called to be human

If you were to ask Christians, “What are Christians called to in life?”, what do you think the answer would be? Likely there would be a variety of responses: evangelism, social justice, follow Jesus, love God and love your neighbor (my favorite), etc… And really, is there one answer?

Well, I recently had the privilege of hearing N.T. Wright (in person!) make a proposal that Christians – all people for that matter – are “called to be human.”

Called to be human. That’s it!?!

Wright traced the concept of “image of God” to support his case (Gen. 1:26-30). Displaying considerable breadth and depth, Wright showed how “image of God” is a reality throughout the Bible, not just “in the beginning.” Furthermore, “image of God” isn’t what we usually think it is.

We often think of “image of God” as a sort of invisible spark of divinity within humans – a characteristic no other creature possesses, referred to as rationality, soul, being, etc… Along these lines, “image of God” is thought as a spiritual concept - intangible. Wright presented otherwise.

“Image of God,” Wright suggested, refers to humanity’s role in the world – image bearers for God, displaying God’s glory in how they rule over creation (Ps. 8). To be “genuinely human,” Wright argued, is to live out this image role. And while sin prohibits our ability to fulfill this role, the command remains. This image-bearing role carries through the Old Testament – Israel was to be “representative humans” – culminating in Jesus, the “unclouded version” of God – the “true Adam.” In Jesus, then, we have both the example of true humanity and the commission to be true humanity as the people of God. “In Christ we are called to be truly human.” And from this perspective, all humanity shares in the task of image bearing, with only Jesus himself presenting the full picture.

The greatest difficulty with Wright’s project is translating what seems so straightforward into action. Who doesn’t want to be “genuinely human,” right? While Wright hinted at “risks” and “dangers” in attempting to align oneself with true humanity fashioned after Jesus, these difficulties were understated at best. To his credit, Wright did trace out some cultural implications of image-bearing, but this seemed quite brief. Unfortunately, the message comes across idealistic – hard to imagine.

Yet despite this idealism I can’t help but get excited by Wright’s proposal (I’m a natural idealist after all). I like that being human has implications for here and now (not always the message Christians communicate). God didn’t create humans simply to one day escape this world. No, we’re here for a purpose, to display God in the world through our role as his image bearers. In all our struggles, failures, conflicts, sorrows, and defeats, we live in the reality of Jesus Christ as both the example and empowerment to be “truly human.”

"Image of God" has as much (or more?) to do with how we live in the world than who we are. Or another way of putting it: who we are is how we live.

Lots to think about anyway...


Andrew said...

You should check out "Becoming Human" by Jean Vanier

David Warkentin said...

Thanks Andrew. I read "Becoming Human" several years ago and really enjoyed Vanier's emphasis on our inter-connectedness as humans. I do think Wright offers a stronger theological basis for "becoming human" than Vanier. Wright commented that something happened with Jesus that makes becoming human possible. Vanier wasn't as explicit in providing a rationale for why "becoming human" is a realistic possibility. That's not to say I don't agree with most of Vanier's proposal. And he was, afterall, presenting lectures in a very different environment than Wright.

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