So, where does this leave us on the tired old debate over so-called “man-centered” theology vs. “God-centered” theology? We must set the record straight on the main and plain things. And on the deeper complexities we must seek greater clarity and nuance in our rhetoric.
I have attempted to expose the false either-or in much of the talk of man-centered vs. God-centered gospels, theology, approaches to faith, etc. I have raised the following points:
1. The focus of the gospel, or good news concerning God’s rescue plan for humanity, is centered upon human beings as the object of God’s love and affections, and centered on God in Christ as the merciful and loving rescuer who is worthy of our worship, praise and obedience. So, both God and man share center stage in the drama of redemption, though they play very different roles!
2. God himself is the only self-sufficient being in the universe who is absolutely free from self-centeredness. God’s character revealed in Jesus Christ is purely, extravagantly other-focused. God is love — and the source of this infinitely flowing fountain of out-pouring agape is the inter-trinitarian affection shared between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Because God is infinite and completely self-sufficient, he can love endlessly, unconditionally, self-sacrificially for all eternity without “need” of reciprocation. Human beings are the recipients of this never ceasing outpouring of God’s love. This too is the supremacy of God on display.
3. The chief purpose of human beings is to glorify God. God is most glorified when human beings are most satisfied in Him. Yet, our satisfaction in God should lead us to live lives of Kingdom-centered greatness as we utilize our unique gifts and passions given to us by God for the purposes of furthering the Kingdom of God. Thus, human greatness (in right relationship to God) is not in opposition to the glorification of God, but very much a part of it. In other words, God is most glorified when his creatures live great lives in Him, through Him and for Him. But great lives bring greater glory to God than sub-par or wasted lives.
4. Connected to #3, holding to extremely low views of human depravity — “worm theology” — does not necessarily result in the magnification of God as is often believed. It can actually take away from the glory of God insofar as His handiwork is shown to be damaged goods unable to function as God designed them. On the other hand, many find a much more positive view of human beings in Scripture and argue that the gospel itself is the greatest proof that human beings are of great value and highly esteemed in the eyes of God.
What are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them? Yet you made them only a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honor” (Psalm 8).
Apart from divine grace we are without hope but not without value. Our value is derived from the One in whose image we are made. God is in the business of redeeming, restoring and empowering his image-bearers so they can more accurately reflect and magnify the greatness of the Creator.
In summary, we have questioned the legitimacy of the either-or in this debate. We have challenged the notion that God is at the center of His own affections. We have highlighted the way one’s view of human depravity will determine how one views the relationship between human greatness and God’s glory. We have suggested that these two are not in competition, but rather they go hand in hand. We have argued that God is most glorified when His human image-bearers are flourishing in proper relationship with their God.
With these initial thoughts on the discussion table, let me just close with a reminder that this has been an unpolished, ongoing thought experiment. May we continue to seek the truth in these matters in a spirit of grace, love and humility, always taking the attitude of the apostle Paul who at the end of the day could only cry out in awe
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay him?
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.