On college campuses, where I spend a lot of time in my capacity as Area Director for a college outreach ministry, I often run into some very zealous evangelists. They are very excited and dedicated people, sometimes carrying crosses, always handing out pamphlets, and often engaging students in conversations about how depraved they are. I have no doubt that these evangelists are on campus because they deeply care their about cause and about the students they are talking to. But I roll my eyes as I listen intently to their message.
They stand there, talking down at these students. Their message starts with each individual’s sin and ends with the biblical solution to that sin: Jesus dying on the cross for their atonement. The essence of humanity, according to these evangelists, is our individual depravity. We each are sinful through and through, and thus each of us is destined to hell. God wants us to escape this evil world and the lusts of our flesh and lead us away to heaven, where we will can with God forever.
As I walk away from the Student Center and all that confrontational stress, it strikes me: I actually feel sorry for these evangelists! Since all humanity is created in the Image of God, each and every human being has dignity. Period.
Now, these evangelists were not out-right heretics like the ones that come to my door (denying the divinity of Jesus). They are not that bad. But they have bought into a form of Christianity that does not embrace the fullness of what it means to be human and the true greatness of the redemption in Christ.
The ultimate essence of what it means to be human is not that we are sinners. Human essence is the imago Dei, the reflection of the divine Trinity. There is a divine spark in each and every person and in each and every human community. Certainly, sin has entered into that and severely taints this and very often grotesquely twists it. Certainly, ever since the Fall, humanity has taken on a new nature: the sin of Adam. But this is not the ultimate essence of humanity – it is not what God has created us to be. God greatly prizes us because we are made in His image. This is why he so loved the world that he gave his one and only son. God sees our potential as his “image and likeness,” and therefore does not let us go to destroy ourselves and our society. He has created people that are special to him, and he will redeem a people that are special to him.
Without starting with where the Bible starts in defining humanity – as the “image of God” – these evangelists truncate the gospel to just two things: sin and atonement. While that is certainly a major part of the story, the story is bigger than that. Without a view of humanity that starts with the Imago Dei, these evangelists are missing the richness of the gospel.
We need to explore afresh the implications of the Imago Dei in humanity in order to understand and proclaim of the gospel of redemption. Since humanity is created in the image of God, we are to understand what it means that God is redeeming this image in us through Christ.
technorati: emerging church, image of god, imago Dei, theology