CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

A review of Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview. By Albert Wolters.

Oct 5, 2007

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.

[1231 words]

14 Responses to A review of Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview. By Albert Wolters.

  • Bill,
    If the movie industry in Hollywood produces “R” rated porno movies….which undoutably has some “artistic” & “aesthetic” merit, eg. the Human Body that God created, does this mean Christians should participate in this industry to “redeem” it? Yes, I have used an extreme example, but I am attempting to illustrate a point. That is, I agree with you that Christians should in principle: “be in the world, but not of the World”. However, their are some things that, no matter how compelling, no matter how “artistically meritorious”, should never be an area for Christians to work or participate in. Then there are the grey areas and this requires Wisdom, keeping in mind always, how to bring Glory to God…..not ourselves.
    Therefore, when I see a show called Australian IDOL, it gives me cause for concern, that a show with such a name, is not sending the right message. It is not indicating what the Kingdom of God is like but what the Kingdom of Darkness is like. The world system.
    Sure, there is nothing to stop Christians getting together and creating their own public singing contest. Even a secular public singing contest is not a problem if it was named, portrayed and run in an acceptable (not necessarily perfect) manner. It is simply that this one is called Australian IDOL…..not good, as in the original Creation “good”.
    Do you think that you or any of those young Christian participants can redeem this? Do you think that the producers of the show, if you asked them nicely: “Please, we would like to sing on your show but we want you to change the name”…..Do you think they would oblige you….no, I think not.
    Once again l quote 1 John 2:15-17:

    15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. 17 And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.

    It is not, not, not a case of: “If you can’t beat’em join’em”

    God Bless, Robert Phillips

  • Dutch Reformation artists like Rembrandt clearly expressed this idea of a redeemed world which outwardly is wasting away. I think of his numerous self-portraits that show the ageing process – and also express inner renewal. Many of his paintings look as though a refining process is in operation that result in areas of pure, golden light. I think the high point of western civilsation lies in the art and music of the Reformation period. Bach will be eternally played.
    David Skinner, UK

  • Thanks Robert

    As you have made this case several times now, you will forgive me if I cut to the quick.

    You continue to unhelpfully conflate two separate issues: whether a Christian in good faith can appear on Idol, and what is the biblical position on Christian cultural involvement. As to the former, you continue to imply that a Christian is sinning if he or she goes on the show. That kind of judgmentalism is not only unfortunate, but you will not be able to provide us with chapter and verse on that one.

    And with all due respect, you seem obsessed with the word Idol. If the show were called Australian Singer, would you still be going on and on about Christian participation in the show?

    As I said, it certainly is not my intention to defend Idol. But it is also not my intention to say that any believer who appears on the show is outside of God’s will and in deep rebellion.

    As to your example, it was not extreme, it was just plain foolish – a complete red herring. No intelligent Christian has ever suggested that we knowingly sin in order to further the gospel. When Paul said he became all things to all men, in order to reach some, he of course did not mean that he became a prostitute to reach prostitutes, or a rapist to reach rapists. The whole suggestion is just unhelpful and disingenuous.

    And you go on about “the world system,” whatever that means. When Scripture, especially the New Testament, uses such terms as kosmos, oikoumene, and related words, it is a much more complex and nuanced understanding than what you seem to be suggesting. Perhaps I will have to pen my next article on that issue.

    As to whether Christians can redeem something like Idol, I offer only one response. If God in fact calls a believer to do just that (which I think is totally possible), how dare we stand in their way and condemn them? Again, you assume that going on Idol is intrinsically evil and wrong, never in the will of God. I reject your assumption here. It may be wrong for some believers to go on such a show, but then it may be right for some believers to go on the show. I do not know if the believers on the show have that clear sense of calling and purpose to be there, but neither do you. I will not judge them in this regard. God only knows their hearts.

    It is one thing to take a general stand for holiness and a pure church. In that you are to be applauded. We all should do the same. But it is quite another thing to suggest that you know exactly that it is the clear and perfect will of God that no believer should ever appear on Idol.

    And simply throwing 1 John 2:15-17 around really solves nothing. You again are assuming that a believer who may be feel called of God to be on Idol is somehow loving the world and deeply in sin. I must confess that I do not possess the various attributes of deity to be able to make such specific judgements and offer such condemnation.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hi BIll,
    Thanks for the Book review. It is a book I have on my shelf. I must read it now!

    I Just attended a two day preaching Conference in Geelong at the Reformed Theological College on “Preaching the Kingdom”. It was an excellent conference, dealing with the same sorts of themes as Albert Wolter in this book. Obviously the conference is now past, but the talks are avaliable in MP3 format from the College. Can I recommend this here?

    Thanks, Simon van der Wel

  • Thanks Bill for another helpful article. I found your website recently, and it has been encouraging to see a Christian and fellow Australian willing to take a stand on the issues of the day.

    I think this article and the book reviewed are very timely – it is easy to see the results of Christians leaving science, media, and the arts to the unsaved. The police and armed forces are also areas being ignored. Do we seriously want these important roles to be devoid of believers?

    Not so long ago, science was a field pioneered by believers, including some of the greatest scientists in history. Today, however, many Bible-believing scientists are afraid to reveal their faith for fear of losing their jobs and research opportunities. I can only speculate, but perhaps if more Christians were involved in medical research, ethical standards would never have dropped low enough to allow embryonic stem cell research to take place (perhaps the same can be said for medicine and abortion). Thankfully there are many people (e.g. CMI and AiG ministries) working on redeeming science.

    The media is also a bastion of ungodliness and ‘christophobia’. I am often amazed that it gets away with attacking such a large proportion of the population on a regular basis. Again, it is encouraging that we have people like you working to redeem it.

    Samuel Sparks, QLD

  • Robert Phillips,

    I believe there is an unstated assumption within your argument, often summarised as “don’t knock it till you’ve tried it!”

    That is, anyone who has not partaken of some experience or aspect of life, thereby cannot offer a solution to its problems. I believe the falsity of that assumption is clear as soon as we express it.

    It isn’t necessary to be directly involved in any cultural endeavour, in the way you illustrate, to redeem it.
    Redeeming bad art doesn’t require us to share in the muck (see any of Andrew Bolt’s articles about the various Melbourne arts “festivals” for example. He doesn’t have to see them all to critique them).

    So redeeming the film industry could involve out-flanking the porn rubbish by, f’rinstance, offering quality alternatives like “Amazing Grace”, which did well at the box office, I understand.

    Part of redeeming the culture includes actually thinking better than the opposition, wouldn’t you agree?

    John Angelico

  • Bill

    That is timely advice and a message that many Christians in Oz etc need to hear.

    Have you read N T Wright’s “Paul”? That seems to convey the message that Paul’s message of salvation was integrally tied up with his message of creation. Seems to lend biblical support for what you are saying.

    Damien Spillane

  • Thanks for the review Bill. Some of the recent comments on this thread (and the previous one) seem to illustrate the need for such a book. Scripture implores the church to be a redemptive community, firstly for the individual, but also for the ‘host’ culture.

    If we fail to recognize the duty of the church to impact the wider culture, then we become an insular (if not elitist) community, which doesn’t take seriously Christ’s command to make disciples. You cannot reach people to whom you cannot build a bridge. Paul knew this when he reasoned with the Athenians. He interacted with them according to their current worldview. He even quoted a poem which referred to Zeus! (Acts 17:28)

    Would Robert consider this a case of “If you can’t beat’em join’em”?

    Paul never compromised his or the Gospel’s integrity in this circumstance. Instead we see a great illustration of being “in the world but not of it.” Remember that Paul’s greatest audience in Athens was not behind the doors of the synagogue, but in the marketplace and the centre-stage of Athenian ‘pop’ culture, the Areopagus.

    Luke Beattie

  • Thanks Damien
    I have most of Wright’s books, but not his newer one on Paul. Will have to add it to the list. (Just don’t tell my wife I am thinking of buying more books!)
    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • There are huge problems with Wright’s views on Paul that undermine the biblical/reformation Gospel. He gets all his stuff on Paul from Sanders, who is not even a Christian and is critical of Paul, and has himself been criticised by Jewish experts like Neusner. And experts on the Reformers show that the New Perspective crowd have barely read what they actually say.

    One critic wrote:

    Sanders and his partners in the New Perspective have missed completely the distinction between Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism. Therefore they understand neither Luther nor Paul, nor are they aware of the vital difference in anthropology that distinguishes rabbinic Judaism from Pauline Christianity.

    (cited in the detailed article The Attractions of the New Perspective(s) on Paul by J. Ligon Duncan, President, Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, Inc.

    Wright has produced many good books, but this in a sense makes his current ideas even more dangerous because they give a false evangelical imprimatur to it.

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • I would like to take the discussion about Wolter’s book in a different direction if I may. I agree that some evangelicals preach a narrow gospel – one that concentrates on ‘getting souls to heaven’ without proclaiming good news for all creation. It worries me when Christians speak out against a growing environmentalist movement (i.e. the global warming concern) instead of applauding those who want to care for God’s world. What message does this send to unbelievers?
    Dale Skewes, Junee, NSW

  • Thanks Dale

    Yes and no would be my reply. Yes, we should take seriously our responsibilities as stewards of the planet which God has entrusted to us. Part of our calling as Christ’s disciples is to look after the earth and treat it wisely and carefully, yet without worshipping it.

    But no, we need not leap onto every environmental cause without first carefully assessing all the available evidence. Despite the claims of some, there is a real lack of unanimity amongst scientists as to many as aspects of the global warming issue. That does not mean we do nothing, but we proceed with caution.

    As but one example, just a few short decades ago many scientists were convinced that we were embarking on a new ice age. Should we have thrown all our support into their cause, in the name of concern for planet earth?

    Christian stewardship of this world is important, but it should be a careful, informed stewardship, not just a case of jumping on the latest environmental bandwagon, some of which prove to be quite off base.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • It is some time since I read Wolters book and interacted with the issues it raises. My comments as a result may not be as sharp as I would like.

    I believe that Christians while strangers and pilgrims ought to care for the city in which they live. They ought to act as salt and light in society. These roles may however more acurately be described as preservative and illuminative rather than redemptive. We cannot redeem present culture it is unsalvageable. God does not intend to redeem it but has condemned it.

    Israel was to care about the welfare of Babylon but was not encouraged to think of it as the country/culture that God intended to redeem. In terms of typology Babylon was the world heading for destruction. Israel belonged to a different country/culture.

    Wolters position as I remember it was that redemption is essentially Eden restored. There is in redemption or new creation nothing ‘added’. This seems to me to be wrong. Glorification is not merely Eden restored. Redeemed humanity is not simply Adamic humanity decontaminated. New creation is ‘in Christ’ and Christ is a new order/state of humanity. Christ and Adam stand in contrast. They stand in contrast essentially. It is not merely Christ and a fallen Adam that are in contrast but Christ and an unfallen Adam. They belong to different sources and head different creations. Yes there is continuity but their is fundamental discontinuity. I Cor 15 defines the contrast as one of the earthly and heavenly, the natural and spiritual, perishable and imperishable, mortal and immortal.

    (NIV) If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man. 50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable

    Christ in incarnation introduced a new order of humanity (signalled by a virgin birth) that he brought to perfection/completion in resurrection and exaltation. His human nature unlike Adam’s was incapable of sin. His human nature is that which we share with him in redemption. It is a humanity ‘born of God’ that cannot sin for it is a holy nature, a divine nature, the seed of God. I am not saying we share in Christ’s deity, far from it. But the new birth brings a new nature, a new life, that Adam did not have before the fall. Eternal life, spiritual life, Christ’s life, the life of God, is an ‘addition’ that Adam did not possess.

    We may assume that the new creation that has arrived in Christ will be socially substantially different from the present creation if it were restored. It will not be based around marriage and procreation. This alone marks it as radically different from anything we know or can imagine.

    In my view, Wolters theology here is misguided. It leads to putting far too great an emphasis on the intrinsic value of present culture. While as Christians we are exhorted to do good to all men, to care as it were for the welfare of the city, I see little emphasis in the NT on seeking to transform culture as a redemptive goal. In fact, I see none. Rather God is calling out of the present culture a people for himself who will model the virtues of an eschatological culture as yet unimaginable but founded on the graces that are in Christ Jesus.

  • Thanks John. Like you it has been a while since I have read the book (at least a decade ago), and things are a bit too busy for me to now find it, blow off the dust, reread it and then respond to you. Nor is it my intent here to defend him to the death. Suffice it to say that the general drift of what he said I go along with. Briefly, I am glad others also took this view. Wilberforce for example felt his faith had to have a very real impact on the world he lived in – the cultural, political and legal world, etc. I am glad he took that approach, as are millions of free Blacks. Simply following the command of Jesus to be salt and light would also demand, not an other-worldly Christianity, but one that very much does impact our culture, our laws, our societies, and so on.

    How we might understand all this in terms of a “redemptive” ministry is one that could be debated. So too would all the related issues of what the kingdom of God entails, how far common grace extends, what is the mission of the church, and other important issues. But for me some of this is more of a secondary nature, and the real issue is taking our faith seriously in all aspects of life, and letting Christ be Lord over all of life. So Wolters and I may have to agree to disagree with you here, at least in some respects. But thanks for your thoughts.

Leave a Reply