The central thrust of Stephen Prothero’s provocative book, God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World, is that the various major religions of the world are all manifestly not saying the same thing in different ways. This thesis runs directly contrary, of course, to the contemporary zeitgeist that could wish such a basic unity to be discovered, in the name of relativistic pluralism. As Prothero expertly demonstrates, however, there are incommensurate differences that separate most religious belief systems from each other that chasten those who attempt a naive harmonization. Claiming that Buddhists, Muslims and Christians (or whoever) all adhere to the same religious worldview and set of practices is not only deeply reductionistic, but in fact as dishonest and blatantly fallacious as saying that Democrats and Republicans actually embody the same political perspective, or that Capitalists and Marxists are pursuing an identical economic agenda, but simply communicating it with different vocabulary. Such ideologically disparate visions as these cannot be swept under the rug by appeal to a generic umbrella called “politics” or “economics” under which each viewpoint is exhaustively explained by and reduced to. In exactly the same way, the category of “religion” is wrongly employed if the intention is to caricature what is distinctive in each religion’s particular vision of the world.
Yet Prothero opens his study by acknowledging that there is, in fact, a single isolated point of common ground that connects every religious tradition:
“What the world’s religions share is not so much a finish line as a starting point. And where they begin is with this simple observation: something is wrong with the world…Religious folk worldwide agree that something has gone awry. They part company, however, when it comes to stating just what has gone wrong, and they diverge sharply when they move from diagnosing the human problem to prescribing how to solve it.”
To co-opt the imagery of C. S. Lewis, Prothero is contending that the sole conviction shared by all religions is that there is winter in Narnia. In Lewis’ famous stories for children, winter is obviously a metaphor communicating that things are “not the way they are supposed to be” in the once regal land of Narnia. However, if our experience of the world is indeed characterized by its being “winter, but never Christmas,” there is absolutely no consensus on two profoundly vital questions that arise from this fundamental observation. First, why is there winter? And second, what needs to happen for the life-giving thaw of spring to return? In other words, what is the origin of what is wrong with the world, and what is the solution to it? It is self-evident, I trust, that one’s answers to these latter two questions must invariably cohere in their deep logic. Diagnosis and cure are mutually interpreting.
Much modern Christianity gives very clear-cut responses to these two questions. What is the problem? Individual human beings sin and (therefore) die. What is the solution? The death and resurrection of Jesus, which bring about the forgiveness of my sins and make possible eternal life for me after death. My contention in this essay is that these answers are not so much wrong, as reductionistic and incomplete as they stand. They are inevitably slanted towards a (merely) individualistic interpretation of Christianity, in which God’s good, global project of creation is of little or no concern, and all that matters is the private “soul” of each individual being salvaged from the cosmic wreck. This understanding of the “gospel” not only fails to render a satisfying, comprehensive analysis of our experience of what ails the world—the problem is much bigger than the immorality of individuals, even if it is not less than that—but also cannot do justice to the richness and complexity of the story we are given in the Scriptures. My goal is to explore our two controlling questions—Why is there winter? Whence will spring come again?—in a posture of listening before the full panorama of the biblical drama, with a little guidance from C. S. Lewis thrown in.
C. S. Lewis’ Narrative Vision of the Gospel
In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the four Pevensie children eventually happen together upon the magical world of Narnia, and discover that the bitter, harsh cold they experience walking through the snow has tormented the realm for as long as any of the talking animals can remember. If one asks a reader familiar with the Narnia stories why it is that this winter has come upon the world, two answers seem to come readily to mind. First, there is winter in Narnia because the White Witch reigns over the land in her evil, malicious power. She is the source of winter’s cold and winter’s dark. Indeed, Lewis says as much in several places:
“‘The White Witch? Who is she?’ ‘Why, it is she that has got all Narnia under her thumb. It’s she that makes it always winter. Always winter and never Christmas; think of that!’”
“‘The White Witch?’ said Edmund. ‘Who’s she?’ ‘She is a perfectly terrible person,’ said Lucy. ‘She calls herself the Queen of Narnia though she has no right to be queen at all, and all the Fauns and Dryads and Naiads and Dwarfs and Animals—at least all the good ones—simply hate her. And she can turn people into stone and do all kinds of horrible things. And she has made a magic so that it is always winter in Narnia—always winter, but it never gets to Christmas. And she drives about on a sledge, drawn by reindeer, with her wand in her hand and a crown on her head.’”
“‘She isn’t a real queen at all,’ answered Lucy; ‘she’s a horrible witch, the White Witch. Everyone—all the wood people—hate her. She has made an enchantment over the whole country so that it is always winter here and never Christmas.’”
On any reading, the White Witch is a symbol for Satan in Lewis’ allegory. Following the cues of the New Testament, which represent the evil one as the “ruler” of this fallen world, Lewis traces the present experience of darkness and death in Narnia to this illegitimate usurper who currently holds sway as Queen over the kingdom. Yet, for readers who press further into the complex logic of Lewis’ subtle story, such an answer is ultimately unsatisfactory. The White Witch’s relationship to “winter” is ultimately only derivative. She is not the main problem, nor the source of what ails Narnia. Her terrible role is a real one, but she is finally seen to be a side player as the drama unfolds. Her unjust seizure of royal authority in Narnia was contingent upon something else going wrong first.
Another reasonable answer is that the absence of Aslan from Narnia is the driving cause behind the advent and continuation of winter in Lewis’ fictional account. Aslan, clearly the God/Jesus figure in the Narnian adventures, has not been seen in the land for generations. Or, at least this was true before the human children chanced upon the magic wardrobe:
“‘But now that Aslan is on the move—’ ‘Oh yes! Tell us about Aslan!’ said several voices at once; for once again that strange feeling—like the first signs of spring, like good news, had come over them. ‘Who is Aslan?’ asked Susan. ‘Aslan?’ said Mr. Beaver. ‘Why, don’t you know? He’s the King. He’s the Lord of the whole wood, but not often here, you understand. Never in my time or my father’s time. But the word has reached us that he has come back. He is in Narnia at this moment. He’ll settle the White Queen all right…He’ll put all to rights, as it says in an old rhyme in these parts:
Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.
Here Aslan’s return to Narnia after a long season of hiddenness, absence and silence is certainly understood as the solution to winter. By default, one could then infer that winter reigns in Narnia only insofar as Aslan is not there, ruling as the rightful King. This is surely correct, yet it would be a mistake to trace the source of winter to Aslan.
What, then, does Lewis portray as finally laying behind the dismal long winter of his story? An important clue is sprinkled throughout the Narnia stories, as Lewis frequently has characters give voice to the true identity of the children: they are the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve. Of course, this is a Christian way of saying “human,” but that is precisely what Lewis means. For Lewis, as well as for the Bible, being human is interpreted as a royal vocation. Nonetheless, it is a failed vocation in Narnia’s long, sordid history of winter. As Aslan provocatively says to the children, “You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve, and that’s both honor enough to lift up the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth.”
As the story progresses, the royal identity of the four human children occupies an increasingly prominent role for Lewis. It turns out, contrary to most readers’ expectations, that human beings hold the key both to winter’s origin and winter’s demise. Four thrones sit empty and abandoned in Cair Paravel, the capital city in Narnia. These thrones were meant to be occupied by human beings, and Aslan’s original intention in creating Narnia was to rule the kingdom through faithful human kings and queens who were set over the land to bring flourishing to Narnia. Yet in forsaking their royal vocation, two events were indelibly and tragically set in motion. First, Aslan could no longer rule Narnia in the absence of his chosen kings and queens, and was himself forced to abandon the land. Second, the White Witch was enabled to usurp authority from human beings, and henceforth has reigned as the unchallenged ruler of Narnia. Instead of flourishing for the inhabitants of the land (as was to be expected if trustworthy, good human rulers were in place), this Queen’s selfish, dehumanizing rule has led to “winter” for all who dwell in Narnia. In a nutshell, both the “problem” (the onset of winter) and the “solution” (the healing thaw of spring) are finally bound up with the royal vocation of human beings. Winter is only possible under the White Witch because human beings forsook their royal role, and winter will be no more when Aslan returns to rule through faithful human kings and queens. Indeed, the “timing” of Aslan’s return is essential for Lewis—the lion can only embark upon his trek back to wintry Narnia once the Pevensie children have themselves entered Narnia. Immediately after the poem celebrating Aslan’s return sounds forth from Mr. Beaver (above), another prophecy follows hard on its heels:
‘But meanwhile what about poor Mr. Tumnus?’ said Lucy. ‘The quickest way you can help him is by going to meet Aslan,’ said Mr. Beaver, ‘once he’s with us, then we can begin doing things. Not that we don’t need you too. For that’s another of the old rhymes:
When Adam’s flesh and Adam’s bone
Sits at Cair Paravel in throne
The evil time will be over and done.
So things must be drawing near their end now he’s come and you’re come’…‘I don’t understand, Mr. Beaver,’ said Peter. ‘I mean isn’t the White Witch herself human?’ ‘She’d like us to believe it,’ said Mr. Beaver, ‘and it’s on that that she bases her claim to be Queen. But she’s no Daughter of Eve…No, no, there isn’t a drop of real human blood in the Witch.’”
Indeed, what the White Witch fears above all else is the return of these human children to once more take up their royal mission in Narnia:
“If she is extra and specially angry she’ll turn me into stone and I shall be only a statue of a Faun in her horrible house until the four thrones at Cair Paravel are filled—and goodness knows when that will happen, or whether it will ever happen at all.”
“‘In general, take my advice [said Mr. Beaver], when you meet anything that’s going to be human and isn’t yet, or used to be human once and isn’t now, or ought to be human and isn’t, you keep your eyes on it and feel for your hatchet. And that’s why the Witch is always on the lookout for any humans in Narnia. She’s been watching for you this many a year, and if she knew there were four of you she’d be more dangerous still.’ ‘What’s that to do with it?’ asked Peter. ‘Because of another prophecy,’ said Mr. Beaver. ‘Down at Cair Paravel—that’s the castle on the seacoast down at the mouth of this river which ought to be the capital of the whole country if all was as it should be—down at Cair Paravel there are four thrones and it’s a saying in Narnia time out of mind that when two Sons of Adams and two Daughters of Eve sit on those four thrones, then it will be the end not only of the White Witch’s reign but of her life…Why, all she wants is to get all four of you (she’s thinking all the time of those four thrones at Cair Paravel).’”
For C. S. Lewis, the Christian answer to our two questions—Why winter? Whence then spring?—is finally and permanently bound up with humanity’s royal role in creation. And in this persuasion, Lewis was being far more faithful to the Christian story in his Narnia stories than most watered-down presentations of the gospel today can make a claim to.
Humanity as Royal Priesthood
To briefly survey the drama of Scripture is a daunting task, but the opening chapters of Genesis possess a significance for the rest of the story that is all out of proportion to their size that justifies giving sustained attention to the creation story. As Jon Levenson rightly notes, “The placement of Genesis 1 first in the Bible makes a theological statement that must not be evaded.” And as Stephen Dempster points out, everything that follows later on in the Hebrew Scriptures about Israel assumes the cosmic framework of Genesis 1-11:
“The larger literary context of the Tanakh has significant hermeneutical implications. For example, it begins with Genesis rather than with Exodus, signifying that Israel’s national history is subordinated to that of world history. Hermeneutically, this means that the birth of Israel as a nation and its raison d’etre are set within God’s larger purposes for the world and for creation.”
Several details in Genesis 1 point to the centrality of kingship in the biblical creation story. First, the six days of creation manifest a clear parallel structure. On days one, two and three God creates a “realm” (day and night, sky and sea, land) that is as yet uninhabited. On days four, five and six God creates the “rulers” of these barren realms (sun and moon, birds and fish, animals). Psalm 136:7-8 confirms this take on the matter, often called the “Framework View” among rival interpretations of Genesis 1. Second, human beings are created at the conclusion not only of day six, but as the pinnacle of God’s creative activity as a whole. Created in God’s “image” and “likeness,” humanity as male and female is given the task of ruling over the “realm” of creation as a whole (“dominion” in 1:26, 28 and “subdue” in 1:28). Human beings are, so to speak, the kings and queens of the created order under God. Indeed, while the meaning of being fashioned in the “image” of God has long captivated the imaginations of readers, with countless proposals being set forth for what this image entails (Reason? Physical resemblance to God? Endowed with an immortal soul? Relationality?), the obvious and explicit answer in the immediate context is too often overlooked. Reflecting God’s “image” is defined through the function or task of exercising dominion and rule over God’s creation. Levenson articulates what has slowly become the scholarly consensus on the issue:
“The link between the creation of humanity ‘in the image of God’ in Genesis 1 and their status as royalty can be clearly seen in ancient Near Eastern inscriptions in which it is the king who is described as the ‘image’ of the deity…The creation of humanity ‘in the image of God’ [is] a statement of the sovereignty of the human race over the rest of creation. The entire race collectively stands vis-à-vis God in the same relationship of chosenness and protection that characterizes the god-king relationship in the more ancient civilizations of the Near East. ‘The image of God’ is his chosen viceroy.”
Finally, Psalm 8 is a poetic meditation on and celebration of the creation story in Genesis 1, and once more we see that kingship is the critical factor. In between a literary inclusio in which the psalmist exults in the majestic name of God that the good creation ceaselessly proclaims (8:1, 9), the writer turns to look for God’s “glory” that transcends creation (8:1b). Where is this “glory” to be seen in the created order itself? The psalmist begins by drawing a severe contrast between the vast, epic scope of the universe (8:3) and the empirically unimpressive smallness of human beings within God’s majestic creation (8:4). What are human beings, that you would even notice us in the midst of this gigantic, breathtaking cosmos? Even more, what is the “son of man” (another way of referring generically to humanity) that you should care for us, let alone notice us? At first glance, human beings seem hopelessly insignificant in the story of creation.
“Yet” (Ps. 8:5). In contrast to this initial impression, the truth of the matter is shockingly counter-intuitive. Of everything God has created, only human beings have been singled out for “glory and honor.” Here is where God’s “glory” is preeminently to be seen within creation. What constitutes this “glory and honor” that humanity is created to reflect and embody? 8:5 tantalizingly suggests that human beings have been “crowned” with this privilege, hinting at overtones of royalty. 8:6, undeniably echoing back to Genesis 1, makes explicit what such “glory and honor” consists of for human beings. God has given humanity “dominion” over the works of his hands. He has “put all things under his feet.” Once more, in the “realm” of creation as a whole, human beings are the exalted “rulers” established by the Creator King. As His deputies or vice-regents, God delegates to His image-bearers alone the responsibility for exercising His gracious reign over the world. According to Genesis 1 and Psalm 8, God rules the world He has created. But He does so only and ever through the royal race of human beings—who Lewis affectionately calls the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve. A good summary of humanity’s “job description” in the world would be something like this: human beings are meant to be lord over all in God’s good creation. And as Dempster notes, “The rest of the canon assumes the royal overtones of Genesis 1, indicating the unique authority assigned to the primal couple, and thus to all humanity.”
Two final points must be made about the opening salvo of the biblical drama, replete as it is with the imagery of humanity’s delegated kingship in creation. First, Genesis 2 qualifies the royal “dominion” given to human beings in Genesis 1 in such a way as to rule out any potentially negative notes of “domination.” If human beings are “kings” in Genesis 1, Genesis 2 emphasizes that they are so only as “priests.” As Gordon Wenham has pointed out, the call to “work and serve” (2:15) the garden in which Adam and Eve are placed employs two Hebrew words that only appear together later in the Hebrew Scriptures as a job description of the Levitical priests in the Tabernacle/Temple (cf. Numbers 3:7-8, 8:26, 18:5-6). Indeed, as has been conclusively demonstrated many times, the garden of Eden itself is described in Genesis 2 as a primordial temple. What “kings” and “priests” have in common in the biblical story is that they are both mediating figures who function as representatives between God and the world. Yet where kings rule in acting on behalf of God before the world, priests bless in acting on behalf of the world before God. Aaron’s “blessing” of Israel in Numbers 6:22-27 embodies the fundamental stance all human beings are intended to have towards the world as its divinely-appointed rulers: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance and give you peace.” As the context demonstrates, this human blessing is treated as God’s blessing of the people (6:27), insofar as the priest represents God as a mediator. Thus, as the Creator’s priest-kings, human beings were intended to rule the world for its flourishing, seeking to bless and not curse, to serve its good and not dominate it for their own self-serving ends. When Jesus proclaimed to his power-hungry disciples that the true definition of “dominion” or “lordship” for those who wish to be “rulers” (Mark 10:42, using the same two verbs found in the Septuagint of Gen. 1:26-28 for “subdue” and “rule”) is not greatness but service, not being “first” but rather becoming the “last” (10:43-44)—something seen supremely in his kingly death on behalf of the world (10:45)—he wasn’t being original. He was just drawing out the meaning that was always embedded within the story of Genesis 1-2 from the very beginning.
Second, the “problem” that arises in Genesis 3 must be seen in the light of humanity’s royal vocation in Genesis 1-2. Why is there now winter in God’s previously “very good” creation? What went wrong? In light of the creation story, the “fall” is not simply or even mainly about private individuals incurring guilt before a holy God. This aspect is included, of course, but the primary emphasis is that God’s image-bearers, called to be priest-kings ruling over creation for its good, failed to exercise God’s authority over the serpent. In listening to the crafty serpent rather than to God, human beings abandoned their charge to rule, and instead gave authority to an impostor who is absolutely not committed to the well-being of those he rules over. As Paul implicitly comments on this story in Romans 1:21-25, the original sin of humanity was to foolishly trade in their crowns of “glory” in order to “bow down and serve” the creature they were meant to rule over. The irony and tragedy of this dark reversal could not be more obvious. The kings and queens of creation have become slaves. They now “lack the glory” that God once gave to them (Rom. 3:23; cf. Heb. 2:5-8). And the chapters that immediately follow in Genesis make clear that sin (Gen. 4) and death (Gen. 5) now “reign” over the world precisely in the stead of unfaithful humanity (cf. Romans 5:12-21, filled with descriptions of sin and death “reigning” over the world since humanity’s fall). The vacuum must be filled; the throne will not be left empty if human beings fail to guard the kingdom. In the list of curses given by God in judgment in Genesis 3:14-19, it is clear that the fracturing of creation itself is the result of humanity’s failure to rule wisely and justly as kings and queens; the land itself will now bear thorns and thistles. Just as a faithless, foolish and selfish ruler not only dooms himself, but also all those “under” him in his realm, so creation now suffers the bitterness of winter as a result of God’s image-bearers turning away from what they were called to be. This story dominates the rest of the story we are given in Scripture, and must relentlessly be kept in view to understand what follows:
“The rest of the biblical story revolves around the question of the eventual ‘resolution’ of the conflict generated by the occasioning incident [of humanity’s sin in Genesis 3], that is, the question of the restoration of God’s originally intended relationship with his vice-regents and the restoration of their role in reflecting the glory of his reign throughout his realm. Most of the Old Testament will consist of ‘complications’ on the way to that ultimate resolution.”
The Rest of the Story: The Once and Future King
In one very real sense, everything else that follows Genesis 1-3 in the biblical story falls into the category either of commentary on, or response to, these opening events—or some combination of the two. Another way to say this is that the vision bequeathed to us in the Scriptures revolves from beginning to end around the “kingdom of God.” Christians are familiar with this phrase from Jesus’ frequent allusion to it in the Gospels, but they often fail to see that it has much deeper (and older) roots. It has become commonplace to say that the kingdom of God is not primarily about the realm (i.e. place) over which God rules, but rather His actual activity of reigning over the world. Kingdom is a thoroughly dynamic concept in the Scriptures—the kingdom has “come” precisely wherever God’s named is “hallowed” and where His “will” is done on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:9-10). It is a state of affairs first and foremost, and only secondarily does it have connotations of place.
But it is not enough to say merely this. The “kingdom” of God cannot be defined as merely the brute fact of God’s reign or rule being actualized in the world. It is just as much about the way His rule comes into effect in creation. And the way God chooses to rule creation for its blessing is shaped and controlled by His original intentions in creation. In a word, the kingdom of God serves in the Scriptures as an apt description of the ideal state of affairs in Genesis 1—namely, the “kingdom” is God ruling the world through His royal image-bearers and vice-regents for its flourishing. As McCartney writes in an important essay, “The ‘coming’ of the kingdom of God that is expected in the OT involves a reinstatement of humanity to the proper position of vicegerent, exercising the reign of God on earth.” And the restoration of the dynamic described in Genesis 1 is the ultimate goal behind every “movement” of the biblical story, from Abraham to Israel, from David to Jesus:
“Gen. 1-2 unfolded for us a system of divine government by which the life of man and his world was to be regulated. In those chapters it was kingdom of God rule for man and his world which was contemplated…The goal of world redemption has as its aim the restoration of kingdom of God rule, divine dominion established once again over the world in which man functions once more as the completely recovered divine image.”
The common link between Abraham (Gen. 17:6, 18:20-22, 27:29), Israel (Exod. 19:5-6, Ps. 80:8-15), David (2 Sam. 6-7, Ps. 2, 72, 89, Dan. 7) and ultimately Jesus the Messiah is that each is called out by God to reflect His “image” as a royal “son” (cf. Gen. 5:1-3) who is crowned with “glory,” called to rule over the world for its blessing as a priest-king. Eventually the church is called to take up this vocation in confessing that the crucified, risen Jesus is Lord of the world (1 Pet. 2:9, Rev. 1:6). As McKnight comments, “God chose one person, Abraham, and then through him one people, Israel, and then later the Church, to be God’s priests and rulers in this world on God’s behalf. What Adam was to do in the Garden—that is, to govern this world redemptively on God’s behalf—is the mission God gives to Israel.” The story of the Old Testament is largely one of failure, however, as God’s sinful people consistently fail to embody the Creator’s original purposes for humanity in the world.
Psalm 110 and the Identity of Jesus
“Psalm 110 is the top and head of all Scripture. It describes the reign and priesthood of Christ in the most excellent way, saying that Christ is the one who rules all and intercedes for all and has it in his hand.”
“One fundamental historical question should be faced: why was Ps 110 so popular among early Christians? It seems unlikely that the frequency of its utilization could be mere accident…The notions of Jesus sitting at the right hand of God and of his followers gaining similar honor seem to have widely fired the imaginations of early Christians.”
It usually surprises readers of the New Testament that the most frequently cited or alluded to passage of the Old Testament—by far—is Psalm 110 (cf. Matt. 22:44, 26:64, Mark 12:36, 14:62, 16:19, Luke 20:42-43, 22:69, Acts 2:33-35, 5:31, 7:55-56, Rom. 8:34, 1 Cor. 15:25, Eph. 1:20, 2:6, Col. 3:1, Heb. 1:3, 13, 5:6, 10, 6:20, 7:3, 8, 11, 15-17, 21, 24-25, 28, 8:1, 10:12-13, 12:2, 1 Pet. 3:22, Rev. 3:21). Crucially, this passage demonstrably shaped and inspired some of the most central Christian convictions about the work and status of the exalted Jesus, who is now the “Lord” of the world spoken of in Ps. 110:1. What attracted the early Christians to this seemingly obscure Psalm in such a radical way? It would seem that there are at least two (related) reasons.
First, the language of the Psalm itself gave language to describe the significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection in light of the larger plotline of the Scriptures. The “Lord” spoken of here is both a king who rules (110:1-3) and a priest who uses this authority to bless and intercede on behalf of his people (110:4). Through this royal priest-king, who sits enthroned with God at his right hand, God will crush His enemies who oppose His good purposes in creation. These “enemies” are consistently understood by the NT writers to focus ultimately on sin and death as “powers” that thwart God’s good purposes in creation, and not to human armies. In a word, the “Lord” of Psalm 110 is the true human being through whom God can finally exercise His intended dominion ala Genesis 1 (the word “rule” in 110:2 is an allusion to Gen. 1:26-28).
Second, Psalm 110 is itself already echoing back to the royal vocation given to humanity in Psalm 8. As we have seen, in Ps. 8:5-6 the “crown” of glory and honor given to humanity at creation is defined as dominion over creation. God has put “all things under his feet.” In Ps. 110:1, God promises to put all of His enemies “under the feet” of this king-priest as his “footstool” (literally, “that which is under your feet”!) In a word, the failed mission of humanity in creation will be taken up by this “Lord” and finally implemented in faithfulness and triumph, for the blessing of the world. Indeed, Ps. 110 is most commonly cited in tandem with Ps. 8 in the NT (Matt. 22:44, Mark 12:36, 1 Cor. 15:25-27, Eph. 1:20-22, Heb. 1:1-2:8). Dunn draws out the logic of this connection:
“Ps. 8:6 provided a ready vehicle for Adam Christology. A description of Christ’s Lordship (by association with Ps. 110:1), it was also a description of God’s purpose and intention for adam/man…In other words, it is Jesus who fulfills God’s original intention for man—Jesus exalted after death. The risen Jesus is crowned with the glory that Adam failed to reach by virtue of his sin.”
The ultimate significance and meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection is that, for the first time in history, a faithful human being has finally been found through whom God can rule the world for the genuine welfare of His people and His world. A righteous son of Adam is at last seated upon the throne. As Kirk writes, “Israel’s great story is realized by Israel’s would-be king doing what neither Adam nor Israel nor David had been able to do before.” A “Son of Man” has been given “all authority in heaven and earth” (Matt. 28:18), just as Gen. 1:26-28/Ps. 8 always set forth hope would happen. Winter is beginning to thaw. Spring is coming. There is good news to proclaim to the nations, and the early Christians knew it and were set aflame by this conviction.
When Christians Say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ What Exactly Are They Saying?
On any reading, the central confession of the early church was that the Jesus who was crucified and then raised from the dead has now become Lord over all, bringing salvation to all who turn to him in repentance and the obedience of faith (Acts 2:22-36, 10:36-43, 13:26-39, Rom. 1:1-5, 10:9-13, 1 Cor. 15:1-5, 24-28, Phil. 2:6-11, Heb. 2:5-18). This claim, in and of itself, is not controversial:
“The most distinctive and characteristic expressions of Paul’s gospel are to be found in his emphasis on Jesus as Lord…This is undoubtedly the principal confession of faith for Paul and for his churches.”
“‘Jesus is Lord’ is at once the simplest, the most common, and the most profound confession of faith found in the Pauline letters.”
“Despite great differences of thought and phrase and treatment there is one essential Christology in the New Testament. Perhaps it can be best summarized in the primitive Christian confession of faith—‘Jesus is Lord.’”
What is more difficult to grasp can be put in the form of several questions. First, what did the expression “Jesus is Lord over all” mean when the early Christians proclaimed it? What is the background to this claim? Second, why is it so essential to the gospel? Indeed, it is arguable that the lordship of Jesus is the one “fact” that always appears in every summary statement of the gospel in the NT, even more than Jesus’ death and resurrection. Third, in what sense is “Jesus is Lord” good news for the world? How can a claim to universal rule and authority over the nations be seen as cause for joy in a broken world?
Answering the first question correctly holds the key here. For a long time, Christians have been conditioned to hear in the statement “Jesus is Lord over all” a functionally equivalent expression to “Jesus is really God.” For instance, Oscar Cullmann expressly argues that “the question of the deity of Christ in the New Testament should be asked in terms of the Kyrios [Lord] title and its implications for the absolute lordship of Christ over the whole world…The New Testament unquestionably presupposes the deity of Christ, but it does so in connection with faith in the lordship he exercises since his exaltation.” The examples of this line of reasoning could be multiplied almost endlessly. Yet several pieces of evidence tell strongly against this interpretation. First, the unambiguous and consistent perspective of the NT is that Jesus became “Lord” over all through his death (Matt. 27:27-44, Mark 15:1-32, Luke 23:35-43, John 19:5, 14-15) and his resurrection (Matt. 28:17-20, Acts 2:32-36, 13:32-33, Rom. 1:3-4, 14:9, Phil. 2:9-11). These events, for the NT writers, constituted Jesus’ enthronement at God’s right hand. The crucified and risen one is now King of the world. Indeed, Jesus received the “name” that is above every name (i.e. Lord) after his death and resurrection (Eph. 1:20-22, Phil. 2:9, Heb. 1:3-4). But if “Jesus is Lord” is just another way of saying “Jesus is God,” the idea that Jesus became “Lord” and received the divine title “God” is deeply problematic! Second, the most common “explanation” of the statement “Jesus is Lord” is through recourse to Psalm 8 and 110 in the NT—passages that are about the preeminent human vocation, not about the incarnation or divinity of the Messiah. Third, Jesus’ lordship contains an implicit promise for his followers in the NT. Jesus now reigns over all things as Lord—but one day, Christians will “reign” with him over the world (Matt. 16:18-19, 19:28, 25:34, Mark 10:35-45, Luke 12:32, 22:29-30, Rom. 5:17, 1 Cor. 4:8, 6:2-3, 2 Tim. 2:12, Heb. 2:5-13, Rev. 2:26-27, 3:21, 5:10, 20:4-6, 22:5). If “lordship” is another way of referring to divinity, this is a thoroughly inappropriate idea.
Instead, I suggest that the confession “Jesus is Lord over all” is, for those who have their ears tuned to the rhythm of the drama of Scripture, another way of saying “Jesus is the true human being through whom God is now ruling the world for blessing.”
Now the last two questions come into clear focus. Why is the lordship of Jesus so central to the gospel? Why is it good news? Simply put, this confession contains the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Good Friday and Easter represent the ultimate act of human “rule” over the enemies that oppose God and His people (sin and death), leading to the “blessing” of the world. The cross is what being truly human—using authority for the sake of others as a priest-king—looks like in a fallen, broken world. If humanity’s job description via creation was “Lord over all” (Gen. 1:26-28, Ps. 8:5-6), such words when attributed to Jesus must be heard with reference to his humanity, not his divinity. Jesus is indeed God (John 1:1-18), but to look for that message here is to get the right doctrine from the wrong texts. Likewise, to leave out the daring claim “Jesus is Lord” from our message to the world is to empty the cross and empty tomb of their redemptive significance for the world. The one who died for us and rose for us is no private individual who underwent an isolated religious experience for his own sake, but the very human to whom God has entrusted all authority in heaven and earth. The kingdom has come. God’s people are saved. The world is in the process of being set right. Winter has lost its grip on creation, and the slow thaw of spring has already been set in motion. And not just for isolated, pious individuals. Creation itself will soon be healed on a cosmic scale when humanity is once more crowned with “glory”, sharing in the glory of the crucified and risen Jesus (Rom. 8:17-21). The assumption in this remarkable passage is obvious upon a moment’s reflection. As goes the king, so goes the kingdom. As the ruler fares, so fares the realm over which he or she has authority. Just as humanity’s fall in Genesis 3 led to the fracturing of creation, so also the restoration of humanity to its former glory will carry in its wings the healing of the nations and the liberation of creation itself.
I write this essay on the night before the United States presidential election, unaware of what the outcome will be. For many in our country, “good news” would be the election of one’s favored candidate, while disaster would be entailed by the wrong man assuming rule over the nation. The instinct is right—it matters who is in charge over the world. Christianity is an inherently, irreducibly political worldview. It is not enough for individuals to be moral. Winter still reigns throughout the cosmos in spite of that; the evil and brokenness and oppression go all the way down, and are intractable in spite of the best intentions of individuals. But we intuitively know that if the “king” set in power over us is righteous, just and committed to the flourishing of the kingdom, lasting hope and peace will come in a way that is otherwise impossible to attain. This dynamic is the reason billions of dollars have been poured into this election, and that so much passion, hope and even hatred has been stirred up by it. The tragedy in this misdirected obsession is in thinking that the Jesus who gave himself for the life of the world on the cross, and who was vindicated by God and established as Lord over all three days later, is not the true focus of all such hope (Acts 17:7-8), and that the well-being of creation might be achieved by another. To a world that still lives under the dark wintry reign of sin and death, there is no other good news in the world to be had other than in the confession that the crucified, risen Jesus is now Lord over all. In the present moment, it is true, we do not yet see everything in subjection under the feet of God’s image-bearers. Things are not the way they are supposed to be. But we do see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels as a son of Adam, namely Jesus. And we see him already crowned with glory and honor at God’s right hand, reigning over the world as Lord because of the suffering of his death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone (Heb. 2:8-9). As Lewis reminds us through Trufflehunter: “This is the true King of Narnia we’ve got here: a true King, coming back to true Narnia. And we beasts remember, even if Dwarfs forget, that Narnia was never right except when a son of Adam was king.”
 Stephen Prothero, God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World, p. 11
 The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, p. 81
 The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, pp. 87-88
 The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, p. 93
 Matt. 4:8-10, 12:26, Mark 3:26, Luke 10:17-18, John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11, Acts 26:18, Rom. 16:20, 1 Cor. 5:5 (cf. 1 Tim. 1:20), 2 Cor. 4:3-4, Eph. 2:2, 1 John 5:18-19, Rev. 2:13, 12:9
 The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, pp. 99-100
 Prince Caspian
 The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, pp. 99-100
 The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, p. 81
 The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, pp. 100-101
 Jon D. Levenson, Creation and the Persistence of Evil: The Jewish Drama of Divine Omnipotence, p. 5
 Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible, p. 23
 Jon D. Levenson, Creation and the Persistence of Evil: The Jewish Drama of Divine Omnipotence, p. 114. See now especially J. Richard Middelton, The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1.
“The language [of Psalm 8] is that used elsewhere for God’s own mastery over the world, and the assumption is that he has appointed humanity to be his viceroy, the highest ranking commoner, as it were, ruling with the authority of the king. The human race is YHWH’s plenitpotentiary, his stand-in.” (Jon D. Levenson, Creation and the Persistence of Evil: The Jewish Drama of Divine Omnipotence, pp. 113-14)
 Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible, p. 60
See Gordon J. Wenham, “Sanctuary Symbolism in the Garden of Eden Story,” Proceedings of the World Congress of Jewish Studies 9 (1986): 19-25, who compiles a list of clearly intentional parallels between the descriptions of Eden and the later Tabernacle/Temple sanctuaries. See also Greg Beale’s magisterial work, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God.
 “[It is] a central scriptural teaching…that wherever anything wrong exists in the world, anything we experience as antinormative, evil, distorted, or sick, there we meet the perversion of God’s good creation. It is one of the unique and distinctive features of the Bible’s teaching on the human situation that all evil and perversity in the world is ultimately the result of humanity’s fall, of its refusal to live according to the good ordinances of God’s creation. Human disobedience and guilt lie in the last analysis at the root of all the troubles on earth.” (Albert M. Wolters, Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview, p. 46)
 Roy E. Ciampa, “The History of Redemption,” in Central Themes in Biblical Theology: Mapping Unity in Diversity, eds. Scott J. Hafemann and Paul R. House, p. 258
 Dan G. McCartney, “Ecce Homo: The Coming of the Kingdom as the Restoration of Human Vicegerency,” Westminster Theological Journal 56 (1994), p. 17. Cf. “Another way of describing this emphasis [in Genesis 1] on human dominion and dynasty would be by the simple expression ‘the kingdom of God.’ The earth is created for human dominion and rule, which reflects the divine rule…The realization of the kingdom of God is linked to the future of the human race.” (Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible, pp. 62, 69)
 William J. Dumbrell, Covenant and Creation: A Theology of the Old Testament Covenants, p. 66
 Scot McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited, p. 35
 Martin Luther, cited in Martin Hengel, Studies in Early Christology, p. 119. Thanks to Jelle Zijlstra for translating this from the original Latin and German for me.
 David M. Hay, Glory at the Right Hand: Psalm 110 in Early Christianity, pp. 16, 58
 See especially Martin Hengel, “‘Sit at My Right Hand!’ The Enthronement of Christ at the Right Hand of God and Psalm 110:1,” in Studies in Early Christology, pp. 119-225 and David M. Hay, Glory at the Right Hand: Psalm 110 in Early Christianity. Both studies are quite illuminating in their technical expertise, if also at times theologically naïve in their failure to trace the logic of the connections between this Psalm and the overarching plot of the biblical story as a whole.
 “The choice of OT text as a rule was not arbitrary. The NT writers did not simply seize on any text, or create texts ex nihilo. There is a givenness in the passages they quote.” (James D. G. Dunn, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament: An Inquiry into the Character of Earliest Christianity, p. 95)
 “[Psalm 110 indicates] a positive correlation between the universal lordship promised Adam (cf. Gen. 1:26ff) and that fulfilled (or to be fulfilled) in Christ.” (David M. Hay, Glory at the Right Hand: Psalm 110 in Early Christianity, pp. 60-61)
 “This facile combination of Ps. 110:1 and Ps. 8:6 occurs in other places in the New Testament, which demonstrates that these psalms were for christological reasons early connected with one another—one could even say that they were ‘woven together.’” (Martin Hengel, Studies in Early Christology, p. 165). Acts 7:55-56 and 1 Peter 3:21-22 also contain possible allusions to Psalm 8 along with clear echoes of Psalm 110.
 James D. G. Dunn, Christology in the Making: A New Testament Inquiry into the Origins of the Doctrine of the Incarnation, p. 109
 J. R. Daniel Kirk, Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul? A Narrative Approach to the Problem of Pauline Christianity, p. 25
 James D. G. Dunn, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament: An Inquiry into the Character of Earliest Christianity, pp. 22, 50
 Michael Gorman, Reading Paul, p. 101
 A. M. Hunter, The Unity of the New Testament, p. 43
 “[What is hard] to conceive of as ‘given’ from the beginning is that which justifies and gives rise to an interpretation of his lordship as exercises over the whole of creation…There are, of course, plenty of theories about how a cosmic Christology was reached.” (C. F. D. Moule, The Origin of Christology, p. 43)
 Oscar Cullmann, The Christology of the New Testament, p. 235
 For example, see Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, pp. 544-45; A. M. Hunter, The Unity of the New Testament, pp. 34-35; Donald Macleod, Jesus is Lord: Christology Yesterday and Today, pp. 33, 52, etc.
 “In passages where the theology of Jesus’ lordship becomes explicit, it is clear that the resurrection was understood as the decisive event in his becoming Lord.” (James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, p. 245)
 Compare the profound irony of Pilate’s dual statements about the crucified Jesus in John 19:5, 14. As so often in the Scriptures, he speaks far better than he knows. Here is the true priest-king—and thus, the true human being.
 “It is the risen and exalted Christ who fulfills and completes the divine plan for humankind (humankind’s responsibility to rule over the rest of creation)…The lordship of Christ was understood also as the fulfillment of God’s purpose in creating Adam/humankind. Jesus as Lord is also the last Adam.” (James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, pp. 241, 248)
 “This return of humanity to its primal calling (ruling the world on God’s behalf) means a full-scale restoration of every aspect of the cosmos gone wrong.” (J. R. Daniel Kirk, Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul? A Narrative Approach to the Problem of Pauline Christianity, p. 41)
 Prince Caspian