“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A Christian model of disability

People will at times attempt to understand what disability is through the construction of models. One hears of the medical or individual model, the social model or the moral model, each of which tries to explain or understand what disability is. As I have thought of these models in concert with what the Bible says about people in general and those who are devalued in some way by society because of characteristics such as impairment or disability, I have wondered what a Christian model might entail. I plan to unpack this much more, probably in the form of an article at some point soon, but I thought I would share my current thinking hoping to perhaps get some feedback from others who have been thinking about these issues. So here is my first stab at what might be called "A Christian model of disability."

A Christian model of disability  - all scripture applies to all people
There might be 5 general aspects to be considered.
  1. The individual with impairments in relation to God
    1. Created in His image (Genesis 1:26)
    2. In need of salvation (Romans 3)
    3. Not the result of personal sin (John 9:3-5)
    4. Not the result of a lack of faith (2 Corinthians 12:8-10)
    5. Complete in Christ (Colossians 2:10)
  2. The individual with impairments in relation to themselves
    1. Created with a purpose (Exodus 4:11)
    2. Specifically created (Psalm 139:13)
    3. Evidence of the works of God (John 9:3-5)
  3. The individual with impairments in relation to the community
    1. Indispensable and worthy of special honor (1 Corinthians 12: 22-26)
    2. God’s sovereignty for the community (1 Corinthians 12:18)
    3. Reveals neighbors (Luke 10:25-37)
    4. Reveals lack of understanding (James 2:1)
    5. To whom much is given (Luke 12:48)
  4. The community in relation to God
    1. God’s sovereignty for the community (1 Corinthians 12:18)
    2. No favoritism (James 2:1)
    3. Reveals wrong traditions (Mark 7:8 & 13)
  5. The community in relation with itself
    1. The Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-31)
    2. Love your neighbor (1 Corinthians 13:1-13)
    3. Greatest commandments (Luke 10:27)
    4. Who is not my neighbor? (Luke 10:29)
Conclusions based upon the above and other passages might be...
So the individual is…
´ Created in the image of God
´ Created with a purpose
´ As they are that the works of God might be seen
´ Impairments not the result of personal sin
´ Impairments not due to a lack of faith
´ Complete in Christ
´ Seems weaker but actually indispensable
´ Thought less honorable but actually worthy of special honor
´ Reveals character of those around
So the community…
´ The Body of Christ is God’s design for people
´ People are the way they are under the sovereignty of God for both themselves and for the community
´ Within the Body of Christ there should be no favoritism shown to one group or person over another
´ If the community truly was as it should be, disability would be very different
´ Inside or outside of the Christian community, everyone is a neighbor
´ Should focus on relationships over programs
So God…
´ Is love and loves people
´ Has purpose in disability
´ God makes people “deaf, dumb or blind”
´ Additionally, because God is all powerful, he either causes or permits disability
´ God may heal people, however, it is related to his sovereign purpose, not to someone’s faith
´ Promises his grace and that it will be sufficient in difficult times

´ Reveals things about himself through disability, eg. His power is made perfect in weakness

Thanks for looking this over. As stated, any input would be gratefully received.



Dan Vander Plaats said...

Jeff - you beat me to it. I started writing a treatise just a couple days ago in which I was going to consider the challenges posed by secular thought and the various models of disability perspective so entailed. Your synopsis articulates things well. What it does not do is address what I think is the key fulcrum, and that is "the basis for identity." Is the individual defined by accomplishment, by society, by a sense of self...or is the individual defined by a loving God. Util we do address secular thought in a direct manner, we are only reaching the Christian reader/listener, which I suppose is a big enough challenge anyway.

Helen said...

I have read this carefully trying to understand the authors perspective.
There are a number of things that strike me, some I will comment on here.
Models such as medical model are not ways in which people seek to describe disability. They are a description of how others view and treat Disabled People. The Social model is a way in which Disabled People have determined their own identity.
There is nothing new in this article and all has been described and referenced over the years.
The World Council of Churches statement, I think It was 2004 articulated very well biblical and theological aspects of disability. Their more recent document does not cover the topics as well, as they rightly conclude that Disabled People as far as God and the church are concerned are no different to anyone else.
In the UK The Methodist Church did a lot of work in this area 10 years ish ago, so we can see that this article is in fact behind the times.
As a Disabled Theologian I cannot support some of the points made as they are contrary to experience and understanding of God, Bible and the lived story of those of us who are Christians and Disabled People.
If you want a Christian model and understanding of disability you need go no further than Broken Body Theology (published 2006) we see it weekly in our churches.

Unknown said...

Anonymous said…

This is a great visual outline of disabilities in accordance with what the bible says. Recently my eyes have been open to this perspective of the bible. I have been blinded to this because I lacked exposure to this knowledge. The churches that I have attended all my life did not address disabilities and did not make connections from scripture to people with disabilities. Frankly, I have only encountered a handful of individuals with disabilities at the churches that I have been to, it was a rare occasion. I think the fact that this did not even cross my mind shows the state of the church. Most Christian people that I encounter, they are not aware of this perspective. I think the part that really shifted my perspective was the fact that individuals with disabilities are created in the image of God with a purpose. People with disabilities are a part of the will of God. Therefore, through them there is a work that God planned to be done in the churches and beyond. However, the reality of the church today is that there is minimal sense of urgency to reach out to these groups of people. The sense that I get is fear and inconvenience but God is love and loves all people then we, as the church, need to do the same.

Anonymous said...

This i a very helpful tool to help churches who was to start integrating people with disabilities into their church. There is so much scripture for it and very specific subjects where they can relate it to their lives so people with disabilities feel more included

Lindsey Hanlin said...

I love how your post ties in Christianity to disabilities so clearly and beautifully. I believe every Christian should take a moment and look over your outline. I have seen and heard many people, especially in older generations, who look down upon people with disabilities. They outcast them and treat them like they are not meant for any purpose. However, by the grace of God, EVERYONE has a purpose in this life so that one day ALL of those who have a living relationship with him will inherit his kingdom. Your outline could also be used in Bible Studies across churches to help teach the congregation how to view disabled people form a Christian perspective. After taking your class and reading this post, I am truly inspired to go into the community and minister to persons who are born with disabilities. A disability should never get in the way of how someone perceives God or how they are treated by others. We are all His children, therefore we should ALL be treated as His children who deserve His love and grace.

Evelyn said...

Hi Dan,

Which broken body theology are you referring to here?