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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Monotheism, human creativity and the Imago Dei

A couple of days ago I was listening to a podcast by a literary scholar Holly Ordway, Ph.D and noted how she mentioned human “creativity” as an aspect of the Imago Dei. There is nothing unusual about this. It has the status of conventional wisdom in contemporary christian culture.  What I am about say is not a critique of Holly Ordway, Ph.D.

I would like to start out with a quote from a paper by Richard Bauckham 

The one God of Second Temple Jewish belief was identifiable [as] … the only Creator of all things and that he is the sole sovereign Ruler of all things. Such identifications of YHWH are extremely common in Second Temple Jewish literature.4 They were the simplest and clearest way of answering the question: What distinguishes YHWH, the only true God, from all other reality? In what does his uniqueness consist? These characteristics make a clear and absolute distinction between the true God and all other reality. God alone created all things; all other things, including beings worshipped as gods by Gentiles, are created by him. God alone rules supreme over all things; all other things, including beings worshipped as gods by Gentiles, are subject to him. These ways of distinguishing God as unique formed a very easily intelligible way of defining the uniqueness of the God they worshipped which most Jews in most synagogues in the late Second Temple period would certainly have known. However diverse Judaism may have been in many other respects, this was common: only the God of Israel is worthy of worship because he is sole Creator of all things and sole Ruler of all things. Other beings who might otherwise be thought divine are by these criteria God's creatures and subjects. (Thus so-called intermediary figures either belong to the unique identity of God or else were created by and remain subject to the one God, as his worshippers and servants, however exalted.)
From  Paul's Christology of Divine Identity, Richard Bauckham, page 3.

So what is the problem with  human “creativity” as an aspect of the Imago Dei?  The absolute distinction between the One Creator and all creation seems to weigh against the notion that humans are in some sense “like God” because they “create”. What humans do is make things out of other things.

One of my artist friends from my youth Kathy Hastings takes digital photographs and after post processing and printing, mounts them on boards and seals them with wax. Kathy is a fine artist, with considerable talent, trained at one of the top schools of design on the west coast, graduated with honors. I have nothing but respect and admiration for her skill and talent. I would have no objection to claiming that Kathy is a “creative” person and that this is a part of  what God the Creator indented in His design for humanity.

On the other hand, “neo” paganism is now with us in the western world. Over the last half century various ancient pagan ideologies have become mainstream in what used to be called Christendom. Peter Johns of Westminster Seminary has written several popular treatments of this issue. One of the central features shared among many of these diverse ancient world views is a notion that the human and the divine are not separated in any absolute sense. Peter Jones refers to this as monism. When I hear contemporary Christians talking about how human “creativity” is a way in which humans are “like God” and part of the Imago Dei. I often have second thoughts about  their theological framework. 

Richard Bauckham in the article quoted above takes great pains to show how Jesus Christ as the agent of creation (John 1:3, Colossians 1:15-17) did not threaten the strick Monotheism of the early Christians because Christ was included in the Divine Identity. In contemporary western culture there is a wide spread tendencey to inculde all humanity, or in some cases humnaity and animals, or in other cases all things visiable and invisiable in the Divine Identity.  That is not compatible with historical Chirsitan monotheism.

Bart Ehrman has been on the war path for two decades to convince the unlearned that early christianity was not monolithically monotheistic and that various forms of gnosticism were legitimate alternative forms of the faith.  I don’t have the time or the  resources to take on Bart Ehrman, but if you do a search on Larry W. Hurtado and Richard Bauckham you will find plenty of  heavy duty scholarship which undermines Bart Ehrman’s project.


Blogger Thesauros said...

I know that Bart has been working hard to drag as many people as possible into hell with him. I'm glad that you don't have the time to challenge him. You have much better things to do with your time. It's my belief that no one who follows Bart is anyone that was destined for heaven in the first place.

Relax and enjoy God's love.

1:40 PM  
Blogger C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

Well, I agree that we should relax and not get totally upset out about the Bart Ehrman and Elain Pagels project. Early Christianity shared with Judaism the worship of YHWH as the creator of the cosmos. Jesus Christ as an agent in creation was included in the divine identity, see R. Bauckham's paper cited in my post. This creation theology was both foundational and non-negotiable. Calling "gnosticism" a variant of early Christianity would be like calling the worship of Baal a variant of early Judaism.

9:27 AM  

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