provide for understanding revelation and salvation to the animals?

How much is biblical anthropocentrism a product of human dominion over the earth and are there alternative ways of viewing the biblical story?

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This is a theme that has been developing in my theology over this year. Romans 8:18-23 I think demonstrates it well:

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

Here the imperfections and sufferings of creation, although they are tied to sin (5:12), are also “not of its own will.” I respect the theological qualifications of this passage that attempt to distance God from having any direct connection with sin, but the theme is prevalent throughout Romans, no doubt understanding that the same qualifications may apply: “God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all” (11:32). He sent the law, knowing that it would incite sin, yet that his grace would increase (5:20-21). He hardened Pharaoh’s heart for his purposes (9:17). And he used the Jews’ rejection of Jesus as part of his plan to include the Gentiles (11:15).

When God creates, the possibility of fall is intrinsic to his creation. God wills that his creation will freely respond to him so he must also allow free rebellion. Sin is not merely the individual breaking the moral law, delivered from this through repentance, but the failure of the cosmos to respond to God, of which creation is both perpetrator (sin) and victim (suffering).¹ Is God’s redemptive work in salvation history a response or always originally intended? I’m of the opinion that God creates with the plan to redeem, knowing sin is necessary to a free creation. Additionally, suffering may even be necessary for redemption to be fully realised: That which is created and freely loves God knows something of this love, but that which is created good, suffers and rejects God, and then is reconciled and redeemed, knows something else: “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (5:20).²

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¹Anthropocentric accounts of the fall must first explain why the Genesis story includes a snake.

²Not that I am involved in any great suffering so that I can give meaning to it. This at the moment is a merely intellectual exercise, although I do appreciate that when Paul speaks of suffering, he means it.

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It’s been an awesome week studying for a single exam I have coming up, Christology and Revelation, with a question on how we know about God (revelation), one on the divine/human nature of Jesus (christology), and two on atonement, or “at-onement,” exploring the multiplicities of what Jesus’ life, death and resurrection mean for humanity’s reconciliation with God. Having never really delved into questions of atonement, I’ve drunk deeply of the wealth of material I’ve found this week! Recently though, as in about ten minutes ago, I revisited a nicety which I remember popping up not infrequently in the history of my exposure to all things atonement. It goes something like this:

“Even if you were the last person on earth, Jesus still would have died for you.”

A nicety, indeed. But maybe not the truth. Do we, in presenting the Gospel primarily as it concerns individuals the world over, empty the cross of its power? I wonder why Jesus doesn’t come instead to Adam and Eve and make reparation for their individual sins. And what broken relationships is this last person on earth going to be restored in? What about the cosmological extent of the fall: Even if you were the last moon in the universe, would Jesus still have died for you? What about all the fishes of the deep blue sea who go unmentioned in this metaphor?

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Jesus’ death is the high point of God’s reconciliation of Creation to him (Rom 8:20-21), entering into time at the “culmination of the ages” (Heb 9:26). Neither can Jesus say, “You are forgiven,” without, “Take up your cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23-24). What if forgiveness was not a mere cancelling of our own indebtedness to God but an invitation to take part work of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18)? Even if you were the last person on earth, Jesus would still call with you to join in this work.

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“Amazing race, how sweet the taste, that saved a wrench for me. I once was in the lost and found, was blind but found my keys.” — Reese, Malcolm in the Middle

Understanding grace has been one of the most difficult endeavors undergone in my last 4 years of following Jesus. For me, it is indistinguishable from the free will/predestination (Arminian/Calvinist) debate: If I do not need to do anything to gain salvation, then my salvation depends completely on God. If my salvation depends completely on God and God wants all to be saved, then all are saved. If all are not saved then my salvation does not depend completely on God. Comprende?

The only viable conclusions of Arminianism are either works-based salvation or antinomianism. The only viable conclusions of Calvinism are either universalism or tyranny. I’m sure those terms will make understanding this for you infinitely easier. Actually, ignore them, unless you’re one of those who love jargon.

One thing the theology of grace I have been exposed to does not deal with very well is responsibility. What I mean is that although there are those rare climactic moments when you know completely that there is nothing you can do to gain salvation and that it is completely free, these moments are often all to quickly swamped by what is required of us. Grace: It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing. The difficulty comes mid-week when you face yourself to find that the world requires something of you. You need to finish your degree. You need to turn up to work. You need to pay your rent on time. You need to maintain a healthy diet. You need to spend time with those who love you.

Why so worried? These are seriously non-issues. Try: You need to provide food for your family. You need to find a safe place to live. You need to speak out against the injustices your government system perpetuates. You need to stay warm. You need to help those who can’t help themselves.

Consider Paul “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1Co 13:3 NIV). Sometimes we limit even beauty and power of verses like this by turning them into law: You must do everything out of love. Yet in saying ‘you must’, you automatically create law to prevent the law which Paul speaks of, and therefore you again bind grace with law.

Two Christians found themselves each in isolation after being verbally abused and beaten by their persecutors. The first prayed out to God, “O Lord! Thank you delivering me from my enemies. I cannot rid myself of the hate I have inside for them. Please change my heart. I know that you desire for me to pray blessing over them. Please grant me the grace so that I can do this out of love for them, rather than doing this because I know I should.” Somewhere nearby, the second began her prayers, “Father, I praise you for saving my life again today. I wish for you to come soon and wipe evil off the face of the earth. ‘Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies’ (Ps 139:21-22 NIV). Yet I know I am required to pray for them. Despite my complete desire for their destruction, I will ask you to bless them because I know this is your will.”

There are two laws at work here: The second person prays according to the law that you must pray for your enemies. The first person prays according to the law that you must act out of love rather than law. Ideally, we act out of love, yet we don’t always have love with which to act.

Sometimes it is more loving to do something out of obligation than to not do it at all.

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