Saturday, December 15, 2012

Dear Susan

Dear Susan,

In a comment you made yesterday you raised the following matter which I see as important because much is made of the imago Dei and it is possible that we might misunderstand what it means in relation to important issues in human dignity:

"Peter, I had not noticed the necessity of complementary genitalia as going to the heart of what was being referred to as a reflection of the image of God which is an imaging of the distinctive Persons who are also One being, diversity in unity. Please help me see how you move from the distinctiveness of three Persons, traditionally all referred to by the male pronoun, to this being only appropriately reflected in two humans with complementary genitalia."

(Here, if you like, is a presuppositional introduction: The first chapters of Genesis set the scene for the remainder of the Bible in respect of the progress of God's will for God's creation. They tell the story of creation, of the messing up of creation (the Fall) and of the beginnings of human history as a story told of frail and feckless humanity's distance from God and disturbance of one another (so, e.g. Genesis 4 tells of the first murder). This history is signalled in Genesis 3 as being a history that God will be involved in as God seeks to reverse the fall through healing (salvation). That history, as you know, leads to Jesus Christ the Saviour of the world, and his story, in gospels and in epistles concludes the story begun in Genesis. Thus in the light of that story we re-read Genesis as Christians (fully aware that it was first written down as a story of ancient Israel) and we particularly read it in the light of our Christian understanding of God as Trinity. So when we zoom in on some of the details in Genesis we make some connections ...)

For humanity to be created as male and female in the image of God (1:27) suggests that the diversity of humanity (male and female) reflects or images the diversity of the Godhead (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and the unity of the Godhead is imaged in the unity of diverse humanity which, in the flow of the Genesis story, is the coming together of husband and wife in 'one flesh' (Genesis 2:24). That is, God is imaged in humanity, in each and every human being, in the diversity of humanity consisting of male and female, and in the unity of humanity in the particular embodiment of diverse humanity into one which is marriage.

With kind regards,


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your expansion, Peter, which helps me to see your thinking better.

It seems to me to place a huge weight on "us" as Trinity in Genesis 1:27 (a reading no Jewish person could see there).

To press that this is read through the lens of Jesus' interpretation would mean we arrive back at the problem that people conveniently apply his teaching to homosexuals, but not to heterosexuals!

Your approach seems, as I have said, to place too much weight on the Phenotypic - you appear to suggest you would marry a couple if they Phenotypically differed even if they were Chromosomally the same?

It seems to oversimplify gender (do you think the Biblical authors understood the five aspects of gender that I have listed?)

Even if it shows that the image of God can be imaged through heterosexual marriage, I think it is stretching it to say that it cannot be imaged in homosexual marriage, particularly from someone who would, I hope, wish to say that the fullness of God's image was manifested not in a marriage but in an individual!

Hence, whilst I now understand better your obsession with interlocking genitalia I am not convinced to share this approach and will continue to seek a more convincing approach.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Susan,
Most of Jesus' teaching is inconvenient!

I should think my simple thinking about gender is the simple thinking of most priests: when Fred and Mary present themselves for marriage we presume that as far as they are concerned everything is in perfect working order re gender according 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 criteria.

My simple obsession is with marriage being between a man and a woman, and not between two men and two women.

I am trying carefully not to say that a loving relationship between two men or two women is devoid of godly characteristics. But I do not think such relationships image the diversity in unity of God.

Anonymous said...

"Do you think the Biblical authors"

And here we come to the heart of the problem.

Scripture has only one author, God, and he understands His creation better than anyone.

The God-breathed Biblical teaching on sex and marriage is very inconvenient to current sexual fashions in the West.

Bryden Black said...

One of the points behind Peter’s “obsession”, Susan, is, I take it, to earth the image of God, to say humans are bodily creatures. To be sure; there is more to both humanity and the divine image than the physical, but there is at least the physical.

This is demonstrated in the sheer lexicographical nature of the two words, “image and likeness”. For example, if one’s territory was conquered in the ANE by some ruler from outside, they’d leave a physical representation of themselves behind, to remind the people they were subject to this particular ruler. Similarly, humankind represents God to the rest of the created order, ruling on God’s behalf; that’s the divine intent; that’s partially what “image and likeness” conveys textually in Gen 1 overall.

So Peter’s observations re human genitalia are quite simply pertinent. Nor is he alone in these observations. Robert W Jenson, in the second volume of his Systematic Theology, in ch.19, “Politics and Sex”, does something very similar. To be sure again; I am aware that Tobias Haller is rather dismissive of this “lock and key” approach ... Yet, for the life of me, it ranks surely among your more ‘sophisticated’ five criteria! All of which BTW normally, routinely align, making the exceptions that do occur just that, exceptions. And as we all know: exceptions prove the rule.

Last point. While of course individual men and women in and of themselves reflect the image of God, the crucial thing, again textually, is that there is more to this divine image than our own recent cultural western obsession with the individual. At a minimum, all are agreed relationality is key to this “image” language. Where I’d go further (governed by authentic Trinitarian thinking) is to emphasize the differentiated and non-interchangeable nature of those who are in relation one with another. This line of thinking comes to a focused climax when one man and one woman faithfully covenant for their life time within that institution we term “marriage”. The tragic irony of s-s ‘marriage’ is quite simply that the parties are not ‘diverse’ enough - at the most basic physical level; and so are incapable of reflecting adequately the Trinitarian image. And I sense we have to say this, even as they might of course be quite capable of embodying some features perfectly well enough. This after all is also what it means to be fallen creatures: essentially “good” (still), while also being fundamentally flawed (where etymology once more is necessary: esse Latin, to be; fundus Latin, deep; i.e. these adjectives are not synonyms; there is no dualism here).

Anonymous said...

So, Shawn, you are not as fully aware as Peter is that it was first written down as a story of ancient Israel and we particularly read it in the light of our Christian understanding of God as Trinity? You take no interest in the intention and understanding of the human pen-holders? Yet you were deeply upset recently by the documentary hypothesis? And here we come to the heart of the problem for me - you cannot agree amongst yourselves what the Bible actually teaches! Even your regular use of the word "Evangelical" seems to have no real agreed meaning.


Anonymous said...


I take the whole of Scripture to be the Wird of God, breathed out by Him, thus whatever "intentions" the Biblical scribes had served God's purpose. The Bible is a perfect unity. That IS the orthodox and evangelical view.

Splitting the Bible up into competing or contradictory multiple stories is a standard liberal tactic used as an excuse to ignore it.

I was not "upset" by the Documentsry Hypothesis, i just think it is wrong, and base that on devastating critiques of this passé theory, which liberals cling to only because it provides a convenient excuse to downplay or ignore Scripture.

Evangelicals may ssometimes disagree but your claim is frankly absurd. The vast majority of evangelicals DO agree on most things, and certainly agree on a central, foundational and coherent understanding of the Gospel.

And I am still waiting to read your own views, which you keep to yourself, which strikes me as very, well, convenient.

Anonymous said...

Shawn, you and I have already discussed that I am trying to understand views, and I have more than once now expressed that Mark and Rosemary appear to me to give the most consistent, understandable approach to the Bible as a whole, the other consistent position is the one you keep attacking. I am also not sure, then, what you define as an Evangelical. I think there are people who call themselves Evangelical who hold to the Documentary Hypothesis, for example (Peter? Bryden? - a simple yes or no would do). Maybe you think people are not welcome here unless they have their own position nicely organised, packaged ready for launching at people (and not prepared to shift). I have said this previously, and thought you welcomed that. But from your last line, perhaps I really am not, and what you said previously was, well, convenient. So maybe this should be my leave-taking at least for a bit.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Susan,
I am sorry but I cannot give a simple Yes or No answer to the question of the Documentary Hypothesis. I have not studied the matter in depth but on my understanding my answer is, Yes, I accept that different sources lie behind the Penteteuch. No, I don't think those sources are as distinguishable as the DH makes out as the names used of God are used in a complicated manner through the Penteteuch.

Anonymous said...

Hi Susan,

Of course you are welcome here! I did not say otherwise, and if that is the impression you got from my post then you have my apologies.

I also have no problem with you trying to understand views, but surely that does not mean you have none of your own at all?

Post-war Evangelicalism has always been a broad church movement. It includes Christians from a wide variety of denominations and traditions. It embraces those who practice infant baptism and those who only practice adult baptism. It embraces Arminians and Calvinists, those who affirm the DH and those who don't.

And like any family we have our disagreements and family feuds.

But that does not mean we are not in agreement on any core issues.

Evangelicalism has been defined as having a number of core elements:

A rejection of Liberal epidemiology and theology ( the degree and strength of that rejection varies)

A commitment to the centrality and authority of Scripture in the life of the Church and the believer.

The importance of personal conversion ( as opposed to nominal church membership)

A Cross-centered understanding of salvation.

And a commitment to fulfilling the Great Commision and preaching the Gospel to then ends of the earth.

To me what unites evangelicals is greater and mire important than what decides us.

But what unites

Bryden Black said...

OK Susan; I’ll be drawn ...!

During the late 1990s I used to lecture a unit entitled “OT Theology”. It was built upon certain textual and literary views of the OT itself, resulting in a lively discussion of what to ‘make of the whole’, and whether there was a ‘whole’ to be made at all. I provisionally entitled the course: “Theodrama: The God of Israel and the Israel of God - Performing/embodying the Torah of Yahweh in the Promises of Yahweh”. As a drama in three Acts, we followed the Hebrew Bible’s format as Tanakh, rather than say the Prot Bible or that of the RCC.

The upshot was that of course we saw the end textual results as composite productions; although naturally enough we also saw such ideas as Wellhausen’s as far too restrictive. Any documentary hypothesis of the Pentateuch these past 30 years embraces not only the work of Robert Alter’s but others’ who emphasize the narrative art of the ANE - as opposed to any modern western historiography. Even now of course such attempted reconstructions of how these “human pen-holders” themselves saw their craft remain just that, reconstructions.

All of which finally and naturally in no way obviates any claims the Scriptures are “the word of God”. It has long been held that we may draw parallels between Christology and Holy Scripture: understanding their respective two-fold natures is vital to a full appreciation of what God did, does and will do in the divine economy of human salvation. To that end, this last decade has seen some truly great books on Scripture. I’d recommend two in particular: Telford Work’s Living and Active: Scripture in the Economy of Salvation (Eerdmans, 2002); and John Webster’s Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch (CUP, 2003). The first enjoys the Christological parallel and draws some exciting and surprising conclusions; the second makes the necessary distinction between poiesis and dogma, granting both their place yet insisting also on the clear distinction. Tolle! Lege!