Some Brief Thoughts on the Image of God

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True concern for God always, inevitably yields true concern for human beings, created in God’s image and likeness. The image of God picks out what is unique about humans among God’s creatures:

  • that we are possessed of reason and volition and moral responsibility
  • that we are capable of conscious, willful relationships with God and with each other
  • that we are commissioned to share God’s rule over the rest of creation
  • that we were designed after the prototype of humanity God eternally willed to assume in Jesus Christ.

God “has put eternity into man’s heart” (Ecc. 3:11). Every human you meet, no matter how broken or corrupt or destitute, bears the image of the Infinite and Eternal One.

Every member of the human race is a divine image-bearer. There are no qualifiers. There are no concessive clauses to attach. It’s not, “no matter their race or gender or stage of development,” but, “precisely because of their race or gender or stage of development.” God delights in diversity. What binds us together is not uniformity, but the universal, shared image of God.

There is a corporate solidarity that all humans share in Adam (and that all believers share in the Last Adam). Injustice to one individual or one group is injustice to all. It is even a self-inflicted injustice on the one who commits injustice.  Doing harm to an image-bearer is dehumanizing to all. That’s why God hates sin so fiercely. Sin is so offensive to God, not because he is harmed by it but because we are. God is jealous for our obedience to his moral law, not because he is self-aggrandizing, but precisely because he cares for the flourishing of those he made after his own likeness.

There are no easy solutions to the racial problems that plague our nation. I don’t pretend to have the knowledge or expertise to craft policy or to suggest sweeping solutions. Surely something must change in the culture, training, and tactics of the police. Most certainly, attitudes need to change. Divisions need to be overcome. But whatever the path forward looks like, it has to begin with a far higher view of the dignity of the human person than we are accustomed to, even in the church. “You are gods,” the Scripture teaches us. Let’s start treating each other that way.

Anniversary Episode: Thomas Schreiner Repost

Today, we are celebrating Church Grammar’s first year with a repost of our very first episode with Dr. Thomas Schreiner of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

We discuss parenting (3:50), becoming a scholar (6:30), the development of Pauline scholarship over the past 30 years (8:30), favorite books on Revelation (29:40), what complementarians get right and wrong (35:40), and more. Buy Tom’s books.

Church Grammar is presented by B&H Academic and the Christian Standard Bible. Intro music: Purple Dinosaur by nobigdyl.

Brandon D. Smith is Assistant Professor of Theology & New Testament at Cedarville University, Editorial Director for the Center for Baptist Renewal, and writes things. You can follow him on Twitter.

*** This podcast is designed to discuss all sorts of topics from various points of view. Therefore, guests’ views do not always reflect the views of the host, his church, or his institution.


Gavin Ortlund on Theological Triage and Retrieval

This episode is a conversation with Dr. Gavin Ortlund of First Baptist Church of Ojai, California. We discuss how evangelicals can retrieve theology from the past (2:50), benefits and dangers of retrieval (6:05), evangelicals who “leave” to other traditions (11:01), retrieving Augustine and getting beyond modern theology debates (13:53), why theological triage is important and what it looks like (17:34), doctrines that we rank too high or too low (27:34), and more. See my review of Finding the Right Hills to Die On at Christianity Today and buy Gavin’s books.

Church Grammar is presented by B&H Academic and the Christian Standard Bible. Intro music: Purple Dinosaur by nobigdyl. Producer: Katie Larson.

Brandon D. Smith is Assistant Professor of Theology & New Testament at Cedarville University, Editorial Director for the Center for Baptist Renewal, and writes things.

*** This podcast is designed to discuss all sorts of topics from various points of view. Therefore, guests’ views do not always reflect the views of the host, his church, or his institution.


Matthew Barrett on Systematic and Biblical Theology, Sensus Plenior, and the NBA

This episode is a conversation with Dr. Matthew Barrett of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. We discuss the Lakers and the NBA (2:44), the connection of systematic and biblical theology (12:10), the relationship between the covenants and Christology (17:20), Christ and the doctrine of Scripture (21:12), and authorial intent and sensus plenior (25:55). Buy Matt’s books and check out his Credo Podcast, where this conversation will be posted at a later date.

Church Grammar is presented by B&H Academic and the Christian Standard Bible. Intro music: Purple Dinosaur by nobigdyl. Episode sponsor: Lexham Press. Producer: Katie Larson.

Brandon D. Smith is Assistant Professor of Theology & New Testament at Cedarville University, Editorial Director for the Center for Baptist Renewal, and writes things.

*** This podcast is designed to discuss all sorts of topics from various points of view. Therefore, guests’ views do not always reflect the views of the host, his church, or his institution.


Redeeming Eastertide

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The following is a brief reflection I wrote on the season of Eastertide for our church’s newsletter.

The time-shattering event of Easter is too much to take in in only one Sunday. Indeed, there is a sense in which every Sunday is Easter. The reason the earliest church gathered on Sunday, what the apostle John called “the Lord’s Day” (Rev. 1:10), was precisely to mark, both outwardly and inwardly, the new creation inaugurated in Christ’s resurrection from the dead on the first day of the week. But in the historic church calendar, seven Sundays are especially designated as the season of “Eastertide,” from Easter Sunday to the feast of the Ascension forty days later (Thursday, May 21, this year), with one final Sunday as a capstone before Pentecost Sunday the following week. This liturgical rhythm mimics the forty days in which Jesus appeared to his disciples after the resurrection (Acts 1:3), and it provides an extended time for the church to reflect on the mystery revealed in the resurrection of the Son of God.

Christians can usually quite readily explain the meaning of Christ’s atoning death, but we often struggle to articulate the saving significance of his resurrection. We may understand its apologetic importance as the linchpin historical event holding the Christian faith together, but we don’t always grasp its theological importance: what saving benefits accrue to believers on the basis of the resurrection? Eastertide is an excellent opportunity for meditation on precisely this question. As a guide to your meditation, consider this helpful distillation from the nineteenth-century Dutch Reformed theologian, Herman Bavinck:

According to Scripture, therefore, the significance of the physical resurrection of Christ is inexhaustibly rich. Briefly summarized, that resurrection is (1) proof of Jesus’ messiahship, the coronation of the Servant of the Lord to be Christ and Lord, the Prince of life and Judge (Acts 2:36; 3:13–15; 5:31; 10:42; etc.); (2) a seal of his eternal divine sonship (Acts 13:33; Rom. 1:3): (3) a divine endorsement of his mediatorial work, a declaration of the power and value of his death, the “Amen!” of the Father upon the “It is finished!” of the Son (Acts 2:23–24; 4:11; 5:31; Rom. 6:4, 10; etc.); (4) the inauguration of the exaltation he accomplished by his suffering (Luke 24:26; Acts 2:33; Rom. 6:4; Phil. 2:9; etc); (5) the guarantee of our forgiveness and justification (Acts 5:31; Rum. 4:25): (6) the fountain of numerous spiritual blessings: the gift of the Spirit (Acts 2:33), repentance (Acts 5:31), spiritual eternal life (Rom. 6:4f.), salvation in its totality (Acts 4:12); (7) the principle and pledge of our blessed and glorious resurrection (Acts 4:2; Rom. 8:11; 1 Cor. 6:14; etc); (8) the foundation of apostolic Christianity (1 Cor 15:12ff.). –Reformed Dogmatics, 3:442.

You might consider using the remainder of this Eastertide to reflect on these themes and Scriptures, either individually or as families.

John Behr on the History of Easter and John’s Prologue

This episode is a conversation with Fr. John Behr of the University of Aberdeen. We discuss his transition from St. Vladimir’s Seminary to the University of Aberdeen (2:35), how to read John’s Gospel (4:00), the authorship of John’s Gospel (9:13), John as “the high priest of Pascha” (16:22), the relationship between the Gospel accounts of the Lord’s Supper (27:00), the fuller meaning of “it is finished” (28:44), and recovering the ancient Easter (52:45). Buy John’s books.

Church Grammar is presented by B&H Academic and the Christian Standard Bible. Intro music: Purple Dinosaur by nobigdyl. Episode sponsor: Lexham Press. Producer: Katie Larson.

Brandon D. Smith is Assistant Professor of Theology & New Testament at Cedarville University, Editorial Director for the Center for Baptist Renewal, and writes things. Speaking of Cedarville, you should check out our Master of Divinity and Master of Ministry programs.

*** This podcast is designed to discuss all sorts of topics from various points of view. Therefore, guests’ views do not always reflect the views of the host, his church, or his institution.


A New Commandment

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John 13:1-17

Human cultures have always crafted symbols of power. In the past, we might think of crowns, regalia, or royal scepters. Today, power is often vested in official titles, political influence, financial portfolios, material possessions, technological gadgets, or social media followers. But in the kingdom of Christ, we find a very different symbol that represents a very different kind of ethical accounting: a towel and a water basin.

On the night that he was to be betrayed, the King of kings did not demand that he be served with the adoration that he most assuredly deserves. Instead, he took off his outer garments, girded himself with a towel, and washed his followers’ filthy feet in a basin of water. Here, we see on dramatic display the ethics of the kingdom. The first will be last and the last first (Matt 20:16). The one who would be first must be last of all and servant of all (Mark 9:35).

Peter is at first resistant. He seems to recognize the absurdity of this upside-down ritual: “Lord, do you wash my feet?” It’s not the first time that Peter (as a kind of stand-in for all of us) didn’t understand the radical reversal of the kingdom of Christ. He couldn’t understand how the Christ, the son of the living God, could undergo the disgrace of the cross (Matt 16:21-23). And here at the end, Peter still hasn’t fully arrived; he hasn’t become fully converted to the power dynamics of the kingdom. But Jesus assures him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” To be a Christian is to have the humility to receive. It is to recognize our filthiness and to submit to the Savior’s cleansing condescension. A refusal to receive has the appearance of humility. Shouldn’t we, after all, be washing Jesus’ feet? But in reality it amounts to a thinly veiled mask of pride. We imagine that the Christian life is what we do for Jesus, when all along it was the Son of Man who came “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

This day in Holy Week is referred to as Maundy Thursday. Its name is taken from the phrase mandatum novum (“a new commandment”) from the Latin version of John 13:34: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” The good news of the kingdom is first a gift and then a calling. We come to Jesus for cleansing: not just the once for all cleansing of our body in conversion (solemnized in our baptism) but the repeated washing of our feet through the ongoing, ordinary means of grace: the Word of God, prayer, and the Lord’s Supper. And then we are commissioned to imitate Christ’s humble service: “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14).

The symbolism of the towel and water basin stands in stark contrast to the symbols on display in the halls of worldly power. But now more than ever, the world desperately needs the counter-cultural message of the gospel. It needs Christians willing to risk absurdity, to risk the loss of political and social capital, to surrender life and limb and likability to serve the needs of others. “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:17).

This post originally appeared in a Holy Week devotional produced by the faculty of Anderson University.

Thomas McCall on Analytic Theology, Sin, and the Cry of Dereliction

This episode is a conversation with Dr. Thomas McCall of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. We discuss the Cowboys-Steelers rivalry (1:29), the definition and benefits of analytic theology (4:23), the doctrine of sin (9:23), and Jesus’s cry of dereliction and the Trinity (30:09). Buy Tom’ s books.

Church Grammar is presented by B&H Academic and the Christian Standard Bible. Intro music: Purple Dinosaur by nobigdyl. Producer: Katie Larson.

Brandon D. Smith is Assistant Professor of Theology & New Testament at Cedarville University, Editorial Director for the Center for Baptist Renewal, and writes things. Speaking of Cedarville, you should check out our Master of Divinity and Master of Ministry programs.

*** This podcast is designed to discuss all sorts of topics from various points of view. Therefore, guests’ views do not always reflect the views of the host, his church, or his institution.


Love in the Pandemic

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During the lockdown, I’ve been reading Walker Percy’s The Thanatos Syndrome, his 1987 novel, set in Louisiana, about a psychiatrist who slowly discovers a mysterious, chemically-induced syndrome that gives people superior intellect but appears to be driving them mad. This diatribe from the part-paranoid, part-prophetic Father Smith seemed appropriate to share during this time:

You are a member of the first generation of doctors in the history of medicine to turn their backs on the oath of Hippocrates and kill millions of old useless people, unborn children, born malformed children, for the good of mankind—and to do so without a single murmur from one of you. Not a single letter of protest in the august New England Journal of Medicine…

If you are a lover of Mankind in the abstract like Walt Whitman, who wished the best for Mankind, you will probably do no harm and might even write good poetry and give pleasure, right?…

If you are a theorist of Mankind like Rousseau or Skinner, who believes he understands man’s brain and in the solitariness of his study or laboratory writes books on the subject, you are also probably harmless and might even contribute to human knowledge, right?…

But if you put the two together, a lover of Mankind and a theorist of Mankind, what you’ve got now is Robespierre or Stalin or Hitler and the Terror, and millions dead for the good of Mankind. Right?

This pandemic has been an illuminating unveiling of people’s operational ethic–on the left and the right and everywhere in between. Christians everywhere should take care that we don’t lose even more credibility on the paramount issue of the dignity of all human life, from womb to tomb. And not just in the abstract, but in the concrete particulars of our lives and relationships.

How to Talk about Eternal Generation

We’re continuing our short talks on theology. Today, Brandon talks about another question raised around Easter time: how do we talk about the historic doctrine of eternal generation?

Church Grammar is presented by B&H Academic and the Christian Standard Bible. Intro music: Purple Dinosaur by nobigdyl. Episode sponsor: Lexham Press. Producer: Katie Larson.

Brandon D. Smith is Assistant Professor of Theology & New Testament at Cedarville University, Editorial Director for the Center for Baptist Renewal, and writes things. Speaking of Cedarville, you should check out our Master of Divinity and Master of Ministry programs.

*** This podcast is designed to discuss all sorts of topics from various points of view. Therefore, guests’ views do not always reflect the views of the host, his church, or his institution.

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