Starting with the First Chapter

Imaging God: Incarnational Community Reaching 21st Century Generations

It is always good to begin the story at the beginning. I once bought a book from one of those discount book shops, you know the ones that spring up for a month and then close again, with a big temporary banner over the door that reads, “DISCOUNT BOOKS.” As I lay in bed that night, anticipating beginning a great story of intrigue, I found that the first chapter was missing. I could have started reading this book, but the whole story would have been difficult to understand without the opening chapter creating the setting and purpose of the book. I later found it—pasted in the wrong place in the book! Once I found it, I was able to read that opening chapter (found after page 79 of all places!) and then go and read the rest of the story.

American evangelical Christianity has been struggling to understand the purpose of being human and our role in dealing with the brokenness of the world because we have not been reading the beginning chapter of the story. Sure, there is a lot of emphatic rhetoric about "Creation" in the debate about teaching evolution in schools, but that is where it usually starts and ends. When it comes to understanding what it means to be human we do not go to the first chapter of the story, the Creation, to find our essence, our purpose. We have been reading the story starting in chapter 2 instead of chapter 1. The story has several chapters, and we misread all the other chapters without beginning at the beginning.

The story of God, humanity, and the Creation begins with humanity being created in the image of God. That’s chapter 1. Chapter 2 tells us about the broken image, and how that broken image also shatters the entire created cosmos. Chapter 3 tells the story of God calling a special people to image God in order to redeem the world. Chapter 4 is the pinnacle of the story, the revelation of the one person who perfectly images God to redeem the world, the Messiah Jesus Christ. Chapter 5 tells of the new creation of a special people that will actually be empowered to image God by following Christ. The final chapter is the glorious finale — where the purpose of humanity finally comes to its fruition. The whole story has the God of Creation as its hero. The main characters are the human race. The plot of the story is how the Creator God does not give up on his creation and his most cherished part of that creation, humanity. There is conflict and struggle, but in the end, the Creator God is also the Redeemer God, successfully transforming the cosmos for the good.

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Michael Kruse said...

I love the analogy of missing the first chapter. Without those first few chapters in Genesis, not much else makes sense.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Great post to introduce this to us. We most certainly need to get a better handle on the beginning in seeing the importance of creation, all of it, and how God's new creation in Jesus fulfills and completes that, at the end of the Book.

Thanks, Bob.