Blogging is back, and as per usual I’m kicking off the year with talk summaries (my personal notes) of the talks from the Ignite Training Conference. But, FYI, there’s been some big changes in the weeks leading up to this years conference:

  • There are going to be no evening talks, save one evening on Wednesday
  • The conference moved from one gathered location to local hubs – I’m, of course, part of the SLE Church’s hub (and leading Strand 2)
  • The talks are being pre-recorded and shown at each site

I’m looking forward to the end of the pandemic for multiple reasons – and one big reason is that I miss gathering with people at the Ignite Training Conference, especially around the bookstall! Ah well, soon, we hope and pray :)

For now, here are my notes from the talks. As per usual the main caveat is that this is what I caught. Hope you find it helpful to supplement your own notes, or for those who can’t make it to get a glimpse into the talk contents.

Talk 1 | Earthed Person (Genesis 2, Romans 1:18-32) | Mark Baddeley

Introduction – where are we going

This week – reflecting on one of the hidden jewels of the Christian life – sounds boring, but is also life-changing: union with Christ. At the heart of our relationship with Jesus and our relationship with God the Father. It is why Jesus is so central to the gospel message – what it means to be in relationship with God and each other.

You cannot separate the idea of union with Christ – to see Jesus is to see everyone connected to him – to see someone who belongs the Lord Jesus is to see the Lord Jesus himself. The way you describe that relationship: union. A forging of a bond that ties you together.

The bond that ties you to Christ is where your salvation lies.

Sometimes our view of Jesus is like an Uber Eats delivery driver – you need something, you send out for it, and the driver delivers it to you. The agent is not the package – so you’re not excited to see the agent, what you’re excited is the package they are delivering. Once the package is delivered you don’t need the delivery driver anymore.

It’s possible that this kind of thinking affects how we see Jesus. He establishes salvation, brings it to us – but the salvation he sets up is different to the agent of salvation himself. Salvation is like pokemon cards (!) – justification card, holiness card, resurrection card – and like pokemon you’ve got to get them all. You need Christ because he’s the one with the cards – but what he’s handing out isn’t him, it’s separate and external to him.

That picture is utterly wrong. Wrong about Christ, salvation, our relationship with Christ. The picture we want to start with is more like bringing a light into a dark room. How do you light up a dark room? You bring in a light. The light gives off life, lighting the room – and there is a real connection between the light given and the light itself. The light is intrinsically connected to the light itself – you cannot have light with ‘a light’ – only by drawing close to the light can you have light. That is much closer to the biblical picture of salvation and the place of Jesus in salvation.

Everything you and I need for eternal life is received FROM Jesus and THROUGH Jesus and IN Jesus. This is why the phrase ‘in Christ’ is used over and over again in the New Testament. Jesus’ is the first to experience the salvation he offers by being raised from the dead himself – and only when we are bound to Jesus can we experience that salvation ourselves.

Everything we call ‘salvation’ – and all it entails – are different angles of the fundamental reality of you belonging to Christ and he to you. And he is also the template of salvation – the model/paradigm. When God wants to save you he doesn’t give you a bunch of stuff, he gives you Jesus himself.

The most powerful thing we can do is sing about Jesus, read about Jesus, and focus on him – and that can change us and our relationships with others.

This is the big idea for the whole week.

The way we are going to approach this big idea for the week is to begin with the picture of humanity and how we’re made in the beginning. How our creation sets us up for a relationship with Jesus.

Tomorrow we’re looking at Christ himself – and how the way the eternal son’s incarnation is the secret ingredient that makes union with Christ possible. We can unite to him, because he has united himself to us.

Next – the knock-on effects – the concrete hope we have in Christ, our future transformation in Christ.

Then the relationships we have with each other – the bonds we have as a church united together in Christ.

Finally, we’ll take all of that and apply it to one of the particularly tricky issues in our present time: how it is in the light of union with Christ do we approach loving people Jesus’ way – when loving them means taking stands on issues which society sees as homophobic and transphobic, etc.

That’s our roadmap for the week.

Aussie vision of humanity

So what is the Aussie approach to humans? How we treat each other is often rooted in identity – who you are and what you should do. A lot of the big debates that roll around our world today, which even are about behaviour are primarily about identity and even cosmology: who we are as human beings. Big foundational things.

The Aussie approach is tricky – there isn’t a single monotonous view out there. There are various views – and in the risk of oversimplification – Aussies have tended to flip between two views. One tending in the background the other in the foreground, and then trading places. One is objective, fixed in science and biology, the other is subjective and fixed in feeling.

At the turn of the century, the New Atheists were showing us the view as all about biology. What we think and feel is all governed by our brain, governed by biological and physical laws. You might think that you are in the driving seat – but that’s an illusion. So the more we learn the more we discover that everything we do can be predicted in advance if we have enough data. There’s no free will in a universe of cause and effect. Even your decisions are restrained by biology.

At the time of gay laws being enacted, it was all about biology – nobody chooses to be born gay. If there is a ‘you’ at all (and this was up for grabs philosophically by the new atheists) you are your body and that’s it.

Fast forward 20 years and our world has flipped on this. You can still find the view of trusting the science primarily – but right now the vision of humanity in the public square is the inversion of what we have. The debate is not over biology – but now over the spectrum of almost infinite expansions of sexuality. Most of it having little to do with biology – now it’s about sexual orientation growing, changing, being discovered, in a state of flux. Prioritising biology is thoroughly transphobic. Trans has overtaken Gay as the hero of the movement.

In this environment the embodiment of humanity is found within – what you feel. The only way to access gender is to look inside and sense it – and express it via our chosen names, our chosen pronouns, and our chosen fashion.

Right now in this cultural moment, we’re in ‘I’ and my ‘body’ are almost alienated from each other. Despite the radical differences at that level, there are two things that have remained constant:

  1. In both cases you determine who you are – and you do that by looking at yourself in isolation. You can use a microscope and look at biology and genes, or you can look to your inner-self and how you feel. But either way you look at yourself in isolation from anything and anyone else. Your identity is not determined by looking at your context with others, but solely at yourself. Other relationships are an add-on to who you are, not fundamental.
  2. Both views arrive at the same place – you don’t have to accept your body the way that it is. Whether it’s objective or subjective humanity – whether biology is everything or nothing, in both cases technology will fix the problem for us. Technology can fix our genes, can change our bodies which line up with our understanding of our gender. The path is different, the destination is still the same, and technology is the solution. Technology will eliminate suffering and maximise our happiness.

The Bible’s view is very different – though you can see points of contact with both of these views.

Today we’re not going to see everything about what it means to be human, but will focus on three things that will help us understand our union with Christ.

Biblical vision of humanity

  • Earthed

The first thing to get is that humans are earthed – we are grounded. We don’t hover ethereally above our world, we are made to fit into reality. Our existence is in real space, not virtual face.

Our beginning is visceral in Genesis 2 – it’s grubby. Adam is made from a mudpie. Eve is made by taking voluntary elective surgery on Adam. There’s no downplaying our physical existence in Genesis 2. We begin in dirt and blood – we’re earthed. Made from the earth itself, made for life in this cosmos, for this physical reality that God has made.

You cannot understand what it means to be human unless you see the physical is fundamental. As part of that basic outlook, Genesis acknowledges two sexes. It has no interest in ‘gender’. Adam is made from the earth, Eve is made from Adam, as two sexes. Fundamentally one in species, yet so fundamentally different from each other. What defines them is this backstory in Genesis 2.

All of that adds up to saying that physical reality matters for human beings – you are a body. Your body is who you are – it’s not your experience of your body that matters, it’s the body that God gave you that is the fundamental building block of who you are.

  • Person

Yet earth is not the only horizon of our humanness. There is also a complementary dimension here. God made Adam with His own breath of life. An undetectable aspect of humanity – your body is not all that you have, but you also have the ‘breath of life’. This sets humans apart from the cosmos – you are a person not a thing nor an animal. You are a different thing altogether.

God plants a garden for Adam, instructs Adam to care for it, and then sees his isolation isn’t good. God acts to fix this on behalf of Adam. There is something unique in the relationship between God and man, and when Eve enters into the relationship she enters into that unique relationship with God effortlessly.

Adam also has authority – he tends the garden, he names the animals as a sign of his authority, he has dominion over the rest of creation. All of this is expressed in this search for Adam’s partner. This long story of bringing the animals and naming them is there to highlight Adam’s need for a partner. Notice that God doesn’t do Adam Mk2 with Eve – he does something unique that only occurs for human creation: he takes Adam’s flesh and blood and makes the complement. Part of Adam is literally and physically missing without Eve.

No other animal has this – which underscores that human beings are established by relationships that no other creature is. Adam’s relationship with Eve defines them both. Their relationship to the rest of creation defines them – no helper in creation could be found for Adam. These two who stand as the fountainhead of humanity defines each other.

And most fundamental of all is their relationship with God. Without this, they simply wouldn’t exist. While we are part of this creation our fundamental relationship is with God. We are like small hand-drawn sketches of the eternal, immortal, infinite reality that is God. We’re not God, but we are made like God.

This is why the snakes offer is so diabolic – take the fruit and you will be like God! Evil works in this way – it cannot create anything, it has to take a good thing that God has already made and pass it off as its own. It has to write checks it cannot cash. Eve was already like God… she is tempted with what she already has.

Romans 1:18-32 – Being in the image and likeness of God is to be rightly related to God, to know and glorify and thank God and serve him. It’s to orbit around God and to have the kind of closeness that is displayed in Genesis 2 and 3 in which God walks with humanity. It’s our connection with God that defines us – makes us who we are. You cannot look at an individual in isolation.

But in Genesis 3 we have an overturning of that – turning from God to the creation. Untethered from God, everything about us as a human becomes alienated. We are alienated from each other, from the world, and from God. The evil of Gen 3 dehumanises us.

But it’s in these shattered pieces there is one more unique display of our humanity. Even as evil disintegrates our humanity, there is one thing that remains: our one-flesh relationship.

  • Union

Because of the different origin story of man and woman, because of how profoundly different they are, there is a capacity for oneness. They become one flesh because they were originally one flesh. So, uniquely, a man and woman can unite and become one flesh. This union doesn’t annihilate them as persons but unites them together in which their union is greater than the sum of their parts while cutting a framework in which those parts are able to flourish.

This union is grounded in what makes us human – which isn’t just physical for mating, but unique. No other creature has their mating described like this. Union expresses the image of God in us in our embodied state.

The biblical picture of being a human being isn’t like the Aussies around us. The Bible’s picture isn’t Adam in isolation, looking at himself only, it’s a married couple as a man and woman come together in union. A one flesh relationship in which they find their complement.

This isn’t saying being single, widowed, or divorced makes you a lesser human. It’s about where we look for what humanity is – what is the template? Do we hold up the individual or the couple in answer to the question of ‘what is a human?’ The Bible says look at the married couple and you’ll see what true humanity is.

That is until Jesus – who becomes the true human template (we’ll see that tomorrow). He will become the model – a single unmarried model. There’s no indication with Jesus that something is wrong because he’s unmarried.

But marriage is a unique picture because it helps us understand our union with Christ. In Ephesians 5 we have relationship between husband and wife – but in doing so, Paul keeps looking sidewards to our relationship with God. At the end of this passage on marriage, he says that a man leaves father and mother and becomes one flesh with his wife – this is a profound mystery, but he’s talking about Christ and the church. Yet, he hasn’t been talking about Christ and the church! He’s been talking about husbands and wives!

The more he talks about marriage, and where it arises out of in Genesis, he sees it as a picture of an even greater reality. Though marriage was there from the beginning, it’s penultimate – it’s not the final horizon. It points to something even greater than ourselves: which is the relationship between Jesus and his church.

In the NT we also learn that marriage is not in heaven – marriage fades out, having accomplished its purpose in illustrating what our relationship with Jesus is going to be. Yet, the capacity to be in Christ is there at the beginning because marriage was what we were created for. Marriage makes it possible to profoundly unite people together – surviving even after the fall, even when human beings lose their connection with God they retain their connection with each other.

So, God takes that capacity for which we were made and uses it as the basis for which we are united with Him.

In the person of his own Son, we are united to Jesus and so united with Him. In doing that, he will transcend marriage itself. Marriage has limits – age limits, relationship limits. But union with Christ encompasses all people. It bursts out of those limitations – and this union is deeper and more powerful than the one-flesh relationship between husband and wife. Union with Christ means transcending how God has made us. It goes beyond even that unity in marriage – yet marriage itself pointed to that!

God made us with the intent that we would transcend how we were made.

What does it mean to be human?

To be earthed – made out of creation, the stuff of creation.

To be a person – in relationship with God and with each other.

In Union – between husband and wife, a practice run for the real deal for union between Christ and us.

To come to Christ is to come home to what it means to be really human.

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