What is the chief end of man?

Many of the popular, public debates in American Christendom regarding evolution boil down to competing teleologies.  This makes perfect sense: our purpose orders our present, and our beginning creates our purpose.

Christians ascribe divine redemptive-historical purpose to the universe, and consider the natural, observable processes as created and sustained by YHWH himself.

Creationism as a scientific paradigm necessarily ascribes to the universe and humanity a purpose, a telos. Evolutionary theory leaves room for a variety of teleologies: if humanity evolved through what we term “natural processes,” it is then possible to ascribe just about any purpose to humanity–Marxist, existentialist, utilitarian/pragmatist, Christian, etc.

Is the natural/supernatural distinction biblical? Everything happens by YHWH’s hand. However, he does appear to have created the world with certain rules and laws that it obeys; we discover these through scientific inquiry. Yet the Christ event (incarnation, resurrection) is super-natural: the Creator himself joins the creation and breaks the rules that he himself made. Or, perhaps it is more appropriately stated that he is changing the rules.

It is a fatal error to presume that YHWH’s hand is not in natural events; therefore, we affirm that naturalism, the ascription of purposelessness to the human narrative, is unacceptable. But regardless of what “Science” says about the current or past state of the natural world, it is our duty as Christians to ascribe and proclaim YHWH’s telos to the world, against the competing teloi of the age.

Before getting lost in detailed scientific debates about the age of the earth and the fossil record, perhaps we should evaluate the true historical and scientific essentials of a biblical teleology. The bodily resurrection of Jesus is the sine qua non of Christianity. The historicity of Job: not so much…. Is a historical, personal Adam an essential of biblical teleology?

About Benj

I’m a native North Jerseyan, transplanted to Pennsylvania...lived and taught in Eastern Europe for six years…Old Testament professor, ordained minister, occasional liturgist…husband to Corrie…father to Daniel and Elizabeth.
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2 Responses to What is the chief end of man?

  1. Brian Hand says:

    The 2¢ of a non-graduate student:

    Evolutionary theory working through “natural processes” can only provide meaning by borrowing that meaning from creationism/theism, with the understanding, as you say, “Everything happens according to YHWH’s hand (theistic evolution I suppose). From a purely naturalist perspective, it is also as you say, any purpose can be “ascribed”. However, this is no longer naturalism, but existentialism at work.

    To be consistent with his worldview, the naturalist must become a nihilist and affirm that man is without meaning. Existentialism recognizes that man cannot live this way and therefore arbitrarily ascribes meaning, kind of in a fairy tail / make believe sort of way, with no objective basis for that meaning (where have I heard that charge before?).

    This is the difference for the Christian, who you say is to “ascribe and proclaim YHWH’s telos”, he has an objective standard for his teleology as opposed to the naturalist who has none and the existentialist who makes it up.

    The question of a historical Adam is not one I have thought about extensively and my gut reaction is to say it is essential. Without a historical and personal Adam, created sinless who also fell into sin, you may be left saying that God created man sinful. Thus, not everything was good (Gen), not upright (Eccles), not through one man (Rom). If he was not the first man who fell then you may have to allow the possibility of some other man who was in fact sinless (Pelagius). In addition, the atonement through one man may not make as much sense along with the story lines of Noah, Moses, Israel, David, etc. Not that something making sense to me is any kind of standard, but it would seriously modify the framework through which I approach Scripture.

    Good thoughts…or thought well I should say. Thanks for sharing.

    • thinkhardthinkwell says:

      @Brian: Thanks for your thoughts–certainly worth more than 2¢. (And, you’re technically a graduate student, since you are a graduate and still a student… )

      Clarifications: Natural*ism* is certainly antithetical to Christianity. I’m not affirming theistic evolution, either. I’m (clumsily) trying to get at some of the underlying presuppositions behind the different perspectives on the science.

      Creationism (OEC, YEC–any view that does not involve macro-evolution of species) is motivated by a laudible desire to interpret the world in light of the Scriptural witness. However, I think many creationists unwittingly accept the idea that YHWH’s active hand is absent from natural processes.

      Evolutionary theory is an interpretation of natural phenomena, so it leaves the door open for anyone to insert his/her own telos. The Dawkinses of the world (Blind Watchmaker) actually share an underlying presupposition with some creationists: that natural process leaves God out of the picture.

      The Christian and naturalist look at the same data, and the Christian affirms God’s hand, whereas the naturalist rejects divine intervention. Both interpret data through their presuppositions, and the data then confirm each presupposition. I don’t think this is existentialist, because I affirm that YHWH’s story is in fact the objectively true story.

      Regarding the historical Adam: You might be right. IMO the question is whether Paul’s anthropology/hamartiology deconstructs if there were no single flesh-and-blood, federal, spiritual head of humanity.

      Pete Enns gave a presentation at PBU the other night about the OT and ANE. Afterwards I was speaking to a respected professor (who shall remain nameless). In discussing this very issue, this conservative dispensational professor intimated that his non-federal, non-seminal hamartiology doesn’t really require an historical Adam. This seems quite ironic to me: this very conservative dispensationalist has less problem with a non-“literal” read of Genesis than a Reformed person, since the dispensationalist doesn’t have the federalist baggage from the WCF. What strange circles we run in…

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