Thursday, April 29, 2010

Wesley's "End of Christ's Coming"

Chris Bounds put me on to John Wesley's sermon, "The End (or purpose) of Christ's Coming" as a good place to see his breakdown of the image of God. I was looking for his sense of what the image of God in humanity consists of.

The sermon is quite interesting. Wesley's knowledge of Latin literature is impressive, which he quotes in Latin. He has the right understanding of Romans 7 as far as he goes ("Personating a man convinced of sin, but not conquering it").

He seems to demonstrate the "modern" sense of human will as found aptly in, for example, the philosophy of John Locke (Adam "was endued with a will, with various affections [which are only the will exerting itself in various ways]"). Augustine also of course talked about two wills, but not in terms of human understanding making choices, at least as I understand it. For Augustine these wills are a matter of God's choosing rather than ours.

His reading of the Genesis text is fully pre-modern a mirror reading of the text from within his own worldview, while at the same time incorporating the questions of old ("whence the origin of sin"). Important to realize that we often reinterpret the words of the ancients without realizing it, putting our thoughts into their words. So the comment that Satan "sinneth from the beginning" means that Satan was the first one to sin.

Wesley mentions two elements of the image of God in this sermon--the natural image and the moral image. I didn't find the political image in this sermon. Wesley includes within the natural image 1) understanding, 2) will, and 3) liberty. This framework seems decidedly impacted by the post-Cartesian paradigm shift.

The moral image has to do with the original "righteousness and true holiness" that Adam had and we have lost entirely apart from Christ. The political image is humanity's commission to rule the earth, impacted decidedly by the Fall.

In Genesis, I find only the third sense of the image of God, that humanity was intended to rule the creation as God rules His creation. In the NT, the image seems understandably to have a sense of reflecting the honor of God or the glory of God. I can't think of any places where it has anything to do with understanding, free will, or volition. I can't think off hand of any places where it has to do with an original moral righteousness either--this is all post-biblical expansion of Paul expanding on Genesis, for all I can tell.

These things are of interest to me, but I am more interested in how we today might conceptualize human beings as being in the image of God. The two key biblical senses of the phrase still seem most pertinent:

1) God has appointed us stewards of His creation. We are the most empowered of his creatures--which of course includes our greater understanding, our greater liberty, our greater sense of choices to make. We thus have the greatest responsibility among God's creatures.

2) Every human individual reflects the greatness of God. To harm any individual (here I am not speaking to issues of justice) is to mess with God's stuff.

I am the greatest of novices when it comes to image discussion after the New Testament. I welcome enlightenment of fundamental discussions I do not know.

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