Today's culture affirms freedom of choice and our human rights and the Church is to be driven by our responsibilities to each other and to God. Where do these two foci coincide and over what issues do they part company?
Does God's view of human personhood always coincide with the view of personhood that is promoted by psychological/medical models, human-rights models etc?
None of this is easy. Keith Ward claims that because biblical morality is 'motivated by the basic Christian principles of the self-giving, agapistic love ...[we should] 'never try to disguise it by hiding behind a few written rules...' 1 But by this, Keith Ward sets rules and love in opposition. The Bible, however, has Jesus; love incarnate, come to fulfil and not abolish the law, and so it is to be wondered whether Christians who argue that love should motivate our actions, always understand agape. Biblical agape is a desire for the very best interests of another person to be secured. The church can not always simply condone and love, without also lovingly challenging. Does Christian ethics then require the church to make decisions which honour God by not compromising his message about the kind of lives he calls us to lead, whilst at the same time, calling us to protect, comfort and welcome?
The Church's teachingChristians read the story of their lives within the overarching biblical meta-narrative but also live in a post-modern society which embraces a fluidity of meanings. As a consequence there is often no consensus to be found regarding our life-style choices because the church is very much embedded in the world. Within the church, there is just as much confusion. Revisionists are accused of reading the Bible through a post-modern, culturally relativistic lens and traditionalists are accused of reading it through a lens infected by a whole other set of filters. Revisionists and traditionalists can each practise a hermeneutic which delivers contrary exegeses of key passages and conclude that their position prescribes a prohibition on certain life-style choices.
Perhaps then a discussion of creation and the fall might provide a better framework for ethical decision-making than inconclusive proof-texting. We are back then to looking at the over-arching narrative and God's plan for human flourishing.
Looking to creation, the fall, our redemption and the consummation
CreationCan God's plan for human flourishing be best revealed by looking at creation? Is this more helpful than looking at redemption? I say this because of the rise of a redemptive-hermeneutic in which God's unfolding revelation is purported as having uncovered our exegetical errors in the past. Redemption-hermeneutics is becoming a means through which life-style choices can become justified.
The FallAfter creation, there was fall... and in this fallen world we live. This means that we are not always best placed to decide what is best for us, as humans. When does the church's teaching need to challenge the ways in which our human choices frustrate God's original intentions?
RedemptionRedemption-hermeneutics perhaps misunderstands redemption. Through Jesus' saving grace we are not going to become more and more free from the law eschatologically, we will become more and more the people for whom the law is written in our hearts. As Paul explains in Romans, we are justified by faith and our slates are wiped clean and we are made righteous in God's sight, but we will transform more and more into the likeness of Christ as a consequence because we give up our sinful natures; we do not rebel but conform to God's will. When the church engages pastorally and seeks human flourishing this is then promoted not in ways that necessarily coincide with political correctness and toleration, although often they might, it is promoted in ways which help to make a human being more Christ-like. Psychological methodologies and all other constructions which advance human-personhood must be measured against this.
The consummationAt the consummation, peace and fulfilment will reign in our lives where instead there has been tension, addiction and confusion.This is our eschatological hope and when the glorious future breaks into the present, we come to know a foretaste of what lies ahead. The church, through its approach to pastoral ministry and ethics, is to work to bring the future into the present.
ConclusionIf the Church speaks with an eschatological voice it must not succumb to the world's definition of human person-hood and human flourishing without very careful reflection.
We are human beings living in the love of God and under his authority.
The body of Christ is a broken body, made up of broken people. Jesus was broken for us and is tolerant of the broken but Jesus’ response (see John 8) secured our redemption and asked that we 'sin no more.' At the consummation we will be made perfect. In the meantime, we live by faith and filled by the Spirit in a community of faith that seeks an understanding that arises out of our searching the tenants of our faith as they are set down in the scriptures. Knowing ourselves to be accepted and loved in our brokenness we look to become empowered by the Spirit and trust in our transformation from one shade of glory to the next. So let's be more guided by JC (Jesus Christ) than PC (political correctness) when it comes to the furthering of human flourishing!!
Stott, John, (2006) Issues Facing Christians Today (4th ed.), Zondervan, Michagan
1. Ward, Keith, What the Bible really Teaches: A Challenge for Fundamentalists, p.176