ACPADI Book Club—Creation Regained Week 2, Chapter 2: “Creation”

It’s hard to write a brief post on this chapter! Don’t feel you have to read the whole summary; it’s here for your use and mine both now and in the future. Just pick out what interests you in the book, scan my post to see if I added anything, and make a comment.

Creation Vs. Providence

Let’s make sure we nail down what Wolters is doing at the beginning of the chapter.

  1. First he argues that you can’t really draw a firm and clear distinction between God’s creation of the world and His providential rule over it; otherwise, you’ve got a Deistic god who made the watch, wound it up, and then just let it tick. “Let there be light is, in a way, still uttered by God moment by moment” (2 Pet 3:5, 7).
  2. So what do we call God’s work of creation and providence put together? Wolters suggests law. That word points to God’s rule over all creation (Ps 33:9).

That category of law has to be further divided into two binaries:

1. Laws of Nature vs. Norms

So, for example, God works without mediation through nature. Laws of “gravity, motion, thermodynamics, photosynthesis, and heredity” work whether man does anything about it or not. But God works with mediation through the norms he sets up for human behavior. And make no mistake about it, Wolters says: God rules over all areas of individual and group behavior. There are divine norms for agriculture and business as well as for politics and journalism. There is “an order to which both mankind and nature are subject” (p.18).

And this is where Wolters argument is at its strongest, because he shows that the Bible says what he’s saying. Psalm 147:15-20 conflate what we moderns are apt to keep in very separate compartments. God’s words rule nature just as they rule human behavior.

2. General Laws vs. Particular Laws

God law, too, has both a general aspect (“Do not murder”) and a particular one (“You ought to work as an internist this summer”).

Creational Norms

And this brings us back around to the major assertion of the chapter

Human nature 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).

God instituted marriage (1 Tim 4:3-4), for example, and even governmental authority (Rom 13:1-2; 1 Pet 2:13). To go against their norms is to go against the God who put them there.

Wisdom

Wolters gives general norms by the scriptural name “wisdom.” The wise man in Proverbs is one who conforms his ways to God’s order and plan, whether in nature or in interpersonal relationships (p. 29). It may take me some years to decide what I think of his translation of אמון (amon) in Proverbs 8:30. (The only other instance of that word would seem to require that it refer to a person, not a blueprint, but perhaps I’m missing something.)

A Major Scripture Reference To Hold On To

The one thing I have found my mind going back to most often in this chapter is Wolters’ citation of Isaiah 28:23–29. I’ve looked at it closely, and I think it’s saying what he’s saying it’s saying: God teaches the farmer the best ways to do the most mundane parts of his work. Crop-rotation, threshing practices—“All this…comes from the Lord Almighty…, whose wisdom is magnificent” (28:29, NIV).

In other words, if God’s “creational norms” extend that far down, to the most menial tasks, they certainly exist for the halls of Congress or for academic journals in the sciences and the humanities.

But how do we know God’s laws for these disciplines if He hasn’t revealed them explicitly in Scripture? Wolters answers with Scripture: Col 1:9-10 expresses a prayer that believers would be “filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” There are, then, aspects of God’s will that fall outside what He’s stated in Scripture. We need spiritual wisdom and understanding to find them out. Scripture is still primary, however, because it serves as a lens interpreting an otherwise fuzzy reality. God’s word isn’t just a light shining on nothing; it’s a light shining on my path. I need to actually look at the path. (This is very reminiscent of John Frame’s normative [Scripture’s light] and situational [the illuminated path] perspectives.)

Creation as Blueprint

Another way to think of it, and another thing I find myself coming back to, is the blueprint metaphor. Scripture is the audio recording of instructions given to a builder as he attempts to build following the blueprint in creation.

Civilization Unfolds What God Placed Here

One big point in this chapter that I starred is that the various academic disciplines and fields of human endeavor (Wolters does a good job, again, of listing off a large spectrum of them in just a few words—from needlepoint to rocket science) all arise from possibilities God programmed into creation at the beginning. Humans are responsible to actualize, reify, or positivize them. The fall, of course, makes our responsibility difficult. We get frustrated. But it doesn’t remove the responsibility; we’re not allowed to check out and do our own thing: “If God did not give up on the works of his hands, we may not either” (p. 45).

And that fall into sin brings Wolters to a key point which will help defuse the kinds of objections I first had when encountering his perspective: Wolters is trying to strike a scriptural balance between stressing the good inherent in creation and the evil brought on by sin. This is, he says,

an absolutely fundamental distinction, and one neglects it only at the peril of falling into either cultural pessimism (which sees only the debilitating effects of sin) and cultural optimism (which sees only the normative development of creational possibilities). (p.46)

God values His creation so highly that He didn’t

scrap it when mankind spoiled it, but determined instead, at the cost of his Son’s life, to make it new and good again. God does not make junk, and he does not junk what he has made. (p. 49)

Application/Critique

I’m a dispensationalist, as far as I know. I’m a premillennialist that far, too. I believe that God has a future for Israel and that Christ will set up His 1,000-year kingdom with a cataclysm. And for these reasons I have struggled at times to see much value in mowing my lawn. There are souls to save, books to read, blog posts to post! You know? But now that I’m a husband and father—and even though I work in full-time ministry—I see how needful it is to have a theological justification for all my shopping trips to Home Depot. The necessity is even greater for those who fix refrigerators day after day. And here it is: we’re supposed to subdue and have dominion. We’re supposed to cultivate and create. We’re supposed to make something of the small pieces of the world God has put under our care. And all of this is somehow consistent with the premillennial view that things will get worse overall until Christ comes and fixes everything for us. I haven’t worked all that out, but a thought from a theologically astute friend has helped a good deal.

Wolters: “Perhaps the most fitting symbol of the development of creation from the primordial past to the eschatological future is the fact that the Bible begins with a garden and ends with a city—a city filled with ‘the glory and the honor of the nations.” (p. 48)

Me: “But there’s a cataclysm in between the culture we’re creating all the time and city God will create. Doesn’t that destroy Wolters’ picture? Yes, history is flanked by a garden on one side and a city on the other, but the two don’t stand on the same timeline. It’s as if God starts a new one above the old. So if our cultural labors have no lasting place in the new earth, why engage in them?”

Theologically Astute Friend: “The cataclysm does not end the trajectory from Garden to City. It gives the ultimate victory to the City of God. Also, we should justify cultural engagement for doxological reasons, not for permanence reasons. The search for permanence is a frustrating search for all—including church planters and missionaries. This is the nerve that Solomon keeps stepping on in Ecclesiastes. His conclusion is that we fear God and keep his commandments. And what are his commandments? The Creation Mandate is the first.”

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

4 thoughts on “ACPADI Book Club—Creation Regained Week 2, Chapter 2: “Creation””

  1. Regarding your critique it is important to note that, as best I can tell, Wolters is an amillennialist rather than a postmillennialist. That means on the issue you raise he is more closely aligned with those of us who are premillennialists.

    Thus Wolters warns against “cultural optimism.” He anticipates his discussion of the fall to note that creation is like a child who early on contracts a serious disease. The child both grows and sickens at the same time. Both the decay and the growth are intertwined (45-46). There will be a cataclysm when the disease is entirely removed.

    I also like the answer of your theologically astute friend, however. Wolters’ analogy ties in well with his idea that our culture endeavors will be purified and brought into the eternal state. I find the exegetical support for that weak, and your friend’s answer avoids that problem in his response.

    —-

    The most powerful concept in this chapter is creational norms. However this raises a number of questions:
    ○ Are some of these natural law norms not found in Scripture: e.g., norms for running a business or for successful farming?
    ○ If so, are they determined by wisdom?
    ○ If so, and if unbelievers are more successful discovering these norms in many cases, what does that say about “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”?
    ○ How does one determine the difference between a creational norm and a societal norm?

    In asking these questions I’m not doubting the reality of creational norms. What Wolters says here about creational norms correlates in interesting ways with recent research I’ve been doing on natural law. So I think he’s on to something that Christian thinkers have recognized for a long time, though he has reformulated it in a powerful new way. But those are still the questions that come to mind.

  2. I don’t plan to give an exhaustive critique of Chapter 2, since Mark has already done the job so well. However, I will approach this work as a layman, giving his perspective on the relevance of what is presented in this Chapter.

    For years now, I have worked within the realm of the arts, and the longer I work here, the more relevant I find what Wolters has to say. Even though my day to day cares are concerned with what many would label secular errands, I refuse to label them as such. God has given all of us tasks to do throughout the day, and regardless of what our vocation is, we should view it all as Sacred.

    I have recently read through the Lord of the Rings, and what has really stuck out to me is that recurring theme of appointment. It was clear to the Council of Elrond, the entire Fellowship, and to Frodo himself that the task of being the ring bearer for Sauron’s malicious device could not be fulfilled by anyone other than Frodo. While the Lord of the Rings should not be elevated to the status of scripture, this important truth is something that is well worth our considering.

    It is made even more significant when we realize not only what our role is within the created sphere but also that God is ever present and at work among us. From holding all things together to giving us His daily will, the Lord’s presence in our world might not be as obvious as it was in creation, but its presence and working is totally undeniable.

    I interject my soliloquy here with a personal testimony. I left for the University of Kentucky in 2008 to work on a D.M.A. in Trumpet Performance. As a member of this program, I have been able to perform solo recitals, participate in Internationally galas, as well as contribute to the known body of knowledge of trumpet pedagogy.

    In each case, two very clear scenarios have arisen. As soon as people found out I was an alumni of BJU, people immediately pegged me as being a fundamentalist Christian. As a result, everything I did immediately took on the significance of being a statement of what I claimed to believe.

    Very rarely, I would have witnessing opportunities arise from these situations. However, in each case, the opportunities that did the Lord enabled me to give clear responses to the interested parties. From being a testimony to opportunities to present the gospel, all of this arose out of simply desiring to learn more about the creation laws.

    In my private trumpet lessons, I am very clear to establish physical performance parameters as being part of the way that the human body is designed. This is two serve a twofold purpose, both of which correspond two two of the points made in this chapter.

    1. Creational Norms: God created the human body to work this way, and that is why we perform the trumpet in this manner.

    2. Creational Blueprint: God designed the human body to be capable of playing a musical instrument like the trumpet, and it is completely natural! However, the only way we can properly understand how we should handle this knowledge is from consulting with Scripture.

    I pause now momentarily to answer Brian’s question pertaining to wisdom. Many unbelievers have discovered many laws and norms of nature throughout history and have profited greatly from their discovery. However, just because a man has knowledge or a collegiate pedigree does not automatically make one wise. He might know how to do something that no one else in recorded history has ever been able to accomplish, but if he can’t comprehend his role in the web of history, is he not merely a foolish man that has stumbled upon a fascinating discovery who has no comprehension of the way it fits together with everything else?

    In conclusion, I wish to sum up everything I have said by noting that regardless of the task that the Lord has set for us (whether it be a trip to Home Depot, or preparing a sermon) it should be viewed as a sacred task. We don’t know why that the Lord has set this before us, but we need to prepare for it, knowing that it might be a test.

  3. Got behind because of the start of school, in which I am teaching things such as Greek mythology. How can I justify the study of paganism when I could be going door-to-door with tracts? God’s sovereignty is one answer. The Creation Mandate is another.

    Regarding premillennialism and the Creation Mandate, my dad has said that when premils make comments like Mark made above (permanence or no, we have a duty to subdue), he’s happy to work with them.

    Unfortunately, I’ve heard some dispensational premillennialists use their theology to make comments like this: “Let the Presbyterians be the doctors! You serve God!” That was a keynote speaker at a convention for Christian educators a few years ago. Yikes. Even the IFB teachers I was with cringed at that.

  4. Millions of words go through my eyeballs every year, and only a few sentences really stick. What my theologically astute friend said (quoted in this post) and what you, Jeremy, said about your dad’s willingness to work with pre-mils—these are two of the sentences that have come back to my mind many times in the last few months.

    Just a FWIW!

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