Today and in our next lecture, we will be looking at the Christian doctrine of Creation. There are three important truths can be derived from this doctrine: (1) that a self-sacrificing life is the most satisfying life; (2) that human persons are inherently communal beings; and (3) that the body matters just as much as the soul. (And with respect to the third truth, there are three important implications we shall consider.) First, the doctrine of Creation commends a self-sacrificing life as the most satisfying life. Let’s begin by looking at this notion which Plantinga brings up in the reading for today: perichoresis. In the Greek, the term literally means: to dance (choreio) around (peri). (As Plantinga points out, “perichoresis” and “choreography” share the same etymological root.) More poetically, perichoresis is “divine hospitality”: each person of the Godhead “making room for,” bringing glory to, celebrating the others. This key theological idea bears on the doctrine of Creation: Christ, who created the cosmos (Col. 1.16-17; Jn. 1.1-3), both in the overflow of the Trinitarian perichoresis made all things, and in his Incarnation modeled the perfectly flourishing human life, a model according to which: “the way to thrive is to help others to thrive; the way to flourish is to cause others to flourish; the way to fulfill yourself is to spend yourself” (Plantinga, 22). Or, as Jesus himself said, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt. 10.39). Jesus calls us to a love of him, which surpasses even that of our dearest family (v. 38); and this “cost” of discipleship yields the most rewarding, because rightly lived, life. A self-sacrificing life, for the sake of Christ and others, is the most satisfying. This is the first thing to say about the Christian doctrine of creation: that Christ, who out of perichoresis made the universe, also models the perfect perichoretic human life; and that the Christian view of Creation commends and commands a costly, flourishing life of perichoretic, joyful, sacrifice. The second point to be made about the doctrine of creation is that human persons, created in the image of the Triune, communal God, are inherently communal beings as well. Whereas the first point has to do with living for others, this second point has to do with our living with others. Human persons are naturally relational beings. From the moment of birth – indeed of conception (!) – to the continuation of life to the moment of death the human need of others is evident and inherent in our being. From pre-natality and nourishment to education and entertainment to parenting to politics – every aspect of human lives are thoroughly interactive and dependent on other human (and non-human) beings. No human is an island. (Indeed, even islands are so defined in relation to other geographical bodies!) Every human is a child of some parents; every parent is responsible for a child; every brother is a sibling to another; every human being relates to every other human being, whether directly or distantly, mindfully or merely as a member of the same species. Hannah Arendt, the famed mid-twentieth century social and political theorist, puts it as follows: “The theatre is the political art par excellence; only there is the political sphere of human life transposed into art.” What explains this connection between politics and theatre, Arendt continues, is the fact that “[a]ction . . . is never possible in isolation; to be isolated is to be deprived of the capacity to act”. In other words, political action, like dramatic acting, is both others-oriented and effective only “in constant contact with the web of the acts and words of the other men” (188). Going further, Arendt insightfully observes: “The whole factual world of human affairs depends for its reality and its continued existence upon the presence of others who have seen and heard and will remember” (95) this social reality. As Arendt reminds us, in the classical world, “to die is the same as ‘to cease to be among men’ . . . no living creature can endure it for any length of time” (20). For this reason, Aristotle could write with little controversy that “man is by nature a political animal.” Thus, human persons are not only naturally relational, but necessarily so. The third point about the Christian doctrine of creation I would like to point out is that the material matters just as much as the “mind” or soul. Many a controversies have been stirred by suggesting, for example, that the body was too evil for Jesus to inhabit (Docetism), or that all that is material is inherently evil (Gnosticism). But the traditional Christian view is that neither the seen nor the unseen is inherently evil because all of creation (i.e., visible reality) has been created good (!). And there are three crucial implications that follow from this truth, each of which I spell out further below: (1) that we, being embodied beings, have a sexuality, and that particular sexuality – i.e., male or female – makes a difference; (2) that activities which primarily involve the mind are no more “spiritual” than activities which involve the body; and (3) that creation care counts. Regarding the first implication, namely, that every human person has a particular sexuality, and that that sexuality makes a difference, we must, standing against the contemporary crippling cultural current, vigilantly maintain and lovingly articulate that sexual differences are grounded in our spiritual-biological natures, not in socially constructed identities. Not all of our cultural progress on sexual issues is misguided: for example, the professional and family roles that traditionally were occupied (nearly) exclusively by men (e.g., doctors, lawyers, etc.) or by women (e.g., homemaker, caretaker, etc.) are now taken up by the other sex. But the “androgynization” – or complete sexual indiscrimination – of male and female human persons, especially among today’s youth, is wrongheaded and culturally destructive. For certain practices, discrimination based on sexuality is morally wrong: paying men employees more than their women counterparts; or worse, favoring and therefore allowing newborn baby boys to live while killing their sisters. (To note, there is a double-evil here: murder (1) based on sexual discrimination (2).) But sometimes discrimination based on sexuality is morally fitting, indeed in some cases biologically required: the institutions and practices of, for example, heterosexual marriage (a redundancy by definition), Biblical male headship in families, and breastfeeding. And such sexual discrimination is necessary because it is natural – i.e., based on the sexed natures of our beings, male and female. On a Christian view, sexuality is spiritual and biological, and has implications which are social; whereas, from the standpoint of our current cultural climate, sexuality, or rather gender, is social, and the implications are indeterminate. In other words, discrimination in itself is not wrong; what is immoral is discrimination based on features irrelevant to the issue at hand. So, in the case of a difference in salary amount for male versus female employees is morally wrong since sexuality is not a relevant feature in an employment context. However, on the Christian view at least, discrimination (as it were) on the basis of sexuality in the context of marriage is justified – indeed, morally obligatory – because here sexuality is a relevant feature of the morality of marriage. Being male or female is essential to what it means to constitute a marriage. Of course, just which features of a particular issue are considered relevant is often the crux of the matter. For those who advocate “homosexual marriage,” sexuality isn’t relevant; for those who favor a traditional view do. There seems to be an interesting irony here: those of the former camp, i.e., those who tend to advocate “homosexual marriage” are also the ones who advocate a gender-identity politics based on the importance of sexual differences; that is, defenders of homosexual rights (including the right to “homosexual marriage”) defend such rights on the assumption that sexuality, specifically homosexuality, is a real, non-negotiable, feature of human personhood, and that this real, non-negotiable, feature makes a real difference. Our culture is obsessed with having sex, but fails to realize that having sex requires having a sex; and that each one of us having a sex derives from the fact of our having a particular nature from which certain and not other dispositions and activities (such as those listed above) naturally follow. Sexual differences make a difference, and these differences are grounded in our distinct natures. It is important to note, even if briefly, that not all differences are differences of value; and this truth applies to sexual differences. For example, while it may be the responsibility of the mother to play a dominant role in rearing in the child during its earliest months of existence (including those in the womb!), we wouldn’t conclude that therefore women are sexually more (or less) valuable than men. Or, take the somewhat more controversial example of Biblical male headship: even if (!) one were convinced that the injunction according to which men in marriage are accountable to God as heads-of-the-household is biblically justified, one would not be within his rights to conclude that therefore he is more valuable to God than women are. A difference in role does not necessitate a difference in value. Regarding the second implication – that activities of the mind are no more sacred than activities of the body – the words of the great Reformer Martin Luther come ringing to mind: “It is pure invention that pope, bishop, priests and monks are called the ‘spiritual estate’ while princes, lords, artisans, and farmers are called the ‘temporal [secular] estate’. . . . All Christians are truly of the spiritual estate, and there is no difference between them.” So bodily exercise, baking, and business matter just as much as mental exercise, mentoring, and ministry. That material matters matter as much as (for example) ministry has become an increasingly well-established truism within Evangelicalism today. What is less well received is how this truth applies to the rest of creation – which brings me to the third and final implication: the creation care counts. As important insight regarding the Christian’s responsibility for creation care comes from a renown Biblical commentator, Gordon J. Wenham, whose widely referenced commentary on the book of Genesis makes this point: The author of Genesis would have been familiar with the “[a]ncient [Egyptian and Assyrian] kings [who at their best] were . . . devoted to the welfare of their subjects,” ruling them with great “benevolent royalty” (cf. Wenham, p. 33). Therefore, the message in Genesis chapter one is that, in the same way human persons, being made imago Dei, are to rule or more accurately care for creation, doing so as “benevolent royalty” – i.e., as deputies of God. In other words, the ancient kings ruled with great care those whom they ruled; likewise, all of creation is to be given divine-like benevolent care by us who are the vice-regents, sub-rulers, of our own Benevolent Royalty.  Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958), p. 188. Except where indicated otherwise, the quotations in this paragraph and the next are from Arendt’s The Human Condition, the references of which are cited in parentheses in the text.  Aristotle, Politics, Bk. 1, Ch. 2.  Necessity, I realize, is a nasty if nebulous notion within philosophy; the kind of necessity I have in mind here is a nomological sort, i.e., having to do with nature, specifically human nature (which too is a much disputed notion). To the disputes over important ideas there seems no end.  For more on this point, see Peter Kreeft, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Heaven (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990).  Martin Luther, “An Open Letter to the Christian Nobility (1520)” (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Library, 2001), http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/modeng/modengL.browse.html (accessed on 24 October 2010). Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.