Posts tagged Al Wolters
18 Jul 2012
The final chapter of Al Wolters' Creation Regained (1, 2, 2, 3, 4, 5-6) is a postscript that was added for the second edition of the book in 2005, 20 years after the first edition was published. It is authored jointly by Mike Goheen and Al Wolters, with the title Worldview between Story and Mission. The reason it was added was to set the worldview themes of the book in the context of the broader biblical narrative, and to spell out some of the implications for the mission of the church.
Throughout the main body of the book, I had been understanding the themes of creation, fall and redemption primarily as elements of the biblical narrative, rather than as abstract worldview categories. So I couldn't quite understand why the idea of the biblical narrative was being introduced almost as though it was something the book hadn't mentioned so far. But, regardless of that, the postscript provides an excellent articulation of the big story of the Bible, through creation, rebellion, Israel, Jesus and the church to the final judgment and renewal of the entire creation.
As well as unpacking the biblical narrative, the postscript provides lots of helpful material on the mission of the church, linking it with themes from earlier in the book. Here are a couple of quotes picking up on the book's major themes of structure and direction:
The life of the church is to be a billboard broadcasting the good news that the kingdom is coming. This announcement comes in the extraordinary ordinariness of our daily lives—extraordinary because of the renewing power of the Spirit, ordinary because of the common creational stuff of our daily existence. Or to put it another way: directionally extraordinary, but structurally ordinary (p.132).
In every cultural product, institution, and custom is something of the good of God's creational structure. At the same time all of it, to some degree, is misdirected by a shared cultural idolatry. The mission of God's people is to discern and embrace the good creational insights and structure, and at the same time to reject and subvert the idolatrous distortion (p.137).
The final few sentences provide a good summary:
For followers of Jesus Christ, their place in the [biblical] story is to make known the good news that God is healing the creation from the brokenness of sin. This will mean conflict and suffering. This will demand a deepening spirituality and dependence on the Spirit. This is the context in which we must understand what it means to elaborate the most basic categories of the biblical story. Worldview articulation can play a mediating role between the gospel and the missionary calling of God's people. To that end "Creation Regained" is offered to the church to equip her in a world that desperately needs to see and hear the good news that God's kingdom has come: God is renewing the creation and the whole of human life in the work of Jesus Christ by the Spirit (p.143).
17 Jul 2012
[Jesus' parable of the talents] means that ... Christians must now employ all their God-given means in opposing the sickness and demonization of creation—and thus in restoring creation—in anticipation of its final "regeneration" at the second coming (Matt. 19:28) (p.76).
Chapter 5 of Creation Regained by Al Wolters (1, 2, 2, 3, 4) works through some of the practical implications of a "reformational" worldview. How do the themes of creation, fall and redemption help us to see the ways in which particular areas of life can be regained?
The first step is a matter of understanding. We need to discern structure and direction. All of the created order has a God-given structure, but all of the created order can be directed either towards God in his service, or away from God in rebellion against him.
The next step is a matter of strategy. The approach needs to be "reformational": seeking "reformation" in the sense of "inner revitalization" (p.89), and seeking "reformation" rather than revolution, "progressive renewal rather than violent overthrow" (p.91).
Wolters gives some specific examples. In the realm of societal renewal,
Perversion of God's creational design for society can occur in two ways: either through perversion of the norms within a given sphere (as in cases of injustice in the state, child abuse in the family, exploitative wages in the business enterprise) or through the extension of the authority of one sphere over another. In both cases Christians must oppose these distortions of God's handiwork. But that opposition should always affirm the proper and right exercise of responsibility (p.100).
In other words, the the bad direction should be opposed, precisely in order that the good creational structure can be affirmed.
Meanwhile, in the realm of personal renewal, a careful distinction between structure and direction can help to break through false dilemmas, where Christians may find themselves torn between a totally positive view and a totally negative view of something. Examples given are:
- Agression: in terms of structure, this is a good part of creation, but it is often directed in a harmful way.
- Spiritual gifts: "As creational possibilities, the charismata manifest structural traits; as serving either the kingdom of God or the world, they manifest directional traits" (p.105).
- Sexuality: "Human sexuality, a part of God's good creation, ought to be affirmed and accepted with thanksgiving. ... Sexual immorality should be opposed not to repress sex but to show forth its true glory" (p.111).
- Dance: "Many Christian traditions have developed a negative attitude towards social dancing" (p.111), but distinguishing between the good creational structure of dance and the ways in which this structure has been used and abused (its direction) can lead to a more helpful approach to the issue.
Quoting from the book's Conclusion:
To approach the phenomena of the world in terms of structure and direction is to look at reality through the corrective lens of Scripture, which everywhere speaks of a good creation and the drama of its reclamation by the Creator in Jesus Christ (p.115).
All that remains now is the substantial postscript, which provides a broader biblical context for the material in the main part of the book.
16 Jul 2012
So far, in exploring an all-encompassing Christian worldview using Al Wolters' book, Creation Regained, we've seen how all areas of reality, including all areas of human social reality, derive their existence from God, how God intended his creation to be developed, and how the whole created order has been distorted as a result of the fall.
Chapter 4 brings us onto the third major theme of this worldview, after Creation and Fall, namely, Redemption.
The words used in the Scriptures to describe Christ's work speak tellingly of restoration, not of rejection or replacement. We read of redemption, renewal, salvation (the Greek word is linked to health) and regeneration. And this restorative work is cosmic in scope: "If the whole creation is affected by the fall, then the whole creation is also reclaimed in Christ" (p.72).
What are the implications of this?
The recurrent temptation is to look for Christ's redemptive work within only a part of creation. Many people would think of spiritual renewal as taking place only within "the sphere of personal piety, the inner life of the soul" (p.78). Or the work of the kingdom of God might be seen only in the life of the institutional church. But "The Scriptures present matters in a much different light. Both God and Satan lay claim to the whole of creation, leaving nothing neutral or undisputed" (p.81). This means that when we are working through the implications of Christ's redemptive work, all areas of life will be affected—church, family, politics, business, art, education, journalism, thought, emotion—because "there is need of liberation from sin everywhere" (p.83).
Helpfully, Wolters distinguishes between restoration and repristination.
Repristination would entail the cultural return to the garden of Eden, a return that would turn back the historical clock. Such a move would be historically reactionary or regressive.
That is not the meaning of restoration in Jesus Christ. In the terms of the analogy of the teenager who had been sick since babyhood, a return to health at a later stage of development would not entail a return to the stage of physical development that characterized the youth's earlier period of good health. Genuine healing for the youth would be a matter of healthy progression through adolescence to adulthood. By analogy, salvation in Jesus Christ, conceived in the broad creational sense, means a restoration of culture and society in their present stage of development (p.77).
When Christ returns to the earth to accomplish the complete victory, we should not expect him to destroy all of civilisation, and to discard all the healthy growth that he has brought about by his Spirit.
Before looking at the implications of this worldview in the next chapter, a summary:
The sum of our discussion of a reformational worldview is simply this: (1) creation is much broader and more comprehensive than we tend to think, (2) the fall affects that creation in its full extent, and (3) redemption in Jesus Christ reaches just as far as the fall. The horizon of creation is at the same time the horizon of sin and of salvation. To conceive of either the fall or Christ's deliverance as encompassing less than the whole of creation is to compromise the biblical teaching of the radical nature of the fall and the cosmic scope of redemption (p.86).
17 May 2012
Al Wolters' Creation Regained traces out the themes of Creation, Fall and Redemption, and how they shape our understanding of everything. Having looked at Creation in Chapter 2 (1, 2), we're now onto Chapter 3, on the Fall.
The effects of sin touch all of creation; no created thing is in principle untouched by the corrosive effects of the fall. Whether we look at societal structures such as the state or family, or cultural pursuits such as art or technology, or bodily functions such as sexuality or eating, or anything at all within the wide scope of creation, we discover that the good handiwork of God has been drawn into the sphere of human mutiny against God (pp.54f).
That is not to say that God's good creation has somehow ceased to exist, and that everything is now totally evil. On the contrary, the good creation is still there in its entirety, but has been distorted and disfigured by sin. So we could distinguish between structure—the basic nature of things (the "order of creation" in Calvin's language, apparently)—and direction—whether those things are directed towards God or away from God (the "order of sin and redemption").
This double direction applies not only to individual human beings but also to such cultural phenomena as technology, art, and scholarship, to such societal institutions as labor unions, schools, and corporations, and to such human functions as emotionality, sexuality, and rationality. To the degree that these realities fail to live up to God's creational design for them, they are misdirected, abnormal, distorted. To the degree that they still conform to God's design, they are in the grip of a countervailing force that curbs or counteracts the distortion. Direction therefore always involves two tendencies moving either for or against God (p.59).
How else might we view the fall, or answer the question of what is wrong in the world?
The great danger is always to single out some aspect or phenomenon of God's good creation and identify it, rather than the alien intrusion of human apostasy, as the villain in the drama of human life. ... The result is that something in the good creation is declared evil. We might call this tendency "Gnosticism" ... (p.61).
This Gnostic tendency shows up in Christian thinking when we read verses against "the world" as speaking against some parts of creation (structure), rather than as speaking against the corruption that has infected the whole of creation (direction).
Christians of virtually every persuasion have tended to understand "world" to refer to a delimited area of the created order, an area that is usually called "worldly" or "secular" ... , which included such fields as art, politics, scholarship (excluding theology), journalism, sports, business, and so on (p.64).
But once we see that "worldly" refers to the orientation of the whole of creation, rather than to some "secular" realm of creation, that gives us hope for the whole of creation to be open to redemption, and not just some "sacred" realm of creation (human souls and their spiritual relationship with God, for example).
Evil is not inherent in the human condition: there once was a completely good creation and there will be again; hence, the restoration of creation is not impossible. Nothing in the world ought to be despaired of (p.62).
Consequently, every area of the created world cries out for redemption and the coming of the kingdom of God (p.68).
10 May 2012
Back to Al Wolter's book, Creation Regained (1, 2), and the rest of chapter 2, on Creation. We're trying to gain a biblical perspective on the whole of reality, and the task in this chapter has been to look at the basic structure of all that God has made, before looking in the following chapters at the shifting direction in which the creation has been oriented, whether away from God (Fall), or back towards God (Redemption).
Genesis 1 speaks of an unformed and unfilled earth being formed and filled by God's creative word. What next?
This is not the end of the development of creation, however. Although God has withdrawn from the work of creation, he has put an image of himself on the earth with a mandate to continue. The earth had been completely unformed and empty; in the six-day process of development God had formed it and filled it—but not completely. People must now carry on the work of development: by being fruitful they must fill it even more; by subduing it they must form it even more. Mankind, as God's representatives on the earth, carry on where God left off. But this is now to be a human development of the earth. The human race will fill the earth with its own kind, and it will form the earth for its own kind. From now on the development of the created earth will be societal and cultural in nature. In a single word, the task ahead is civilization (pp.41f).
But where do these cultural riches spring from? Ultimately from God, who created the world to be so rich with possibility, having so many ways in which it can be opened up and unfolded by human activity.
The given reality of the created order is such that it is possible to have schools and industry, printing and rocketry, needlepoint and chess. The creational law is crying out to be positivized in new and amazing ways. The whole vast range of human civilization is ... a display of the marvelous wisdom of God in creation and the profound meaningfulness of our task in the world (p.44).
This should have a deep impact on how Christians view all areas of culture and society: "they are not outside God's plans for the cosmos, despite the sinful aberrations, but rather were built in from the beginning" (p.45). This means there will be "positive possibilities for service to God in such areas as politics and the film arts, computer technology and business administration, developmental economics and skydiving" (p.45).
But what about the ultimate end of human civilisation? Will it all be thrown away when Christ returns?
Wolters uses the helpful image of a child who develops with a chronic disease. Two processes are continuing in parallel: the normal process of growth, and the distorting effects of the disease. If this person is healed of the disease in adulthood, that doesn't mean that the normal growth will be reversed and the adult will become a tiny infant again. Rather, the distorting effects are taken away, and the good growth is preserved.
So it will be with human civilisation:
Even the great crisis that will come on the world at Christ's return will not annihilate God's creation or our cultural development of it. ... There is no reason to believe that the cultural dimensions of earthly reality (except insofar as they are involved in sin) will be absent from the new, glorified earth that is promised. In fact, the biblical indications point in the opposite direction. Describing the new earth as the new Jerusalem, John writes that "the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. ... The glory and the honor of the nations will be brought into it" (Rev. 21:24, 26). This very likely refers to the cultural treasures of mankind which will be purified by passing through the fires of judgment, like gold in a crucible (p.47).
But doesn't the Bible say that "the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up" (2 Peter 3:10, RSV)?
[A]ll but one of the oldest and most reliable Greek manuscripts do not have the final words "will be burned up" but instead have "will be found," which makes quite a difference. (This is the Greek text accepted by the more recent translations, such as the NEB and NIV, which read, somewhat o[b]scurely, "will be laid bare.") The text therefore teaches that ... "the earth and the works that are upon it" will survive (p.47).
In other words, "God does not make junk, and he does not junk what he has made" (p.49).
17 Feb 2012
Chapter 2 of Creation Regained covers the first theme of the creation-fall-redemption triad: creation. It's quite a lengthy chapter, so I'll cover it in two parts.
We might talk about "the story of creation" (in the beginning) and "the beauty of creation" (now), but in either case, Christians believe that God is intimately involved. Searching for a word to describe "the totality of God's ordaining acts toward the cosmos" (p.15), Wolters chooses to go with the word law. (I suppose we could also think of God's decrees.) God institutes laws of nature, but also gives laws for culture and society: norms.
Just as a human sovereign does certain things himself, but gives orders to his subordinates for other things, so with God himself. He put the planets in their orbits, makes the seasons come and go at the proper time, makes seeds grow and animals reproduce, but entrusts to mankind the tasks of making tools, doing justice, producing art, and pursuing scholarship. In other words, God's rule of law is immediate in the nonhuman realm but mediate in culture and society. In the human realm men and women become coworkers with God; as creatures made in God's image they too have a kind of lordship over the earth, are God's viceroys in creation (p.16).
In addition to that distinction between laws of nature and norms, we can distinguish between these general laws, and God's particular laws, for specific events to take place, or for specific people to do specific things.
In speaking of "creation" as "the correlation of the sovereign activity of the Creator and the created order" (p.14), the term becomes much broader in scope that what we usually take it to mean.
Usually when we speak of creation we have in mind the realities investigated by the natural sciences—the structure of the atom, the movements of the solar system, the life cycle of a plant, the building instinct of a beaver (p.24).
But, with the broader definition,
We will not make such a distinction if we understand creation in terms of a law-subject correlation. God's ordinances also extend to the structures of society, to the world of art, to business and commerce. Human civilization is normed throughout. Everywhere we discover limits and proprieties, standards and criteria: in every field of human affairs there are right and wrong ways of doing things. There is nothing in human life that does not belong to the created order (p.25).
So when (using God's general revelation and our wisdom) we figure out how best to run a business, we are uncovering something about God's creation, just as much as when we figure out how stars make their light.
26 Jan 2012
After the cover, the first chapter—What Is a Worldview?—introduces the theme of the book, which is "an attempt to spell out the content of a biblical worldview and its significance for our lives" (p.1). A worldview is defined as "the comprehensive framework of one's basic beliefs about things" (p.2). Everyone has a worldview, which emerges "quickly enough when they are faced with practical emergencies, current political issues, or convictions that clash with their own" (p.4), and "our worldview functions as a guide to our life" (p.5). Unpacking that a bit more, Wolters introduces two key terms that will feature throughout the book: structure and direction. Our worldview tells us how everything is structured, and our worldview tells us about the basic direction things are taking through history.
So what might a biblical worldview look like? We could start with
the basic definition of the Christian faith given by Herman Bavinck: "God the Father has reconciled His created but fallen world through the death of His Son, and renews it into a Kingdom of God by His Spirit."
The biblical worldview presented in the book is one which takes
all the key terms in this ecumenical trinitarian confession in a universal, all-encompassing sense. The terms "reconciled," "created," "fallen," "world," "renews," and "Kingdom of God" are held to be cosmic in scope (p.11).
Now, this might not seem particularly out of the ordinary, but many (perhaps most) Christians would, in practice, tend to limit the scope of these terms. There would be a "sacred" realm and a "secular" realm, where the "secular" realm is perhaps not entirely fallen, not entirely reconciled, or destined to be discarded rather than renewed, and where the "sacred" realm is perhaps something over and above what God originally created. So, in order to distinguish this cosmic-in-scope biblical worldview, it is often called the reformational worldview, partly because it builds on some emphases associated with the Protestant Reformation, and partly because this worldview carries within it the hope that nothing of the created order will be rejected or replaced, but that the entire created order will be—and is being—reformed, renewed and restored: creation regained. (Another way of identifying this view of things is to say that "grace restores nature", p.12.)
The next chapters look in more detail at the components of this worldview, looking at the structure and original direction of things (Creation: part 1, part 2) and then the story of the shifting direction of things (Fall and Redemption), before unpacking what difference this might make to our lives (Discerning Structure and Direction). The postscript (with Mike Goheen) sets this whole discussion in a broader framework of the biblical narrative.