The Table Podcast

Human Dignity and Cultural Engagement

In this episode Dr. Darrell Bock and Daniel Darling discuss applying the Biblical concept of human dignity to public square issues.

Timecodes
1:00
Darling discusses his background with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
3:27
What is the purpose of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
7:07
Darling’s interest in human dignity
9:34
How the creation of man in Genesis shapes our view of human dignity
13:54
Darling’s recent publication on human dignity
17:03
How a Biblical view of humanity impacts our politics
20:38
Applying a Biblical view of human dignity to cultural issues
28:55
Darling shares what he learned and what he hopes others will
33:56
The relationship between proclaiming the Gospel and social action
39:39
Darling discusses other possible topics and future work
Resources The Dignity Revolution: Reclaiming God's Rich Vision for Humanity by Daniel Darling
Transcript
Darrell Bock
Welcome to the table where we discuss issues of God and culture. And our topic today is human dignity, and our guest is Daniel Darling who is – and I’m reading this right off the cover of the book – Vice President for Communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. I always have to stop and pause when I stop and think about the Commission ’cause of the nature of the name.

And, Dan, thank you for being a part of the table today.

Daniel Darling
Well, thanks for having me. It’s an honor to be here, someone who has admired your work for a long time and a fan of what you’re doing here with the table.
Darrell Bock
Well, thanks. Let’s talk a little bit about how you got to doing this book. But let’s’ start first with your background and how you ended up being connected to the Commission. Where does – what – tell us a little bit about your personal story.
Daniel Darling
Yeah, it’s really interesting. You know, I grew up in church, and I pastored a church in the Chicago area for almost six years. And I’ve been a writer and editor for a long time. I’ve been writing for “Christianity Today,” the Gospel Coalition, writing op-eds for different places.

And I had known Dr. Moore – Russell Moore – who he became president in 2013 of the – president of the Commission. And I had interviewed him for CT once he got the position. He had endorsed one of my books, and we had gone back and forth. I was a huge fan of the way he engages politics in the culture and was really grateful that he got hired for this position.

Then they reached out to me in 2013, and I was really – just thought it was a great opportunity to come and work for someone and to really have a chance to really help equip Christians in how we think through all these really difficult issues that are – that face us. How do we apply the gospel to the culture?

I’ve always had – in my mind, I’ve always had a love for politics and history and cultural stuff and public policy, and I’ve always had a deep love for the Church. And so, I really feel like I get to do both things here. I’ll be in the Church and helping Church leaders. I’ll be involved in my local church, but also engaging public policy at a national level. So, it’s really the best of both worlds if you will.

Darrell Bock
Well, let’s talk a little bit about what you do there. So, it says you’re – what? – vice president for communications. The vice president part I get, but what does it mean to be dealing with communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission?
Daniel Darling
That’s a good question. What it means, really, is that I manage all of our content. So, I have a great team that works for me and manages all of our content with us: our Web content, our publications, podcasts, any of our creative stuff.

We do quite a few events, conferences, and kind of leaning into some of the content and creative for that. And then, just serving on the executive team, helping to shape the future of the organization. And so – and then I do a fair amount of speaking and writing, representing the (audio break); I’ll see different places as well.

Darrell Bock
So, what’s the calling of the Commission in general? I actually think some people may or may not be aware of that. So, what is the – what does the Commission seek to do?
Daniel Darling
That’s a great question. I tell people we have two roles. First, we speak for Southern Baptists and really conservative evangelicals in the public square on issues of public policy. So, we have a pretty robust presence in D.C. We’re working with the administration; we’re working with Congress, think tanks, the media, and all sorts of things. They kind of shape the debate about important issues like religious liberty, like human dignity, pro-life issues, religious persecution overseas, religious liberty here, a wide range of issues, criminal justice reform, all kinds of things.

We speak for Southern Baptist, but then we also speak to Southern Baptists. We try to equip pastors and church leaders how to think through moral and ethical issues, how to apply the gospel of the kingdom to the culture. So, we host a number of events, and we have content; we have books that we publish in magazines and all sorts of things, really trying to help equip pastor church leaders to then lead their congregations to apply the gospel of the kingdom to the world in which they’re called.

Darrell Bock
Now, this might seem like a strange question, but I’m gonna ask it anyway. So, is the Commission sometimes misunderstood for what it is about and what it’s doing? Are there – because it seems to me that you’re kind of a – as you’ve communicated, kind of a two-way communication stream: both into what’s going on there – I’m assuming you’re located in Washington, D.C., located in –
Daniel Darling
And in Nashville.
Darrell Bock
– and in Nashville; so, the Southern Baptist headquarters on the one hand, and obviously the capitol of the States on the other – and yet, at the same time, you’re also trying to help churches kind of understand the environment in which we’re functioning in at the same time.
Daniel Darling
Yeah, we are. And I think – you know, Richard Land, who was the previous president, said it really well, I think, on the floor of the convention this year. He [break in audio] has a really important task. We speak for Southern Baptists, but he said, “Sometimes we call – you’re called to speak to us and challenge us to think biblically about all kinds of moral and ethical issues.”

` And today, I think it’s really important that Christians think well about the world in which they live. We’re too easily, I would say, catechized by other voices and other influences, whether it’s left or right. We’re too easily shaped by our favorite pundits or talk radio or that crazy uncle on Facebook or something instead of allowing the gospel to shape the way we see things.

Darrell Bock
So, you all are focused on trying to think through the ethical dimensions of what the gospel’s about in relationship to – mainly is it public policy that you work with?
Daniel Darling
Well, it’s a range of things. It’s public policy, but also even the Christian life. You know, we talk a lot about parenting; we talk a lot about ethical and moral leadership in the church – what is that like? We talk about sort of bioethics and some of those reproductive technologies.

So, there’s a public policy dimension, but there’s also a personal dimension. And, you know, we have pastors that are asking us all the time, “How do I talk to this couple about this issue that’s come up,” or, “How do I deal with this teenager that has this issue?” And so, just really a range of things.

Darrell Bock
M-kay. Well, let’s turn our attention now to talking about the book. It’s called The Dignity Revolution and the subtitle is Reclaiming God’s Rich Vision for Humanity. So, what caused you – to write – the cover is really fascinating; let me show it up here. It’s kind of got this range of variety of faces and looks without eyes or nose or ears or mouth, but you can tell you’ve got the faces of people on the cover. So, let’s talk about what caused you to write this book.
Daniel Darling
Well, a couple of things. I mean first, I’ve always been fascinated by the way that the Bible describes humanity. I mean just from the opening pages of Genesis you have Moses; he’s narrating the creation of the world, and he’s talking about how God spoke into existence all the natural world.

But then when he describes the way that God forms humans, he is – it’s like he pauses and he stops and reaches for very rich language. He says that God essentially reaches with His hand and sculpts humans from the dust of the ground and breathes into them the breath of life. And then, of course, humans bear the image of God. So, there’s some way in which that humans reflect God in the world.

And then you see King David saying, “Every human being is knit with care and intentionality in the mother’s womb.” And it’s just such a rich description. I think human dignity is one of Christianity’s best gifts to the world. So, I’ve always been fascinated by that.

And then secondly, as I’ve engaged politics and policy and all these issues – you know, I got into politics in many ways because of the pro-life movement which really has, I think, given us a moral vocabulary to say that the most vulnerable among us – there’s a person there; there’s not a clump of – is not a clump of tissues; it’s not cells; it’s a human being.

And I’ve been thinking, in the last few years, what if we applied that ethic to other areas of life, to other issues like immigration, like the way even that we engage issues online and the way we talk about people. And so, I really wanted to kinda think through what does it look like to have a fully-formed ethic of human dignity?

Darrell Bock
Hmm. Yeah. I mean the thing I love about the creation is man is so important, or humanity is so important, that we actually tell the story twice. You know? We have the creation of Adam and Eve in the image of God.
Daniel Darling
Absolutely. And you think [break in audio].
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
And in turn have a detailed look at Adam and Eve. Go ahead.
Daniel Darling
Oh, absolutely. You’re absolutely right; it mentions it twice. And if you think about it, compared to – and I’m not a scholar – an Old Testament scholar like many of the folks at Dallas Seminary, but I do know that the way that Genesis describes humans is just, I think, different than even other ancient Near East descriptions of humanity.

And Genesis tells us two things about what it means to be human. It tells us first that we’re not God, that we’re created by God, that we’re created by a Creator, but we’re also not animals either, that we’re not beasts. And so, there’s something distinct about being human.

Darrell Bock
Yeah. And there’s a consciousness about being a human and our place in the creation that I think – I tease people that I never hear anyone talk about the First Baptist Church of Bears or the First Presbyterian Church of Dolphins. You know? That there’s a consciousness about the nature of life, the nature of time, the nature of the past, present, and future that we don’t see in the rest of the creation.

And, of course, humans were given the responsibility to be stewards to manage the creation. I often say to my students there was a concept of theology that I didn’t think much about the first 20 years I was teaching, and that’s the concept of stewardship or management which actually is one of the core responsibilities a human being is given in the creation story.

We’re called to subdue the Earth, which means to manage it and steward it well as male and female from the very beginning. That’s a calling every human being participates in from God. And so, that kind of sets the direction for both who we are and what we should be doing.

Daniel Darling
That’s absolutely right. In fact, if – I really feel it’s important, in this age especially, for Christians to recover a robust vision of human dignity ’cause I think it affects not just the way we see ourselves.

I think it does when it comes to our identity, the way we interact with technology, and the way we project ourselves online in a wide range of things, but also the way we see our neighbors – right? That as C. S. Lewis said he’d never met a mere mortal, that if we truly understand every person’s created in the image of God, it really affects the way we think about a lot of different things. And so, I really wanted to set forth a readable, understandable sort of theology of what it means to be human.

Darrell Bock
So, would it be fair to say that one of your goals is to have people appreciate how every human being made in the image of God is sacred?
Daniel Darling
Yes, I would say that. And sacred in the sense of – I even have a chapter in there on self-worship. I think there’s really two choices that every human being has: we can either – as an image-bearer of God, we can turn upward and worship and live out our calling as image-bearers, or we can turn inward and self-worship.

And this is why you see the Old Testament, after Genesis 9, it doesn’t use image of God language but starts to talk about idolatry. And there’s a reason for that. Because the tendency in a fallen world is for us to create our own images that we then worship as reflections of us rather than us serving as reflections of God. And that leads to all sorts of corruption in the world and violence against our fellow image-bearers and all sorts of things.

But we do have the good news that Jesus completes as the second Adam what the first Adam could not do. He is the fullest vision of what it means to be human. Not only that, He restores our image-bearing purposes; He restores our humanity. I think that when you look at Ephesians 2:10, it essentially is saying that God is restoring in Christ our original – the original reasons for which we were created. And so, I think the Bible gives us the most fullest vision of what it means to be human and how to rescue our humanity.

Darrell Bock
Hmm. Okay, well, let’s talk a little bit about the contents of the book, and that is first you have a section called “Finding Dignity.” And I take it you’re trying to encourage people here to realize who God has made them to be and who God has made their neighbor to be at the same time.
Daniel Darling
Yeah, absolutely. I really wanted to flush out in the first chapter what it means to be created in the image of God and really understanding what that is. There’s a lot of mystery there; we don’t understand all of it, even the most – you know, the best scholars haven’t fully mined the depths of what that means. But at the very least, it means that there’s some way in which we image God and represent God in the world.

And I think there’s a structural and a functional aspect to being made in the image of God. Structural means that no matter who we are, what our utility is, what we’ve done even in a fallen world, we still bear the full image of God – right? – nobody has less of the image of God.

But there’s also a functional part of being an image-bearer, which means that we have responsibility, that we were made by a Creator to reflect Him and to live out our purposes, as you said, by stewarding the Earth, by subduing the raw materials that God has given us, by creating, by innovating. And so, just trying to get people to understand what that fully means.

Darrell Bock
So, in the principle that you have, every person has dignity, on the one hand. On the other hand, people have a – there’s a sacredness to life that we are supposed to respect, and you’ve made the point earlier you respect that not only for the developing child in a womb, but you’re supposed to respect that all the way through the cycles of life.

In fact, I sense that what you’ve done in the book, by its structure, is to actually kind of walk us through a series of different contexts – or “spaces” I like to call them – where dignity shows itself and where issues of dignity impact the way we see the issues that are in front of us. So, out of this dignity comes a way of thinking about how we relate to the people around us.

Daniel Darling
That’s exactly right. I mean it affects all sorts of issues. And so, the way we think about race and – you know, I think of Martin Luther King using always the language of human dignity in his speeches as if to say to the white supremacist, “Can you not just see me as a human being – as a full human being?” I think of him marching in Memphis with the sanitation workers and those sandwich board signs that said, “I am a man.” In other words, “Can you look at me as not just a cog in the machine, but as a full human being?”

So, you’re talking about race. We talk about how should we think about immigration, about criminal justice reform? How should we think about poverty, technology, life and death issues, health care? There’s kind of a range of things that we kind of apply this to.

Darrell Bock
And the point – another point that I would guess you’re making is this is not a matter of political ideology; this is a matter of core theology and anthropology.
Daniel Darling
It really is. And in fact, if you really have a fully robust vision of human dignity, it will disrupt your politics and our tribal affiliation. And so, you know, we have to make voting decisions; I vote – I voted this week. We have to join institutions. But if we have a robust vision of human dignity, we should recognize that there’s no one party or no one institution that fully cares about human dignity.

Some – one party, on the one hand, may really see dignity in the immigrant, in the impoverished; another party may see dignity in the unborn. And so, I think neither party has a sort of monopoly. And it kind of shapes the way we think about politics and hopefully can change these institutions for the better.

Darrell Bock
Now, sometimes we’ll talk about the difference between what I call civic religion, which is dressing up a particular national orientation around descriptions that tie those institutions to God in one way or another, where the real support is – the primary support comes for what the nation is, from Christian discipleship, which is a generic view of God’s kingdom that’s multinational, multiracial, et cetera, and has a sense of the priority being what God asks of us transnationally, if I can say it that way, and across various ethnic divides.

And so, what I’m hearing you say is is that when you get a robust view of dignity, you’re asking questions from a slightly different angle than you might ask them if you were just asking them as a citizen of a country.

Daniel Darling
You know, absolutely. I mean I think we are citizens of America. I mean I’m a proud American; I love our country; I love reading about our history. But ultimately, we’re citizens of the kingdom of God. I think of what Peter says in 1 Peter that we’re sojourners and strangers.

In fact, this week I just preached on Jacob, in Genesis 47, and say, “I’m a sojourner and a stranger.” We’re a people on the move. And as strangers and foreigners, even though we have to join parties and institutions and that are imperfect, we should never be fully at home in any earthly institution. There should always be a little distance between our temporary home here and the home we’re looking forward to.

We should always – and I think if we’re not, if we’re fully at home in a party or a movement, it could be that our allegiance is more to that movement than to the kingdom of God. So, being a Christian should always make us a little uncomfortable pushing against the sort of status quo of whatever tribe we’re from. Does that make sense?

Darrell Bock
Yeah, it does. And so, as a result, we ask questions from angles in which we see what I would call the legitimate tensions in a fallen world, that oftentimes we live in imperfect spaces, if I can say it that way, where there’s a push and a pull between a variety of forces. And some of that push is well motivated but out of balance that push can also create an imbalance that needs a correction from another thing.

And let’s dive into the immigration discussion, ’cause I think that’s one where you see this pretty visibly. On the one hand, it’s perfectly appropriate for a nation to ask, “What kind of people do we want to be?” We want our laws to be followed. We want to be a place that has order. If you have lawlessness, that doesn’t work as a society. If you have a right to define what kind of people you’re going to be, that kind of thing. Those are just basic nationhood kinds of questions. That’s one side of the equation.

But on the other side of the equation is there are these texts and Scripture that talk about having a sense of compassion for the foreigner and for having – and just loving people in general. I mean it’s part of the great commandment; you’re supposed to love everybody, that kind of thing. So, you’re asking those kinds of questions. And how you’ve got the Golden Rule – you know, treat the way – treat people the way you would like to be treated, that kind of thing.

And sometimes those two things – both of which at one level are very well motivated, each for their own reasons – rub against each other. And you have to ask the question, “How do I balance these two things? How do I put both of these things in place?” And sometimes, at least what I sense, we sometimes get into in some of our discussions is we get people who will pick one side of that conversation or the other side of that conversation and not think about the other element, if you will.

And so, we never discuss the relationship between those two pieces that needs a balance between them, and we just pick one side or the other – what I call cherry picking – and in the process an imbalance – we risk an imbalance. So, speak into how dignity walks into the immigration discussion as you see it.

Daniel Darling
Yeah. I mean immigration is a very – you know, it’s a complex issue. And as you said, the Bible does task the government with the flourishing of its citizens. And part of that, they have – the government does not bear the sword in vain, that they are tasked. I mean a responsible government cannot take in everybody. They have to have a border. They have to have verification and all kinds of systems in place to keep people safe.

And so, because we believe Romans 13, we believe that that’s the government’s role on the one hand. On the other hand, the Bible does talk about nations’ – not just individuals but nations –\responsibilities to keep the poor and the foreigner, the stranger in their midst. The Bible – you know, if you read the prophets, judges the nations quite a bit for the way they treat the poor, the stranger, the immigrant.

And so, I think one of the things we have to ask ourselves is in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, we can’t take in all the world’s vulnerable. We have to guard our borders. We have to be safe, but surely we can do more than we are; surely we can take in more people than we do now.

And I think what is needed is for responsible people to say, there’s incentive on both sides for this thing not to be solved, for both sides to be able to use it in campaigns. And so, I think responsible people have to say, “I’m going to reject the” – on the one hand, sort of like, “Let’s not have any borders; let’s abolish ICE; let’s just everybody walk in, Kumbaya.” That’s not gonna work.

On the other hand, the kind of fear-based demagoguing of immigrants as they’re – you know, every immigrant is a threat; every immigrant is a potential terrorist kind of language that I think, in many ways, is dehumanizing.

And really come together and say, “What can we do to update our system?” And good Christians are gonna disagree on the exact levels of immigrants that should be here, how we should do border security. You know, those are matters of prudence. Right?

But I think what isn’t debatable is the way we talk about immigrants, the way that Christians should language – you know, when we use euphemisms that kind of dehumanize them – you know, every immigrant’s a terrorist, or we call them invaders, or we call them anchor babies or things like that, we forget that that – those vulnerable people that are trying to get into the United States are people created in the image of God who have as much value and worth as I do. Who probably want the same things for their family that I do. So, what’s the best way to approach this problem is really how we need to think through that.

Darrell Bock
And so, he dignity issue means that the person and the problem both are treated with a kind of respect that it deserves.
Daniel Darling
Yeah, absolutely. And I think we need to be wary of a kind of fear of the other. Like if our – when we’re talking about immigration, if it’s worry that different people groups are moving into our neighborhood or things like that, that’s not something a Christian should really fear, because the Bible says in Acts that God sovereignly appoints the movement of people. That as people who love the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, it’s an opportunity.

That when the nations come to our doorstep, that we can love them. We’re supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves, and many of them are fellow Christians. And it’s also an opportunity, if they’re not believers, to obey the Great Commandment to reach out to them. We’re not going to share the gospel with people that we don’t first love. If we view people as a threat, we’re not gonna evangelism them. And so, I think it really is a kind of reordering of our priorities.

Darrell Bock
Interesting. So, what other issues do you find kind of walk into this similar space where you’ve got two sets of concerns that are kind of rubbing against each other? And the issue is wrestling through how do you balance these concerns in a way that makes – my premise is that what we do when we cherry pick is we actually rob ourselves of the discussions that we need to have about what the relationship is between these pieces, both of which belong in the discussion.

And we also, in the process, create an environment in which we make it hard to have those discussions because we end up picking sides and viewing one poll as so defining that the other almost doesn’t even exist.

Daniel Darling
You know, I think there’s a lot of issues like that. I mean some issues are less one side against the other – so when you think about technology and the way that we’re asking ourselves questions of what it means to be human or think of character of the elderly or things like that.

But there are some questions, like you said, that pull at both sides of it. I think of the issue of criminal justice reform. You know, if you have a robust vision of human dignity, you’re gonna see that we not only see dignity for the incarcerated, we also see dignity for the victim. And a good justice system says that we have a system that respects the rights of victims by punishing crime.

You know, we punish crime because we’re saying that to commit a crime against somebody else is to assault their dignity. Right? So, to steal their stuff or to assault them physically is to – is an assault on their dignity. Therefore, that needs to be punished.

On the other hand, we also think about prisoners. And Chuck Colson really taught us this so well, that we need a justice system that sees the whole humanity of the person who’s accused, that we want to find ways and a justice system that rehabilitates them, that can restore them, that sees them as a whole person, not just the sum total of their crimes. And yet, also, because they’re human, holds them accountable before God or before the state for the things that they’ve done.

And so, I think that allows us – that sort of balance allows us to both punish those who commit crimes, but also do it in a way that results in rehabilitation and having people become productive citizens again.

Darrell Bock
What are some of the – this question just popped in my head – what are some of the things like you felt like you learned writing the book?
Daniel Darling
You know, I learned quite a bit. You know, I read a lot about human dignity. And really, one of the things that was really just interesting to me is just how, you know, if you really understand this, it really affects everything you see. So, for instance, I have a chapter in here about sort of the end of life and sort of the way we – the way that we see – the way that we value people.

So, most of us listening to this podcast would be dead set against something like euthanasia, where we basically say that people at the end of their lives, their life’s not valuable anymore, and we should find ways to help them end their lives.

Well, the answer to that, obviously, is God sees you as an image-bearer regardless of your utility. So, if you’re young and healthy, or if you’re – you have no cognitive ability at the end of your life, you’re still a full human being, a full image-bearer. God assigns you value. And because we’re accountable to God, He’s the One who’s the author of our days.

But also, we may be against that, but even sometimes in the way our churches send the message that we only value the young, the sexy, the appealing – you know, look at the people who get on [break in audio], look at the way we market our churches. Are we telling people that you’re only valuable if you’re one of the cool people? And really, in the kingdom of God, it should be the opposite. That when people walk into our doors, they should be valued because they’re a human being, created in the image of God – not because of what they can bring to our church.

You know, this is what James is getting at by saying, “Hey, don’t just value someone ’cause they have money and wealth; value everybody whether they’re poor or they’re rich.”

I think about a guy in my church right now who has severe dementia, late-stage dementia. He doesn’t remember his wife’s name. He comes every Sunday, and he worships. He remembers the worship music, believe it or not. He doesn’t bring much in terms of leadership ability or gifting to our church, but in the kingdom of God, he is as valuable to us as anybody else.

And so, I have been amazed, as a pastor – and you probably have seen this, too – how often we’re – many even good Christian people are willing to neglect kind of the elderly. And we almost have an ethic that your past your prime; we’re done with you; we’re going to move to the younger generation. And so, I just think that reflects not the way the kingdom of God is ordered.

Darrell Bock
Mmm. So, someone picks up your book, what do you want them to gain or garner from the experience of reading it?
Daniel Darling
You know, it’s interesting to me. I’ve had people, who are pro-life activists like me, pick it up with the premise that this is gonna be good. It’s gonna affirm my pro-life convictions. And it does. And then they’ll come back to me and say, “You know I’m pro-life; I’m anti-abortion. But this really helped me think differently about some other issues that maybe I didn’t think well about.”

I’ve had other people say, who are kind of more motivated by justice – you know, criminal justice reform, poverty, all those sorts of things, say, “You know, I picked this up thinking this would affirm my convictions on those things, and it did. But then I realized I can’t be for justice if I’m not for justice for the unborn. You helped me think about the way I think about biblical sexuality.”

So, my hope is just to kind of – whoever picks it up, however your entrance is to kind of just have a – come away with more – a more complete vision of what the Bible says it means to be human.

Darrell Bock
Now, some people will say that all this concern for policy, for politics, for justice – for “social justice” if you want to use that phrase – some people will say, “Well, we’re not talking about social justice; we’re talking about biblical justice.”

We could get into that debate and that discussion. But somehow that gets us off the track with reference to what we should be about. We should be about the Great Commission and the gospel, et cetera. How do you put those kinds of view together with your discussion on human dignity?

Daniel Darling
Well, I really talk about that in the second chapter when I talk about the kingdom of God. And I think this issue, this debate we’re having about is this gospel proclamation or social action – and if you really study the life of Jesus, he doesn’t really allow you to make that choice. Because you see in the one hand Jesus saying to Nicodemus, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In other words to get into the kingdom of God, you have to have individual repentance by faith in Christ alone. Right? Otherwise, you can’t get into the kingdom of God. “I’m the way, the truth, and the life,” Jesus says.

On the other hand, Jesus also says, “I’m the fulfillment of the prophesies that says the kingdom of God is good news for the poor.” You see, Jesus, by his life, demonstrating that. He says to the apostles of John – who are questioning “Hey are we sure we’ve got the right guy here?” – He’s saying, “Look at My actions. Are the dead being raised? Are the lame walking?”

And so, I think the gospel – we both proclaim the gospel that people can be reconciled to their Creator because of Jesus, the One who created them in His image, and the gospel also restores us also to our original image-bearing purposes which is to image God in the world. And the Church embodies the gospel by coming alongside the vulnerable. We show the world a glimpse of what the future kingdom will look like when we do this.

And so, I don’t think you can separate the two. I don’t know that we can obey the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves if we don’t do everything we can to help our neighbor, if we don’t try to shape the social structures that affect our neighbors flourishing.

So, I think we – I think it’s both/and. I think on the one hand you have people who say, “Just preach the gospel and don’t do any social action, don’t speak out.” The problem with that is there has been plenty of instances in history where people just preach the gospel and not said anything, and it kind of baptizes an unjust status quo.

You know, in the Antebellum South, you could preach a wonderful exegetical sermon, and the slave owner can go home and still beat his slaves and not feel like he’s out of line.

On the other hand, you have people who are all about social action without the individual gospel of repentance and faith and without the power of God that changes people’s lives, and they’re sort of embarrassed by the exclusive nature of Christ – of salvation in Christ. And so, I think we need both, to be honest with you.

Darrell Bock
And doesn’t one help build the credibility of the other? And what I mean here is that when I show that I care – when my message is God loves people and has given His Son to save them and cares about them, et cetera – when the Church shows that care and shows that care in all areas of life to apply the point you’re making in the book, a human being, no matter who they are, has dignity, deserves to be seen with dignity, deserves to be treated with dignity, deserves to be thought of through lenses of dignity, et cetera – when we do that, we actually reinforce the idea that God cares for people.

Certainly, Jesus gave Himself for people who have dignity. And so, the ultimate act of dignity was Jesus giving Himself to redeem and to reclaim people who are lost on the one hand. But I show that the Church believes in that message by how I care for my neighbor, how I live out the Great Commandment that my commitment to Jesus has called me into, because Jesus wouldn’t call loving God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and loving your neighbor as yourself as the Great Commandment unless it were pretty important to do.

Daniel Darling
That’s exactly right. People – listen, the gospel’s always going to be controversial; so, there’s no way to make it not controversial. But when we – when the Church is at her best, when she is standing alongside the most vulnerable saying, “Hey, there’s a person here. These people have value.” And you look just throughout Church history, despite of all of our mistakes, and sometimes we’ve been complicit in injustice or passive, but the Church throughout her history has often been the one to say to the people whom society is willing to discard, “Hey, these are people here.”

When we do that, we show the world what the kingdom of God looks like and what our King is like. If we image the King, we’re showing the people what our King is like. The Bible describes Jesus as a King who’s kind, who’s loving, who loves people. The kingdom of God is one of dignity and worth, and it’s sort of the upside-down nature where the first will be last and the last will be first.

So, when we – insomuch as the Church does this, we show the world a glimpse of what the kingdom will look like and we’re an invitation for people to learn more about the King. And I just think we would [break in audio] to think about we’re not just souls that happen to be in bodies because it’s – you know, we need a vessel.

God cares about body and soul. Right? Jesus coming to Earth in the flesh tells us that human bodies are good, that God cares about human bodies; he cares about human things. And so, I think sometimes the Church has a tendency to be a little bit almost neo-gnostic to say that all that matters is what’s inside.

But that’s not what the life of Jesus demonstrates. And Jesus died on the cross not only to save our souls but to save our bodies. When He rose again the third day, He gives us a promise that one day we, too, will rise again, body and soul at the end of the age. And so, Jesus is not neo-gnostic as much as we are sometimes.

Darrell Bock
So, you’ve written the book now, and you’ve gotten a little bit of reaction. What do you – I often ask this question when someone writes a book like this, ’cause a book like this can be written, and then afterwards you write it and you go, “Oh, you know what? I didn’t say this. Now that I’ve thought about it, I wish I had added this touch or that touch to it,” something like that.

I know I have one book in particular I think of this way that walks right into this same space. And when I was done and afterwards, about a year down the road, I was sitting there saying, “Oh, man, if I were rewriting this book, here would be something I would say that I didn’t manage to say when I wrote it.” Do you have anything like that that you see or sense about what it is that you’ve done here?

Daniel Darling
Yeah, I do. I mean I think – I mean I couldn’t cover every topic as it relates to human dignity. I kind of wanted to set the tone and get people thinking and have an ethic. You know, the topics 20 years from now may be different than the ones we talk about today. So, there is a lot of sort of issues that I couldn’t touch on. I mean I wanted to go a little more in depth on things like health care or sexual assault or some of the things that have kind of risen up even though – since I’ve written the book.

But I do think I gave people an ethic and a grid through which to think about issues that aren’t even mentioned in the book. So, hopefully that will kind of be a guide. But you know how it is when you write a book, and you’re like, “Man, I should have said this,” or, “I should have said that.” You know? And then our books would be like 400 pages – right?

Darrell Bock
Or we issue them in annual editions or something like that.
Daniel Darling
Yeah, exactly.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. So, what is it that you’re working on these days in relationship to the Commission? Anything in particular that ya’ll are focused on?
Daniel Darling
Well, we are pretty excited about a few things. I mean we’re getting ready for January for our Evangelicals for Life event. And this is kind of where we flesh out some of the things I wrote in the book. We’ve been doing this for a few years. We gather because it’s the March for Life, which kind of is the march to say, “Hey, unborn lives matter.”

But we’re trying to teach pro-life people how to have a holistic, whole-life, pro-life ethic. So, we care about the unborn, but we also care about the immigrant, the elderly, and everybody in between. And so, we’re pretty excited about that.

It’s gonna be right before the March for Life in January – I believe the 17th. And so, we have a pretty good lineup that’s coming. It’s at McLean Bible Church there in D.C. So, it should be a good turnout. We’ve been doing this for a few years; we’re pretty excited about it.

Darrell Bock
So, is that an annual conference that you all have that – or is this a special-themed conference?
Daniel Darling
No, it’s an annual conference. We do this every year. We’ve been doing – this is, I think, our fifth one. We’ve been doing it every year right around the March for Life. And one of the other motivations is this – is that – and you’ve probably been to the march; it’s really a great thing. And when you get there, it’s mostly Catholic people, which I’m so grateful for the Catholics [break in audio] long before evangelicals did on this issue and, you know, have given us some great social teaching.

But we’d like some more evangelicals there to say, “We, too, care about the dignity of human life, and we care, too – care about the unborn.” And so, we’re trying to rally young evangelicals in particular and trying to get two groups that seemingly don’t always talk to each other, folks who are pro-life and work in that space, and folks who are pro-justice and work in that space and say, “We really need to be both. We can do both of these things at the same time.”

Darrell Bock
Well, I want to thank you, Dan, for coming in and talking to us about this. The theme of dignity is very important. I think it does form an important theological backdrop for how you think about a wide array of issues. And your book certainly roams through those spaces.

I mean I’m just sitting here looking at the table of contents, and you’ve got “Race in the Nations.” You’ve got, “The Start of Life.” You’ve got, “Justice Systems.” You’ve got, “Death, Disease, and Health Care,” “Work and Poverty,” “Identity, Sexuality, and Marriage,” “Technology in the Digital Age,” the whole issue of pluralism, “The State and Religious Liberty,” and then finally, a discussion on politics.

And so, it does kind of roam the universe of possibilities, and I think it sets a good tone for having us think through the theological grounding as we come into those areas. And I think you’re right that there’re – there are a lot of voices that we hear that are influenced by a variety of concerns, but to actually have an approach that seeks to ground this – these discussions in some theological base – in a theological base is really important.

So, I thank you for taking the time with us to discuss this and kind of walk us through how you’re thinking about it.

Daniel Darling
Well, thanks for having me, and I really, again, appreciate the discussion and the interaction with the book and appreciate [break in audio] and I’ve always admired you and looked up to the work that you’re doing. And I’ve read your commentaries for years, so thank you for that, and glad to be on here.
Darrell Bock
Well, thank you very much, Dan, and we’ll – I’m sure there’ll be other topics that we’ll get to come back and talk to you all – you and the Commission about. And I appreciate you’re giving us your time.

And we thank you for joining us on the table, and we hope you’ll join us again soon.

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Daniel Darling
Daniel Darling is the Vice President for Communications at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. He is an author, speaker, and columnist.
Darrell L. Bock
Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than forty books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
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