Sunday, January 1, 2017

Insider Jesus 2: How Does God Work in Creation and Culture? A Theological Proposal

Continuing with our tour through Insider Jesus: Theological Reflections on New Christian Movements. The first post was here: Insider Jesus 1: Intro- The Rise of Contextualization

Here are my notes on Chapter 2 How Does God Work in Creation and Culture? A Theological Proposal

God’s creative and active work in the world continues today, even after the fall. 

In the garden, Adam and Eve’s relationship to God was natural and intimate. There was no need for what we call religion, or for particular religious activity; that would not come until after the break that Adam and Eve’s disobedience caused. Living before the face of God was as normal as breathing; indeed, it was a kind of dance that involved the whole of creation. (Kindle 639-641)

Since God’s primary work was/is in creating and renewing, then in the biblical narrative we see Christ as the fulfillment of this necessary work.

The work of Christ was not simply providing forgiveness for sin, solving the human spiritual condition, though it surely did this. I would claim emphatically that something new was emerging in Christ’s work that brought the whole created order to a new place where the goods of culture (and religion) are given fresh valuation. (Kindle 678-681)

Culture is a human project- it is what we make of creation.

The question now is not how we go about placing the gospel in the culture, but rather, how do we respond, in the light of Scripture, to what God is already doing in a given culture? And how does this continuing work cast fresh light on how we are to understand and obey Scripture? (Kindle 702-704)

So it is not as though God begins to take an interest in human activity when someone begins to pray, or form and practice some religion. No, God has been intimately involved in cultural processes from the start. This means that culture making is deeply and inescapably theological. (Kindle 717-719)

All that contributes to human flourishing, indeed everything that brings delight to the human community, God too celebrates. (Kindle 747-748)

These ideas lead us to perhaps the heart of the argument of this book. And I think the most foundational aspect of Dyrness’ approach to understanding IMs:

This deep connection between faith and wisdom implies that a significant part of every culture, one might say its heart and core, involves the religious practices that have developed in that place. The perennial human search for God animates culture. Religious practices reflect the human desire to respond to the gods or the powers that humans encounter, and in this desire they are also responding to the call of the biblical God. But note the implications of this: if it is true that religious traditions reflect a response, however incomplete (or even misguided), to God’s call, they must be in some way capable of being included in God’s project of renewing and restoring the earth. (Kindle 764-769)

Israel’s religious practices in the OT were not particularly unique, but very similar to their neighbors. What was unique to Israel was the god they worshipped.

Just as the various cultures have contributed their own special gifts to the human community (no culture has a monopoly on life-giving discoveries), so religions in those places often provide life-giving perspectives to people and, indeed, have often been the impetus for human creativity and advancement… But all of this suggests that religion in and of itself is not the means of the renewing work that God intends to complete and has begun in Christ. (Kindle 783-795)

So what does this mean for insider movements? He offers four conclusions.

  1. It is clear that God is at work reordering a fallen world, and therefore all efforts that contribute to this end will elicit God’s approval. (Kindle 823-824)
  2. Just as God delights in goodness and new signs of life, so those responding to this, and all the gifts of creation, with thanks and praise must be pleasing to God. (Kindle 829-830)
  3. The biblical narrative is also clear that this ongoing work of the Spirit, and whatever cultural renewal might be evident, should finally draw people to see in Jesus Christ— and eventually in his death and resurrection— the focus and center of God’s renewing purposes. (Kindle 836-838)
  4. But here is my larger claim: if God is present and working in this or that situation by the Spirit, addressing people in what theologians have called prevenient grace or the general call, this address must be framed in the terms and logic of that culture. This means that we have to pay particular attention to both the logic and the structure of a culture, but also to the ways this logic comes to expression in the religions of that place. This means further that the renewal that God intends will be a regeneration of that logic and structure. (Kindle 842-845)

Thoughts:

  • Are there aspects to Islam that are meant (even implicitly) to be part of God’s project of renewing and restoring his creation?
  • He posits religion as something that is post-fall. Did Adam and Eve have any religion in Eden? (Tennent makes the case that culture is created by God, not something that humans make of creation.)
  • According to Dyrness, the telos of God’s mission is the flourishing of his creation unto his glory, and the gospel the center of that plan. Therefore, anything that works to that end, as long as it is (explicitly?) Christ-centered (and also biblically-based?) meets God’s approval. IMO this is lynchpin of the argument of this book… In this logic, of course a Muslim who comes to faith in Jesus can remain “in Islam” inasmuch as they are Christ-centered and are working towards the flourishing of God’s creation. The point is to see how God is working from within to express the gospel in the logic of that Muslim context.
  • Lots to discuss on this! But for now, my first reaction- just because something new is happening in a culture/religion where “Jesus” is somehow mentioned doesn’t necessarily mean that God is present and guiding the process. What then do we make of the emergence of Islam/Mormonism? How can we judge? I anticipate that he’ll answer this question later.
  • Dyrness is setting the stage for his next chapter, which is to show the function of religion in the biblical narrative.

3 comments:

Michael Bryant said...

I really enjoy reading your comments and summary on each chapter after I read the chapter myself. It helps me to check my grasp of the material. Please continue through the rest of the book!

Warrick Farah said...

Thanks Michael. Sometimes I wonder if anyone out there is reading this blog. :)

Michael Bryant said...

Then forgive me for not commenting more often. I read and enjoy all your posts.