I've been lurking--except for a few short notes--for quite a while. But I
have been thinking about several of the problems we discuss in this group.
I would like to present a line of thinking that has helped me with several
Here is the situation: For several years I've wondered if I--and, perhaps
others--have seemed to choose a questionable starting point in thinking
about some problems. As Christians, I--and again, perhaps others--may have
tended, when considering the Bible, not to think in terms of the entire
biblical message. Right up front: I do not suggest that all the answers to
all the questions we ask are in the Bible. But we do generally agree in
this group that we need to consider what the Bible teaches on many
questions of interest to natural and social scientists. And so, to the
extent we use the Bible in our philosophical-theological-scientific
discussions, we ought to keep in mind the whole Bible. I say this to myself
as much as to others. For, I am sure one could find places in what I've
written that I have not practiced what I am now preaching.
With these thoughts in mind, I recently wrote an article in a publication
most of you will not see. It is a chapter in the 1998 issue of
_Orientation_, edited by Dr. Bennie vander Walt of the Institute for
Reformational Studies, associated with the Potchefstroom University for
Christian Higher Education in Potchefstroom, South Africa. I have
permission to send you this article, and so I am doing so.
I won't try further to explain my thesis, except to say that any questions
whose starting point is biblical should be related to God's plan of
redemption. It may be that some or all of you do not agree. Let's talk
about these things; I am willing to listen! A final point: I realize that
others have said or implied some of these things. But I have put these
pieces together only because--as I stated earlier--they have helped me in
Social Problems and God's Plan of Redemption
The length of the article calls for sending it in five parts. The following
list appears in each communication.
CAPS show the context of each part.
(A) INTRODUCTION (which begins below)
(D) The Right to Life
(E) The Beginning of the Human Race
Christians actually said these things in recent years:
1. A Christian minister confided to a close friend, "I know a young woman
who is a lesbian. It's not so bad as long as she and her partner care for
each other, stay together, and don't have any other partners." Christians
often agree with this idea because they believe that care and fidelity,
Christian virtues, are of prime importance in sexual matters. For them,
even same-sex "marriages" are permissible if care and fidelity are present.
2. A man who claimed to be a Christian and who was campaigning for
political office said in his speeches: "Just look at them. You can see that
they are different." His audiences knew what was behind his words. His
meaning: "Just look at black people. You can see by looking at them that
they are not fully human." He won the election. Why did he win after saying
such an awful thing? Most of the people in his audiences were Christians
who believed that Christians should oppose mixing the black and white
races. They thought that blacks could be better "cared for" if they were
considered to be different from white people and treated differently.
3. A woman had four pregnancies. Each time, she either aborted
spontaneously or the child was born abnormal. When she became pregnant the
fifth time, a man writing in a Christian magazine suggested that in cases
like these the woman should have an abortion.
4. Some scholars have maintained that human beings who kill animals are
guilty of "species-ism," that is, they are guilty of favoring one animal
species, human beings, over another animal species, such as hogs or
chickens. While Christians usually do not charge others of being guilty of
species-ism, many Christians do claim or at least allow for the possibility
that human beings evolved from animals. Such Christians do not seem to
discourage those who do make charges of species-ism.
These are four examples of Christians who have adopted worldly ways of
thinking. They made incorrect conclusions about certain modern social
problems. In each case, the conclusion was based on an unexpressed, but
incorrect, fundamental belief about human beings, a belief not taught by
the Bible. Starting out with an unbiblical belief might--by God's
grace--still lead to the correct conclusion. Far too often, however, an
incorrect fundamental belief leads to a incorrect conclusion.
Holding to an unbiblical view of human beings is an error. Another common
error is coming to a correct conclusion using insufficient or even
incorrect reasons. People who use insufficient or incorrect reasons do not
necessarily have an incorrect idea of what a human being is, that is, they
do not necessarily have an incorrect fundamental belief. But they attempt
to arrive at conclusions without relying on a fundamental belief about the
nature of human beings. For example, it is often stated that racism is
wrong because studies have shown the distribution of skills and abilities
in different races to be the same. Such a conclusion has no evident link to
a fundamental belief about the nature of human beings. A problem then
arises: basing a conclusion on studies of skills, abilities, and other
attributes alone does not lead one to condemn the entire range of racist
feelings, behaviors, and activities found in the societies of the world.
More is needed.
The first purpose of this essay is to describe a fundamental belief about
the nature of human beings that is derived from the Bible. Knowing God's
plan of redemption provides citizens of his Kingdom with a biblically-based
understanding of human beings. The second purpose is to show the necessity
of actually using this fundamental belief to come to decisions about
important social problems and questions.
There are two positive results when one uses a biblical starting point.
First, a biblically-based belief enables citizens of God's Kingdom to come
to correct conclusions about social problems and questions. They will not
make the mistake of answering large social questions piecemeal, as is often
done when starting out with an insufficient basis. Second, if citizens of
the Kingdom themselves begin at the right place, they will very likely
agree among themselves on their positions on these social matters of
ultimate importance to humankind. Then, once they agree on this firm
foundation, they can do their "mission work" in the world on these issues.
However, when working with non-Christians, Christians will not necessarily
begin with the fundamental Christian position on the nature of human
beings. As in so many other aspects of mission work, it is necessary to
work with people where they are, not with where they ought to be. But
eventually people who are converted to the Christian faith should be
brought to see that God's plan of redemption and the nature of human
beings--and therefore societal problems and structures--are woven together.
The remainder of this article is divided into two parts. First, a
biblically-based fundamental belief about human beings is proposed. Second,
this belief about human beings is used in analyzing the social problems
introduced above--marriage, racism, the right to life, and the relation
between human beings and animal species.
God's plan of redemption
God's plan of redemption can be understood only by starting before there
was a need for redemption:
1. God created human beings in his image, male and female. "So God created
man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female
he created them" (Gen. 1:27).
2. God instituted marriage by uniting the male and the female he created.
After God created Eve, Adam said: "For this reason a man will leave his
father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one
flesh" (Gen. 2:24). Marriage is therefore an institution ordained by God
before man fell into sin. The pre-fall marriage was ideal.
The image was broken and then redeemed:
3. Even though sin broke that image, God redeems the image in his people
through Christ. The Apostle Paul said: "For those God foreknew he also
predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be
the firstborn of many brothers" (Rom. 8:29). The image of God possessed by
the first human beings was broken by sin. Through Christ's work, his people
would once again be conformed to the likeness or image of God.
4. Christ redeems that image by making his people, the church, his bride.
Christ conformed his people to the image of God while he was here on earth.
At that time, he linked his work to marriage when he compared himself to
an earthly bridegroom (Matt. 9:15). Later Paul explained Christ's work more
fully: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church...."
(Eph. 5:25) The model is the ideal pre-fall marriage; in the same passage
Paul quoted Genesis 2:24 (given above) and said of marriage: "This is a
profound mystery--but I am talking about Christ and the church" (Eph.
5:32). Thus, in Ephesians 5, Paul does two things: he instructs sinners in
their marriages to emulate this pre-fall marriage, and he links redemption
to this ideal pre-fall marriage.
God's people can be anywhere:
5. God chooses to restore his image in widely different places. Citizens of
God's Kingdom are found in different countries and in different stations in
life. They are all putting on a "...new self, which is being renewed in
knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew,
circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but
Christ is all, and is in all" (Col. 3:10-11). Kingdom citizens can be found
even in the womb of a woman: Before he was born, John the Baptist rejoiced
that the Son of God had come (Luke 1:44). God loved Jacob when he was still
in Rebekah's womb (Rom. 9:10-13).
At the end, the bride will be redeemed:
6. When Christ returns, his bride will be beautiful; the image of God will
be fully restored. John's vision completes the story: "I saw the Holy City,
the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride
beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the
throne saying, 'Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with
them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be
their God'" (Rev. 21:2-3). By means of the ideal pre-fall marriage model
Christ will finally have redeemed his image in man.
The biblical citations given above are only representative of biblical
teaching. That human beings were created in God's image or likeness and
that the church is the bride of God in Christ are general biblical
concepts; also, each is taught specifically in at least a dozen places.
That marriage was ordained by God before sin entered, that Christ calls his
people in all times out of many places, and that this redemption will be
completed when he returns, are ideas that permeate the entire Bible.
To summarize: the first human beings were the male and female pair created
in the image of God. Their union, marriage, was ideal. But sin entered and
broke the image. God uses the marriage model he ordained to restore that
image: Christ, the Redeemer, is the bridegroom of the church, his bride.
People whom God redeems, the citizens of his Kingdom, can be found
anywhere--in any nation, even within the womb of a woman. The bride will be
beautiful and perfect when Christ returns.
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