Why the Gospel Makes Us More (Not Less) Human

There is an unfortunate misunderstanding among Christians and non-Christians alike that Christianity makes us somehow less human and that our humanity is what we must escape. At its worst this has lead to the Gnostic heresies in the early church and the withdrawal from culture of the fundamentalists in early  to mid-twentieth century America. On a smaller scale this is still the picture of redemption that is largely held by non-Reformed Protestants and Reformed Protestants who align more with the Puritans than the Dutch Reformed tradition.  This idea rests upon a false biblical anthropology leading to a misunderstanding and reduction in scope of the biblical storyline. Anthony Bradley explains:

“There are two prominent schools of thought within conservative Protestant circles that continue to clash over what Christianity is about because their starting points comprise different biblical theological visions…

One begins by constructing an understanding of the Christian life orientated around Genesis chapters 1 and 2 and the other begins with Genesis chapter 3. A Gen 1 and 2 starting point views the gospel as a means for human beings to have a realized experience of what their humanity was meant to be and to do, whereas a Gen. 3 orientation sees the gospel as a means of saving us from our humanity in preparation for the eschaton (heaven).”

We must start with the creation account in Genesis 1, centering our biblical anthropology upon the original good creation of the world and humanity that was in full communion, with the triune God prior to the fall in Genesis 3. When we circumvent the original goodness of creation we are left with a distorted view of redemptive history that emphasizes being saved from our humanity rather than the restoration to our original humanity, and a depleted view of the gospel that emphasizes individual salvation (part of the gospel) apart from the redemption of the entire cosmos, including humanity (the entire gospel). Under an anthropology beginning in Genesis 3, “being human is something that needs to be remedied in preparation of a life of eternal rejoicing.” But an anthropology beginning in Genesis 1 gives us the proper view of humanity as something to be redeemed rather than eradicated. We do  not need to saved from out humanity, but rather saved from our sin that distorts out humanity. As N. T. Wright puts it,

“The purpose of Jesus is that He rescues us from everything that’s getting in the way of our being fully human. He enables us to be fully human again. Jesus enables damaged, broken and hurting people to be flourishing human beings again. That’s what the gospel does on a worldwide scale.”

Or in the words of Hans Rookmaaker, “Jesus didn’t come to make us Christian. Jesus came to make us fully human.” This does nor make sin any less grievous. If anything, it makes sin more devastating, but what it does mean is that the gospel is the means by which we become truly human. In a real way the gospel makes you more like yourself, as it makes the world more like itself. Your interests and passions and personality and giftings are not seen as something to rid yourself of in order to become super spiritual, but rather they become the means by which you can serve others and glorify God by working for the common good and promoting human flourishing in your corner of creation.  This does not make us self absorbed not is it the moralistic therapeutic deistic idea of self actualizatkon or self realization, but promotes self giving because that is what it means to be truly human: giving ourselves in service to others for the good of others and the glory of God. We thus no longer must see business and vocation as simply an evangelistic tool or a way to raise money for missions, but rather the way we restore dignity to others by creating jobs and quality products. The call to make disciples (Matt 28:19) does then not replace the call to cultivate the earth (Gen 2:15) nor does Great Commission (Matt 28:19) supplant the Great Commandment (Matt 22:37-39), but rather the call to make disciples and the Great Commission become particular expressions (integral but not the whole) of the comprehensive scope of what it means to cultivate the earth and to love God and our neighbor. We care about restoring dignity to humanity in a spiritual sense by preaching the gospel of personal reconciliation to God that the cross provides, but we also care about the physical, social, emotional, and psychological conditions of  humans as biopsychosocialspiritual beings, with inherent dignity as they are made in the Image of God. As Francis Schaeffer puts it,

““Christianity is not just involved with “salvation”, but with the total man in the total world. The Christian message begins with the existence of God forever, and then with creation. It does not begin with salvation. We must be thankful for salvation, but the Christian message is more than that. Man has a value because he is made in the image of God.”

 

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