The Dignity Revolution

A book about human dignity: about the image of God and how it should influence the way we think about the world

Mags Moss | April 2019 - Highfields Book Review

By Daniel Darling - (2018) The Good Book Company: Epsom

The Dignity RevolutionPerhaps the best idea of this book I can give you is its poignant dedication:

“This book is dedicated to the most vulnerable among us in places nobody sees, ignored by the masses of people walking by, ignorant of their plight. God, who formed you in his image, sees you and loves you.”

 “This is a book about human dignity: about the image of God and how it should influence the way we think about the world.” (Darling p202)

In a day when many people are disenfranchised, Darling suggests a fresh approach to engaging with the world and that this can be found in the ‘robust Christian doctrine of human dignity’.  He writes for ‘everyday Christians’, faithful followers of Jesus, who, if they are to be good stewards must understand what it means to be truly human.

‘Dignity’ is a word in many of our contemporary conversations but what does it mean to be human and see the humanity of others?  When so many contemporary voices appropriate the term ‘dignity’ how can we as Christians recover and display its’ true meaning?

Each human being is made in the image of God, and therefore has inherent value.

Here the author outlines the theological basis of human dignity.  Each human being is made in the image of God, and therefore has inherent value.  God created us in his image, we are not God (or animal or angel) we are like God and our dignity is rooted in this truth and flows from it.  Human dignity is who we are rather than what we do.

While philosophers and ethicists have pondered the concept of dignity (e.g. the UN Declaration of Human Rights outlines the importance of human dignity but gives no grounding for that dignity), only the Christian gospel gives us the ‘why’ of dignity: “grounded rather, not in our relation to each other, but in our relation to God.” (Darling p21 quoting the ethicist Gilbert Meilaender)

To claim and imbue dignity is to see every human being, made in the image of God, being ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’.  Loved and valued by God we have a right view of ourselves and of others, so we may respond with compassion to the brokenness around us.

“It’s as we come into the kingdom, and are changed to become more like the King, that we treat others in the way that he does – reaching out to the outsider, caring for the weak, welcoming the marginalized, and calling everyone to repent and believe and come into the kingdom, where image-bearing humans are restored to their original glory and purpose.” (Darling p56) 

The book offers many challenges, and not a little discomfort to our sensibilities

As image –bearers, crowned with ‘glory and honour’ (Ps 8:5) we also have responsibility.  The book offers many challenges, and not a little discomfort to our sensibilities, as we work out our lives in community.  What does the church look like? 

The author suggests it should be a collection of people you would not normally see together – looking different from each other, from different backgrounds with different abilities and outlooks but whose commonality is that they are redeemed people of God.  In our conduct as the body of Christ we display an other-worldly view of dignity by resisting the world’s view of power and worth and where people are loved and accepted not because of what they can contribute but because of who they are in Christ.  We communicate the gospel and illuminate the ethics of that gospel in the way we live and by acts of mercy.   He emphasises the absolute need for both – not ‘either – or’ but conjoined necessities.

This first section therefore helps us see what dignity is and our responsibility as image bearers.  It also provides us with a benchmark for our reasoning with the issues of life in a world where there are many assaults on human dignity and often as believers we are confused as to how to respond. 

The second section of the book outlines the challenges we face and the response we might make to the world’s view on issues that seem to bombard us daily:

 “… it is urgent for followers of Jesus to see that a conscious recovery of the idea of human dignity is what enables us to engage a complex world in how we think, what we say, and how we act.”   (Darling p26)

This section offers chapters on the issues of the beginning of life, healthcare and death, justice systems and immigration, technology, politics, race, identity, marriage and sexuality, pluralism and religious liberty.  Some of these were not a comfortable read and made me rethink some of my own views.  The author poses the question:

What if our public engagement of issues, the way we vote, the people on whose behalf we speak, the way we talk, and the way we listen were shaped less by tribal loyalties and more by the way of Jesus.”  (Darling p210)

These big issues, it may be argued, merit a more comprehensive discussion but this is an excellent framework for how we as a Christian family, in the light of God’s Word, can hone our thinking and influence our society.   

“Every one of us can model, by our lives and our speech, what respect and dignity look like” (Darling p199)

Darling concludes by posing the question – how will history judge the church at this time – will we be remembered for our love of the vulnerable, declaring, ‘there is a person here, worthy of dignity’ or, seeing society’s injustices and  “essentially baptiz(ing) the status quo by (our)silence”,  we did nothing. He suggests that the fight for human dignity is the cause of our generation and

“why a recovery of a robust Christian vision of human dignity is vital if we are to represent God as his imagers in this world.” (p29)

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