A VINTAGE CHRISTIAN MANIFESTO OF HOPE • 6We're Not Talking Monkeys!
0—Progressive: Let’s Get Vintage!
1—Manifesto: Resist Progressive Christianity, Reclaim the Fundamentals
2—Vintage Faith: 10 Things to Know About Vintage Christianity
3—The Bible: Did God Really Say?
4—God and gods: The Mars Hill Effect
5—Creation: God Spoke and ‘BANG,’ There It Was?
6—Humanity: We’re Not Talking Monkeys
7—Homosexuality: An Honest Chat About Its Reality & Revelation
8—Sin: We Really Are that Screwed-Up
9—Jesus: Gandhi on Steroids or God Made Flesh?
10—Cross: A Love Note or Butcher’s Block?
11—Resurrection: Better Than a Zombie
12—Church: No Church No Christ, Know Church Know Christ
13—Universalism: Not All Dogs Go to Heaven
14—Hell: For Real and Forever?
15—Heaven: A Place on Earth?
16—The End: Go Backwards to Go Forwards
What does it mean to be human?
Probably the oldest question known to man, one Stanford political scientist tried to answer. In Our Post-Human Future, Francis Fukuyama cautioned against altering human nature through biotechnology. The reason? “[T]here is something unique about the human race that entitles every member of the species to a higher moral status than the rest of the natural world.”1
He suggests I have a higher moral status than my family dog, Zoe, because of a biological “qualitative leap” in my distant ancestors’ development. This random-chance leap is what gives us dignity and meaning, a higher moral status above other beings. He calls this uniqueness Factor X.
This “factor” isn’t spiritual, religious, or theistic. It’s a genetic and biological quality that was inserted into humanity at some point during the evolutionary process from monkey to human. This, of course, reflects the scientific worldview, the Science Story. The Scripture Story explains Factor X very differently:
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…” (Genesis 1:26)
According to vintage Christianity, Factor X is what we call the Imago Dei, or Image of God.
Like others before him, Protestant Reformer John Calvin believed we are unique because we’ve been created in the Image of God. Humanity was made to participate in “the divine wisdom, righteousness, power, holiness, and truth”2 because we were crafted after the Creator of the universe.
Vintage Christians believe we don’t have worth and dignity because we possess a certain highly evolved gene or some bio-social trait. We are valuable, we have worth and dignity, because we are Statues of God.
I Am Not a Talking Monkey!
Stop for a moment. Let that sink in. You have been created in God’s image and likeness. Your mom and brother, boss and neighbor, enemy and friend are molded in the likeness of the Creator.
Stunning. Breathtaking. No words.
The vintage Christian faith reminds me we didn’t just happen. We are not a more advanced version in a long line of other bipedal creatures.
I am not a talking monkey!
I am not a creative, productive bundle of cells and sparking neurotransmitters. No, I am an Image of God, a Statue created in God’s likeness. So are you.
But what does it mean to say that we are made in God’s image and likeness? At some level this is deeply mysterious. But Genesis 5:1–3 gives us a clue:
When God created mankind, he made them in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And he named them “Mankind” when they were created.
When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth.
Consider the traits two parents pass along to their child. They reason, make moral choices, have a conscience, have emotions, create, communicate, and form relationships — just like Mom and Dad. Genesis 5 seems to say what makes us uniquely human in some way reflects our Creator, like a child reflects her parent.
Those tender moments between you and your spouse or times your friends really supported you are in some way like the relational dynamics of Father, Son, and Spirit.
The times of rip-roaring laughter around a table at the pub after a well-timed punchline in some way reflects the cleverness and wit of God.
How you creatively express yourself through music or clothes, writing or quilting, or any number of creative things somehow reflects the Creator himself.
Consider the rage someone feels in the face of injustice or the inner-movement of the soul after hearing a Bach concerto. We feel and experience emotion because God is emotive.
Also, consider our gender. Swiss theologian Karl Barth emphasized that human existence as male and female is not something secondary to the Image, it’s fundamental to being created in God’s likeness. There is a masculine side and a feminine side to humanity because that’s what God is like. Gender and sexuality aren’t human constructs, they reflect God himself.
Fukuyama is right: there is a Factor X that sets us apart from animals and mildew. That factor is God, which has massive implications for our human story!
It matters for the twelve-year-old Thai girls that American businessmen use for personal pleasure.
It matters for the men and women who bake in the heat of Washington, DC summers.
It matters for the Dalits, the millions of “untouchables” who suffocate under the oppressive wet blanket of India’s caste system and are regarded as less than the roaming street cattle.
It matters for the millions of Romanian orphans who fill entire hospital wards like caged rabbits and enter a life of prostitution and organized crime because they’re illiterate, nonfunctioning societal throwaways.
Every person on the planet matters because everyone bears the image of the very Creator who crafted them from the ground on which they walk!
We are not talking monkeys. We are statues of God.
That’s what it means to be human.
The Meaning of Life
But wait…there’s more! Because hot on the heels of this question about identity is another one: What’s the meaning and purpose of life?
One extreme says this world is all there is. You’re born, you go to school, you work, you die — that’s it. The only hope we have is to do a little good, while sucking the marrow out of life along the way.
The other extreme actually comes from some Christians who say that this world isn’t our home, we’re just passing through. Our life on earth is just a temporary residence, it’s “dress rehearsal”3 for the real deal down the road in heaven.
Two extremes: One says all of this is all that matters — earth is what’s important. The other extreme says all of this just doesn’t matter — heaven is what’s important.
Both have brought incredible confusion to our crucial question.
Vintage Christianity cuts through these two extremes to say that both heaven and earth are important — both the physical and spiritual matter. Everything you do right now matters to God. Not merely as a Christian, but as a human.
Historic Christians have believed we were human beings before we were Christians. God will hold us accountable for our humanity as much as he will for our spirituality. That’s because God has given us a role to fulfill as human creatures. We’ve been created by God on purpose and with purpose to do four things:
Enjoy, guard, rule over, and work creation.
My childhood Christian tradition thought the stuff of this world was bad. Movies, dancing, and alcohol were anathema. Same for the Beatles, Harry Potter, and Disney World.
Except Scripture says that the world and everything in it is here for us to enjoy. After creating humanity, God tells Mama Eve and Papa Adam to kabash the world. God gives humanity the stuff of the earth in order to subdue it and enjoy it, which extends to lots of areas: growing juicy strawberries and pots of geraniums; harvesting clay from the ground and molding it into awesome creations; even drinking beer and wine, in moderation.
Yet this God-given prerogative doesn’t give humanity the right to abuse the earth. Because alongside this permission is the command in Genesis 2 to shamar creation. To take care of it, preserve it, guard it, keep it safe like you would your own home. Guarding and serving creation is one of humanity’s first missions on earth. And God never revokes it.
The vision we see in Genesis is the responsibility of caring for creation as a king would his kingdom. We are to radah over creation, to rule over it.
This language reflects the ancient practice of kings who erected statues of themselves around their kingdom to represent their rule. Saddam Hussein did this — until we knocked them down. Stalin followed suit in communist Russia. Many cities in modern China have images of their leader.
Like a king would leave images of themselves to sort of rule over the land, the Creator has left behind replicas of himself to rule over his land.
That’s you! God placed you on this planet to rule over this world and make sure it works as he intended it to work. To ensure shalom.
When God finished creating he said it was all very good. It was all just right — it was whole. The world was shalom. Adam and Eve were called to preserve and extend this shalom. So are we. This life is not just dress rehearsal for the next. You are an earthling. God has placed you here on purpose and with purpose to rule on his behalf — to work it on his behalf.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of our meaning and purpose is the word abad—work, till, cultivate. While some of us think that work is our punishment for rebelling against God, it’s not. We were created to work. And we work because God works.
God created this stunning garden and in the middle of it he placed humans. He told them to change things. To pick up where he left off by developing the garden and the rest of the world in distinctly human ways.
The vision we find in God’s Story is one that begins with a garden and ends with a city. From the beginning God baked progress into the DNA of creation. He didn’t intend for us to wear animal skins and draw cave paintings the rest of our lives. He meant for us to turn sand into Kindles and Apple Watches, take trees and stone and turn them into magnificent skyscrapers, spin wool into cozy sweaters.
This is the meaning of your life: to pick up where the creator left off, to co-create with God by working, tilling, cultivating this world by discovering, inventing, creating, building things — forever!
God has created you on purpose and with purpose to enjoy, guard, rule over, and work his magnificent creation.
That’s your meaning and your purpose. And it’s vital for vintage Christians to believe it and teach it.
1 Francis Fukuyama, Our Posthuman Future (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002), 160.
2 John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion (trans. Elsie Anne McKee; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 2009), 49.
3 Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 36.