ACPADI Book Club—Creation Regained Week 4, Chapter 4: “Redemption” (With Chapter 5 and the Postscript Kind of Thrown In There)

by Sep 5, 2011ACPADI Book Club, Books, Culture, Mission, Theology2 comments

I’m late, I’m late… I was on a professional development trip and I just couldn’t get the last post of the month out. I needed to redeem the time a little better, apparently.

So here we go: Redemption. First I’ll just tick off a few reflections:

  • Normally I’m uncomfortable with reasoning directly from individual biblical words to a resultant systematic theological point (pp. 69–70). Just because redemption, reconciliation, renewal, and regeneration start with “re-” doesn’t mean that the Bible predicts a restoration of the originally good creation. Let’s not reason right from words but see if the Bible says this in sentences and paragraphs. But, in fact, the chapter goes on to prove that the Bible does in fact say what Wolters is saying, so the concurring evidence of a lot of re- words is indeed helpful to note (nevermind that not all the underlying Greek words Wolters points to have the equivalent of a re- prefix).
  • Good quote: “Redemption is not a matter of an addition of a spiritual or supernatural dimension to creaturely life that was lacking before; rather, it is a matter of bringing new life and vitality to what was there all along.” (p. 71)
  • The second biblical text Wolters cites in the chapter is an extremely important proof for his view, and it’s one to hold onto and mull over. “Through Christ God determined “to reconcile to himself all things [Col 1:20].’” God isn’t merely going to rescue people out of this sin-cursed earth and then leave it all to burn; He’s going to fix everything the fall broke.
  • Which brings us to another key statement to hold on to: “The scope of redemption is as great as that of the fall; it embraces creation as a whole.” (p. 72) There is no neutral ground: either Satan rules a particular square inch of this world or God does. And in the end all things will be submitted to the Son (1 Cor 15:27–28).

But now I hit a little wall. Wolters says that the “obvious implication” of what he’s saying is “that the new humanity (God’s people) is called to promote renewal in every department of creation.” (p. 73) Okay… Fine. But is that really what Paul was talking about when he said that God had given him “the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18)? Wolters thinks so, but in that context people—not kitchens, bedrooms, and boardrooms—are the ones being reconciled. Right?

Here’s how I get over that wall: I do think people are the most important objects of God’s redemptive work through Christ. We are the only part of creation that bear His image, so we have higher value than many sparrows (though there’s humor in that line in Matthew 10, it’s surely still true on its face). But sparrows do have value, and so does all the rest of God’s green earth. God has not given up on His creation and will not. We dare not give up on it if He won’t.

The kingdom of God is among us (Luke 17:21), but we are to pray that it will fully get here (Matt 6:10). And meanwhile Wolters is right to call all Christians to press the claims of God’s kingdom everywhere they find themselves, everywhere God calls them. Most of us are not standing in pulpits. We’re in kitchens, bedrooms, and boardrooms. Those are not neutral territories; we have to attempt—in the power of God, following His word—to claim them for Christ.

But if your background is like mine, you are still suspicious. Isn’t it the case that many individual conversions are the only way that any domain of culture will actually be reclaimed? Won’t Rachel Ray and Emeril Lagasse (and whoever makes KitchenAid mixers) need to get saved before we can reclaim the American kitchen for Christ? Won’t pretty much everyone in the U.S. need to get saved before we can reclaim the bedroom? And won’t most corporations have to move to China before we can bring the American boardroom under Christ’s rule? Why bother talking about redeeming culture at all when that is so clearly a fruitless task? Those who are more eschatologically sophisticated may add, “Why polish the brass on this sinking ship?” (like the Christian school teacher I had many years ago who sniffed at the very idea of recycling).

For one thing, Wolters has made it clear in previous chapters that the Bible points to God’s goodness as being everywhere in creation. “Some element in every situation is worth preserving.” (p. 93) Jesus could tell even the dead church at Sardis, “Strengthen what remains” (Rev 3:2).

For another thing, Wolters is not recommending “violent overthrow” but what he calls “progressive renewal.” (p. 91) That progress will feature lots of individual conversions. And one of his major illustrations—that the resurrection was like D-Day—assumes that renewal will not be easy and linear. Wolters is not a postmillennialist who believes things will get better and better until Jesus comes.

This is where Michael Goheen’s contribution in the Postscript comes in. He incorporates the storyline of Scripture, the importance of the Great Commission, and the reality of suffering in this time of overlap between the age that is passing away and the one that is to come. “The church, as a preview of the kingdom, shows actual ‘footage’ of what the kingdom will look like to interest unbelievers in the future.” (p. 132) You and I are a trailer for the coming attraction.

So whether or not our work for the kingdom seems to endure or get destroyed the day (or even a century) after we do it,* whether or not our work ever turns the tide in any domain of human culture (family, politics, business, art, education, etc.), whether or not we face suffering for our attempts to oppose the powers ruling this age, we have a responsibility to exhibit and promote kingdom values. God said, “Fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen 1:26-28). Jesus said, “All power is given unto me, so make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:18–20). These two commands are not in conflict. And we have work to do.

*I like what Jeremy Larson said in a book club comment about my old boss, Phil: “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.” Good.

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  1. Jeremy Larson

    Mark, you might be interested in Ken Gentry’s book “The Greatness of the Great Commission.” He brilliantly connects Gen. 1:26-28 with Matt. 28:18-20. Gentry, of course, is a postmillennialist, but it’s still pretty cool to see the connections he draws.

  2. Brian

    Mark, great post. I think you accurately highlighted both the strengths and weaknesses of Wolters’ proposal.

    I think Wolters’ summary of his view is excellent: “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 creation is to compromise the biblical teaching of the radical nature of the fall and the cosmic scope of redemption” (p. 86).

    But Wolters needs to be more precise on some matters. For instance, I’m not convinced that he’s on the mark when he says, “Likewise, just as the first Adam’s fall was aided and abetted by the subsequent disobedience of humankind, so the salvation of the whole world is manifested and promoted by the subsequent obedience of a new human kind. The Adamic human race perverts the cosmos; the Christian human race renews it” (p. 73). Or when he says that Christians are not only to advance the kingdom in personal areas such as “keeping promises, helping friends, [and] practicing hospitality,” but also in public areas such as “advertising, labor-management relations, education, and international affairs” (p. 76).

    A Christian who is in a labor union or on a management team must not dichotomize his work from his submission to Christ as Lord. Part of his sanctification (that is, part of his redemption) is to conduct himself as befits a citizen of Christ’s kingdom in all of these areas. But while he may have a sanctifying effect on his lost co-workers and even on his work (along the lines of 1 Cor. 7:14), I’m not sure it would be right to say that he is establishing God’s kingdom or that he is renewing creation.

    I think it may be better to speak of a Christian living redemptively, that is, consistent with the redemption he is experiencing and the final redemption that the world will undergo. He is testifying to the renewal of all things but not actually effecting it.

    This doesn’t make trying to reform a fallen world as much as possible to its creational norms in the place to which I am called optional. That would be like saying my sanctification is optional because one day I will be glorified.

    All of that is to say I think you accurately highlighted both the strengths and weaknesses of Wolters’ proposal.