COVID-19 and the Theology of Human Community

Plus our one-year anniversary, and book deals!

COVID-19 and the Theology of Human Community

by Naomi Noguchi Reese

Speaking of the COVID-19 virus, António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, recently said in a news interview, “This is a fight that can be won . . . but it requires a very clear strategy and it needs to be adopted by all nations in coordination.” 

Guterres said that he had met with the leaders of the G20 on the previous day, the countries that control 80 percent of the global economy, and account for 90 percent of the cases of infection.  He argued that these countries must come together and adopt a common strategy by following the guidelines aimed at the suppression of the virus. 

Guterres’s concern, of course, is the well-being of the nations that are struggling to contain the virus, and the resulting physical, social, and economic damage.  He also expressed concern that if the virus is not contained, it will eventually move to the South of the globe where many nations have little capacity to deal with such an outbreak, in which case the death-toll could be catastrophic.  Since then, the virus has spread to Africa and 10 million people may be infected by the fall. 

As I was listening to the interview, I was reminded of the late British theologian Colin E. Gunton.  His magnum opus, The One, the Three and the Many, published in 1993, was a major contribution to trinitarian theology.  Gunton’s thesis is straightforward: God is the triune God who consists of three persons in relation, and humanity reflects this image of God as a community in relation.  When we are rightly related to God, each other, and the world, such a communion echoes the communion of the three persons of the Trinity.   

Gunton writes, “To be human is to be created in and for community.”[1] The Holy Spirit creates community by bringing men and women to the Father through the Son.  Yet, says Gunton, “the holiness of the community is not primarily the holiness of the individual within—though that is a part of it—but that of a people bound together because they shape in the life of worship, proclamation, teaching, sharing and good works.”[2]  Just as the Godhead mutually constitutes each other as persons, humans also constitute each other by giving and receiving as persons.  In short, in our essence, we are relational beings.

Gunton goes on to say, “To be a person is to be made in the image of God: that is the heart of the matter.”[3] Scripture tells us that Jesus is the exact representation of the being of God (Heb 1:3).  Therefore, he is the true image of God and “the source of human renewal in it [the image of God].”[4]  Thus, “To be in the image of God is to be created through the Son, who is the archetypal bearer of the image.  To be in the image of God therefore means to be conformed to the person of Christ.”[5]  The image of God, therefore, should be understood in relation to the person of Christ, since to be in the image is to be conformed to the person of Christ.

The image of God not only has implications for vertical relations (between the triune God and humanity), but also horizontal relations (between and among humans).  To be conformed to Christ, humanity needs to relate with others. Indeed, true humanity can only exist in relation with others (Genesis 1:26-27).  Gunton asserts, “To be in the image of God is at once to be created as a particular kind of being—person—and to be called to realize a certain destiny.  The shape of that destiny is to be found in God-given forms of human community and of human responsibility to the universe.”[6]

Jesus, who is the image of God, was a particular Jewish man who lived in a particular time and place.  He lived life in a way that no one else could have: His destiny was to offer the perfect sacrifice through his death for the redemption of the world.  In the same way, God made each of us to be a particular person.  Yet, the shape of our destiny can be found in our everyday interactions with others in society.  Gunton adds, “We are in the image of God when, like God but dependent on his giving, we find our reality in what we give and receive from others in human community.”[7]  Therefore, “God-given forms of human community”[8] are indispensable to finding the shape of our destiny. 

COVID-19 has been a painful reminder that humanity is relational, and that we are created in and for community.  Our attitudes and actions, intentionally or unintentionally, affect those around us—and ultimately the entire world. This awareness should guide whether and how we physically interact with people during this crisis, how we shop, and how we can help those around us.

Gunton explained that we are called to realize a certain destiny and the shape of our destiny is to be found in God-given forms of human community.  It is up to us to realize this destiny, which entails that we are not alone, but are in this together. Humanity will be tested as we face a common enemy, and it is our sense of togetherness and love for others that will ultimately overcome it. 

— Naomi Noguchi Reese (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is an adjunct professor in the College of Theology and Christian Ministry at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. She has contributed articles to the Dictionary of Christianity and Science (Zondervan, 2017) and The Lexham Survey of Theology (Lexham Press, 2018).

Notes

[1] Colin Gunton, “The Transcendent Lord.  The Spirit and the Church in Calvinist and Cappadocian,” The Congregational Lecture, 1988, 8.

[2] Gunton, The Christian Faith: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine (Malden, MA.: Blackwell, 2002), 148; italics mine.

[3] Gunton, The Promise of Trinitarian Theology, 2nd ed. (London: T&T Clark, 2003), 113.

[4] Gunton, Christ and Creation (Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans, 1992), 100. 

[5] Gunton, The Promise of Trinitarian Theology, 113.

[6] Ibid., 116.

[7] Ibid., 114.

[8] Ibid., 116.


The Worldview Bulletin—Year One

This month marks one year since we launched The Worldview Bulletin! Readers have joined us at various times throughout the past year and may not be aware of some of the gems from past issues available in the archive. Below is a list of just some of the highlights.

Apatheism and the Unexamined Life: Part 1 and Part 2*

Transhumanism, False Reenchantment, and Rage against the Given

Old Testament Controversies—An Interview with Tremper Longman

The Inescapability of Design in Science: Part 1* and Part 2*

What Is Art?*

On Renewing the Imagination

Daniel Ray on The Story of the Cosmos

Surprised by God:  Reaching the Resistant (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

Learning with C. S. Lewis to See and Delight in God’s World*

Would the Great Scientists of the Revolution Be Devout Christians If They Lived Today?*

“Thou, God, Art Present There”: How God Speaks Before We Do

Seven Principles of Technogesis

Assessing Philosophies: Five Criteria for Evaluating Worldviews

An Interview with Abdu Murray

A Theology of Story (Part 1,* Part 2*, Part 3*)

Also see our interviews at Christianity Today:

- The Gospels Are Fact Not Folklore (Craig Keener)

- Both Science and Stories Declare God’s Glory (Alister McGrath)

- The Moral Order of the World Points to God (David Baggett)

*An asterisk indicates articles only available to subscribers


Book Highlight

In his book The Unformed Conscience of Evangelicalism: Recovering the Church’s Moral Vision, evangelical ethicist J. Daryl Charles explores why contemporary American evangelicals “are, by and large, absent from the great ethical debates of the day.” The truth is, he laments, is that “we simply cannot speak of an approach to ethics that is distinctly Protestant evangelical. Why is that?” To help address this problem, Charles equips evangelicals to think biblically and theologically about ethics and provides guidance for engaging with those around us who hold non-Christian ethical perspectives.

“This is a remarkably astute work of Christian social ethics and cultural criticism. It combines the best of cultural analysis with the best of philosophical and theological scholarship. I found its arguments well stated, well documented and convincing. . . . The public square no longer lacks an evangelical Christian vision for the future. This is a book to be read and studied by every Christian in a leadership role, whether in the church or the larger society.”

James W. Sire, former editor of InterVarsity Press and author of more than twenty books, including The Universe Next Door.

Contents

1.     The Cultural Moment and the Cultural Mandate

2.     Ethics and the Evangelical Legacy

3.     The Necessity of Ethical Formation

4.     Retooling the Evangelical Mindset: Ethics and Worldview

5.     Retooling the Evangelical Mindset: Ethics and the Permanent

6.     Biblical Resources for Ethics: The Pauline Model

7.     Biblical Resources for Ethics: The Petrine Model

8.     Biblical Resources for Ethics: The Disciple’s Model

9.     Toward a Biblical Ethic: Principles in Polarity

10.  Thinking with the Church

J. Daryl Charles, PhD, serves as the Acton Affiliated Scholar in Theology & Ethics. He is author of eighteen books, including Natural Law and Religious Freedom (Routledge), America and the Just War Tradition (University of Notre Dame Press), and Wisdom’s Work: Essays on Ethics, Vocation, and Culture (Acton Institute Press), as well as editor of Abraham Kuyper, Common Grace, volumes 2 and 3 (Lexham Press).

Find The Unformed Conscience of Evangelicalism: Recovering the Church’s Moral Vision at Amazon and Fontes Press.

* This is a sponsored post.


Book and Resource Deals

  • Eerdmans has just put over 300 titles on sale for the month of April.

  • Logos’s free resource for the month of April is a video course by N. T. Wright titled “Faith Working Through Love.” Two other courses by Wright are also on sale.

  • Faithlife eBooks is also offering a free book for April, along with two discounted ebooks on apologetics.

  • Gospel Coalition put together this fine list of “Free (or Discounted) Books to Read in Quarantine.”

  • Fortress Press is running their spring ebook sale. You can see all of the titles here, and find them on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. The deals are good through April 24th. Fortress publishes a number of N. T. Wright’s books.

  • A number of university presses are offering free access to their titles for a limited time due to the coronavirus.

  • Through May 31, Crossway is offering a free basic subscription to ESV.org, which includes:

    • 9 study Bibles, including the award-winning ESV Study Bible (containing 20,000+ study notes, 80,000+ cross-references, 200+ charts, 50+ articles, and 240 full-color maps and illustrations)

    • A suite of original language tools related to The Greek New Testament, Produced at Tyndale House, Cambridge

    • The complete interactive Knowing the Bible study series which consists of 45 volumes covering the Bible’s 66 books

    • Streaming Bible audio

    • Dozens of interactive reading plans and devotionals

  • Ligonier Ministries just made thousands of lectures, study series, and digital study guides available free for the first time. A number of teaching videos are now available through Amazon Prime Video (you can find them by searching for “Ligonier”).


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