Sunday, March 04, 2012

Creation and Alienation

... continuing the outline of a brief overview of Wesleyan theology... less unique in this section...
3.1 The Story
I think I would start this chapter with the Christian story.  God created the earth, and it was good.  God created humanity in his image, and it was good. Adam and Eve sinned and not only did human nature "fall" but the creation as well.

The interpretation of the relevant biblical passages has not remained static over time.  For example, what is the image of God in Genesis?  In the original meaning, it was a kind of governmental or functional image.  Adam and Eve were the image of God because they ruled the land as God rules all things.

In Christian history, including Wesley, the image developed to be seen in terms of human characteristics like moral capacity or free will. These were things Christians had in common with God that on the other hand distinguished them from other animals.  The capacity for relationships is a more recent trend in the way in which humans are seen to be in the image of God, one that fits well also with the Wesleyan tradition. Christian tradition sees the image of God as marred to varying degrees within humanity because of sin.

3.2 The Condition
The Fall has been interpreted in the Augustinian-Calvinist stream of Protestantism as a matter of total depravity apart from the grace of God, and the Wesleyan tradition has historically stood in this stream.  Perhaps constructively I would rather say that any goodness in the creation is completely derivative from God and that the world currently is thoroughly alienated from him.

Purely from a look around us, it is clear enough that the world is alienated from God and in need of redemption and reconciliation.  We call it sin.  How did we come to be in this state?  Augustine and the Christian tradition in general, including Wesley and the Wesleyan tradition, has pointed to Adam, the first human.

Evolution has presented a significant challenge to the Augustinian tradition of the Fall, especially recent genetic challenges to the idea that all the genetic variation among humans could come from two individuals. This is a major issue for Christian understanding.  What does Christian theology do with evolution?  Are there models of Christianity today that can both remain orthodox and accept some form of evolution?

These are questions of where the current alienation of the world came from and our answers to them have implications for where the world is going to.  Nevertheless, the fallenness and alienation of the world from God is clear enough.  Whether we agree on the precise cause of the current situation, the situation exists and longs for a solution.

The Wesleyan tradition has generally thought of humanity having a "carnal" or "sinful" nature linked to Adam's "original sin."  I consider these to be pictures of the human condition more than literal descriptions. Perhaps a more helpful approach is to think of us as spiritually dis-empowered because our default condition is disconnected from God.  Our alienated state thus becomes more a matter of what we lack rather than some presence of evil within us.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

Man's reason sets him apart from the animal kingdom. The ability to define oneself, and not be defined by one's instincts, ignorance, or "collective" are important aspects of "Man", as well as coming to understand individual strengths and weaknesses....

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Alienation is a concept that presupposes that the world is separated from "God". It is just as easy to presuppose that what exists will never be perfectable, and then seek to see where one fits into the frame of the politcal.