Rob Sturdy: Imago Dei A Worshipping Image

19 12 2011

In the essay below I make a case for a doxological reading of human nature based upon Reformed texts

“The central theological framework of radical orthodoxy is ‘participation’ as developed by Plato and reworked by Christianity because any alternative configuration perforce reserves a territory independent of God.”[1]  This excerpt from Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology demonstrates both the breadth of the agenda of Radical Orthodoxy as well as the mechanism through which RO seeks to accomplish its goals.  Briefly put, RO reads the history of Western cultural movement since the Enlightenment as an ever increasing secularization. Overtime, the abstract philosophy behind the secularization of the West worked itself out in a dangerous nihilism, systematically devaluing embodied life, self-expression, sexuality, aesthetic experience, human political community etc.[2] A revaluing of such things, argues RO, will take a framework that both denies the secular as well as grounds the immanent upon a platform that can give it ultimate meaning and eternal stability.  This is done through RO’s theological framework of participation, which understands the material world as suspended from the transcendent in the same manner that a bridge is suspended above the nothingness beneath it.

At first glance, the Reformed tradition shares many of the same concerns of Radical Orthodoxy.  Both repudiate the isolation of the material, stepping beyond the secular in favor of a created order that derives its significance and depth from God.  However, as James Olthuis observes “whereas the intentions voiced by Radical Orthodoxy are ones that the Reformed tradition fully shares, we differ significantly on how best to make good on these intentions.”[3]  The significant difference on how best to go about stepping beyond the secular and revaluing the immanent hinges upon RO’s commitment to participation and the Reformed commitment to the notion of covenant.  “Participation for Radical Orthodoxy and covenant for Reformed theology function as the central theological frameworks or organizing principles by which these theologies understand the Christian faith,” writes Justin Holcomb in his essay ‘Being Bound to God’, yet he also notes that these two frameworks are not mutually exclusive.[4]  His conclusion that this is a false dichotomy is shared within the RO ranks.[5]

While Reformed theologians have been sweeping in their indictments of participation it is it is partly due to the perception that participation belongs exclusively in the realm of platonic philosophy rather than in the world of Biblical theology.  After all “What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem?  What concord is there between the Academy and the Church?  What between heretics and Christians?”[6]  Well, if we (if Tertullian himself!) were honest, Athens does and always has had much to do with the church.  As Holcomb notes, Tertullian himself could not avoid philosophical categories, nor could such modern Reformed Theologians as Karl Barth keep from building sweeping theological systems under the influence of Martin Buber and Soren Kierkegaard.[7]  The Bible itself often speaks in borrowed categories whether from a particular location in history or from philosophy.  We are after all embodied beings.  For God to communicate with us at all He must use language, practices, and signs that are already in place in culture in order to make himself understood.[8]  This does not free us from an uncritical appropriation of pagan signs, language and philosophy which subsumes Christian theology under such things reducing the significance and distinctiveness of its message.  But, and this is very important to add at this point, neither does it free us from dismissing such things outright simply because the church has become aware of them through the contributions from the pagan world. 

My central argument in this essay is that participatory ontology should not be dismissed in favor of a more Biblical category because participation finds resonance within the Biblical narrative that enhances and compliments Biblical theology.  Principally reflecting on Gen 1.26, I will demonstrate that while participation is a category that is not stated explicitly (like covenant) it nevertheless resonates from within the pages of Scripture.  As John Calvin notes “the ancient writers of the Church were excusable, when, finding that they could not in any other way maintain sound and pure doctrine…were compelled to invent some words, which after all had no other meaning than what is taught in the scriptures.”[9]  And yet I will demonstrate that a participatory ontology is not enough.  I will attempt to put forward a refined participatory ontology that has “no other meaning than what is taught in the scriptures.”  I will argue that an authentically Biblically participatory ontology must necessarily be a doxological ontology.

Is participatory ontology antithesis to sound Biblical exegesis?  The purpose of this section is to begin a conversation on this surrounding the complex notion of imago Dei principally examined from an exegesis of Gen 1.26.

“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Gen 1.26)

What is meant by the phrase “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”? Unfortunately, there is no commentary on “the image of God” elucidating its meaning from within the text itself.  Further complicating things the phrase “image of God” is found only four times in the O.T.: Gen 1.26, 1.27 (twice); and 9.6.  The Hebrew word for “image” is selem has a range of meaning within the O.T.  Selem can be used to describe an idolatrous image that must be destroyed (Num 33.52; 2 Kings 11.18, Ezek 7.20).  Selem can also have more difficult meaning within the psalms where it is used to express a phantom existence (Ps 39.7).  In Psalm 73.20 selem is used to convey the idea of something.  “Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them asselem.”  The selem in the dream are phantoms or images of reality but not reality itself.  Upon awaking, they are swept aside in favor of the “real”.  So the selemconvey the idea of reality upon waking.  Other occurrences in the O.T. are found in 1 Sam 6.5 where the Israelite priests instruct the Phillistines to make “images” of the tumors and mice that the Lord sent upon them.[10]

What then does selem mean in Gen 1.26?  Most of the Christian Church’s attempts to answer this question have leaned on the speculative rather than the exegetical and often reflect the philosophical concerns of the day rather than the contextual meaning of selem in Gen 1.26.  Nevertheless, it would be useful to briefly summarize some of the attempts to understand the “image of God” in historical theology.  Augustine is perhaps the most famous attempt and his understanding of the imago Dei was the preferred interpretation to at least the high middle ages.[11]  Augustine linked the imago Dei around a series of intrapsychic structures (the mind, the love of it, the knowledge of it De TrinitateIX. 4.4, memory, understanding, will X.11.17) that image God inadequately, yet nevertheless are an image (De Trinitate X12.19).  Man’s mind is the chief reflection of the image for Augustine and his indebtedness to Platonic and Neo-Platonic philosophy is evident.  This view held the day more unless until the Reformation, where Luther introduced an ethical understanding of the imago Deias original righteousness.[12]  But Luther’s understanding of the imago Dei is broader than simply original righteousness.

Luther draws special attention to the plural personal pronoun (us, our) of Gen 1.26 and from this builds an anthropology that situates man with unique honor and distinction in creation.  Though animals are found to be similar to humans on many levels, nevertheless man is distinguished from creation by two things.  First man is distinguished from the rest of creation because he is part of a “special plan”.  Rather than simply saying “Let the sea be put in motion,” etc., God consults and plans within himself by saying “let us.”  Therefore man was created by the special plan and providence of God.[13]  Luther’s imago Dei might be considered as an inward righteousness that exhibits itself in physical splendor.  He writes: “my understanding of the image of God is this:  That Adam had it in his being and that he not only knew God and believed that He was good, but that he also lived in a life that was wholly godly.”[14]  This original righteousness radiates from within causing the outward, physical man to have over-abundant strength, beauty, intelligence etc.[15]

John Calvin’s contribution is a complex syntheses of ethical and ontological aspects of the image of God.  He sees the image both as original righteousness, but also reflected in the soul. He writes of the glory of God in theimago Dei that it “peculiarly shines forth in human nature, where the mind, the will and all the senses represent the Divine order,”[16] and   “there was no part of man, not even the body itself, in which some sparks did not glow” (Inst 1.15.3). Calvin sees the image as represented in the immediate context as dominion, and in the exercising of this dominion there are obvious ethical implications.[17]  In attempting to answer the question, “What was the sin of both (Adam and Eve)?”[18] Calvin links the image of God as dominion with the ethical responsibility to exercise that dominion under God.  Dominion after all is “not an intrinsic good but proceeds from God”[19] and is meant to be exercised under him.  Calvin notes that Adam and Eve overreach their substantial giftedness by seeking equality with God rather than being content with the image that proceeds from God (ad extra) to man.  [20]

Moving along more textual and exegetical lines, Biblical Theologians such as Graeme Goldsworthy writes that the Imago Dei’s full meaning is to be interpreted only in Jesus,[21] but will admit in a most general sense that theimago Dei invests man with a certain dignity before God and creation, a special relationship with God, and a dominion of creation reflective of God’s lordship over creation.[22]  Dominion has specific extracanonical resonances within the ANE.  As Hamilton notes, it is well known both in Egyptian and Mesopotamian society for a king or high ranking official to be called “the image of God.”[23] And yet the question must be asked, why is the king the “image of God”?  A clue may be gained by an ANE text quoted by Middlton:

“May the god who rejected me help me!

May the goddess who [resented me] have pity on me!

May the shephered, the sun of men (the king)

Who is like god (be gracious to me)!”[24]

Commenting on this text, Middleton notes that the king is the image of God because of his functional similarity to God “whereby the king represents the god by virtue of his royal office and is portrayed as acting like the god in specific behavioral ways.”[25]  To the extent that this representation is behavioral, it is tempting to hold an ethical articulation of the image.  The king images, or represents the god or gods to the extent that his behavior “acts like” or imitates the gods.

Perhaps it would be useful for a moment to draw back and assess some of the implications from this particular exegeses in light of our the concerns of Radical Orthodoxy.  Are any of these reflected as the textual and contextual evidence is amassed?  The answer is dependent upon RO’s articulation of participation and to what extent this can be found to resonate within the contextual evidence.  RO’s understanding of participation is dependent not only upon the Platonic ontology of participation but upon the reworking of that ontology within the Christian tradition.[26]  In order to engage this discussion as fairly as possible, it would be useful to take the time to grapple with Plato’s conception of participation in the Phaedo then move on to RO’s understanding of how participation has been reworked within the Christian tradition.  Plato’s framework of participation is bound up within his theory of forms, a theory which is gradually and carefully explained at great length in thePhaedo[27].

In 65-66a of the Phaedo, Plato begins to develop the theory of abstract forms such as bigness, the good, the just, the beautiful etc.  These forms cannot be grasped by the material senses, but in escaping the material senses the forms are apprehended by thought.  This does not mean however, that the material senses are not useful in apprehended the forms.  For Plato, the apprehension of the forms through rational thought is really a recollection of something lost at birth.  The remembering of forms is made possible by Plato’s theory of the preexistence of souls, which once inhabited a world of pure, unmediated apprehension of the forms (72-73).  The soul in the material body recollects the forms “from seeing or touching or some other sense perception” (75a) which stimulates the memory of the forms in the thoughts of the mind.  Plato compares this to a lover whose memory of his lover is stimulated by an object, such as a lyre or garment or “anything else that their beloved is accustomed to use” (73d).  As the signs stimulate the memory, it is shown that apprehension of the forms is really a recollection of something known but forgotten (73b).  The signs’ ability to stimulate the memory of the soul prepares Plato’s framework of participation:

“I think that, if there is anything beautiful besides the Beautiful itself, it is beautiful for no other reason than that it shares in the Beautiful, and I say so with everything…nothing else makes it beautiful other than the presence of, or the sharing in, or however you may describe its relationship to the Beautiful we mentioned, for I will not insist on the precise nature of the relationship, but that all beautiful things are beautiful by the Beautiful.” (100c-e).

While Plato remains indefinite about the exact nature of a how beautiful objects share in or participate in the Beautiful, what can be said confidently is that the object’s participation in the Beautiful causes an association to be drawn in the soul between the material object and the invisible form, thus forming a relationship between the immanent and the transcendent.

For the reworking of this within the Christian tradition RO looks to Thomas Aquinas.  Unlike Plato, who refused to insist on the precise nature of the relationship, Milbank feels confident drawing on Aquinas that the nature of a participatory relationship between the immanent and the transcendent rests upon imitation as expressed in Aquinas’ understanding of an analogy of being. For Aquinas, signs reflect ideas, which reflect existing realities.[28]  Aquinas’ signs are creatures who reflect abstract ideas descriptive of the created order. The abstract ideas (strong, good, perfect etc.) reflect (imperfectly) the existing reality of God (S.T.I.Q. 13 a 3).  So Aquinas writes:

“Now since our intellect knows God from creatures, it knows Him as far as creatures represent Him. Now it is shown above that God prepossesses in Himself all the perfections of creatures, being Himself simply and universally perfect. Hence every creature represents Him, and is like Him so far as it possesses some perfection; yet it represents Him not as something of the same species or genus, but as the excelling principle of whose form the effects fall short, although they derive some kind of likeness thereto, even as the forms of inferior bodies represent the power of the sun.” (S.T.I.Q. 13 a 2)

Aquinas speaks of these perfections possessed by creatures not inadequately, but rather in lesser degree.  These perfections possessed by creatures are described as “flowing” from God to created things (S.T.IQ. 13 a 3) and as they are received by the created things the mind is necessarily led back to a mediated and incomplete knowledge of God.  Speaking of such perfections Milbank will write “Good’ offers us a semantic depth not because this word already happens to have this character within some sphere of ordinary secular language…but because actual, given human being is involved in some indefinition in relation to God.”[29]

With what degree does RO’s articulation of participation resonate with the contextual evidence from Gen 1.26?  Middleton argues that the image of God in the ANE texts suggest an ethical/ behavioral imitation of God as well as a substantive representation of God.  As to the former, he writes: “the kingrepresents the god by virtue of his royal office and is portrayed as acting like the god in specific behavioral ways.”[30]  As Middleton notes, as far as Gen 1.26 is concerned the image is no longer confined to the king or other royal officials but is democratized.[31]  Therefore what can be said of the kingly image in specific can be generalized to apply to humanity as a whole in the Gen 1.26 text.  But to what extent can one rely upon the image to communicate perfections in the manner after Aquinas and RO?  Exegetically the decision could go either way and is almost entirely dependent upon pre-exegetical commitments along lines of varying traditions.  The problem hinges upon what place and emphasis one assigns to the word “likeness.”  “Then God said let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”  Hamilton presents two views on likeness. The first view is that a strong word (image) is toned down by a weaker word (likeness).  The other approach reverses this understanding and suggests that likeness specifies and strengthens the word “image”.  The creature’s reflection of God is intensified to the degree that something about God “may be know by studying his image.”[32] As Hamilton notes, where one draws the line on this issue has less to do with exegesis and more to do with pre-exegetical commitments.[33]  If the second interpretation of “likeness” is held, the image of God in man resonates quite well within the participatory framework of Radical Orthodoxy.

One may be able to open up the issue by examining to what degree God’s perfections reside outside of the image and in the rest of creation.  After all, participatory ontology is not simply about the imago Dei but it is an all encompassing theological framework that denies any reserve of the secular.[34] The writer of Genesis takes great pains to demythologize creation, but this does not necessarily mean that the creation is desacralized.  As for the demytholozing of creation, a case in point is the writer’s use of the word “greater light” to describe the sun and “lesser light” to describe the moon.  Hamilton argues that by using the awkward phrases the writer is intentionally avoiding familiar words which are similar to other Semitic languages’ names for deities.[35]  Make no mistake about it, the writer of this portion of Genesis does not wish for his hearers/ readers to mistake any part of creation for the divine.  Nevertheless, there is evidence within the text that God’s power is granted, or inheres within the creation as it is commanded to participate in the creative process.[36]  In a cautious statement along these lines Hamilton notes “God’s creative design…exists because of the creative word of God…This spoken word is the ultimate background for all of terrestrial phenomenon.  Yet this same word grants the means of self-perpetuation to various species and orders of creation.”[37] Middleton takes this a step further.  He notes the sharing of power with the sun and the moon (1.16, 18) who are commanded to govern the day and the night. He also notes that the earth (twice) and the waters (once) are commanded to participate in creation by bringing forth living creatures.  “They are invited in other words, to exercise their God-given fertility and thus to imitate God’s own creative actions in filling the world with living things.”[38]  That there is a sharing of divine power, to the extent that it inheres within the creation is something with which John Calvin often walks a fine line.  For Calvin, blurring Creator/ creature distinctions is never a problem.  Calvin would rather err in this opposite direction, thus having severe distinctions within the two wills (divine and human) of Christ for example.  Nevertheless, commenting on these passages Calvin cannot refrain from making comments that lend themselves to an enchanted creation.  He writes:

“We see, indeed, the world with our eyes, we tread the earth with our feet, we touch innumerable kinds of god’s works with our hands, we inhale a sweet and pleasant fragrance from herbs and flowers, we enjoy boundless benefits; but in those very things of which we attain some knowledge, there dwells such an immensity of divine power, goodness and wisdom as absorbs all our senses.”[39]

There is a possibility here for pushing a participatory framework within the creation following a sacramental line that Calvin himself opens up for us.  He writes “We know God, who is himself invisible, only through his works…This is the reason why the Lord, that he may invite us to the knowledge of himself, places the fabric of heaven and earth before our eyes, rendering himself, in a certain manner, manifest in them.”[40]  Divine power, which dwellsin creation (flowers, fragrance etc.) manifests God “before our eyes.” But is this manifestation before our eyes only?  For example, Alexander Schmemann writes “the Bible…begins with man as a hungry being…In the Bible the food that man eats, the world of which he must partake in order to live, is given to him by God, and it is given as communion with God.”[41]  But communion how?  Following Calvin, there are certain things made manifest about God in the act of eating. Hamilton notes that the importance Gen 1.29-30 is to communicate that what God has created he preserves.[42]  His power to preserve and sustain life is made manifest in the giving of food to eat for humans and animals.  But this power is also a delegated power in the plant life as it reproduces and provides for humanity quite apart from any supernatural or miraculous interference.  It is a power granted to plant life by God and in the eating of it there is a sense that God’s life giving power is made manifest (after a certain manner) in the one who is eating.  Here the two powers (God’s divine power and the plants delegated natural power) come together to accomplish the same thing, namely provision.

There are currents within Biblical Theology which resonate along these sacramental lines.  Vos views the “Tree of Life” as having sacramental character, communicating to Adam and Eve that “all life comes from God, that for man it consits in nearness to God, that it is the central concern of God’s fellowship with man to impart this.”[43]  Once again the supernatural power of God and the natural power of the created tree, while theologically distinguishable are fused to accomplish the same eschatological end.  Vos views the time in the Garden as a probationary period for Adam and Eve.  Though they were created perfect, this perfection was unconfirmed.  During the probationary period man is either confirmed in perfection by his obedience and granted a permanent, stable perfection or he is penalized by losing the unconfirmed perfection that he is given at creation.[44]  If man were to be confirmed in creation, the means by which this perfection is communicated is through eating of the tree of life.  He writes “the tree would appropriately have been the sacramental means for communicating the highest life.”[45]  What we see here is a picture from Calvin, Schmemann, and Vos of all of creation being mustered to attend to all of the senses of man (smell, taste, touch) in order to manifest God to man.  And as has been previously noted, this manifestation takes place as the creatures with their delegated powers imitate God’s power and purposes as they reproduce, bring forth, provide and sustain etc often fusing God’s own purposes with their own.

But to what end is God manifested to man in the delegated powers of creation with which they imitate him?  It is not enough to state that there is an ontology of participation, as they are clearly ethical demands upon the creationin the manner after which they imitate God. Meredith Cline writes “Formed in the image of God, man is informed by a sense of deity by which he knows what God is like…And knowledge of what one’s Father-God is, is knowledge of what, in creaturely semblance, one must be himself.”[46]  In other words, humans are called to be like God by virtue of being created in his image.  And vice versa, by virtue of being created in God’s image, humans are called to be like God.  Much like John Calvin’s understanding of the imago Dei, ethic and ontology are not opposed.  It could be said that the ethic of the image and the ontology of the image can be distinguished, and yet they are not to be separated.  The ethic of the image and the ontology of the image are two parts that compose a whole.

 Here Jonathan Edwards makes an important contribution.  In describing the act of God in creation Edwards writes:

“there is an infinite fullness of all possible good in God- a fullness of every perfection, of all excellency and beauty and of infinite happiness- and as this fullness is capable of communication or emanation ad extra; so it seems a thing amiable…and valuable in itself that this infinite fountain of good should send forth abundant streams.”[47]

For Edwards the “goods” of God are communicable and emanate in a similar fashion to Aquinas’ perfections “flowing” from God.  The sending forth of the “abundant streams” of God’s excellencies is not for Edwards a haphazard endeavor but rather he makes it very clear that this action is aimed at something quite specific, namely that God’s glory should be seen by “other beings besides himself”[48] and “known by a glorious society of created beings.”[49]  But how is His glory seen and known by creatures?  Edwards argues that God’s glory is seen as the divine communications in creation increase in the creature, thus perfecting his image in them the more they imitate and thus become one with God.[50]  Thus Edwards holds an ontology predicated upon an ethic of imitation.

It is important to pause for a moment and discuss what this means for Edwards.  He writes “that the more the divine communications increase in the creature, the more it becomes one with God …and at the same time the creature becomes more and more conformed to God.”[51]  James Olthuis has rightly criticized RO for confusing the creator/ creature distinction.  He cites Graham Wards essay “The Displaced Body of Jesus” and John Milbank’s “The Theological Critique of Philosophy” as evidence that participation implies an inseparability of the divine and human essence as well as an eventually deification of the human essence as it participates in God in ever increasing degrees.[52]  Reading Edwards’ words it is hard to see why the same charge should not be leveled against him.  But there is a drastic difference between the two.  For RO, the striving of the image to imitate God eventually results in the image becoming not only becoming “like” God but the image actually being deified as god. Milbank writes “God became man in order to incorporate us into the Trinity.”[53] But is this what Edwards is driving at?  The difference lies in the fact that for Edwards, the image strives in imitation of God, and is conformed to God but never actually becomes God.  Though Edwards can say that creation is as it were swallowed up in God, this swallowing and becoming one is not a unity of essence but rather a unity of intention.[54]

For Edwards, this process of coming from and returning to God is chiefly about God’s glory, which Edwards argues is both an ethical necessity for God as well as His creation.  Therefore the unification of God and man in intention is to mean that both God and man are unified at aiming for God’s glory.  Edwards writes “If God is supremely valuable, he should value himself supremely.”[55] For Edwards this is an ethical argument if nothing else.  If God is indeed great and knows of his exceeding greatness over all other things, it would be an unjust action for God not to exalt his own greatness.[56]  Thus to make his greatness and glory his chief end is a virtue.[57]  It follows that since God makes his glory his chief end both in communicating his goods as well as permitting his creation to imitate these goods, the imitation of these goods is not only an ontological issue but it is also an ethical and relational issue where creation is striving towards the highest virtue, God’s glory. Thus the two are one in intention.

Returning to the Biblical text, we can apply this principle from Edwards for some fruitful dialogue both with the Reformed Tradition as well as Radical Orthodoxy along lines that each party is deeply concerned with and invested in.

“And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen 1.28)

The question I would like to ask at this point is “what would the image of Goddo with the power to subdue the earth?”  To ask the same question in a different way, “How would the image of God imitate God’s power in subduing the earth?” Following Edwards, the image of God would imitate God in such a way that it would strive towards the same telos as God.  This telos as has already been noted is the glory of God.

The material world is cultivated by the image of God to become ever increasingly doxological in nature.  Psalm 148 envisions a world where all of creation participates in a dramatic liturgy.  If one might wish to understand how this is possible one needs to understand the doxological nature of creation in the Biblical narrative that rests upon a temple cosmology.[58]  As Cline writes, “paradise was a sanctuary, a temple garden.”[59]  The sanctuary of creation is reflected in various passages in Scripture, but quite pointedly in Isaiah.

“Thus says the Lord:
‘Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool;
what is the house that you would build for me,
and what is the place of my rest?
All these things my hand has made,
and so all these things came to be,
declares the Lord.” (Isa 66.1-2)

Considering that Scripture presents creation as God’s temple, certain things are to be gained by reflecting on temple systems to draw out the implications for the image of God.  Middleton notes that ancient temple systems depended upon a whole host of support staff such as temple administrators, cultic staff such as priests, artisans and builders, and a large number of agricultural laborers to cultivate and harvest the land owned by the temple.[60]  Each of these attendants in their own capacity helped cultivate, orchestrate, and conduct the temple worship.  In the doxological world of the Bible man is not only an attendant of the temple, cultivating, orchestrating and conducting worship within the temple cosmology of the Bible but man is also the locus of the liturgy of creation since he is God’s image, or idol within the temple cosmology.[61]

Dominion and subjection of the creation under the image of God is analogous therefore to the ordering of a temple for proper worship.  What we have at this point is the image of God (man) cultivating the material creation in such a way that it becomes increasingly doxological.  Creation here is not limited to the material creation, but as John Calvin notices in his commentary the command to subdue extends beyond the earth to culture, vocation, family life etc.  These things are not only to be preserved by careful stewardship, Calvin notes, but they are to be cultivated for future generations.[62]  Man as the image of God is meant to have a cultivating role in all things for doxological purposes. Just as God uses his power to bring about a specific end (his glory) so does man use his delegated natural power to subdue the earth, cultivating it that it might bring about the same telos as God intends.

The chief theses of Milbank’s Theology and Social Theory is that all of creation is to be thought about theologically.[63]  Just as animals use their delegated power to be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1.22) so too does man use his delegated power not only to cultivate a doxological creation in its natural state, but to “bring forth” into creation culture, art, vocation, politics, namely the most fundamental aspects of human to human exchange and experience.  Therefore these things must first be thought of theologically.  In what sense does art strive after God?  In what sense does politics strive after God?  In what sense does vocation strive after God?  In what sense do each of these things imitate God?  That is to think through the world in a distinctly theological way.  And yet, it is not enough to ask these questions but one must press further.  In what sense in its striving does it bring glory to God?  Commenting on this very notion Abraham Kuyper writes:

“God is present in all life, with the influence of His omnipresent and almighty power, and no sphere of human life is conceivable in which religion does not maintain its demands that God shall be praised, that God’s ordinances shall be observed, and that every labor shall be permeated with fervent and ceaseless prayer. Wherever man may stand, whatever he may do, to whatever he may apply his hand, in agriculture, in commerce. and in industry, or his mind, in the world of art, and science, he is, in whatsoever it may be, constantly standing before the face of his God, he is employed in the service of his God, he has strictly to obey his God, and above all, he has to aim at the glory of his God.”[64]

And yet, this project must be approached with apprehension and caution.  This paper, in its entirety has been a reflection on a participatory ontology in pre-lapsarian creation.  One of the reasons Martin Luther is so careful not to speculate on what the image of God might be is that whatever it was has been distorted (according to Luther it is destroyed) by the fall and that man now has no access to what the image of God in man might be.  If the image has been corrupted, surely the things man has “brought forth” into the earth are corrupted.  So how then are we to think theologically (and consequently doxologically) about everything if our thinking is certain to be distorted?  A creature must first be doxological before it can think doxologically about the world he inhabits.  How then do we create doxological men and women?

If Edwards conceived of a properly oriented creature as ever intending on God’s glory, perhaps it would be far to conceive of a fallen creature as intending ever away from God’s glory.  For Augustine this is expressed not in the language of intention but in the language of desire.  One could then reformulate Edwards’ understanding of a doxological creature as one who is ever desiring God’s glory.  A fallen creature on the other hand, is one who is ever desiring something other than God’s glory.  Augustine believed that desires could be cultivated, even in sinful man.  Augustine does at times express this along the lines of coercion as with the Donatists[65] but more often than not Augustine expresses the cultivation of desires in terms of an irresistible compulsion.  For Augustine, God does not force us to have faith in Him but grants us the will to do so.[66]  At the point the will is granted the ability for faith God places something in front of the fallen creature that is irresistibly compelling.[67]  That thing, for Augustine was Christ.[68]

William Tyndale conceived of the word “atonement” as he was translating the Greek into the English.  It literally means “at one ment.”  There are after all many ways to understand this being made one with God as Jesus dies on the cross rendering atonement.  The bulk of emphasis in the atonement in Evangelical theology has often rested upon themes of substitutionary atonement.  Yet there is an undercurrent in the magisterial reformers and even in the Puritans that the crucifixion is rendering an “at one ment” of desire.  On this point, Martin Luther will write not that the chief benefit of the crucifixion is that man beholds Christ on the cross and the spectacle of it drives him to repentance.[69]  So too does John Owen note the importance of this for repentance when he wrtites: “Bring thy lust to the gospel, — not for relief, but for farther conviction of its guilt; look on Him whom thou hast pierced, and be in bitterness. Say to thy soul, “What have I done?[70]  The point being that the crucifixion of Jesus irresistibly compels the heart to turn towards the glory of God.  RO has been criticized by some within the Reformed Tradition for being too ecclesiocentric in its worldview.[71]  In defense of this however, it is only within the ecclesia that Christ is presented as crucified both in word and sacrament.  Participation in the liturgical life of the church, in all its proclamation as well as representation in liturgy and sacrament is crucial for the cultivation of doxological desires.[72]  And it is in this presentation and re-presentation where the power to change the desires of fallen creatures that they might aim for the glory of God is found.  It is in the aiming that something of the image is reclaimed.  Man once again by the mercies of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit steps into an imitative posture.  This is done not to become God-like, but rather because man remembers once more to aim for the glory of God and his doxological intentions and mortal purposes are once again fused with God’s immortal purposes.  As a doxological creature, man begins to interact in the world as a doxological creature.  He not only lives his life from the posture of doxology, but he cultivates doxology in his family, his workplace, his hobbies, and his relationships.  In essence, he reclaims something of the image and end for which he was intended.

Aquinas Summa Theologica.,theologica#highlight (accessed Feb 17, 2009)

Augustine Confessions in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers vol I.  Schaff, P edt. (Hendrickson: Peabody 2004)

Augustine City of God in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers vol II Schaff, P edt. (Hendrickson: Peabody 2004)

Robert Audi ed.  The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy 2nd edt. (Cambridge University Press:  Cambridge 2006)

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Cavanaugh, W.T. Being Consumed (Eerdmans Publishing Co: Grand Rapids 2008)

Cavanaugh, W.T. Torture and Eucharist:  Challenges in Contemporary Theology(Blackwell Publishing: Oxford 2008)

Edwards, Jonathan. The End for Which God Created the World in John Piper’sGod’s Passion for His Glory (Crossway:  Wheaton 1998)

Goldsworthy, G.  According to Plan:  The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible(Intervarsity Press: Downers Grove 1991)

Goldsworthy, G. The Goldsworthy Trilogy (Paternoster Press: Waynesborogy 2001)

Hamilton, V.P.  The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17 (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids 1990)

Kline, M. Kingdom Prologue:  Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview(Wipf & Stock Publishers: Eugene 2006)

Luther, Martin vol 42, (Concordia Publishing House: St. Louis 1958)

Luther, Martin. Commentary on Genesis in Luther’s Works vol 42. edt by Jaroslav Pelikan, Concordia Publishing House 1958

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Middleton, J. Richard The Liberating ImageThe Imago Dei in Genesis 1 (Brazos Press: Grand Rapids 2005)

Milbank, J.  The Word Made StrangeTheology, Language and Culture (Blackwell Publishing: Oxford, 1997)

Milbank, J. Theology and Social Theory, 2nd ed. (Blackwell, 2005).

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Milbank J, Catherine Pickstock, and Graham Ward, eds., Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology (Routledge, 1999).

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Plato, Phaedrus. Stephen Scully trans (Focus Publishing:  Newburyport 2003)

Schmemann, Alexander. For the Life of the World (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press: Crestwood 1973)

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Theology (Baker Academic, 2004).

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[1] John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock, and Graham Ward, eds., Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology (Routledge, 1999). 3

[2]Ibid, 3

[3] James H. Olthuis , “A Radical Ontology of Love” in Radical Orthodoxy and the Reformed Tradition: Creation, Covenant, and Participatio. James K.A. Smith and James H. Olthuis, eds.,  (Baker Academic, 2005). 280

[4] Justin S. Holcomb, “Being Bound to God” in Radical Orthodoxy and the Reformed Tradition: Creation, Covenant, and Participation pg 244

[5] “There is, in consequence no mileage whatsoever in pitting covenant against participation; this is simply a conceptual error, unless one has a faulty concursive notion of covenant, which thinks of divine and finite causes as contributing half-shares to an outcome, as if they lay on the same ontic plane.” See Milbank, J.  “Alternative Protestantism” in Radical Orthodoxy and the Reformed Tradition 30

[6] Tertullian Prescription against the Heretics 7, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers (ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson; rept., Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 2004) pg 246

[7] Holcomb in “Being Bound to God” found in Radical Orthodoxy and the Reformed Tradition:  Creation, Covenant and Participation pg 256

[8] Helm, Paul. John Calvin’s Ideas (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 196

[9] John Calvin, Commentary on John, 1:1

[10] Hamilton The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17 (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids 1990) 134-135

[11] Middleton, J. Richard The Liberating ImageThe Imago Dei in Genesis 1(Brazos Press: Grand Rapids 2005) pg 20.

[12] ibid, 20

[13] Luther, Genesis pg 56

[14] ibid pg 63

[15] ibid pg 62

[16] Calvin Genesis 1.26

[17] ibid

[18] ibid 3.6

[19] ibid 2.9

[20] ibid 3.6

[21] Goldsworhty, The Goldsworhty Trilogy 58

[22] Godlsworthy, According to Plan:  The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible pg 96

[23] Hamilton pg 135

[24]Middlton 121

[25] ibid 121

[26] Milbank J, Catherine Pickstock, and Graham Ward, eds., Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology (Routledge, 1999).

pg 3

[27]Plato Phaedo trans by G.M.A. Grube (Hacket Publishing Company:  Indianapolis 1977) pg 50

[28]Milbank, J.  The Word Made StrangeTheology, Language and Culture(Blackwell Publishing: Oxford, 1997) 15

[29] Milbank J. The Word Made Strange pg 16

[30] Middleton pg 121

[31] ibid

[32] Hamilton pg 136

[33] ibid

[34] Milbank J, Catherine Pickstock, and Graham Ward, eds., Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology (Routledge, 1999).

pg 3

[35] Hamilton pg 127

[36] Middleton pg 287

[37] Hamilton pg 126

[38] Middleton pg 288-289

[39]Calvin, John. Commentary on Genesis vol. I (Baker Books, 2005)., 59

[40] ibid

[41] Schmemann, Alexander. For the Life of the World (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press: Crestwood 1973) pg 2

[42] Hamilton, pg 140

[43] Vos, G.  Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (Vera Press: East Peoria 2007) 28

[44] ibid pg 22

[45] ibid pg 28

[46] Kline, M. Kingdom Prologue:  Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview (Wipf & Stock Publishers: Eugene 2006)

[47] Edwards, The End For Which God Created the World paragraph 54

[48] Edwards, The End for Which God Created the World paragraph 51

[49] ibid  paragraph 52

[50] ibid paragraph 74

[51] ibid paragraph 75

[52] James H. Olthuis , “A Radical Ontology of Love” in Radical Orthodoxy and the Reformed Tradition: Creation, Covenant, and Participation pg 280

[53] Milbank, “The Theological Critique of Philosophy” in RONT pg 31

[54] Edwards, paragraph 74

[55] ibid paragraph 94

[56] ibid paragraph 95

[57] ibid paragraph 107

[58] Middleton, pg 81-90

[59] Cline 48

[60] Middleton 168

[61] Cline, 48-49

[62] Calvin, Genesis ch 2.vs 15

[63] Milbank, J.  Theology and Social Theory 283

[64] Abraham Kuyper The Stone Lectures (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans 2003)  53, accessed Dec 15, 2008

[65] Augustine, Letter 93

[66] Augustine, On the Spirit and the Letter ch 57

[67] Augustine, On the Gospel of St. John ch 6.41-59 (tractate XXVI.4)

[68] ibid

[69] LW vol. 42, 10

[70] John Owen, Mortification of Sin in Believers Ch 11.2

[71] See George Vandervelde’s essay “This is my Body’:  The Eucharist as Privileged Theological Site” in James K.A. Smith and James H. Olthuis, eds.,Radical Orthodoxy and the Reformed Tradition pg 263-276

[72] Radical Orthodoxy has done helpful and often moving reflection on this point.  See William Cavanaugh’s  Torture and Eucharist and Being Consumed for further reading



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