Eerdmans, 1985. Available in Australia at Koorong Books.
This is a gem of a book. First published in 1985, it has been reissued several times since then, with the newest edition appearing in 2005.
The gist of the book can be stated this way: there are two major themes in biblical theology – creation and redemption. Unfortunately many believers today only consider the latter. That is, they are focused – and in many ways, rightly – on personal salvation. That is why Evangelicals are called Evangelicals: they take seriously the task of evangelism, of telling people the good news of the gospel.
But sometimes in their zeal to do this, they reduce Christianity to just one thing: getting souls into heaven. Now that of course is vital. As Jesus said, “what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?” (Matt. 16:26). So telling people about their eternal destiny is crucial.
But that is not the entire biblical gospel. Redemption is important, but so too is creation. Yes, creation is fallen, and sin has marred God’s original design and purposes. But why did God create in the first place? Is this world just transient and unimportant? Or is there a greater purpose for creation?
Recognising that one day there will be a new heaven and a new earth should remind us that this world is not just secondary to God’s purposes. In fact the two-fold nature of the biblical worldview is really a threefold one: creation, fall/redemption, and re-creation.
God is not finished with this world, and has great plans for it. Indeed, argues Wolters, we need to have a more wholistic view of what biblical redemption in fact entails. He says that “the redemption in Jesus Christ means the restoration of an original good creation. . . . In other words, redemption is re-creation”.
Believers sometimes tend to forget that the original creation made by God was pronounced “good” by the creator. And even though now labouring under the effects of the Fall, it is still a good creation. Everything that God created – be it social, relational, cultural or personal – is part of God’s good creation and is meant to be redeemed, to be taken into the Lordship of Christ.
Thus arts and culture are good in themselves, because God made them. Of course they are all now fallen. But just as individuals are fallen and in need of redemption, so too all areas of life partake of the Fall, and are meant to partake in redemption. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” we are told by the Psalmist (Psalm 24:1).
Wolters reminds us that “everything is creational”. That is, every aspect of natural life is part of God’s created order. As we are commanded in the so-called dominion mandate of Gen. 1:27-31, we are to tend God’s creation; we are to be his stewards on planet earth. “Almighty God has withdrawn from the work of creation,” says Wolters, but “he has put an image of himself on the earth with a mandate to continue”.
He explains, “Mankind, as God’s representatives on earth, carry on where God left off”. And our task is no less than the development of civilisation, and all which that entails. Thus a cultural order is to be developed and sustained by God’s people. And a political order. And an economic order. And a social order, and so on. All these are aspects of the civilisation which God intended mankind to develop and propagate.
Thus in one sense there is to be no sacred-secular dichotomy. This whole world is God’s world. Satan has sought to claim it as his own, but it is not. It does not belong to him. It belongs to God, and doubly so: by creation and by redemption. Again, the goal of the church is not just to get disembodied souls into some cloudy-like heaven, but to get whole embodied people into a new earth in the future, and remake them on this earth now.
So we are partakers with God in the creation/recreation theme that pervades all of Scripture. “Creation is not something that, once made, remains a static quantity,” says Wolters. “There is … an unfolding of creation. This takes place through the task that people have been given of bringing to fruition the possibilities of development implicit in the work of God’s hands”.
In other words, “We are called to participate in the ongoing creational work of God, to be God’s helper in executing to the end the blueprint for his masterpiece”. Seen in this light, the Christian life is far more than what happens on a Sunday morning, or in daily devotionals, or in “witnessing”. It takes on the whole of life.
Thus writing a novel, tending a garden, or singing in a choir can all be parts of God’s creational and redemptive work. Doing the best job you can in a factory can be just as important as becoming an overseas missionary. As Paul reminds us, whatever we do, we should do all for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).
What Wolters wants to remind us is that “human history and the unfolding of culture and society are integral to creation and its development”. They are “not outside God’s plan for the cosmos, despite the sinful aberrations”.
Wolters argues that we must take sin and its effects seriously, but we must remember that the beauty and purposes of God’s creation are not totally eradicated by sin. Believers are called to redeem the created order, bringing it under the Lordship of Christ. That means every area, not just what we consider to be “spiritual”.
The view being put forth by Wolters (a view which has always been part of the Reformed biblical worldview) helps us to think outside of the box, and see our calling and mission as much larger than how we tend to view them. Wolters rightly says, “The scope of redemption is as great as that of the fall; it embraces creation as a whole”.
As Paul says in Col. 1:20, Christ seeks to “reconcile to himself all things”. All of creation is affected by the fall, and all of creation is meant to be reclaimed in Christ. There is no middle ground here. Every inch of creation is claimed and counterclaimed by Christ and Satan. “Both God and Satan lay claim to the whole of creation, leaving nothing neutral or undisputed,” he says. “Nothing is ‘neutral’ in the sense that sin fails to affect it or that redemption fails to hold out the promise of deliverance.”
It is our job as believers to seek to reclaim for Christ and his Kingdom every area of life. It rightfully belongs to God, but has been temporarily and deceptively snatched by the enemy. But all of creation is the Lord’s as should be all of its redemption.
Wolters deserves much credit for reminding us of these foundational truths that have in many ways been lost in much of the church. Being a Christian is much more than just going to church or abstaining from certain activities.
Being a Christian is really about being a partner with God in seeing his creation extended, his redemption applied, and his victory ensured. It is his work, not ours, yet he calls us to partner with him in this whole magnificent process of creation, redemption and re-creation.