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The Importance of Reading Well - Part 2

Redemption Restores Creation


In the previous post Irenaeus encouraged us to read Scripture as a big mosaic. The biblical drama is made up of different acts. When we get the order right and pay attention to the whole then the big picture is of Jesus as “King.” Get things jumbled, and we end up with a “dog” or a “fox.” Moving from second century France to twenty-first century Britain, just as some might play favourites with persons of the Trinity, others play favourites with acts of the biblical drama. One recent example is Robert Song’s Covenant and Calling,[1] which so emphasises the act of redemption that it rejects what was put in place in the act of creation. Song speaks into the same-sex marriage debate, seeking to open a space for same-sex “covenant-partnerships” that sit alongside the callings of marriage and celibacy. Rather than examine the specifics of Song’s argument,[2] I want to zoom out and examine Song’s presentation of the biblical drama as a whole.


In the act of creation, Song is clear that God made humans in his image to rule creation wisely. God made humans “male and female” (Gen 1:27), put them together in marriage, and told them to procreate so that more little images of God are running around, thereby extending God’s good rule. Procreating becomes even more pressing when we add death into the equation. So, in creation, there’s an important knot between “male+female–procreation–marriage.”


In the act of redemption, Jesus steps onto the stage. As the true image of God (Col 1:15), Jesus beats death. Jesus rules forever, without ever getting married or procreating. So, Jesus cuts the knot between “male+female–procreation–marriage.” In Jesus’ kingdom, procreation is “redundant,”[3]“sexual differentiation is unnecessary,”[4] and marriage’s days are numbered.[5] All of this has big implications not only for marriage, but also for the significance of sexed embodiment. Creation’s binary of “male and female” opens out into a rainbow of sexed options.


Now, much of what Song says is helpful. “Sex BC is not the same as sex AD.”[6]Song correctly highlights the “significance of the advent of Christ for sexuality."[7] If we bluntly insist on the “male and female” in the act of creation, we run the risk of ignoring the significance of the act of the fall, as well as forgetting that much of our new identity in Christ is currently hidden, waiting to be revealed at the final act of consummation (Col 3:3–4).


Nevertheless, here’s where I think Song misreads the drama of Scripture. By suggesting that Jesus’ coming makes “the creation categories of male and female . . . unnecessary” Song wants us to read the Bible in a way where the act of redemption replaces (and so rejects) the act of creation.[8] Now in some ways Song is right. In redemption Jesus indeed draws in the vocation of singleness (Matt 19:10–12). But what Jesus indicates with relationship status (married; single) does not equally apply to bodily structure (male; female; intersex, etc). This is because whereas human marriage has a specific task within particular theo-dramatic acts (N.B. there’ll be no human marriage in the new creation, Matt 22:30), bodily sex goes deeper, having its roots not just in the act of creation, but in creation as part of the very stage upon which the divine drama is performed. If the “creation categories of male and female” are replaceable, then it seems that the consistency of Christ as author of creation and redemption (Col 1:15–20) is questionable. Does Jesus sustain the structure of creation or does he supplant it? If the stability of creation can be supplanted, then we’re left wondering about Jesus’ trustworthiness when he says he sustains creation all the time (Jn 5:17). If Jesus simultaneously sustains and supplants then we look to have a schizophrenic, conflicted Christ. Either way, how Song wants us to piece together the biblical story appears to change the final image of Jesus.


To avoid these problems, what Song needs is a thicker, richer doctrine of creation—one that accounts for creation as both an historical act as well as the structural stage upon which the drama of Scripture is performed. From this thicker view, in the act of redemption, Christ as set designer, stage manager, director, and owner steps onto the stage of his crumbling creation, and in his resurrection inaugurates its restoration (and future transformation at Christ’s return [see 1 Cor 15]).[9]


Creation matters to God. As part of creation, our sexed bodies matter to God. If we follow this thicker doctrine of creation, we start to see and savour the significance of our sexed bodies (however sexed)—what meaning Christ gives them in each act, and where they fit into God’s big story. Learning to read the story well—piecing together the biblical mosaic in the right order—helps us see Christ the King more clearly, and who we are as those created and redeemed in him.

Footnotes:

[1] Robert Song, Covenant and Calling: Towards a Theology of Same-Sex Relationships (London: SCM, 2014). [2] E.g., Andrew Goddard, “Covenant Partnerships as a Third Calling? A Dialogue with Robert Song’s Covenant and calling: Towards a Theology of Same-Sex Relationships,” in Marriage, Family and Relationships: Biblical, Doctrinal and Contemporary Perspectives, ed. T. A. Noble, Sarah Whittle, and Philip Johnston (London: Apolllos, 2017), 202–222; Steven Schafer, Marriage, Sex, and Procreation: Contemporary Revisions to Augustine’s Theology of Marriage, PTMS (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2019); Darrin W. Snyder Belousek, Marriage, Scripture, and the Church: Theological Discernment on the Question of Same-Sex Union (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2021). [3] Song, Covenant and Calling, 27. [4] Ibid., 49. [5] Ibid., 15. [6] Ibid., x. [7] Ibid. [8] Ibid., 49. [9] N.B. This is no mere Edenic repristination.

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Revd. Sam Ashton is an ordained minister in the Church of England and he is currently a PhD candidate at Wheaton College, Chicago. His research explores the theological and moral significance of sexual dimorphism.

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