Friday, October 19, 2007


At Fuller Seminary Presbyterian Students were expected to take a bunch of Presbyterian courses. They included Presbyterian History, Presbyterian Polity, Presbyterian Program, Presbyterian Ethos, and I think there was one other but I don’t remember what it was. It was 30 years ago.

Anyway, Jack Rogers taught Presbyterian Ethos. One day Jack asked what word would most characterize Presbyterian theology. There was this long silence and then Jack started almost jumping up and down shouting, “Covenant! Covenant! If you don’t get anything else out of this class I want you to remember that Presbyterians believe in covenant! So of course, I do.

I believe in a God who makes covenants. Most of us tend to think a covenant is something like a contract. One side agrees to do one thing and the other side agrees to do another think. Like getting a contractor to come in and replace your furnace. The contractor puts the furnace in and you pay. A covenant, from a Biblical perspective, is nothing like that.

In the Bible God acts first and then asks people to follow and obey. We see this in the 10 Commandments. The 10 Commandments begin:

1Then God spoke all these words: 2I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3you shall have no other gods before£ me. (Ex.20:1-3; Deut 5:6)

God acts with grace and then calls people to follow and obey. It’s the same in the New Testament. God acts in Jesus, (incarnation, life, death and resurrection), with grace and then calls people out to follow. (Okay, yes, Jesus called followers before he died and rose, but the incarnation was part of the grace. And yes, God called Abraham to follow and made promises, most of which were not fulfilled for years. So sometimes God calls first and then gives the gift. But the promise of the gift always comes before the call to follow.

Covenantal Theology says that God acts graciously and calls people to follow. This is the case throughout the Old Testament (literally Old Covenant) and also the New Testament. In fact Reformed thinking says that there is no difference between the Old and New Covenants in the aspect of work. The Covenants of the Old Testament are covenants of grace as are those of the New Testament. In a sense they are all one covenant, God acting graciously and calling people to follow. In this sense I do believe in salvation history.

Some caveats: while I believe that God made a covenant with Abraham and other covenants with the people of Israel, there can be no historical evidence for this. We can find some archeological evidence for the existence of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, (although whether some of the evidence actually goes back to the time period or are fakes is highly debated), but that evidence can’t tell us that God spoke to Abraham or Moses or David or Elijah and made covenants. Belief in a God who makes covenants and that specific covenants were made is a theological statement.

Another critical factor is the false assumption by some that God makes covenants with secular nations today. The US is God’s land only in the sense that all the earth is God’s. All nations do both good and bad. God has made no covenant with any nation today. To suggest that God does so is not only theologically wrong but also dangerous.

So a major part of Church belief that affects or at least should affect the behavior of the Church is the covenant God made with the people of God. Deuteronomy says that God didn’t choose Israel because there was something special about Israel. God doesn’t choose those who come to faith because there is something special about them. God simply chooses and makes a covenant.

This should produce two effects in the Church. First, there are no grounds for boasting because we are part of the Church. We didn’t become part of the Church because we did anything. Humility is the order of the day. Second, while there is no work that gains God’s favor, part of being people with whom God has made a covenant is that we are called to live as the people of God. We must seek to live as if the Kingdom of God was already present in all completeness in the world today. Being people of the covenant makes ethical demands.

Grace and Peace


Sunday, October 7, 2007


First, I finally found the picture of me with really long hair and a beard. Here it is!

Sin. I had to get around to it sooner or later. And after talking about the image of God I figured now was a good time. I think the two need to be talked about and heard together. C. S. Lewis says something about humans that I think describes the relationship between being created in the image of God and sin perfectly: "'You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve,' said Aslan.' And that is both honor enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor in earth.'"[1] (Prince Caspian)

We have had this conversation time and again in the responses to John and my blogs. Are humans totally evil? They cannot be totally evil because they are created in the image of God. Are humans good? They cannot be totally good because they sin. All humans are created in the image of God. All humans sin. You could say that the image of God is twisted and marred in humans by sin.

There are probably many more aspects to sin than two but I will highlight two: individual sin and inherited sin.

In response to my last blog societyvs pointed out that in some societies the idea of the individual is difficult to understand. The members of those societies see themselves primarily as members of the group. We in America see ourselves primarily as individuals. I think one could make a case that the Bible sees humans first as part of the whole of humanity and then part of a nation or tribe and lastly as individuals. I think both of these views as necessary.

Curiously in the early 1800’s Christians in America had this very debate. Traditional Calvinists argued for original sin, that sin was inherited from the original humans. Members of a school of thought from Yale, (named after Samuel Hopkins) argued that sin was rather “an accumulation of actions rather than primarily a state of being issuing in evil deeds.”[2] (Actually these were the thoughts of Jonathan Edwards Jr. and Timothy Dwight.)

Now clearly science throws a wrench into all theological statements about sin. If we believe that humans evolved from other species, (I hate saying lesser species), then when or how did sin come into the world through the actions of some humans? Even more important, it seems that life on earth evolved in such a way that species were and are always in competition. Forget animals and insects, species of trees compete for space in the forest! So is intraspecies competition, (human against human), sinful while interspecies competition not? Or as John keeps telling us, and rightly so, because humans have the power is it sinful for humans to use other species as resources for our own gain?

Some try and explain the problem with Process Theology. God is in the process of moving creation towards perfection and God is not all powerful so God kind of nudges creation toward perfection. I find Process Theology an unpalatable answer. Part of my reaction is emotional. I want a God I can depend upon, not a God who may or may not bring in perfection. And, as we have discussed before, I see the Bible as an Authority, properly interpreted.

So that brings us to the beginning of Genesis. The second creation story tells us about a man named Man and a woman named Woman, (whose name the Man later changed to Eve, mother of all living). I do not take this story literally. I would use the word “legend” to describe it. Hebrews looked at the world and saw good and evil, particularly evil done by humans. They wrote a story to explain how evil came into the world. I don’t think the story is a literal description of how God created the world in general and humans in particular, although some of it is poetically beautiful, like the creation of Woman as both the same and different from Man. Neither do I think the description of how humans brought evil into the world is literally true. But I do think there is a deeper truth in the story. Human sin is primarily the attempt by humans to take the place of God, to set their own law in the place of God’s Law. The story tells of the attempt by humans to become autonomous, that is to become a law unto themselves. This attempt not only breaks the relationship between God and humans, it also breaks the relationship between humans. We see one consequence of sin in the attempt of the man to rule over the woman, in effect to say that women are less than men. But we also see as we go on in the story that humans move from simple disobedience to God, to blaming the other to murder! Human sin grows geometrically.

I think there is another truth in this story, one that will be roundly disputed: that humans brought sin into the world and somehow we communicate this disease we call sin from generation to generation, almost as if it is a genetic disease. Thus sin is something we all inherit.

So much for the collective or the community. Sin is also individual. I sin. I get lazy and don’t do what I promised my wife I would do until she finally goes out and does it herself. I get frustrated with members of my congregation, (as if I am perfect and they are not!). I watch the leaves turn color and marvel at the beauty but don’t stop to thank God for the wonders of creation and the regularity that God has placed in creation. And the list goes on. Like the Man in Genesis 3, I want to blame someone else for my sin, (my parents, my wife, anyone but me!), but I am responsible for what I do and for what I fail to do. And I see others sin too. In fact it is much easier for me to see the sins of others than it is to see my own sin!

Which brings us to another aspect of sin. I may get drunk and have an accident and kill someone. That is my sin. But there is also collective or corporate sin. We fail to elect governmental officials who seek to bring true justice. We elect presidents who send American troops into Iraq or some other land failing to understand the complexity of the situation and bringing death and destruction to people who only want to be left alone. Corporations cut the tops of mountains off to get at the coal underneath and so destroy God’s good creation. And many of us profit, sometimes unknowingly, from this corporate sin. We sin as individuals and we sin as groups.

I believe in original sin and individual sin.

Grace and Peace


[1] Prince Caspian, C. S. Lewis, (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1951), pp. 211-212.

[2] (New England Theology), BELIEVE Religious Information Source web-site. 2007. A Christ Walk Church Public Service. 10/7/07

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


One of the basic affirmations of the Bible, (although it isn’t mentioned all that frequently) is that humans are created in the image of God. In fact when referring to humans in general and not to Jesus Christ the term is only used once, in Genesis 1. It says:

26Then God said, “Let us make humankind£ in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth,£ and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

27 So God created humankind£ in his image,

in the image of God he created them;£

male and female he created them.

Let’s start with the science. If we believe that humans descended from a series of proto humans, and before that from other life forms back to one celled organisms, as the evidence suggests, one has to ask just when did humans become the image of God. The short answer is, who knows? Nevertheless, I think the belief that humans are created in the image of God is a necessary belief. Let me explain.

I’m going to argue backwards, from ethics to theology to anthropology, not the best way to prove a point but I’m not trying to prove that humans are created in the image of God. I am asserting it as a matter of faith.

I think the assertion that humans are created in the image of God is a necessary, indeed vital faith statement. For too long, in fact throughout most of human history, humans have treated the other, the human that is different, as sub human. We certainly see this in the Nazi’s treatment of Jews, as well as Christian persecution of Jews throughout most of the past two millennia. We see this in the slavery of people from Africa over the past 500 years. We see this in our current war in Iraq and in the Vietnam War. Even in World War II American propaganda portrayed the Japanese as sub human. This allowed us to fire bomb Tokyo and kill over 100,000 people in one night. And yes, what happened in Johnson City, Tennessee over the past couple of days is also an example. We can publish the names of people accused of a crime on the front page of the newspaper because, after all, they were allegedly committing homosexual acts.

I affirm that humans, all humans, are created in the image of God. That means that whenever we look at anyone, no matter how we feel about that particular person, no matter what that person may or may not have done, that person deserves respect. We should see that person as one who bears the image of God. That means we have to look past what we see and past our prejudices and see the image of God in that person. That means we have to love and honor that person. There can be no stereotyping. People individually and collectively must be treated with love and care. This means that the following are the very least that we must do:

  1. We shall not kill the image of God. I include in this both abortion and capital punishment.
  2. We must listen to the other, particularly if we disagree with the other.
  3. We cannot treat people as groups but must take people as individuals.
  4. We must be very, very careful when we think about going to war. Frankly I would rather be a pacifist, but see the need for national defense in a fallen world. But we rush too quickly to war, not thinking through the very real and agonizing questions that must be asked when we make the decision to go to war. The questions asked about just war by Augustine should be send us into a careful process, not a quick checklist. Here’s a question for you: was the American Revolution a just war? My opinion is, not by Augustine’s standards.
  5. When we do think of people as groups we must see the image of God in every person in the group.
  6. Prisoners are all created in the image of God. The American prison system ignores the image of God in prisons and dehumanizes them. Even when someone does something that is terribly wrong that person still images God, not by what they have done wrong but simply because they are human.
  7. Intelligence or the lack thereof does not have anything to do with being created in the image of God. People with Down’s Syndrome are created in the image of God.

Just what does it mean to be created in the image of God? I think there are two aspects that we find in the Genesis passage. To be created in the image of God is to be created for community. While we can see this in human behavior, (we need to get together), the Genesis passage points to our need for community by saying that God created us male and female. God made us the same but different from each other, thus saying that we need each other.

The other aspect is that of dominion or stewardship. God created us to care for creation. John you keep insisting on the need to take care of planet Earth before it is too late. I suggest that such care is part of the very essence of what it means to be created in the image of God. Just as God is creator, so we are those who are created to care for the parts of God creation that come under our influence. No, we don’t have responsibility for the sun, (at least not yet) but we do have responsibility for the ocean. We are over fishing and thereby bringing some species close to extinction. The plastic holders for six packs kill turtles and dolphins. The list goes on and on. We are not caring for God’s creation and we soon will pay the price.

Now the big question: when did humans receive the image of God? Was Australopihecus afarensis created in the image of God? My answer is, how should I know? I am certain that Homo sapiens are created in the image of God. Before that I don’t have a clue. The scientific record isn’t going to tell us and the Bible isn’t going to tell us for two reasons: the writers/editors of the Bible had no idea about pre Homo sapiens and the writers/editors of the Bible were writing for the people of their time, not to provide an anthropological study of human or any other species.

In other words I don’t think science can prove to us that humans are created in the image of God and I don’t think the Bible can tell us when humans were endowed with the image of God. And while the past interests me it is our present treatment of each other that I find most important. We can’t fix the past. We can change the way we treat each other now.

I affirm that God created humans in the image of God.

Grace and Peace