Dehumanizing the People of God

By Ed Hurst | Posted at 10:13 PM

It's the basic concept of sin: saying anything contrary to God's revelation. As a collection of documents arising from the Ancient Near East (ANE), the Bible must be read from that ANE perspective, with an ANE epistemology. The only purpose for which He preserved the Scripture was to explain our burden of obligation to Him. Revelation's chief end is not information, but a call to commitment. If God says man is created in His image, then it places upon us the burden to respect each human. Indeed, Jesus said love your fellow humans as yourself, which is another way of commanding us to respect them. You are not greater than another. When Christians forget this truth, it encourages untold wrongs both within the church and out in the world.

Nobody said anything about equality of outcomes, or equality of anything, except we are all fallen. None of us is better, though some are surely better off. That really depends on how you measure things. Respecting your neighbor doesn't mean automatically giving all you have to whomever passes by and seeks to take it. Respect means considering each human as a human, so you can hear when God tells you how to respond to them. If you turn off their humanity in your mind, you cannot hear God's Spirit in dealing with them.

The vast lore of human behavioral science assumes a certain commonality between humans, such that broad generalities can be applied. But science can only take as far as it can measure, and has no capacity for addressing things which defy quantification. It works when we measure individuals against a common framework of understanding, but it cannot explain the mere presence of God in the human soul. God is Himself ineffable, and His work in the human soul is also ineffable, even though it produces measurable changes. In studying such a thing, there will ever remain a portion of things which are inexplicable on the human plane.

Western Civilization as a whole relies entirely too much on what man can measure in this regard, and the very basic root assumptions, the epistemology, makes entirely too little room for the creative uniqueness of God distilled through this one, and that one, and the other. While it's entirely common to find people writing such words, the application of them too often shows they don't believe the words. There is a part of God's redemptive work which defies explanation, but we keep drifting back into the place where we demand an inappropriate level of uniformity for the sake of our managerial convenience. It's the ever-present sin of thinking our particular understanding is equivalent to God's.

Surely the Bible requires we decide with whom we can share a particular gospel harness for plowing the fields of humanity and planting the gospel seed. That is not the same as deciding whether the other person is wrong, but whether we are capable of working alongside them. It is our unspoken reflex to confuse those two; because we cannot find a way to work together, there must be something wrong with them. That's how denominations get formed. They would rightly be a human answer to the vast variations in how God works in mankind, not tablets from the Mountain of God by which we ritually expose each other to ridicule, to character execution. We divide over methods and conceptions because we can't work any other way, not because God Himself can't work any other way.

We dehumanize when we objectify human behavior, when we reduce our fellow believers to a mere collection of tendencies. It's the same sin which calls forth the horrors of torture. Torture is an open invitation for demons to own everyone involved in torture, including supposed beneficiaries of such “protective” work. So it is morally the same to torment the souls of fellow believers by setting forth a straight jacket of human behavior, using the bludgeon of Scripture.

The U.S. is the epitome of middle class merchant culture. We never had our own privileged class in the classical sense, so our entire existence reflects the assumptions of the business community as it was at that time. Virtually everything is seen through the lens of profit and loss. Over time, we have studied all the details of how to make the most from various ways of leveraging human behavior as measured by the mercenary impulses of business. Sure, we understand charitable giving, and at times led the world in our generosity, but it has too much been a calculating generosity. It's a business practice with measurable gain, because perception is the reality of the marketplace.

Behavioral science in the corporate world is all about marketing. Facts are incidental, because all that matters is the bottom line. If we can sell truth, then by all means, let's tell the truth. Otherwise, truth is easily a casualty of corporate competition. It's utterly cynical; manipulate humans to the greatest profit. While this may well be by some measure quite good for the people who buy it, that matters only insofar as it keeps the money flowing. That it leads inevitably to a vary narrow understanding of what is good and right is too patently obvious. The charge of materialism, of making Mammon our god, has always been accurate in that sense. The culture built from this assumes we can know all we need to know about people through the manipulations of marketing, and making darn sure they don't even know any other frame of reference is possible.

Shall we now bring this hideous creature into the church? Corporate style church management is inherently evil, regardless of what is involved. The assumption of all corporate business management is there are no people, only assets, income and growth. So we are hardly surprised when any part of such church management programming goes wrong. One of the strongest, most forthright proponents of marketing principles in the church is George Barna, but there are many others who echo his call. Church management inspired by the likes of Barna is Antichrist: Purpose Driven, Seeker Sensitive, etc. It's all the same package. If we have to market the gospel by manipulative behavioral science, there is no room for the miracles of God. Indeed, there is no God.

Painting verses over it won't make it the gospel. That you can find reflections of these thoughts in the words of the Bible simply shows how easy it is to twist your favorite translation of Scripture. The meaning of Scripture stood for thousands of years in the ANE culture, and our late Western cultural assumptions pumped back into it seek to make a liar of God. It was bad enough Jesus fought that tendency which was already prevalent in His day. The leadership of His day had their “traditions of the elders” (a.k.a. the Talmud), the distilled wisdom of mere humans apart from the Spirit. It was a perversion of the Law of Moses, as some objectified performance. Dot the I and cross the T, and God has to let us in the gate. Magic. It's the same thing when someone uses all these fine behavioral studies from marketing to define what's best for mankind, simply because it seems to work.

Let's nail that down right now: Would your corporate executive consider Jesus a success? He fought an established system with none of the benefits of marketing science, and it got Him killed. He warned all His disciples similar things would happen to them, not the least of which was persecution. When following Jesus, we don't seek success in this world, particularly on its terms. Nor do we seek an excuse to poke The Establishment in the eye with a sharp stick. We simply acknowledge the natural consequences of our radical choice to bear His Cross. You don't get there by seeking the golden mean. If you want God's favor, you have to accept enmity with your world.

We don't sell the gospel. It's not a product. It is eternal Truth. It is a Person. This business of God's favor comes as a matter of two persons. You hear what God has said about something, and you embrace it. Your heart belongs to Him. And a church is people who share together personally a heart belonging to Him. The church was never meant to be a modern corporation, but a spiritual family. Anything else is nothing more than a lie of Satan. The one best way to serve the Kingdom of Darkness is to decide someone is less than human, unworthy of that loving embrace Jesus requires of us.

Ed Hurst is Associate Editor of Open for Business.

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2 comments posted so far.

Re: Dehumanizing the People of God

Do you have a beef with George Barna? Why?

Posted by Jason Kettinger - Mar 01, 2010 | 8:12 PM

Re: Dehumanizing the People of God

Context, Bro. Jason. Barna treats faith in Christ as a mere decision, little more than a product sold; churches are just businesses selling a product. I reject decision theology in whole. If you see my other articles here addressing epistemology, you’ll understand where I’m coming from.

Posted by Ed Hurst - Mar 01, 2010 | 11:15 PM