There has been much rethinking about the Christian message going on in recent years. It is likely to continue into the foreseeable future (which, of course, is itself an ever-shortening period). Questions concerning the nature of the Bible, its purpose, its origins, its interpretation, its authority are all very important; questions about the nature of justification have been rekindled recently; the status of unevangelized and even of evangelized and unconverted people have come up again in recent discussions; the meaning Genesis is under scrutiny as more and more Christians find traditional interpretations difficult to square with what seems to be indisputable evidence from science pointing in a different direction. And all that and more comes from within the evangelical tent.
It can be very tempting to say “just give me Jesus,” and let the questions go without further thought. On one hand, that simple formula might be taken as our call to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God; it’s Jesus’ way of doing life. On the other hand, any version of Jesus we wish to be given is undeniably filtered through a way of using the word about him, the people who speak it to us, the culture in which we hear of him, and a host of other factors both personal and sociological. Even in the interpretation of Jesus, we seem at times to be choosing between interpreting Jesus in light of our way of looking at life or pretending that there are no factors of time and culture between the Jesus of the New Testament and our 21st century lives.
All of which ought to make us a great deal more humble about our assertions than is often the case. We encounter everything from a particular perspective and learn best when we hear from other starting points. Contrary to some people’s opinions, however, we are not entirely bound by our starting points; we can engage those from other cultures and learn from them, especially from within the Christian framework, but also from outside on the biblical assumption of a common humanity. But humility in our conclusions is not the same as disinterest in our thinking. We do have minds, we have been given both natural and special revelation, and we do share an interest in finding our way toward the truth about things. We can’t be otherwise. Even those who have given up the search for truth due to the many barriers that guard our way to it cannot help but make assumptions about the way things are. We are made to think, and we will do it, although it may be done very poorly and inadequately. Yet think we must.
What do we think about? Our needs, survival, protection—to be sure, a significant portion of the human race is occupied with these matters for most of their lives. But we also think about our future, about our origins, and about such things as purpose and meaning, legacy and posterity. We think about what we make, what we want to make and what we have made that we wish we had not. And we think much about what has gone wrong, or at least about what prevents us from having the kinds of lives that we intuitively expect to have. Why are things not different? And when we think in this way we seldom ask the opposite—why are things not worse than they are? What’s up with that?
Christian theology/philosophy (should there be a distinction?) must provide some sort of stable-yet-tentative answers toward these questions. We cannot sum up human existence by suggesting that the only thing we need to know about human beings is that we are sinners worthy of judgment who saved by grace in Jesus. This begs too many questions to even begin, yet it seems to be all that is on offer in all too many simplistic versions of “the gospel.” For starters, why were we made in the first place? You might offer an answer to that one, or take the safer route and say, “this is what I’ve heard.”
Tis is the first post in a series that asks who we are, what kind of beings God said were made in His image and likeness. The first answer suggested here is that we are thinking beings. We should not wish to be otherwise.