Friday, September 19, 2008

Hughes on "The Meaning of Creation in the Image of God"

Before I begin with Hughes, for those of you who are interested here are the notes for parts three, four, and five of our sermon series on The Sermon on the Mount with the Pastor's overview:

Part Three:

This message concludes the introduction to the Sermon on the Mount by considering the Bible's doctrine of the Kingdom of God. The Sermon on the Mount was the first and longest of Jesus' discourses, and so it is appropriate that Matthew introduced Jesus' public ministry with it. In this discourse Jesus presented the principles and features of His kingdom - the long-promised kingdom that, now at last, was being inaugurated in connection with His presence and impending work of redemption. Most importantly, Jesus intended His proclamation to confront and correct Israel's flawed conception of the Kingdom of God that was the product of historical circumstances and traditional Jewish interpretation of the Scripture. This misunderstanding of the Old Testament's doctrine of kingdom had left Israel on the verge of missing her Messiah and His kingdom and Jesus sought to rectify that. Jewish scholarship had misconstrued God's kingdom, and so it is today. If Christians are to rightly understand Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, they must first understand the Bible's doctrine of the kingdom as progressively revealed and developed in the salvation history leading up to Christ's coming. In the Jews' case, failure to discern Jesus's kingdom led them to regard Him as a false teacher who was setting aside the Law and Prophets (5:17); in the case of Christians, this failure results in many within the Church reducing Jesus' instruction to a moral and ethical "cookbook" providing the behavioral recipe for people who seek to enter His heavenly kingdom. Such individuals will miss the true Kingdom of God just as surely as the sons of Israel did.

Part Four:

This message lays the contextual and salvation-historical foundation for interpreting the Beatitudes. In that regard, it considers first and foremost the intent and significance of Jesus' gospel of the kingdom for the sons of Israel. Their history and theological tradition had resulted in an Israelite doctrine of the kingdom that was fatally flawed and would cause them to miss the day of their visitation. Thus Jesus' proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom amounted to a call to repentance; like John before Him, He challenged Israel to rethink the nature of God's kingdom and their own relation to it. The Sermon on the Mount plays a crucial role in Jesus' overall witness to the "in-breaking" of the promised kingdom and, with it, the introduction of the new age of the new creation. It is only when viewed from that vantage point that its true meaning for the Church can be discerned.

Part Five:

This message provides a general introduction to the Beatitudes and examines the first three of them. Most crucial to understanding the Beatitudes is recognizing that Jesus was confronting and refuting His audience's ingrained conception of the kingdom as an idealized earthly, national and political structure. The Jews were poised to miss Jesus' kingdom because of this false conception, and the Sermon on the Mount was the Lord's most intricate and extended attempt to show them that His kingdom is other-worldly and not natural. It is the "kingdom of heaven" - the realm of the new creation. So the Beatitudes express fundamental qualities of the human new creation; they express who man is when he is renewed "according to the image of the One who created him" (Col. 3:9-10). And precisely because Jesus is the Last Adam - that is, the source and substance of the new humanity of the new creation, the Beatitudes must be understood as having their first and foundational referent in Him. Jesus is the "beatific man" such that all other human beings find their own "beatific" status only through personal union with Him by His Spirit.

And now more from Philip E. Hughes.

Hughes begins his book, “The True Image: The Origin and Destiny of Man in Christ” with these words:

Our governing premise is that the doctrine of man (anthropology) can be truly apprehended only in the light of the doctrine of Christ (Christology). Not only the destiny but also the origin of man involves a profound relationship with the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. Indeed, mankind’s destiny in Christ is precisely the fruition of mankind’s origin in Christ. This means, among other things, that redemption, which is the fulfillment of all God’s purposes in creation, loses its proper force if it is considered in isolation from creation. “Christology,” as Karl Rahner has remarked (“Current Problems in Christology: Theological Investigations, Vol. 1” pg. 185), “is at once the beginning and the end of anthropology.

Of fundamental importance…is the understanding of the Image of God as itself designating, ontologically, the eternal Son, and the understanding of man as by creation constituted in or after that image, by sin falling away from that image, and by redemption reconstituted in that image. Thus perceived, the divine purpose of creation is grounded in the Son, and what was begun in the Son is also completed in the Son. It follows that conformity to the image of God is essentially Christiformity. Man’s destiny, implicit in his origin, is the attainment of “the complete knowledge of the Son of God,” which coincides with his becoming “the perfect man,” his arrival at “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). Christ, accordingly, is the True Image in which man was formed at creation and into which by the reconciling grace of re-creation fallen man is being transformed (“The True Image” Preface ix).

As you can see, for Hughes Christology is not simply the key to understanding the Scripture, it is the fundamental reality governing the purpose of God in all things. From the beginning to the end, man’s destiny (and really, the destiny of the entire Created Order) is intimately tied to Christ. For any purpose of God to be fulfilled, it must be fulfilled in Christ for, as Paul says, “All things have been created by Him (Christ) and for Him (Christ)…He (Christ) is before all things and in Him (Christ) all things hold together…and it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him (Christ), and through Him (Christ) to reconcile all things to Himself…” (Col. 1:15-20). If it’s true that the goal of God is the “summing up of all things in Christ”, and all that that entails (Eph. 1:10), then Christ is the very heart of Creation and Redemption. And man, as the focal point of Creation as image-bearers, must, as Hughes intimates, have his origin and his destiny in relation to Christ to be fully, authentically “human”.

In the first chapter, Hughes makes this statement:

The question regarding the significance of man’s creation in the divine image is raised on the opening page of the Bible, but it is not clearly resolved until we come to the revelation in the New Testament that Christ himself, the Son, is the Image of God (2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15). This disclosure is indisputably of immense consequence if we wish to establish a right understanding of the nature of man; for it points us to the truth that the authentic identity of man can be grasped only through the knowledge of man’s relationship to Christ—a relationship which, far from having its beginning with the incarnation of the Son of God at Bethlehem, extends right back to the creation itself, and even beyond that to the eternal distinction within the unity of the Godhead between the persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (pg. 3).

Hughes’ point here (that he will address at length in chapter 3) is that the Son is the Image of God and man was created in the image of God; and this distinction points us to the reality that man’s origin (and subsequent destiny) is directly related to his connection with Christ, the Son. At his creation, man was not the image, but created in the image. And this is of fundamental importance in understanding the work of the Spirit in conforming us (back and fully) into the image and likeness of Christ—the “image” in which we were created at the beginning and the “image” that we lost (or, more properly, was corrupted) in our rebellion at “The Fall”.

Hughes goes on in chapter one explaining “The Meaning of Creation in the Image of God” by distinguishing man from the rest of creation. Because it is only man who is declared to be created in the image of God, he holds preeminence within the created order and is the only being “fitted” to exercise dominion over God’s creation. The fact that man is created in the image of God “links man directly and responsibly to God in a way that is unknown to any other creature” (pg. 4).

Hughes goes on to say this:

Nothing is more basic than the recognition that being constituted in the image of God is of the very essence of and absolutely central to the humanness of man. It is the key that unlocks the meaning of his authentic humanity. Apart from this reality he cannot exist truly as man, since for man to deny God and the divine image stamped upon his being and to assert his own independent self-sufficiency is to deny his own constitution and thus to dehumanize himself. That this is so is confirmed by the appalling inhumanity of ungodly men in every age of human history (pg. 4).

In stressing the distinction of man with regard to the other creatures, Hughes shows that because man is created in the image of God he is therefore a “personal being”. The import of God’s declaration, “Let us make…” Hughes argues, is the reality of “the divine plurality-in-unity”, for it attest to the truth that “God, being triune, is a personal God” and that “God’s decision to create man is an interpersonal decision.” The importance of God being a personal being is crucial for understanding the constitution of man as a personal being and why he has such a need to express himself through relationships—to God and/or the created order in which he exists. That God is such a personal being is shown, Hughes says, in the aforementioned “divine plurality-in-unity”.

Hughes goes on to say, “An isolated or lone unit cannot be or know personality. To be personal, otherness must be present together with oneness, the one must be confronted and must interact with another, for personhood is a reality only within the sphere of person-to-person relationship. To be solitary is to lack identity. Only this personal distinction within the unity of the Godhead makes it possible to say, ‘Let us make man.’ Furthermore, it is this distinction which enables us to identify the Second Person of the Holy Trinity as the eternal Son who is the Image of God and through whom man’s person-to-person relationship with God is made a vital reality” (pg. 5).

And this is precisely why man, as a personal being (distinct from all other creations) is “…capable of personal fellowship with and personal response to his personal Creator. The fact that man is person from Person explains his ability to interact as person to Person…and leads us to the very heart of a correct comprehension of the meaning of his being created in the image of God” (pg. 5).

Hughes finishes his chapter by continuing to show that the Scripture places man at the pinnacle of “creation”; as “image-bearer”, man holds a special place in creation in that he is the point of “relation” between the created order and God. As image-bearer, man’s “dominion” over creation is the means by which the created order experiences its own fullness and destiny. This is another clue that Jesus, as the second Adam and True Man came to do so much more than simply “forgive” us for our sins. The whole of creation is implicated by His coming.

Hughes says it this way:

It is the creation of man that gives proportion and meaning to the whole divine work of creation; for it is in and through God’s personal creature man, who has been given dominion over all the earth, that the created order as a whole relates to God and achieves the purpose of its creation. The preeminent position of man in God’s creation is more than ontological; it is also inherently functional (pg 5).

As Hughes continues to show the superiority of man in the created order, he wraps up this important opening chapter by discussing the significance of man’s naming of the animals, the sanctity of man, and the synonymous nature of “image” and “likeness” (6-10).


satire and theology said...

The question regarding the significance of man’s creation in the divine image is raised on the opening page of the Bible, but it is not clearly resolved until we come to the revelation in the New Testament that Christ himself, the Son, is the Image of God (2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15).

Here we see the progressive nature of Scripture as the New Testament sheds light on the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible.

Great Googly Moogly! said...

Yes...and I would say not only does the NT "shed light" on the OT, but it actually interprets it. First Christ interprets the Scripture as the Word incarnate (I actually opened our service a few weeks back in reference to Matt. 5:17-19 with the comment that Jesus is not only the INTERPRETER of the Scripture, but He is really the INTERPRETATION of the Scripture because it all speaks of Him).

Then, the Apostles and NT writers interpret the Scripture in light of the Person and Work of Christ.

The OT doesn't come into its full meaning until the One of whom it spoke arrives on the scene. Then we can see clearly what the OT only hinted at to varying degrees in "shadows".

The portrait of Christ was painted throughout the OT, but it takes His actually arrival for the clarity of the OT to be comprehended.

Thanks Russ!

satire and theology said...

I have no problem with interpreting the OT through the NT, as long as we also understand the OT in original context as well, as our Jewish friends, Christian or not, will often point out.


satire and theology said...

Thanks for the helpful input.