KANSAS CITY – Owen Strachan serves as associate professor of Christian theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he is also director of the seminary’s Center for Public Theology. Strachan is also scheduled to speak, Oct. 14, during the Missouri Baptist Convention Christian Life Commission’s Unlocking Biblical Truth Conference in Kansas City (see advertisement below for more information). Earlier this summer, I spoke with Strachan about his latest book, Reenchanting Humanity: A Theology of Mankind. In it, he defines human nature in biblical terms and explores what God says in Scripture about human sexuality, work and rest, race, justice and other issues. His book is set to be released by Mentor Books, on Nov. 8.
What do you mean by ‘Reenchanting Humanity,’ and why do we need that today?
“Fundamentally, we are living in a disenchanted age. We’ve seen the rise and spread of atheism, for example, in different sectors of our culture. When something like that takes hold in a culture, that’s going to mean that people are no longer going to see the world, creation and themselves in God-centered terms. Correspondingly, they’re going to see themselves simply as a collection of atoms and cells. We’re going to lose, for example, that glorious biblical teaching in Genesis 1:26-27 that we are the Imago Dei, that we’re the image of God, so that we bear God’s stamp effectively, which entails that we are made to know God and live under His reign and rule and glorify Him forever.
“A disenchanted vision of humanity is the one that is very popular today – frankly, that we were not designed or made by any creator God, we don’t have any purpose or teleology in our humanity, we’re not made for anything. … I try in this book to capture the dignity and beauty of the human race made by God.”
In your book, you say that Jesus Christ defines what it means to be made in God’s image. Please explain.
“We’ve already referenced Genesis 1:26-27: The first truth of humanity is that God made us – and made us in His image. We are image-bearers. … The image of God, I think, means we are ontologically – in our being – those whom God has made. So the quality of the image is not, for example, the ability to think or something like this, although that’s very important to humanity. The image of God means that we are ontologically those who reflect something of God in our being.
“That dovetails with Christ as the true image of God. Jesus is the one who comes to show us what true humanity is to look like. Adam is fully human. He bears the image of God, but he is not the true image. In other words, he is not the one who realizes all God’s intentions for humanity. He is not the perfect Son of God. He is not the fully obedient one. He is not God in human flesh – that only Jesus Christ is. … Jesus is the one who shows us what it means to be fully alive, fully human and fully God-centered.
“We are not, in other words, to see true humanity in an athlete, in a celebrity, in a reality TV star, in a politician, in any human person other than Jesus. Jesus is the true human. Jesus is the true hero. Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus is the warrior savior of His people. He is the king.”
In discussing human sexuality, you talk about how God calls homosexuals to repent not only of sinful acts, but also of sinful desires and identities. Please explain.
“God intends to enact a full scale revolution of the heart, soul, and mind when His gospel claims us, when His spirit indwells us. That does not mean that coming to faith miraculously zaps all of our sin away. We are progressively sanctified, but that revolution is therefore a progressive revolution. It unfolds in us over the course of our lives. And it means that what God does in calling us to Himself in faith and repentance and conversion is that He calls us to leave behind every dimension of sin, including sinful action, but also including sinful desire – the desire of our heart, which Jesus clearly speaks about in Matthew 5:21-30 – and even sinful identity (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).”
Your book also talks about work and vocation. Why is this an important issue to consider from a biblical perspective?
“It’s really important because, frankly, we spend most of our time working – or at least a ton of our time working. And so not to think about work in theological perspective, according to Scripture, is a real oversight.
“Work isn’t something that God gave us in an appendix to the Bible, as a kind of practical, low-level matter. Work is actually what God Himself does. God works in creating. So we need to reenchant work, alongside the reenchantment of humanity.
“If you reenchant humanity, you will necessarily reenchant work. You will see that there is glory to be had for God in work. … We can find not merely a job that puts food on the table, but we can build a vocation. And it is that doctrine of vocation, as the Reformers emphasize, that is missing from work today.
“When you build a vocation, you are actually trying to develop a craft and develop skills and abilities that will enable you to work more expertly and bring more glory to God even in the performance of the work. Beyond the matter of skill and mere labor, you are working unto God. So you see your daily labor – hopefully which aligns with your gifts, at least to an extent – as an act of worship.”
Your book emphasizes the need to look at what Scripture says about race. As Christians, how should we think about the discussions of race prominent in our society today?
“Fundamentally, a major part of what God is doing in the cosmos is that He is creating a new humanity by the blood of Jesus Christ. You see that, for example, in Ephesians 2:11-22. So, when we are talking about matters that often divide our society, we have to recognize that we have profound hope in terms of the Christian worldview.
“Jesus is the only one who can unite divided peoples in an ultimate sense. In this chapter, I talk about how it is a good thing for us to work on living with one another understandingly, with empathy, with a listening ear. We do have to reckon with real sins of the past – issues of American history, for example. And we want to live in our day with sensitivity and thoughtfulness. We need a James 1:19 kind of spirit, in other words, where we are slow to anger, slow to speak and quick to listen.
“Fundamentally, we have to recognize that Christians have the answer to these problems – and not in a simplistic way. There are going to be past wounds and past hurts, and the local church is really what God sets up for us, first, to display His glory; but, secondly, the local church is what God sets up for us to work through these things in order that we would be one unified body. We want to make clear that we have a gospel that can handle and create ethnic and racial unity. We want to make clear that preaching that gospel and being a member of Christ’s church is itself a commitment to pursue unity in Christ. And then we want to be agents of reconciliation as much as we humanly can.
“That third part is not an easy task. It does mean opposing injustice wherever we find it. It certainly means not buying into secular categories of thought, secular worldviews and secular conceptions of the human person. It’s not that there are several different worldviews that can unite and reconcile. There is only one that can. There is only one savior, Jesus Christ, who can pull off this momentous and very difficult work. He is doing that. He has brought unity – more unity than we often hear about even in our social-media-driven world. So that is good. But we are called to work toward greater unity in diversity, as a result of gospel conviction.”