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CFBU's Biblical Unity Model: A Brief Overview

by Krista Bontrager



I have written previously about the two models concerning race and racism that are floating around Christian spaces. We call them (1) the racial reconciliation model; and (2) the biblical unity model. At the Center for Biblical Unity, we advocate for what we call the “biblical unity” model. Rather than being primarily shaped by philosophical or sociological ideas, this model is built on four major principles that are founded in scripture: (1) creation identity; (2) salvation identity; (3) matters of Providence; and (4) walking in unity. This article contains a very brief overview of these major features of our model.


1. CREATION IDENTITY


Genesis 1 and 2 recount God’s creative work, including the creation of humans. Since all humans are created by God, all humans, in all times and places, share this foundational identity. Five major pillars are revealed in the early chapters of Genesis that uphold this human creation identity.


Pillar 1: God specially created the first humans, the original ancestors of all human beings.


Compared to the other beings created by God, God gave unique attention to the formation of Adam and Eve (Genesis 1:26) and was directly involved in their creation (Genesis 2:7, 21). Adam and Eve were real historical people (Luke 3:38; Romans 5:12, 15) and the first parents of all humans (Genesis 3:20, Acts 17:26). Within Adam and Eve was the possibility of all the ethnic diversity that we see today.


Pillar 2: God created both the man and the woman in His image.


While both humans and animals were made from the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7, 19), humans alone bear the imago Dei (i.e., “the image of God”; Genesis 1:27) and the “breath of life” (Genesis 2:7). The Psalmist describes humanity as being made “a little lower than the heavenly beings” (Psalm 8:5). The imago Dei is the source of human dignity. This means that all human beings—regardless of who their parents are, whether they are Christians or not, or whether others see them as valuable or not—have inherent value, dignity, and worth.


Pillar 3: God commanded humans to marry and procreate.


In the creation of Adam and Eve, God instituted the first family. Since the beginning, God’s design for human flourishing has been for people to grow up, marry one member of the opposite sex, bring children into the world, and remain together in loving commitment for life (Genesis 1:28, 2:24, 9:1). While God’s plan for procreative “fruitfulness” has recently fallen from favor in Western society, His design for marriage and the family unit still stands as the best safeguard for human dignity and wellbeing.


Pillar 4: God appointed the man and the woman to govern the earth.


God’s original plan was revealed in His command for Adam and Eve, their children, and their children’s children to work the ground (Genesis 2:15) and rule the earth (Genesis 1:26, 28). They were to expand the Garden of Eden until they eventually brought the entire planet under their gracious stewardship. Human beings were made to participate in meaningful work, not to avoid it.


Pillar 5: Rebellion against God brought sin into the world, affecting all aspects of life.


Rebellion meant work would become harder, pain in childbearing would increase, the relationship between human beings and the land would worsen, and Adam and Eve would no longer have the sanctuary of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:16-19). They could no longer walk guiltlessly in God’s presence, and the generations to come would witness, suffer from, and participate in the spread of evil.


2. SALVATION IDENTITY


Salvation identity is the second critical principle of the biblical unity model. Salvation identity is exclusive to those who are true born-again Christians: God created us and then redeemed us through Christ. Our salvation identity is the foundation of our unity and is grounded in four realities that guide how we think and live as Christians.


Reality 1: For those who are “in Christ,” God is now our Father.


The biblical unity model centers on the accomplished work of Christ. Jesus accomplished the work of achieving unity. The work of Jesus on the cross opens the possibility for all sinners, Jews and Gentiles alike, to become children of God (John 1:11-13; Ephesians 1:5; Romans 8:15), though only a few will come (Matthew 22:1-14). For Christians, unity is our starting point, not a destination to be achieved.


Reality 2: Those who are “in Christ” are part of a new spiritual family.


Jesus’ death and resurrection creates an objective new reality. As disciples of Jesus, we become spiritual brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers to one another (Matthew 12:46-50, 1 Timothy 5:1-2). So, while all humans are created in the image of God, not every human is a child of God. Salvation identity applies exclusively to those who are “in Christ.”


Reality 3: God’s spiritual family is called out from every nation.


God is calling individuals from among the nations to become one new people (Revelation 5:9-10 and 7:9). This new group of people is called the Church. The universal Church has been ethnically and culturally diverse since Pentecost (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 2:9-12) and has continued to expand to this day. An ethnically diverse Body of Christ is a global reality even now.


Reality 4: Our salvation identity enables us to live out our creation identity in eternity.


Humans were originally created to reign over this creation and steward it on God’s behalf (Genesis 1:26-27). Those who are “in Christ” will rule and reign with Him for all eternity (Rev 20:6, 22:5).


3. MATTERS OF PROVIDENCE


By “Providence” we mean that God “governs all things according to the purposes of His will” and, through His wisdom, cares for and directs all things in the universe, including the specific time and place into which we are born. God is directly involved in the details of our lives, including our ethnicity, national origin, family history and relationships, cultural lenses about ourselves and others, socioeconomic status, and more. While we do not have control over these matters of Providence, they often play an important role in our lives and understanding of ourselves.


The biblical unity model categorizes creation identity and salvation identity is foundational to matters of Providence. Galatians 3:26-29 and Colossians 3:10-11 reveal the interplay between our salvation identity, creation identity, and matters of Providence: Whether we are male or female (creation identity), slave or free (a matter of Providence), or Jew, Gentile, barbarian, or Scythian (a matter of Providence), our highest identity is that of belonging to Christ (salvation identity).


As Christians, we can still enjoy a level of pride in our cultural heritage or in other matters of Providence. The Apostle Paul himself was vocal about the advantages of his heritage. But his tribal pride paled in comparison to his identity in Christ (Philippians 3:3-9).


4. WALKING IN UNITY


The biblical unity model does not deny historic racial injustices or turn a blind eye to it when we see it today. However, the biblical unity model invites Christians to investigate how to live righteously in light of God’s eternal moral law, including standing against racism as defined by Scripture.


For those who are “in Christ,” unity is a starting point, not a destination to be achieved. We are brothers and sisters of Christ (Matthew 12:50), “one body in Christ” (Romans 12:5), and we are called to live in unity (Ephesians 4:3, 13). Therefore, “in Christ,” a more foundational identity emerges: FAMILY.


Becoming a true child of God means that we become members of a multiethnic, multicultural, intergenerational movement of God across thousands of years of history. Unity is possible because Christians participate with each other from the position of brothers and sisters. Jesus has done all the work necessary to make cultural enemies into family. It is our job, as His children, to spread that good news.


This is a summary of some key ideas from our forthcoming book, Walking in Unity. Available September 17, 2024 This post was compiled by N. Roman.

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