Christmas & the Imago Dei

The first book of the Bible, Genesis, tells us that God made humanity in the image and likeness of God. This is narrated in Genesis 1:26-28. Throughout history, scholars and theologians have debated what this means. At LAMP Seminary RDU, we’re currently reading Anthony Hoekema’s Created In the Image of God, which is a wonderful treatment of this sometimes controversial and confusing concept.

Hoekema

Hoekema (1913-1988) was long-time professor at Calvin Theological Seminary, and was a theologian in the Dutch Reformed tradition. But, this book is not a dry and dusty tome of big theology words. Although there is some meaty content, Hoekema always brings his Biblical and theological insights to bear on the realities of practical life. He consistently surprises in showing how relevant the doctrine of the imago dei is. Our last “Mission Monday” post considered the inadequacy of the phrase “give a hand up, not a hand out,” with help from Professor Soong-Chan Rah. To build a solid theology of helping others, we need to understand the doctrine of the imago dei. And yes, this is related to Christmas. Hang with me until the end!

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A “Hand Across,” not a “Handout”

Welcome to “Mission Monday”! These posts will flesh out and explore various aspects of LAMP Seminary RDU’s distinctive emphases and vision. This season of Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas gives us another opportunity to consider issues of poverty, injustice, and how to best use the resources God has given us. In the swirl of Black Friday (right after we stop and “give thanks” for all that we have, we scurry out to get more!), Cyber Monday, and now “Giving Tuesday,” many voices clamor for our monetary allegiance. Pictures of starving children appear in our inbox, we fill shoe-boxes with school supplies and toys, and perhaps serve a Thanksgiving meal for the homeless. It seems that in our annual economic stampede to acquire more and give gifts to others, we also feel to pull bless those who have so little. This is a good and noble desire. God commands it, and promises to bless it (Proverbs 19:17-“Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.”) It reflects God’s nature, as the God who gives his gifts with outlandish liberality and generosity.

But, whenever we give (whether it be our time or our money), we can unintentionally reinforce negative patterns of dependency, paternalism, or even our selfish pride. We’ve all heard the slogan that we want to give a “hand up,” not a “hand out.” I’ve used it myself, repeatedly. However, Soong Chan-Rah challenges this way of thinking and speaking.

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“Christian Men Who Hate Women”

Christian Men Who Hate Women: Healing Hurting RelationshipsChristian Men Who Hate Women: Healing Hurting Relationships by Margaret J. Rinck

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This needs to read and understood in the circles I tend to run in. We rightly stress the need for husbands and fathers to be strong leaders, but this can create situations where abuse and co-dependent relationships thrive. We need to talk about this in our churches, so that we can create cultures where these types of sins are recognized, repented of, and where true healing can occur.

I know this book has a provocative title.  Here’s a summary of the book for those who are curious.

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Pursuing Justice – Review

Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live & Die for Bigger ThingsPursuing Justice: The Call to Live & Die for Bigger Things by Ken Wytsma

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is simply an outstanding book! Ken Wytsma has brought theological and practical depth to the contemporary Christian “justice” discussion. Ken recognizes that justice is a fad for many post-modern Christians, but Ken spends the first few chapters crafting a theology of justice firmly grounded in Scripture. What I appreciate most about Ken’s book is his measured approach. While he is clearly a passionate advocate for justice (through his work with World Relief, Food for the Hungry, and Kilns College), he brings Biblical balance and wisdom to his passion. So many “service projects” and “short-term mission trips” are just one-night stands with justice & mercy. After the mountain-top experience, we return to the well-worn ruts of our evangelical sub-culture, obedient consumers in the Church/Industrial Complex. Ken’s book will sustain those who desire to radically alter the pattern of their lives, answering the call to participate in the world-transforming work of a God who defines Himself by “justice” (Psalm 146:6-9). This was one of the huge revelations for me in this book–despite being a graduate student in theology, I had somehow missed the fact that justice is an attribute of God (Psalm 9:16). If we really want to know God, and imitate Him, we must pursue justice (Jeremiah 22:13-16). Ken is a wise guide for the journey.

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(Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”)

Awakening of Hope – Review

The Awakening of Hope Pack: Why We Practice a Common FaithThe Awakening of Hope Pack: Why We Practice a Common Faith by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I respect what Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is doing through Rutba House in Durham, NC, and through the New Monasticism movement.  I pray that more church leaders will follow his courageous and provocative example. Most church leaders stay secluded from the communities they live in, but Jonathan is busy getting his hands dirty in the real world. We’re both engaged in similar work, in the same part of the country, so I would consider I him an ally and a mentor. I share his vision, in general, though I suspect we would differ in some particulars. For instance, I’m not convinced that Christians should be pacifists, though I did find it interesting that the medieval church had rites of penitence and confession for returning soldiers (pg. 134). On other issues, such as women’s ordination and homosexuality, I’m afraid I must remain theologically old-school and “intolerant”. But, though I’m not a pacifist, I share Jonathan’s critique of the American military-industrial complex. Just because our government decides to go to war, does not make it “just.” Just because I believe homosexuality is sinful, does not mean I hate homosexuals. Rather, I believe we should welcome them into the church, as the only place to find true healing and healthy love.

On other issues, such as racial reconciliation and caring for the poor, Jonathan is putting us conservatives to shame. We sit comfortably in our pews, listening to yet another screed on the latest hot topic in the “culture wars,” while we neglect the poor down the road and only hang out with others of the same race. The stories that Jonathan tells are inspiring and moving. They encourage, and should provoke many American Christians to return to the ancient practices of community, eating together, making promises, thinking about where we live, fasting, making peace, and proclaiming the Gospel. It’s ironic that so many Christians can give a theologically-correct statement of the Gospel, yet it has so little effect on our lives. This book joins Davidd Platt’s “Radical” and J.D. Greear’s “Gospel” as essential reading for Christians looking to put feet on their faith.

May this little book speed the awakening of thousands more communities of genuine Hope!

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From John Newton

John Newton’s letters continue to be a treasure trove of spiritual insight.  “Letter XXVI” compares the rising of the sun to the gradual spiritual illumination in our lives, as the light of Christ shines more and more.  He ends with this:  “Hope then, my soul, against hope; though thy graces are faint and languid, he who planted them will water his own work, and not suffer them wholly to die.  He can make a little one as a thousand; at his presence mountains sink into plains, streams gush out of the flinty rock, and the wilderness blossoms as the rose.  He can pull down what sin builds us, and build up what sin pulls down; that which was impossible to us, is easy to him; and he has bid us expect seasons of refreshment from his presence.  Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”

Father Hunger – Review

Father Hunger: Why God Calls Men to Love and Lead Their FamiliesFather Hunger: Why God Calls Men to Love and Lead Their Families by Douglas Wilson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This should be required reading for all fathers, or for those who desire to be fathers. Leaders in every walk of life (especially pastors and teachers) will also profit from Wilson’s shrewd insights into Scripture, society, economics, politics, and the practical mechanics of family life. Wilson’s message on the importance of fathers may not be popular, but the evidence of a growing problem is undeniable. A disturbing number of our children are growing up without fathers, or with fathers who are “absent.”  Even worse is the father who comes home every night to his family, but ignores them. This book kicked my lazy rear in this regard, but also gave pastoral encouragement to stop abdicating and to lay my life down for my children.

At this point, a little disclosure is in order–Wilson was my teacher in college and a mentor to all of us. I also had the privilege of volunteering briefly at the coffee and bookshop run by his father, Jim Wilson. So I have seen the effects of faithful fathering in Wilson’s own family. I mention this simply because some people read Wilson’s material and react sharply to his sarcasm and his strident approach. There is no doubt that Wilson holds his beliefs firmly and argues passionately for his convictions, but I wish sometimes that readers could see the twinkle in his eyes and hear his laughter, even as he says some things that sound outlandish to our postmodern ears.

Especially interesting is the research included in the Appendix. It is done by the firm, Economic Modeling Specialists, and shows the monetary damage done to our national economy by cycles of “delinquent fathers.”

But the point of the book is not to blame “the liberals,” or the “lazy poor.” Wilson identifies the problem as sin, which equally afflicts rich and poor, liberal or conservative. No one can deny the importance of fathers in the lives of their children, and readers should apply the lessons of this book to themselves first. After they’ve focused on being fully present in the lives of their own children, perhaps they can think then about giving the book to their neighbors (Matt. 7:3).

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(Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”)