February 13, 2017

Christian: Do You Tick All Three of the Imago Dei Boxes?

Christian, do you tick all three of the Imago Dei boxes? Let me explain.

For a while back there Imago Dei was hot.  Now it’s not.  Once Imago Dei was as hot as rose gold tap fittings. Now? Rose gold is going out and terracotta is in.

Imago Dei similarly has gone off the boil.

At one stage it was the byword (words?) among missional groups and in every funky church planting book. The future of ministry was Imago Dei. We were all going to do mission that honoured the reality that all humans are made in the image of God.

Something has derailed that and dumped Imago Dei in the same bargain bin as those rose gold tap fittings.

I blame politics.  Or at least the increasing tendency for the growing schism in Western politics to draw Christians along with their increasingly fractious divisions.  Simply put Imago Dei, taken to its logical conclusion, threatens political positions on both the Left and the Right and exposes them both as having deep strains  of hostility towards the gospel.

Imago Dei demands a commitment to created humanity’s dignity, value and worth at three crucial points in time.  In fact it requires all three of these boxes to be ticked in terms of ethical issues in the public square.  Issues relating to:

  1. The start of life
  2. The middle of life
  3. The end of life

Pretty simple really, but with profound and personal consequences. To truly be committed to Imago Dei across all three Christians will lose friends either Left or Right. At the very least our allies on many political matters should be confounded by us.  We should throw their neat parameters into confusion.  They should increasingly question us or view as not quite kosher/halal or whatever.

Lost friendship is increasingly going to be the cost. Mind you in the scheme of Church history that’s not a particularly high cost to pay, even if it stings a little at the time. The fact this is so also shows that losing our lives for the sake of the gospel is not even on our radars.

Of course we reveal our biases, when pushed upon, view our leaning as Christians on certain ethical positions as being nuanced or “complex” and the positions we are opposed to as being  black and white or “simple”.

So let’s begin.

For the Christian of the more progressive persuasion with a Leftist leaning, the pressure is on to tick the middle box only, and dither around the edges when it comes to start of life and end of life issues, or, not to put to fine a point on it – the abortion and euthanasia matters so dearly loved by the Left.

  1. The Start of Life

The political Left has already made abortion rights its central rallying cry, especially for women, and any woman who dissents will find themselves on the outer.  Even to affirm “pro-life” as your position, but to uphold the right of others to abortion is viewed with suspicion, as the News South Wales Minister for Women, Tanya Davies, found out when she was recently sworn in to her position.  You can read about that here.

The message is clear right there.  If you’re a Christian who has Left political leanings in Australia, then a commitment to Imago Dei will threaten your position within the sisterhood.  No doubt about that.   You will lose friends over this if you dissent, no doubt about that either.

2. The End of Life

The same is also true for those from the Left on the end of life matters.  Now I think this debate is only really getting off the ground in Australia, but expect it to harden up and create divisions.  Sanctity of life matters at the conclusion of one’s life will become increasingly fraught with anger and mistrust as our population ages and as medical advances enable us to linger on.

The Andrew Dentons of this celebrities-as-ethical-experts age would polarise this into a simple matter of this being a secular state and telling the religious to butt out.  It’s a pluralist state actually, and it’s not simply a bunch of covert Vatican loving political number crunchers who are concerned about euthanasia’s implications.

But, once again, this is fast becoming a mantra on the Left of the political spectrum, and Christians of that persuasion must be able to stand firm against a view that humans are the locus of decision making when it comes to this matter.  You cannot hold to Imago Dei and be enthusiastic about euthanasia.

3. The Middle of Life

Well by now Christians of a Right or conservative persuasion will be feeling pretty pleased with themselves.  It looks like they’re ticking two out of three boxes.  And as Meatloaf said, “two out of three ain’t bad.”

But when it comes to Imago Dei two out of three is as bad as one out of three.

Of course many conservative Christians will say that they are more than concerned for people in the middle of life.  While that may be the case, there are some major sticking points for conservative Christians concerning the middle of life, notably on the growing issue of refugees.

Let’s face it, like abortion and euthanasia, this issue is not going away.  In fact it’s growing as we all know.  And the general trend on the Right politically is a hardening against refugees that ranges from disinterest to downright racism.  And for Christians who align themselves, rightly, with many conservative positions, any dissent on this matter is becoming a shibboleth.

Imago Dei should at the very least caution Christians on the political Right to be very careful not to simply align themselves politically with those who are pushing hard in the refugee debate.

By all means have a sensible discussion about it,  but know where to draw a line in the sand.  I have noticed that the “sink or swim” libertarian approach towards middle of life matters  is held primarily by those with the social capital equivalent of a Life-saving Bronze Medallion.

At the very least the Christian conservative should be able to turn to his or her politically Right non-Christian allies at the dinner party and say: “Allowing Muslim refugees in enables them to hear the good news about Jesus and how he is the source of true satisfaction, as opposed to the good news being a house in the right postcode and a ski trip to Japan every year.”

And it would be worth saying that just to hear the collective clank of expensive silverware on fine bone china drowning out the sound of Adele on the ducted Blaupunkt loud speaker system.

Tim Keller makes the observation that God’s people should confound both Left and Right. They should be an enigma because they align themselves with one side on some matters and with the other side on other matters.  God’s people are not captive to their political side because they have been captivated already by one who, in Joshua 5 declares which side he is on:

13 When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” 14 And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped[c] and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?” 15 And the commander of the Lord‘s army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

The charge for those who are not simply Imago Dei, but are, by the power of the Spirit, being conformed Imago Christi is to ask as Joshua asked “What does my Lord say to his servant?”  And that just may be different to what the political overlords of our day wish to say.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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