Friday, 29 May 2009

Creation regained

I've enjoyed reading Wolters' Creation Regained in our staff study programme. It's a great call to a reformation wordview, rather than an all-too-gnostic division of world into sacred and secular. He helpfully gives categories of structure and direction, with which to analyse - structure is what we might think of as substance, material (whether physical or not); direction is essentially how it's used or acted upon - in conformity to God's good creation or in a distortion or perversion of it? This thinking prevents us from throwing good babies out with bad bathwater, or from drinking dirty bathwater just because sometimes it's useful for cleaning babies.

However there seemed to me to be a drawback with the book - a looming absence. It might have been because of the subject material, but God seemed rather distant. Impersonal. His power acts in Jesus Christ by the Spirit to transform the world. He's Trinitarian in formula: "God is renewing the creation and the whole of human life in the work of Jesus Christ by the Spirit." Yet somehow this comes across as impersonal. It's a project to renew creation and human life. To this end Jesus defeats sin and evil in his death and resurrection. But what about, "Eternal life is to know you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent"?

There is a problem when salvation is reduced to the realm of personal communion with God, and our role as God's glory - his image-bearers, his vice-regent representatives of his rule over creation under him - is forgotten. But we mustn't neglect the place of personal reconciliation as well as cosmic: of not only restoring creation but knowing God as Father in Christ by the Spirit. God's Kingdom is not merely that God is renewing the creation and the whole of human life in the work of Jesus Christ by the Spirit. The good news of God's kingdom includes the announcement of how one may take part in this kingdom in repentence and faith - i.e., how this kingdom's arrival is indeed good news for you! And that involves the Trinity covenanting together to call and provide a way for us to come to Himself. And it centres on a cross and empty tomb. Not merely a place of victory over evil, but a victory over evil because it is place of satisfaction of God's justice, of taking of his curse on creation on himself, so that we who were once not only failed-caretakers but hostile are reconciled by his blood.

I'm not writing off the book for that - on the contrary, it's a clear and persuasive introduction to its stated topic. But when the authors have taken the opportunity of a second edition to write a postscript describing the gospel more broadly than their remit, it was disappointing that they didn't bring in this glorious personal aspect, indispensible for their topic.

Perhaps I'm being unfair, on a first reading. It got me thinking, though, of this null hypothetical: Say you had reformed all of life - church, family, politics, business, art, education, journalism, thought, emotion, plants and animals, inanimate matter - in a Godward direction, so that, by God's power in the work of Christ by the Spirit, it was as it should be in God's good creation. And you did not know the Father in Christ. Would you be happy? Would you have fulfilled the gospel? The kingdom? (It's an impossible hypothesis, of course, but perhaps worth pondering.)


Anonymous said...

I agree! I stumbled across it while writing an essay on creation a few months ago (it wasn't on the reading list but I always like to go 'off piste' a little!)

It was the best book I read on the subject by far. Nice and short and to-the-point, too!

Daniel said...

Interesting. I found this book immensely frustrating. As I recall, it was because of the fact that it took a long time to get to Jesus. And because redemption was portrayed just as the regaining of creation, which I think falls far short of the Biblical picture. I guess I'm moving away from a perfect-fallen-perfect timeline towards a ready-fallen-perfect timeline, if that makes sense?

étrangère said...

Dan, I think your noted absence (or delay) of Jesus was my noted absence of the personal reconciliation of persons to the Father in Christ by the Spirit. But yes, now you say it, it felt a little like a cosmic version of 2 ways to live - great outline in many ways, but Jesus only pitches up in box 4. 'God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself' - it felt like he stopped there (and took a while to get to the 'in Christ'), whereas the verse continues with a personal means and a personal implication: "not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." That all seemed absent from their final chapter on the gospel.

I think I understand your distinction between timelines. Do you mean something like the reformed [badly named] covenant of works, that the creation was in readiness rather than perfect? Or that the creation was in readiness rather than perfection because the covenant of the Trinity that Christ was to be slain to redeem had not yet been historically fulfilled, thus the world wasn't perfect? Or something else entirely?

PG said...

intersting you should note that. I've been talking reformational stuff with a few Dutch guys of late and they made the comment that the British scene was more cross/Christ geared and the Dutch scene more themed towards common grace. I think there are +ives and -ives to both, but perhaps you've struck one of the potential negatives to the Dutch scene. Or perhaps it's not a typical error?

Yes it's hilariously generalised, but it came from the horse's mouth and not my own!

Daniel said...

Re: timelines... I think I mean that Rev 21 is very different from Gen 2. In Gen 2 the stage is set, but the story has barely started; Rev 21 is the fitting conclusion to the story. The incarnation/cross/resurrection I see as being the action/climax part of the story (the bit where the ring goes into Mount Doom - everything after is mopping up, rejoicing, concluding). I guess I think the creation exists for the cross, rather than vice versa...

Which affects the way you think about 'common grace', so called... Not sure I've worked that out in detail yet.