At last week’s Horizons Conference—The Mission’s first Abbey Event—The Rev. Chris Myers of All Saints Dallas gleaned a powerful insight about creative action, both human and divine.
I spent the last week in Chattanooga, Tennessee, at the Horizons Conference hosted by The Mission Chattanooga. Andy Crouch, James K.A. Smith, Steven Gutherie, Ryan Reeves, Brian Hardin and others all addressed the theme of imaging Christ in culture. Over the next weeks, the audio and video from the conference will be released, and I would encourage all of you to experience as much of the content as you can. All the speakers had things to say that would have immediate and direct benefit to you and your churches. In this post, I want to talk about one thread of thought that struck me during the conference.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Andy Crouch, he is the executive editor of Christianity Today, and the author of Culture Making and Playing God. He is also a senior fellow with the International Justice Mission. His books both deal broadly with the image of God and what it means for us to bear that image in the world. During his second session at the conference, he spent some time talking about the interplay between authority and vulnerability that truly bearing God’s image requires.
I found this discussion of authority and vulnerability particularly striking because it helped me see an aspect of God’s creation and by extension human creation that I hadn’t really considered before, namely that every truly creative act requires both authority and vulnerability. In the same way that God exercised authority in the creation of the world, and in the same way that he exposed himself and risked vulnerability in creating free creatures who could rebel against him, so too must we exercise authority and risk vulnerability if we are to truly bear God’s image in the world.
For some, it might be hard to wrap our minds around the idea of God exposing himself to risk because we don’t typically like to think of God as vulnerable. However, we need only look to the incarnation, where God became that most vulnerable of creatures, a human baby, and to the cross itself, where God submitted himself to death, to know that God has borne great risk and experienced great vulnerability in the person of Christ. And God’s act of creation was laden with risk because of the reality of human freedom. Our ability to choose otherwise, our ability to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and to say in that act that we would rather be like God than to worship God is what he risked in creating the world.
Though obviously not to the same degree, when we create we too risk something. To create anything, a song, a sculpture, a meal, a home, a sermon, a life, a lesson plan, a legal brief, is to open ourselves up to the possibility of failure, to the inevitability of criticism, to the likelihood of being misunderstood. I, like most people, am terrified of these things, but what I realized listening to Andy is that when I don’t risk vulnerability, I am at the same time not exercising my God-given authority as an image bearer. We have been given authority (dominion as Genesis puts it) to make something of the world. When we don’t exercise that authority, or when we try to exercise authority without the possibility of risk, we are acting in a way that is less than fully human.
Here is the question I have been asking myself since the conference and the question I want to pose to you—which is the greater tragedy, the real possibility of failure that vulnerability brings or the real possibility of abdicating our right to make something of the world by not exercising God given authority?
I would encourage you to read Andy’s newest book, Playing God, where he develops these themes more fully, and where he wrestles with the nature of power, a topic we typically either ignore or gloss over.