18 October 2013

When Teleology Trumps Soteriology

I delivered this rant a few weeks ago in a doctoral seminar I'm taking from Tom McCall (co-author of Jacob Arminius: Theologian of Grace). It's basically a riff on Newbigin's doctrine of election and how it completely subverts the ordo decretorum (logical order of God's decrees) debates of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries between supras, infras, conditional infras, etc., etc. Due to the required length of the paper, I had to leave a whole lot of thoughts on the floor, so it definitely runs the risk of presenting a lopsided view of the matter. I also focus criticisms on Arminian arguments because, well, it's a seminar on that very subject.

The Logical Order of Things About Which We Know Next to Nothing

Mercutio: I am hurt.
A plague a’ both your houses! I am sped.
Romeo and Juliet, 3.1.86–871

The church has been hurt, indeed, “sped” throughout the years whenever she finds herself caught in the crossfire of battles over the logical order of things about which we know next to nothing. This is not to suggest that one view with respect to the ordo decretorum is as good as any other; some truly do, however inadvertently, commit blasphemy: some “logical” orders make God the author of sin, while others make man the author of himself.

Nevertheless, the church suffers every time its leaders and laypersons obsess over the reasons for an individual’s election by probing backwards toward the secret counsel of God instead of pressing forward from one’s election (in both individual and corporate terms) to the purpose of that election.2 This obsession most notably plagued the Reformed churches in the late sixteenth century and well into the seventeenth century. The Arminian and Remonstrant response, unfortunately, faired little better, precisely because they too shared in their compatriot’s assumptions regarding the final destiny of individuals flowing from decrees made in eternity “past.” Despite the appropriate Arminian allergic reaction to certain Reformed articulations of election that lead to churches thinking of themselves as exclusive beneficiaries of God’s saving love, the biblical fact and fundamental truth of election is that it is made according to God’s sovereign and unconditional choice. Keeping the center of the doctrine of election away from any consigning of individuals to either eternal life or death ought to remove the edges with which it is unnecessarily laden. In so doing, we can see the highly speculative and unedifying nature of the ordo decretorum for what it is, a less-than-robust expression of the purpose of election itself—expressions that Arminians and Remonstrants only recapitulated in their protests.

Taking my cue from St. Thomas, as many others often have, election appears to be primarily teleological—it is all about where we are sent, rather than from where we have come. And by invoking destiny, I do not mean so much individual or corporate salvation as individual and corporate purpose, not so much related to the salvific outcome of absolute decrees among the Godhead as to the purpose for which those decrees were made: Like an arrow directed by the archer towards its mark, the movement of predestination “gets its specific character from what it is a motion to, not a motion from.”3 And it is with that motion to in mind that the mission of God in the election of his people becomes most robustly realized. When members of Christ’s church consider their election as a calling to die to self for the salvation of the world, not as God’s way simply to secure for himself an elite group of chosen individuals, or as a pronouncement upon people he foresees who employ grace just enough to work out their salvation to the end of their lives, the pastoral objections (that the Reformed ordo causes despair or presumption) to God’s sovereign choice in election fall away. In other words, properly emphasizing the individual and corporate teleology, rather than the individual soteriology, of election renders both the Reformed and Remonstrant ordo constructions moot.

When looked at in this way, arguments over whether God elects unbelievers and predestines them to become believers or whether he elects foreseen believers and predestines them to become his children are out of place. This is not to deny a cause or basis of God’s election, because, as stated above, it is biblically obvious that election stems from the elector’s good pleasure. Yet this need not make the Arminian interlocutor anxious, as if her argument that the cause of God’s election instead centers on the free will act of an individual fulfilling the conditions of salvation suffers from incoherence. If the purpose of election was primarily the salvific destiny of individuals, then the Arminian rebuttal to the majority of Reformed expressions merits serious attention. That is to say, in the context of early seventeenth-century debates revolving around the ordo decretorum, Arminius’ opposition to deterministic supra- and infralapsarianism was raised for all the right reasons.

Still, relegating predestination merely to a function of divine foreknowledge is less than satisfactory. Whatever else can be said of the differences between Arminius and subsequent generations of seventeenth-century Remonstrants on redemption, there’s no difference among them on the subordination of God’s decree to predestinate and reprobate certain individuals to his foreseeing their completion or rejection of salvation’s conditions. If, again, the ordo decretorum primarily has to do with how an individual comes to be elected rather than the missiological why that individual was elected, then the Arminian construction finds itself rightly critiqued for reviving something akin to late medieval works-righteousness—perhaps worse, depending on how anemic its ecclesiology is.4

Thus, the Remonstrant critique could be seen as a recapitulation of the covenantal nomism that Saint Paul challenged so long ago. Arminius’ confession that he “ascribes to God’s grace the origin, the continuance, and the fulfillment of all good”5 may excuse him from the sharpest points of this criticism, but it may also be that his remonstration lead to the unintended consequence of making too much of human performance as a condition of God’s mercy. E. P. Sanders’ summary of second-temple Judaism as “getting in by grace, staying in by obedience”6 parallels in significant ways the Remonstrant view that any move toward God is by (prevenient) grace alone while increase in grace and final justification depends ultimately on human cooperation. Not even the most strident Remonstrant has argued that one can be saved by works alone, as human works are not seen to be meritorious in and of themselves (and thus always insufficient to gain God's forgiveness). Yet according to the Remonstrants in particular, in God’s new covenant in Christ Jesus, he promises to accept as righteousness the believer’s obedience of faith. The implication is that the law we humans have always transgressed has been softened to the point that people who make good use of grace can now do it and live, provided they continue to perform.7 What is this if not the principle of “getting in by grace, and staying in by obedience”? But this is the very principle that the apostle opposed when he wrote, “You began by God’s Spirit; do you now want to finish by your own power?” (Gal 3:3). If indeed the gospel is a new law, then Augustine’s prayer to a sovereignly electing God to “grant what you command, and command what you will” becomes ever the more necessary.8

In short, the debates revolving around the ordo decretorum simply miss the point. What God commands, and what he grants to that end, is encapsulated most succinctly in the motion to of the Great Commission. Herein lies the purpose of election, the telos of which the church forgets at her peril. Lesslie Newbigin summed it up best:
And we can also see that wherever the missionary character of the doctrine of election is forgotten; wherever it is forgotten that we are chosen in order to be sent; . . . wherever men think that the purpose of election is their own salvation rather than the salvation of the world; then God’s people have betrayed their trust.9
The salvation of the world with which the elect of God have been entrusted, the called-out ones commissioned to enact God’s kingdom will on earth as it is in heaven, must leave this old debate in the old books where it belongs if it will ever get down to doing its “best to make [the day of God] come soon . . . where righteousness will be at home” (2 Peter 3:12–13).

1 From The Yale Shakespeare (Barnes & Noble Books, 1993), 918.

2 St. Augustine’s warning comes to mind: “Wherefore he draws this one and not that one, seek not to decide if you wish not to err.” From Tractates on the Gospel of John, 26.2 (NPNF1 7).

3 Thomas Aquinas, ST, I, Q. 23, Art. 1, Reply Obj. 3. Quoted from Summa Theologica, “God’s Will and Providence” (1a. 19–26), eds. Thomas Gilby and T. C. O’Brien, Blackfriars, vol. 5 (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967), 111. See also Thomas’ ordo in Art. 4: particular love→election→predestination. “Therefore all the predestined are picked loved ones” (121). God creates the lovely through his electing love; it’s in no way based on the created’s loveliness (cf. Art. 5).

4 It's beyond the scope of this post to defend this here, but suffice to say that where baptism and the Eucharist are largely removed from the equation of election, the theologian is left to over-emphasize—and thus truncate—the means ordained in Scripture by God to actualize his elect.

5 W. Stephen Gunter, Arminius and His Declaration of Sentiments: An Annotated Translation with Introduction and Theological Commentary (Baylor University Press, 2012), 141.

6 E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977), 93, 178, 371.

7 See, e.g., John Mark Hicks, “The Theology of Grace in the Thought of Jacobus Arminius and Philip van Limborch: A Study in the Development of Seventeenth Century Dutch Arminianism” (PhD diss., Westminster Theological Seminary, 1985), 103–11, esp. at 110. See also Keith D. Stanglin and Thomas H. McCall, Jacob Arminius: Theologian of Grace (OUP, 2013), 167–68.

8 Saint Augustine, Confessions, X.xxix (40), trans. Henry Chadwick (OUP, 1998), 202. It may be that the historic triplex model of natural law→old law→new law best encapsulates the covenantal framework of God’s redemptive plan, but I do not concede that the necessary grace required to fulfill that new law has been imparted indiscriminately. Even the Remonstrant Limborch confessed as much when he wrote that while God’s general decree of salvation and damnation is not unclear, the other special decree regarding the means thereunto is mysterious, “upon the account of that disproportion wherein God is pleas’d to communicate the means of salvation to men. For he does not bestow an equal share of grace every where at all times and upon all men.” This depends “on the mere good pleasure of God,” and is unsearchable. Quoted from A Compleat System, or, Body of Divinity, both Speculative and Practical, Founded on Scripture and Reason (London: William Jones, 1702), 347.

9 Lesslie Newbigin, The Household of God (Wipf & Stock, 2008), 55.

14 October 2013

Fear Is (not) the Heart of Love

{A portion of what follows originally appeared in my introduction to Perspectives on the Sabbath, B&H Academic, 2011.}

If someone had it incessantly banged into his head, when it came to the practice of Christianity, that “fear is the heart of love,” then we might empathize with him if he “never went back.”1 But it would still be a shame, never going back because of such a blatantly false proposition, at least as it relates to being a follower of Jesus. Quite to the contrary, “perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). But how does love do this?

C. FitzSimons Allison argues that the answer is worship—“the means whereby we are opened to the love of God. . . . Worship is an immediate and present means of God’s love, making us new creatures and giving us the ever more abundant life now.”2 This comes as no surprise since worship of the one true God by humans fulfills the express purpose of our creation. “To say that God made us in his image is to say that God made us for himself, and that he made us to worship him.”3

Christian worship can, on one hand, be the most altruistic, God-centered moment in the church’s common life, or, on the other hand, it can be the most viciously narcissistic. Indeed, “sometimes our worship is more a hiding from God than allowing God to find us.”4 Bishop Allison goes on to argue that the parable of the talents offers a good depiction of our propensity to hide from God, even in the midst of attempting to worship him. In Matthew 25:24–25, the third servant, in response to his master, fearfully pleads, “Master, I know you. You’re a difficult man, reaping where you haven’t sown and gathering where you haven’t scattered seed. So I was afraid and went off and hid your talent in the ground. Look, you have what is yours." Consequently, he meets his doom (vv. 26–30).

While the other two servants didn’t live in such fear, which enabled them to take the talents and invest them, the third servant disbelieved in the presence of love in his master. In a sense it didn’t matter what kind of person the master actually was; what mattered was what kind of person the third servant thought his master to be. And this paralyzed him. What the servant believed about him was wrong, and this affected his relationship with and service to him. So it is in Christ’s church. How we relate to God in worship is inextricably bound to what we believe about him. Is he a loveless taskmaster, a “difficult” deity?

What can keep us, as humans, from so paralyzing a thought? To be found in Christ, for the perfect love of God is shown to us in him. “For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment. . . . [and] has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began” (2 Tim 1:7,9). This holy calling, which begins now and extends into the eschaton, has a transformative goal for the called—to share in the divine nature (2 Pet 1:4), to be as fully unified with God as creatures can be (see Eph 1:3–14). A purely theocentric existence—when God is all in all (1 Cor 15:28)—remains the destiny of those in Christ Jesus, indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Indeed, as Letham notes:
Every single aspect of salvation is seen “in Christ” or “in him" . . . . Our proper place is to share God’s glory; by sin we fell short and failed to participate in his glory, but in and through Christ we are restored to the glory of God as our ultimate destiny. Glory is what belongs distinctively and peculiarly to God. We are called to partake of what God is.5
Such union is the goal for all those who ingest God’s Word (Matt 4:4), feed on Christ in the Supper (John 6:47–51), and have been baptized into his death and resurrection (Rom 6:3–6)—in short, for those who have been given faith by grace (Eph 2:8). And this brings us back around to worship—arguably the most human thing we can do—the very act in this time between the times that develops and disciplines our union with Christ in God by his Spirit. Through the practice of praise, supplication, confession, and thanksgiving (in a word, prayer), hearing the Word, and receiving the sacraments, the final and full redemption and transformation of the church is anticipated as she gathers together in continued repentance, obedience to God’s commands, and participation in a common life, caring for the needy in her midst.6

But one day the reconciled, yet fallen, worship of the Christic community will no longer carry the burden of Luther’s simul iustus et peccator; the way of the cross will fade (even if its marks remain), and streets of pure gold will descend from the heavens. Wendell Berry depicts this thought poetically:
There is a day
when the road neither
comes nor goes, and the way
is not a way but a place.7
Indeed, all our work through worship (leitourgia) on the way to becoming sharers in the divine nature will cease. The road ends in the most holy place—the court of the Almighty. In the meantime we’re left to choose which of the three servants we will be. We Christians serve God directly in worship,8 and thus it behooves us to avoid the pride—the narcissism—to which it is always open; in brief, to engage wisely the question about which of its elements remain in perpetuity and which of them have become obsolete in order to honor the triune Lord. It won’t do to claim ignorance or hide behind tradition when seeking to resolve this question. If worship truly is “an immediate and present means of God’s love,” then may we be zealous to keep open to its sanctifying power, which necessarily means taking seriously questions about which elements, if any, God desires his people to enact in worship and, in that enactment, gather together as the called-out assembly, the body of which Christ is the head.

1 From the song “I Will Follow You into the Dark” by Death Cab for Cutie on their album, Plans (Atlantic, 2005).
2 C. F. Allison, Fear, Love & Worship (Regent College, 1962), 17, 19.
3 E. P. Clowney, The Church (InterVarsity, 1995), 118.
4 Allison, 14.
5 R. Letham, Through Western Eyes: Eastern Orthodoxy, A Reformed Perspective (Christian Focus, 2007), 255, 257.
6 Ibid., 261–63. See also A. P. Ross, Recalling the Hope of Glory: Biblical Worship from the Garden to the New Creation (Kregel, 2006), 503–12, for a good list of “several principles that surface again and again and therefore seem . . . to be absolutely essential for developing the worship of God” (503). Noticeably absent from this list, however, is any reference to which particular day, if any, God’s people ought to gather.
7 W. Berry, A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979–1997 (Counterpoint, 1998), 216.
8 See Clowney, 117.

09 October 2013

Eden Raised

A CROWD GATHERED around Jesus of Nazareth and wondered: Could this person be the son of David, the one who, like David, wreaks havoc upon our enemies? A few of the local leaders standing by did not take kindly to the clear implications of what they witnessed and accused the man of beating up his own people by the power of the prince of demons. He responded with no ounce of timidity: “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste. . . . How then will his [Satan's] kingdom stand? . . . But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can someone enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house” (see Matt. 12:22–29).

What Jesus said in effect here was that paradise was in the process of being regained, that the power of God's kingdom and thus its presence was the only explanation needed for his dominion over the demons. The crowd wondered as much, and their question showed it. The Pharisees, knowing full well what this kind of ministry meant if it was indeed supported by the one, true God of Israel, decided to accuse Jesus of the only other option: He must really be the enemy, working for Beelzebul, the prince of demons.

As interesting as this story is, it is Jesus' allusion to the binding of the strong man that must hold our attention for a while. Because by it, he suggests that he has had an initial victory. Indeed, some kind of prior battle must have been won if he was going to wage subsequent battles—like exorcisms—with any success. In short, Jesus was claiming that he had already met the accuser, the prince of demons, and defeated him. But when?

John Milton wrote of it long ago. In 1671, Paradise Regained was published four years after his famous epic Paradise Lost. It deals with one major event in the life of Jesus, the one major event that Jesus himself considered his initial victory—his temptation by Satan in the wilderness.

Resting on the robust theology of Saint Paul about the parallels between Adam and the Messiah (Rom. 5:12–21), Milton wrote: “I who erewhile the happy garden sung, / By one man's disobedience lost, now sing / Recovered Paradise to all mankind, / By one man's firm obedience fully tried / Through all temptation, and the Tempter foiled / In all his wiles, defeated and repulsed, / And Eden raised in the waste of wilderness” (Paradise Regained, ll. 1–7). Thus begins his poetic rendition of the decisive initial victory of Jesus over the accuser.

The working of miracles, not least exorcisms, were evidences that the future kingdom of God had broken through into the present day. The coming of the kingdom was greatly anticipated by the people of Israel in the first century, and when it did come, it was thought that it would be filled with all the pomp and circumstance a complete overthrow of the world would entail. The whole redefinition that Jesus embodied—around himself as Israel's representative—was, however, mostly unexpected. But the world was being overthrown nonetheless, and the prince of the world (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11) was being challenged in the name of God.

At the outset of Jesus' public career we witness this fact (Matt. 4:1–11; Mark 1:12–13; Luke 4:1–13). During his temptation in the wilderness nothing less than the messianic kingship of God's anointed was at stake. We see this especially with respect to the temptation involving “all the kingdoms of the world.” Who was the real prince? Jesus or Satan? Ultimately at stake, then, was victory over Satan's kingdom by the kingdom of God. This victory, however, was not to take place by raw power alone, for the Messiah's obedience to his Father was to be its primary feature. Jesus was not to gain all authority over heaven and earth in a capricious or violent manner (the only kind of authority Satan knew how to wield). Rather, he would have to obtain the authority Satan offered him in the wilderness only in the way ordained by God.

This he did, and Philippians 2:5–11 contains a good hymn all about it. The obedience of the Messiah figures prominently in the thought of the apostle not only in this passage but in Romans 5:12–21 as well. In Philippians, Jesus is the one who humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death on a cross (2:8), and in Romans Jesus is the one whose obedience makes the many righteous (5:19). In contrast to the first Adam, this last Adam perfectly obeyed God's will, and in so doing, undid the disobedience of the first one, defeating sin and death in the process. And this victory was already underway by the time Jesus had rejected Satan's temptations in the wilderness, the event (as described in Matthew 4:1–11) to which we now turn.

After many days and nights of living in the wilderness alone, Jesus is confronted by the tempter. Each of the three temptations the devil throws at him is meant to undermine the very task to which he has been called as God's Messiah. He was to be precisely what the nation of Israel had failed to be: a light to the world. In response to the Babylonian judgment, the prophet Isaiah assured the Israelites that they are God's servant whom he has chosen and has not cut off (41:8–9). It is that servant in whom God will be glorified by restoring the tribes of Jacob and bringing back from exile the preserved of Israel. It is that servant who will be a light for the nations so that God's salvation will reach the ends of the earth (49:3–6). But Satan desired that Jesus, the servant, the true Israel, would doubt this mission and thus avail himself to become Lord of the world through some other means than the one spoken about by the prophets long ago (in, for example, Isa. 38–55).

When Jesus was baptized by John, his identity was confirmed by his Father: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). And what were the first words out of Satan's mouth in the wilderness? “If you are the Son of God . . .” (4:3). This reminds us right away of the serpent who confronted Adam and Eve in the garden (Gen. 3:1): “Did God actually say . . . ?" In both instances, the tempters call into question the veracity, and thus the faithfulness, of God.

In the first temptation, the devil takes aim at the hunger pains Jesus undoubtedly feels. Hunger is a cruel taskmaster, and many atrocities have been perpetrated in order to lift its oppressive weight. But Jesus refuses to succumb to the temptation to take by force what is his by right (see Phil. 2:6). His hunger would have to continue to gnaw at him, choosing as he does to do the will of his Father and endure suffering as his servant. Adam, in contrast, refused to go without, instead judging for himself—despite God's command—what he should and should not eat. So he ate and plunged the world into despair.

The tempter then takes Jesus to Jerusalem, to the very heights of the temple wall. Again, the devil tempts him, this time to throw himself down into the Kidron Valley, knowing full well that the covenant God would not allow his anointed to strike his foot against a stone. If he did so, and God saved him, then everyone around would immediately know and recognize his status as God's Son. But this was a shortcut, a cheap and shallow way to grasp at the titles Lord and Christ. Adam, in contrast, seized the moment for his own glory, and instead of going the way of humble obedience, exalted himself. In snatching the forbidden fruit, Adam intended to bypass the path of righteousness. He accepted the very shortcut Jesus refused.

Finally, Satan takes Jesus to the peak of a nearby mountain, where he says, “All these [kingdoms] I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me” (Matt. 4:9). Undaunted, Jesus binds the strong man in a flurry of rebuke: “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve'" (v. 10). Contrarily, Adam bound himself in his pathetic attempt to show the world that he was its true lord. Adam's belly was full; the garden was magnificent and comforting. Jesus, on the other hand, was famished, and the wilderness was as unwelcoming as it was lonely.

There should be no doubt Jesus was tempted to bring about the kingdom through means other than the way of suffering and obedience to the will and covenant of God. He constantly saw the tyranny of Rome and of all the other empires that trod the Holy Land underfoot. The people wanted action, violent if necessary, to overthrow the yoke of their oppressors. But tempted as he was to answer his calling in that particular way, there was another way to which he was utterly faithful. He saw the temptation for what it was, an end around the plan and purpose of his Father.

Having defeated the accuser in this initial victory and confirming the tone of his mission, Jesus began his public ministry, putting into practice the results of this battle (exorcisms, healings, and so on). In this manner—through the faithfulness of Christ—paradise was beginning to be regained. And in time, all things will be restored (Acts 3:17–21). Until then, being in Christ means that we too have been called to take part in God's regaining of paradise.

{Part of this originally appeared in Tabletalk 32.12 (Dec. 2008): 18–21}

01 October 2013

A Little Lower Than God

“O LORD, what are human beings that you should notice them,

mere mortals that you should think about them?” (Ps. 144:3)

In certain circles, Christian Humanism gets a bad rap. But I think it may have to do with a fundamental misunderstanding of what it actually is—from both a theological and methodological perspective. Most of us realize that it has little to do with twenty-first century secular humanism, as it strives to affirm the dignity of humanity without any reference to God, an unthinkable prospect to the Christian humanist, since any talk about the dignity of humankind apart from the imago Dei is unintelligible.

In contrast, Christian Humanism argues that, precisely because Christ Jesus is Lord of both the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man, individuals and their culture have value (this is what it brings to the table theologically). Of course, this notion isn’t foreign to Scripture or the early church (e.g., Justin Martyr’s Apology), but it had become somewhat eclipsed during the medieval period (i.e., humankind´s fundamental problem in relating to God is not sin, it is our finitude, our inferiority as such). Not surprisingly, this particular humanistic anthropological perspective trickled down to educational methodology, Christian Humanism’s other major contribution: devotion to studia humanitatis, or the liberal arts, including history, literary criticism, grammar, poetry, philology, and rhetoric, became a prominent feature of this movement. (It should be obvious by now that if not for the blossoming of Christian Humanism during the Renaissance, there would’ve been no Reformation—or Counter-Reformation—as there would’ve been no return to the sources of the original languages of Scripture, which in turn produced a critical barrage against late medieval scholastic methodology and, oftentimes, theology.)

It must be admitted that many Christian humanists tweaked their anthropology in the wrong direction. Giovanni Pico della Mirandola's Oration on the Dignity of Man comes to mind, in which he stressed that men had the free will (apparently apart from prevenient grace) to travel up and down a moral scale. But this particular view isn’t necessary to Christian Humanism, as many of the Reformers had, as a dear friend often puts it, a high regard for the doctrine of depravity. This isn’t to suggest that theirs was all “worm theology,” however.

Among the magisterial Reformers, John Calvin stands out as one such Christian humanist, at least in a few significant ways. I think especially of his grammatical-historical, literary-critical exegesis, his devoted attention to the church fathers, his love of the classics (his first complete published work being a commentary on Seneca’s De Clementia), his somewhat tension-riddled acceptance of a kind of “Christian philosophy,” and the strongly ethical character of his teaching on the Christian life (see Bouwsma’s John Calvin, pp. 113–127 for more on this). Stressing the dignity of man, Calvin's social reforms included relief for the poor, construction of hospitals, schools (which were free), new prisons, laws protecting consumers, provisions for refugees, and a sanitation system that made Geneva one of the cleanest and healthiest cities in Europe.

In his Institutes, Calvin notes that humankind was bestowed with a certain status as the noblest of the works of God (1.15.1). Humans are the mirror of his divine glory, and the most distinguishing quality of humankind is its likeness to God, defined in terms of faculties and nature of the soul (reason, emotions, etc.; 1.15.4). Despite the fall of humanity, the imago has not been destroyed: “It is not the will of God, however that we should forget the primeval dignity which he bestowed on our first parents—a dignity which may well stimulate us to the pursuit of goodness and justice" (2.1.3). People maintain the dignity of their creation, and all the responsibilities flowing from this inherent dignity remain intact.

There may be something worth recapturing here, after all.

Consider also the oft-quoted psalm, which bespeaks, at the very least, the dignity of humankind in the economy of God’s creation:
What are mere mortals that you should think about them,
   human beings that you should care for them?
Yet you made them only a little lower than God
   and crowned them with glory and honor.

You gave them charge of everything you made,

   putting all things under their authority . . . . (Ps. 8:4–6)
In his typically reasonable fashion, Calvin comments on this passage: “[God’s] glory is beheld in a special manner, in the great favor which he bears to men, and in the goodness which he manifests towards them.” He goes on to ground this exaltation of man in the fact that he was created in the image of God. But to persuade his reader not to get carried away, Calvin quickly advises him to note the psalmist’s design here, “which is to enhance, by this comparison, the infinite goodness of God; for it is, indeed, a wonderful thing that the Creator of heaven, whose glory is so surpassingly great as to ravish us with the highest admiration, condescends so far as graciously to take upon him the care of the human race.”

Calvin’s final admonishment is as good as any: “Whoever, therefore, is not astonished and deeply affected at this miracle, is more than ungrateful and stupid.”

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