Today we begin Chapter 6, “The Story and the Mission,” in John Stackhouse’s book Making the Best of It.
“The Bible is fundamentally a story,” Stackhouse writes. (181) It flows from creation, to Fall, to redemption, to consummation. Through a variety of genres and authors we learn what has happened and what is going to happen. The historicity of the Bible is important for two reasons. First, it inspires faith and trust in God because we can see what God has done in the past. Second, it helps locate where we are … sort of like a big “You are here” sticker on a map … in God’s overarching narrative. Here are a few observations Stackhouse makes about the narrative.
Creation is very good – No Gnostic spirit/matter divide with spirit being good and matter evil.
Humanity given the mission to garden the planet – As development of human culture is inherent in the Genesis mandates to exercise dominion and care for the garden, human culture is part of the creation that is “very good.”
The creation story must be held in context of the larger story – Some today reason as if we were still in Eden. Many seem to think, “If something can be shown to be “natural” – that is, unaffected by and not a product of human action – then it is pronounced “good.” (184) He raises the example that first came to my mind, which is the prevalent argument that because homosexual orientation is “natural,” it is therefore part of God’s good creation. I’ll add here that many things that are good are “natural” but so are some terrible things, like the genetic code that has caused muscular dystrophy with two of my siblings. Stackhouse correctly points out that we cannot reason from “is” to “ought.”
“Dominion” is about responsible authority, not domination – Dominion is, “… authority that is wielded under the authority of another, as the Canadian Parliament governs under the authority of the Queen.” (185) Exercising dominion is done with care, sustenance and creativity, on behalf of others, according to the purposes of the regent who ultimately rules. Stackhouse writes, “For who benefits from the gardener doing his work well, the gardener or the garden? Clearly they both do.” (185) Echos here of Darrell Cosden’s observations that the natural world is both our habitat and the object of our work.
Culture is an expression of our image bearing nature – Culture is a natural consequence of God’s image bearers being in community but culture has been corrupted at epistemological and ethical levels through human rebellion. The first city mentioned in the Bible (Enoch, built by Cain) and the city of Babel, are the antithesis of Eden. Yet in the Biblical narrative we see God establish the “good city” of Jerusalem and in the end we see the Biblical metaphor for the new creation is the New Jerusalem. God redeems human culture.
“Who are we, for Jesus Christ, today?” – Scripture, OT and NT, were written in particular socio-cultural contexts, often addressing very particular problems. We can’t directly apply much of what the Bible says. It has to be interpreted. Nor should we look at models from a particular context as transcendental guidance. For instance, with the popular “What would Jesus do?” movement, we could conclude that Jesus abandoned “worldly” work in order to do “ministry.” He lived a life of singleness. Therefore, we shouldn’t marry or involve ourselves in arts or politics, and should go about doing “ministry.” Stackhouse points out that the better question is “Who are we, for Jesus Christ, today?” “… Jesus calls us not to do his work but to extend his work – indeed, to perform ‘greater works than these’ (Jn. 14:12)” (190)
There is much more to follow on Chapter 6. In the next post we will take a look at contemporary attempt to privilege one part of scripture over the others.