Biblical Holism: Jesus Came to Reverse the Curse
by Rick Love
Part two in a series on Biblical Holism
Virtually everyone – atheist, animist, secularist, or believer – agrees on one theological doctrine: the world is in a mess. Theologians call this the doctrine of sin or “the fall.” Newspapers call it headlines. I love how the famous biblical scholar Chris Wright describes it:
“We need a holistic gospel because the world is in a holistic mess!”
Why are we in this holistic mess? The story of Adam and Eve’s rebellion in Genesis 3 describes four big problems - four areas of alienation. First, they (and all humanity) are alienated from God. Adam and Eve once enjoyed perfect fellowship with God. No barriers. Full intimacy. Because of sin, they now hide from God. Instead of fellowship, they fear. The result? They are driven out of the garden of Eden. Sin results in “theological alienation.”
Second, they are alienated from one another. Adam and Eve were once naked and not ashamed (Gen 2:25). Full transparency with one another. But because of sin, they feel shame. They make fig-leaf-designer-clothes to cover up. Originally Adam and Eve were created in God’s image as equal partners, blessed to rule the earth (Gen 1:26-28). Because of sin, Adam now rules over Eve. Sin results in “sociological alienation.”
Implicit in their covering up is a third type of alienation. Sin fragments their very personalities. They were once “true-faced,” they are now “two-faced.” Ever since the fall we find all kinds of masks to hide our shame and to portray ourselves differently than we feel inside. Sin results in “psychological alienation.”
Fourthly, sin impacts Adam and Eve’s relationship with the physical world. The earth is under a curse. Work is hard. Floods, famines and fire wreak havoc. We are alienated from creation. Sin results in “ecological alienation.”
Thus, the impact of sin is multidimensional. It affects our relationship with God, our relationship with ourselves, our relationships with one another, and our relationship with creation. We are in a holistic mess.
So how does Jesus address this mess? Many evangelicals would say the gospel addresses our theological alienation. Through Jesus we get right with God. We are saved. So far so good. But this “narrow” gospel doesn’t address our holistic mess!
I argue that Jesus came to reverse the curse. The results of sin are multidimensional. Thus, reconciliation is multidimensional. The life, teaching, death and resurrection of Christ address all four “alienations” of the fall.
Evangelicals love the gospel of grace, but we minimize the gospel of peace. Because of this, the traditional evangelical proclamation of the gospel has often lacked social impact. Yet the two descriptions of the gospel are side by side in Ephesians. In the first section of Ephesians 2 (v. 1-10), Paul articulates his famous description of the gospel of grace. In the second section of Ephesians 2:11-22 (especially v. 13-17), he portrays the good news as the gospel of peace.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near (Ephesians 2:13-17).
One can hardly overemphasize how radical this message of peace must have sounded to Paul’s original audience. The relationship between Gentile and Jew could be described as a prototype of all division or racial alienation in the first century – comparable to the relationship between whites and blacks in the United States during the civil rights movement or in South Africa under apartheid. The animosity felt between most Americans and Muslims since 9/11 serves as a more up-to-date example.
Paul tells us that Christ’s death has reconciled both Gentile and Jew to God (verse 16). Prior to Christ, Gentiles endured a double alienation. They were “separate from Christ” (without God) and “excluded from citizenship in Israel.” But now through Christ’s death, they have experienced a double reconciliation: they have been reconciled to God and to one another. According to Paul, Jesus is our peace. Jesus makes peace. Jesus proclaims peace!
Through the gospel, the church becomes an alternative society, a community where humanity’s divisions have been overcome. A foretaste of heaven’s harmony. Anything less would be a denial of the gospel and nature of the Church.
A second passage describing multidimensional reconciliation is Galatians 3:26-28:
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
The context of this passage (“all you who were baptized into Christ” in v. 27) implies that it was part of a baptismal formula, which underscores its significance. Imagine how profound baptism would be if the church reflected the socially explosive implications of the gospel. In South Africa, during apartheid, some churches made this important connection. During their baptism ceremonies, one Vineyard church publicly confessed, “I am no longer black or white, rich or poor, male nor female. I am now one in Jesus Christ and his people.”
Paul shows that the gospel counters the prevailing and demeaning attitude of society summarized in prayer he used to offer up every day as a Jew: “Blessed are you O Lord God, for you have not made me a Greek, you have not made me a woman, and you have not made me a slave.” Persians and Greeks offered up similar prayers. In other words, this baptismal formula describes Christ’s reconciling purposes as they relate to the three great divisions in ancient times: 1) Race (Jew and Gentile), 2) Class (slave and free), and 3) Gender (male and female).
We conclude with most comprehensive summary of the gospel in Paul:
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Jesus], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross (Colossians 1:19-20).
Note the Jesus-centeredness of this passage. God’s fullness dwells in Jesus. Reconciliation takes place through Jesus. But the gospel is not just about Jesus and my personal salvation. He reconciles “all things” to Himself, including things in heaven and earth. The cosmic scope of Christ’s reconciliation is breathtaking – restoring and healing all creation. If this isn’t a holistic gospel, I don’t know what is!
The gospel overcomes the fourfold alienation (noted in Genesis 3) by bringing peace with God, self, others, and creation. Through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus came to reverse the curse.
As the famous Christmas song “Joy to the World” proclaims:
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.
Jesus’ blessings flow through the gospel as far as the curse is found. And they will flow until the curse is reversed. As the Lamb who was slain, Jesus will one day return and make all things new. He will establish a new heavens and a new earth. At that time we will exclaim with John the apostle, “no longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him” (Revelation 22:3).