Visio Dei (Vision of God) - The triune God existing in prefect shalom with all creation, dwelling in perfect community with His animate eikons as they fill the earth and fulfill their call to be stewards of creation.
Missio Dei (Mission of God) - Reclaim and renew all creation by calling into community broken eikons, filling them with His presence and transforming them into imperfect but compelling exhibits of the visio dei, until shalom is fulfilled at Christ’s return.
Without describing it as such, over the last three posts I have been writing about Jesus’ two great commandments, the ethical heart of the body of Christ.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” We are individually and corporately to have the mind and heart of God, thinking His thoughts and feeling His emotions, in all we do. We worship God primarily through the conformity of our being and action with His being and action.
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” By being other-centered within the social structures of our particular contexts, we subvert “the powers” and infuse them with God's love.
Individually and corporately we are called by God in three interrelated ways. (1) A call emanates from each person of the trinity, yet so integrated are they that each may be seen as emanating from all the trinity.
Call to Creation Stewardship - Father
God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." (Genesis 1:28)
Call to Kingdom Service – Son
And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20)
Call to Exercise Gifts – Holy Spirit
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. (1 Corinthians 12:7-11)
Some see an explicit expression of this triune call in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6:
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. (TNIV)
Spirit – Gifts
Lord – Service
God – Works
God has given us a narrative of His acts in history and that narrative points us to sound stewardship of His creation. It gives us a vision of what the ultimate outcome should look like (the New Jerusalem) even though we know it will not be realized until Christ’s return. The bottom line is this: All work that it is done out of reverence for God and in response to his call and purposes in the world, whether at the office or in the home, whether for profit or for no pay, is ministry! Creation stewardship is in fact the first ministry God ordained and it is the only call that extends into eternity. Evangelism and social justice are indeed essential works of the Church and part of our call to Kingdom service in this age. Kingdom service is only one piece of the triune call.
Craig Hill writes,
Believers today are employed at the same essential task as the New Testament authors, namely, the attempt to make sense of their world in light of God’s self-disclosure in Jesus. I call this the “But in Christ” project. Like us, the writers of the NT were located at particular moments in time and in specific cultural environments. Like us, they accepted much of their situation as a given; however, at certain points they realized that their situation as a given; however, at certain points they realized that their world was challenged by what they had seen of God in Christ. Those are the “But in Christ” moments. Yes, first-century this and first-century that about women, but in Christ “there is no longer male and female” (Gal. 3:28). I would contend that it is precisely at these junctures that the New Testament is most important and most revelatory. (Craig C. Hill. In God's Time: The Bible and the Future. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Puclishing, Co., 2002. 26.)
Hill uses slavery as an example. To literally conform to the New Testament would require the sanctioning of slavery. The “But in Christ” points us on a trajectory that goes beyond the status quo of New Testament life.
Hill introduced the “but in Christ” concept. I want to expand it just a little bit further. Indeed there are many “but in Christ” explicit statements in the New Testament. But there are many other implied “but in Christ” cases in the New Testament and “but as God’s chosen people” cases in the Old Testament. Often the Israelites or Christians were given instruction that was counter to the surrounding culture without an explicit contrast being made to the those cultures. For instance, when the law was given in the Torah forbidding slavery among the Israelites, all the surrounding cultures practiced slavery. Such directives should be given special attention because they teach us that God was moving in a different direction.
By observing these “but” instances in conjunction with other instances in the scripture, we can often discern an arrow that points us on a trajectory from the story of the Bible, through our time, and on into the New Jerusalem.
Narrative Implications of Creation, Fall and Eschaton
- Ultimate ownership of everything belongs to God.
- Individual human beings were made in God’s image but as community human beings give the fullest expression of God’s image. Any elevation of either individuality or community over the other gives a distorted picture of humanity.
- Human beings, both as individuals and communities, were made for stewardship of the earth on behalf of, and in community with, the triune God.
There is no choice about being stewards for God. There is only the choice of just or unjust stewardship.
- The created world is important because God made it and values it.
- Human economic work (production, distribution and consumption of goods and services; activity concerned with the material welfare of humankind) pre-dated the fall and is at the center of humanity’s purpose.
- There is linear time and an unfolding purpose for creation.
- Anomie - Human beings live in a state of disoriented lawlessness (what sociologists call “anomie”). Human beings were created to be stewards over creation under God. Through rebellion, they have been “cut loose from their mooring” in God. They are alienated from God, disoriented from personal meaning, and in conflict with neighbor and nature.
- Settled in the land of wandering - The achievement of autonomy by finite human beings is the height of absurdity. Yet human beings have cut themselves off from God, the only source of meaning. Consequently, as delusional as it may be, human beings are ever engaged in the enterprise of “making a home” (building civilization) for themselves that by definition is an illusion. They choose not to honor God and they can’t live without meaning.
- Autonomous community - At the root of sin and rebellion is the desire to live autonomously and eternally. The perpetuation of the community is what gives the illusion of immortality. Consequently, all alternative challenges to the illusionary “home” a community creates must be suppressed or meaning will be lost. Conquest and subjugation of all challengers, foreign and domestic, even nature itself, must be conquered.
- Autonomous individuality - The desire for individual autonomy is ever present with human beings and presents a challenge to community survival. Individuals are often faced with the dilemma of wanting total autonomy but needing community to have meaning. Thus, there is always a tension in every human society between conformity that perpetuates community and yet placates a desire for personal autonomy.
- Economic Exploitation - Since human beings were created to be stewards over the created world, economics is at the heart of human made civilization. The inclination is toward autonomous ownership by either individuals or the state.
- The present mission and institution of the church is a temporary while the call to creation stewardship is intrinsic to what it means to be human from the beginning of the biblical narrative to the end.
- Christians live as dual citizens. We are citizens of the world in this present age but we are ultimately citizens of the New Jerusalem living proleptically in this age.
- The calls of creation stewardship, kingdom service and use of spiritual gifts are all equally present and incumbent upon on us in this age.
- Utopia, the full restoration of shalom, will come but it only will come at the time and in the way of God’s own choosing. No one knows the time and manner in which it happens.
- Despairing resignation is unfaithfulness to God and a denial of God’s transformative works in this age.
- Futurist activism is unfaithfulness to God and an attempt to usurp God’s transformative role in the world.
- Because of the promise of the eschaton from we are free from the temporal order and we are free to the temporal order. Precisely because our ultimate identity and meaning is not found in this age we are free from the seductive but unattainable vision of personal or social utopias. Furthermore, because we have nothing of ultimate value to lose in this age we are free to live in relation to the present world order in a way that honors God, even to the point of surrendering our very lives.
ECONOMIC RIGHTS AND ECONOMIC OBLIGATIONS
The biblical narrative teaches that human beings are made in the image of God. Because they are in God’s image each human being is entitled to expect dignity and respect. In our day, we have referred to this as having certain rights. This cuts two ways for any given individual. First, each person should have an expectation that their status as an image bearer will be respected. Second, each person is obligated to respect the image bearer status of others. There are both rights and obligations. This is also true when we think of the individual versus the community. The community should not disparage the image bearing character of individuals and yet individuals must have limits on their actions out of regard for fellow image bearers.
Justice is the right balance between these competing rights and obligations. For Christians it is not found in some codified morality. At it is root, justice is grounded in the shalom vision of the Kingdom of God or the New Jerusalem. There is no God ordained economic structure in the Bible. We have revelation of the character of God. We have a record of how God dealt with people in various ages. We have a vision of a coming age of shalom. From there we are instructed to discern what is right and good.
There are essentially three aspects to economic justice:
- Distributive Justice – Addresses how capital and goods are distributed throughout the society.
- Commutative Justice – Addresses the truthfulness of parties to an economic exchange.
- Remedial Justice – Addresses just compensation and punitive action when there has been malicious or careless damage done to life, liberty or property.
The Bible touches on all three types of economic justice but the portion of scripture that deals most directly with economic justice is found in the Sabbath and Jubilee Codes of the Old Testament. It is also the idea of jubilee that Jesus draws on to characterize the nature of his ministry in Luke Chapter 4.
The Jubilee is often characterized as a time of debt forgiveness. It was not. The Jubilee had more in common with modern lease agreements. The Jubilee was held every fifty years. Land could be “leased” to another for an amount equal to the amount of crops that would be harvested form the time of the “lease” to the time of the next Jubilee. All leases were set to expire at the jubilee. One’s labor could be sold on similar terms but slavery was not permitted between Israelites.
The net effect was to ensure that each person and their descendants would never become permanently alienated from land and labor, the economic means of production. They would always have an ownership stake in God’s work. The practices of Sabbath and Jubilee would have been powerful reminders of who it was that gave them the land in the first place and from whom all prosperity comes. However, there is no evidence that the Israelites ever practiced Jubilee.
Jesus says little about economic systems per se. Jesus’ focus seems have been to orient us to a coming day of shalom and then have us reason back to our own circumstances what is just and good.
Many ask what causes poverty when in fact poverty is the natural state in to which we are born. The real question is what causes prosperity. Economic historians vary some in their perspectives on which factors were more important than others but William J. Bernstein’s analysis isolates four factors that most economists would agree are central.
Property Rights – Individuals have to have a reasonable hope that the fruits of their labors will not be arbitrarily taken or destroyed. Otherwise, why invest time and resources into productive efforts. Property rights tie in with the idea of respect for the intrinsic value of each individual and their right to enjoy the fruits of their labor and decisions. It also ensures better and productive use of societal resources than communal ownership does. With private ownership almost all property is the focused attention of someone while communal ownership generally inspires people to take no more responsibility for property than they have to get by. Resources become grossly underdeveloped and employed.
Scientific Rationalism – Precise knowledge of how the world operates generates enormous power to manipulate the world for specific ends. Superstition and tradition, while often giving a sense of order, can also inhibit creative innovation. The idea that God is a rational being operating with a purpose in the world spawned the rise of science.
Capital Markets – Most of human history has been limited to land and labor as the economic means of production. Large enterprises need ways to amass a large a number of resources and mobilize them toward a particular end. Banking systems emerged in Europe along with ideas of corporations and limited liability equity investing. Along with them have emerged institutions that facilitate the movement of capital from one place to another.
Technology and Infrastructure – Reliable infrastructure for transportation, communication and energy are essential for a prosperous society. The application of scientific rationalism and effective capital markets has ushered in an explosion of new technologies that over the past two centuries has made infrastructures faster, safer, and cheaper than anything imagined in the past.
Under girding all the development of these four factors in at least three ways has been the Christian ethos :
- Human Beings in the Image of God – Respect for individuals and their property deeply rooted in the Christian ethos.
- Linear Time and Progress – All other religions have tended to be oriented toward stories and laws written in the past. Christianity introduced an orientation of future world and used it as its organizing principle. The idea of progress is a distinctively Christian notion.
- Vision Driven Discernment – Jesus left us with no instruction manual. What he left us with was a vision. Discernment becomes based on having a vision of a coming age while looking through the eyes of Jesus’ followers at how Jesus communicated that vision into a particular context. From there we must reason as to what is appropriate for our context. This use of reason eventually spilled over into analysis and understanding of the world, giving birth to science as we know it.
The four factors of prosperity were not a cosmic accident. They were direct results of a Christian ethos.