9/27/12: “The Quest for Relationships”


Warning: This blog is not “light reading.”

In N. T. Wright’s fascinating book Simply Christian, he lists as one of the four basic human hungerings, or quests, that of the quest for relationships. That sounds innocent and convincing enough, but it requires that we examine the very foundations of human existence, of human community, and of every dimension of such relationships, and the source of our norms for such.

If the Christian community is to deal with this quest with any integrity, then if must engage in a serious theological (and metaphysical) investigation of the divine purpose in the creation of humankind, of the need for human community, and of the divine nature, which is to be exhibited in this. We are not left to impose our own autonomous solutions and definitions upon them, given the flawed and fallen condition of this present human scene. The church cannot be defined by the norms of the dominant social order.

Consider, for starts, that the crown of God’s creation is the creation of man and woman in God’s own image and likeness. That, image and likeness in itself demands understanding. Humankind and all of creation are to reflect God’s glory, and that also requires that we understand what constitutes God’s glory. I will appropriate a definition borrowed from Gregory Boyd: that God’s glory is “the radiant display of the divine nature.” Within that divine nature is the church’s belief in God as eternally existing in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Reflect on that belief and you are brought to the next question of how these three divine persons relate to one another—which in turn will lead us to how such relationships within the Trinitarian community are to be reflected in the human community (and the church). Somehow we are inescapably led to the understanding that before the human rebellion, the man and the woman related to each other according to the divine nature in which they were created, and also related to each other in the embrace of the Trinitarian community.

Theologian Colin Gunton gives some specifics to this relationship within the Trinitarian community when he understands the Trinity as three Persons who are in each other, making room for each other, drawing life from and pouring life into each other, interpenetrating and interanimating each other, rejoicing in each other, and seeking the glory in each other—“in eternity Father, Son, and Spirit share a dynamic and mutual reciprocity” (From his book: The One and the Three and the Many).

In essence they related in a beautiful self-giving love to one another, and so intended the human community to be the glory of God in exactly the same way. Within that concept all human relations, every dimension of the human community are to be reflections of such grace and peace.

But when that primordial human community sought autonomy that whole scene of shalom and beauty was shattered, and there entered a brute self-interest, which sought to redefine it all out of self-interest.

Enter Jesus and the inauguration of God’s New Creation (the Kingdom of God) and you will find that the church is to be a radical recreation of that original intent—and that not only in sexuality (which so often dominates the church’s discussions these days), but also in all relationships.

One has only to do a careful reading of Ephesians 4:17-6:9 to see this divine nature being the norm for the realities of our human nature and community. We are not free inside the church to make the norms of the dominant social order to be the norms of the church. We stand under the revealed purpose of God for all of our relationships, and only in such do we find our true being, and our quest for relationships given direction.




About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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