N.T. Wright is a man of many talents. He is a bishop, scholar, and prolific author. It also seems that he is a pretty decent musician. Wright put his musical ability and love for Bob Dylan songs on display at a recent visit to The Rabbit Room.
When we think of human beings, it is natural to begin with the way things exist currently. Human beings are flawed and broken. We see this born out in our everyday experiences. However, it has not always been this way. In the beginning, God created humanity in perfection. The imperfections and brokenness that we experience now did not exist then. So what were human beings like prior to the Fall? With little data to work with, we will need to venture into the theological realm where conclusions can be inferred from Scripture. So here is my attempt to do so…
I believe that God made humanity in his own image. In need of nothing, God created human beings for the splendor and revelation of his own glory. He intended for them to glorify Him by means of their image as well as their actions. God fashioned them as the works of his hands and gave them physical bodies, formed from the dust of the earth. He made them living beings by breathing life into their bodies. He created them male and female and declared them to be good. God created humanity to live forever without pain or suffering.
I believe that God created the first human beings perfect by nature from the very beginning. He gave them a will and the freedom to exercise it in order to make moral decisions. By virtue of their holiness and righteousness, human beings made choices that were perfectly aligned with the will of God. They worshipped God alone and honored his name.They loved one another and put aside their own desires in order to express it. In this way, God brought divine command and natural law into unity with humanity’s creation. Every person had the ability and desire to do what God commanded.
I believe that God made human beings for relationship. Humanity received this trait from God, who exists in a perfect union of triune community. As a result, men and women reflect the image of God through loving relationships. Since God created human beings, they can only find the basis for their humanity in a right relationship with Him. Natural human beings experienced unbroken and unmediated relationship with the Creator based on perfect obedience to his will. Human beings were also made for relationship with one another. Woman was created for man out of the need to complete the fullness of humanity. They were bound together in marriage by a perfect union of love devoid of abuse or unfaithfulness. Additionally, humanity lived in perfect community. They lived among each other without hatred, malice, lust, and covetousness. They selflessly took care of each other’s needs in a spirit of generosity.
I believe that God made humanity for the earth and the earth for humanity. God blessed human beings with the ability to bear children and called them to be fruitful by filling the earth with more of their existence. He gave the other living creatures of the earth the same calling, and thus he connected our existence to the existence of the world. God established human beings as stewards over the earth from which they were created. As governors, they ruled it with wisdom, love, and justice according to the will of God. As caretakers, they worked the ground in joy and fruitfulness. God consecrated the seventh day of the week as a holy day of rest to commemorate his work in creation. Therefore, humanity enjoyed a divinely-inspired rhythm to life by working six days and resting on the seventh. In doing so, they honored God by remembering all that he had done, celebrating his work, and representing his rest on earth.
I believe that God gave humanity a glory that is unmatched in all of the created order. Human beings are the only creatures to be endowed with the image of the Creator. As image bearers, God made them representatives of His kingdom on earth. As the pinnacle of his perfect creation, humanity made God known through their flawless decisions and actions. Their stewardship of the earth was a mirror image of the care and concern that God has for his people. Humanity was given a day of rest as an expression of God’s desire for intimate communion with them. God’s glory was manifest with clarity and beauty through the creation of humanity. All of these things were God’s desire for man from the beginning.
We would know nothing of God if he had not revealed himself to us. Theologians have placed God’s self-disclosure into two categories: general and special revelation. God first revealed himself in the created order. We look at the world and realize that it had to have come from someone or something much greater than ourselves. Christians believe that God created everything that exists. Therefore, everything bears the fingerprints of the Maker. Secondly, God revealed himself in more direct and specific ways. He became a man and lived among us. He has spoken audibly to individuals, appeared in dreams and visions, performed miracles, and given prophecy. God has given us His Word, the Scriptures, in order to give us greater knowledge and guide us into a deeper relationship with himself.
With that brief preface, I give you my personal confession on the revelation of God.
I believe that God has revealed himself to us in the created order. God gave us an awareness of his existence by creating us in his own image. God clearly displays his power and divine nature in his creation. He holds the world and everything in it together through the Son. Every activity of life reveals his presence and provision. Every authority on earth testifies to the overarching authority of the living God (Genesis 1:26-27; 2 Corinthians 5:18-20; Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:19-20; Hebrews 1:3; Acts 14:15-17; Romans 13:1).
I believe that sin limits our ability to know God through the created world. Nature is tainted by sin and does not clearly reflect the goodness of God. In our sin, we suppress the truth about the existence of God and do not give him credit for the creation of the world. We fail to acknowledge him as God by elevating the creation above the Creator. Every person needs renewed vision in order to see God more clearly in creation and a renewed mind in order to understand him properly (Romans 8:20-22; Job 25:5; Psalm 14:1; Romans 1:18-23, 25; Exodus 32:1-6; Acts 17:16).
I believe that God entered into human history and revealed himself to us in special ways that go beyond nature. In the past, God made himself known by direct action in the world, audible words and prophecy, the written law, visions and dreams, miracles, and even visible appearances. The height of God’s self-revelation is the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the incarnate Word. Today, God continues to speak to us through the Holy Scriptures (Job 12:23; Exodus 19:9; Jeremiah 37:2; Exodus 34:1-28; Genesis 15:1; John 11:38-44; Exodus 33:23; Hebrews 1:1-3; 2 Timothy 3:16).
I believe that the Bible is the Word of God consisting of the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments. The Bible is both fully human and fully divine. Through the Holy Spirit, God inspired human authors to write the Bible consistent with their personalities and traits. The Bible is true and fully reliable. The truthfulness of Scripture is rooted in the nature of God and the testimony of the Spirit. The Bible is the final and highest authority on all matters that it addresses (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21; 1 Corinthians 10:11; Proverbs 30:5; Numbers 23:19; John 16:13-14; 17:17; Psalm 19:7-9; Hebrews 3:7).
I believe that the Bible provides everything that we need for salvation and good works. The Bible is clear in what it teaches. It is a sufficient guide and provision for every area of life. The Scriptures are powerful and able to expose our deepest thoughts and intentions. The Bible provides a sure foundation for our lives through the truth of its words. God authored the Scriptures with every generation in mind. The Word of God was faithfully preserved and handed down to us so that we might know God truly (2 Timothy 3:15-17; Romans 1:16, 10:9-13; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Psalm 119:105, 130; Hebrews 4:12-13; 2 Peter 1:19; Matthew 22:31; 1 Peter 1:23-25; Jude 1:3).
Theologians debate whether to begin theological discussions with revelation or God. On the one hand, we would have no revelation without God. On the other hand, we would know nothing of God without revelation. Personally, I think it is best to begin with God in any theological conversation. So without further delay, I submit to you my confession on God.
I believe in one true God eternally existing in three unique persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each person is equally God and united with one another by one essence. God has no beginning and will never come to an end. He exists outside of time and sees all of time at once. God relies on nothing for his existence. He is uncaused and yet causes all other things to exist (Matthew 3:16-17, 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Titus 3:4-6; 1 Peter 1:2; Deuteronomy 6:4; Psalm 90:2-4; 2 Peter 3:8; John 5:26; Acts 17:24-25).
I believe that God is the greatest possible being and beyond full comprehension. He possesses the highest quality of every attribute without a division of parts. He is not bound by the dimensions of this world and thus remains completely present in all places at all times (Psalm 145:3, 147:5; Job 5:9, 11:7-9; 1 Samuel 2:2; Jeremiah 23:23-24; Psalm 139:7-12; 1 Kings 8:27).
I believe that God is unchanging in his being, purposes, and character. He always acts in a manner consistent with his nature. As a result, God shows himself to be completely trustworthy and reliable. God possesses exhaustive knowledge of the past, present, and future. He wisely applies this knowledge to every situation in order to accomplish his perfect purposes. God is supremely powerful and accomplishes his holy will without interference. He created all things and continues to sustain them by his power (Malachi 3:6; James 1:17; Hebrews 13:8; Psalm 139:1-4, 147:4-5; Job 37:16; Romans 11:33; Hebrews 4:13; Job 42:2; Matthew 28:18; Colossians 1:16-17).
I believe that God is holy and perfect in every way. Every action and motive of God is good. He is the foundation of all truth and the standard by which all things are measured. God is faithful to his word and fulfills all that he promises (Isaiah 6:3; Psalm 99:9, 145:17; Psalm 34:8, 106:1, 119:68; Romans 8:28, 12:2; Jeremiah 10:10; John 17:17; Deuteronomy 32:4; Numbers 23:19).
I believe God created the world in such a way as to make evil a possibility. God can do no evil because he is perfect and pure. Thus, God is not the author of evil. Instead, God has permitted evil as a result of creating human beings with the capacity to make free choices. Evil is born out of our own desires. Yet God hates evil and sin. He pronounces judgment on any of us who do evil and sin against him because of his purity and absolute goodness. He cannot have a relationship with sin and thus cannot have a relationship with sinners (James 1:13-15; Genesis 3:1-19; Romans 5:12; John 3:36; Romans 1:18; Habakkuk 1:13; Psalm 5:4-5).
I believe that God loves us and desires relationship with us. He came to earth as a man, suffered on the cross, and died in our place in order to bear the punishment for our sin. God is gracious and merciful. Out of his own free choice and good pleasure, God gives us grace by rescuing us from sin and death. He is merciful to us when we desperately need it and shows us love in response to our suffering and cries. God is patient and longsuffering. He is slow to anger and quick to show love. He delays his judgment of sin in order that more people can be saved. He is the loving Redeemer and worthy to be praised (Hosea 11:1-4; Jeremiah 31:3; 1 John 4:8, 3:16; Romans 5:8, John 3:16; Ephesians 2:4, 8-9; Psalm 145:8; Titus 3:5; Romans 9:15-16; Numbers 14:18; 2 Peter 3:9).
Confessions have played a major role in the life of the church throughout history. Many times they are the product of doctrinal controversy. For instance, the Definition of Chalcedon sought to counter the misconceptions and false beliefs about the person of Jesus Christ in relation to his two natures.
“We also teach that we apprehend this one and only Christ-Son, Lord, only-begotten — in two natures; and we do this without confusing the two natures, without transmuting one nature into the other, without dividing them into two separate categories, without contrasting them according to area or function.”
In this way, confessions are best understood in the context of the doctrinal climate of their day. They often address the concerns of a particular group of Christians in a particular era. In most cases (if not all), they are timeless in what they do say but at the same time should not be asked to stretch beyond their concerns. They should not be dismissed for not addressing certain doctrines when those doctrines were not within the scope of their concerns. We should value the grand confessions of the church for what they do say and not what they lack. If doctrinal criticism is warranted then it should be on the basis of what a confession says inaccurately.
While confessions are set in a particular context, they are also built on the traditions and beliefs of the past. The authors of the Definition of Chalcedon make this clear in the opening statement of their confession.
“Following, then, the holy fathers, we unite in teaching all men to confess the one and only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The “faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” does not change over time. Our articulation of that truth may change but we are united with believers of every era in a common faith rooted in the person and work of Jesus Christ. We are truly one church united by one faith in one God and Savior who exists in Triune splendor.
One of the most profitable products of my seminary education has come as a result of my systematic theology classes. We were asked to write personal confessions on a variety of doctrines in order to express what we believe about certain truths. I quickly learned to appreciate the hard work of those individuals who have produced the beautiful confessional documents of our Christian faith. Confession writing is extremely difficult. It takes a lot of effort to expound doctrine in a concise and precise manner. Over the next few days I will be posting my confessions on here as a statement about what I believe. I would welcome any feedback, thoughts, or corrections to them as a means of sharpening these beliefs in my own mind and heart. Ultimately, I hope that these confessions will be an encouragement to your own faith as you seek to hold fast to Christ and confess him in the world.