From ethics to the gospel (03) – blank slate vs ordered creation

17 11 2008

[Catch up on the whole ‘From ethics to the gospel‘ series]

New Blackboard

Image by drinksmachine via Flickr

What happens if you think the world is a blank slate? To put it another way, does it matter whether God created the world with order built in? Here’s why it matters: If Creation is a blank slate, then we’re free to (re-)order things whatever way we like. If no order is given in creation, then any order we choose with be arbitrary. There’s no objective reason for choosing one way of doing things over another. It’s just a matter of what suits you, of what gives you an advantage, of where your vested interests lie.

If1 that’s true all sorts of things suddenly make sense:

  • Homosexuality. If the pattern for human sexuality isn’t built into creation – if it’s arbitrary – they why not experiment with other forms of sexual expression? Especially if they seem to work better for you?
  • Transgender. If a person’s sex (either male or female) isn’t a fundamental aspect of being human – if it’s arbitrary and/or accidental – then why not change it?
  • Human-animal hybrids. If God hasn’t created a clear distinction between humans and animals (or, indeed, between one kind of animal and another), then why not experiment to see what sort of hybrids we can produce? (Including hybrids far more radical than currently the case; we’re still at the tame end of the spectrum.)

If you’re in a teaching role, and you’re tackling these issues, it’s important to do more than state what’s right and wrong. (Though, of course, you shouldn’t do less.)

It’s better to also help people see that the issue underneath these issues: Do we acknowledge that God is Creator? Are we willing to submit to the order that he has created?

Now, of course there’ll be debates about whether, and how, we rightly discern that order (i.e. epistemology2). But before we get there, we need to ask: In principle, are we willing to admit that God’s order is built in to his creation? And, once we know what it is, are we willing to submit to it? Unless the answer to these questions is “Yes”, there’s no point moving on to the other, more detailed questions (i.e. the epistemology).

If we can’t say “Yes”, we have a more primordial problem. We don’t want God to be God. We want to order the universe ourselves, as we see fit. We still want to claim the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Adam & Eve

Image by Lawrence OP via Flickr

Posted by Rick Creighton

The next item in this series (‘From ethics to the gospel’) will be posted next Monday.


1 N.B. I’m not saying this is true. In fact, I’m saying it’s not true. But I’m also exploring where your thinking would go if you thought it were true (as many people do). Cf. My previous post: ‘From ethics to the gospel via creation’

2 Epistemology is the study of how, and whether, we know what we know.
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From ethics to the gospel (02) – via Creation

10 11 2008

[Catch up on the whole ‘From ethics to the gospel‘ series]

So how do you get from ethics to the gospel? You get there via theology. You need robust doctrines of Creation, and of the Fall, and of Redemption, and of New Creation.

Adam, Eve, and the (female) serpent at the ent...

Image via Wikipedia

We’ll start with Creation in this post, and look at the others later.

When God created the world, he created it with a God-given ordering (or relationship-pattern). Things don’t just exist; they exist in relationship to each other. They come with God-given kinds and God-given purposes.

(a) Kinds. “Humanity” (i.e. all those created in/as God’s image) is a God-given kind. So we are wrong when we exclude any human being from the respect and dignity that belong to those who are God’s images.

That’s not self-evident.  “Crimes against humanity” occur when some people start telling themselves that other people don’t really count as human.  It might be whole ethnic groups (e.g. Tutsis, Bosnian Muslims, or Jews, Romanies and Poles [hover for more info]) or more ominously, groups who are too weak to protest (“the slave”, “the foetus”, “the terminally ill”, “the comatose”) or groups that we deem unforgivable (“terrorists”, “white-trash”, “paedophiles”).

[By the way, choosing the “right” label is a good step towards dehumanising someone. Once they’re dehumanised enough you no long have to treat them with respect or dignity.]

(b) Purposes. God also created things with purposes; often mulitple purposes. Apples were designed to grow into apple trees. Apples were also designed to be food. Your neighbour was not designed to be food (not even in the most extreme situation). She was designed to love God and enjoy him forever, and to love her neighbour as herself.

The gospel tells us how God has acted in Christ to restore our Fallen world. Built into that message is the good news that in Christ we can be what we were created to be. “Being what we were created to be” is a pretty good summary of what ethics should be all about.

So, contrary to the question that began this post, it’s not a matter of “getting” from ethics to the gospel. Ethics already is contained within the gospel. Our job is to make Christ known, in all his glory. If we’re doing that faithfully, it will include calling people to be what they were created to be.

Posted by Rick Creighton

The next item in this series (‘From ethics to the gospel’) will be posted on Monday, 17th Nov, 2008.

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