Posts Tagged ‘Creation

30
Nov
11

the story’s end is vital to rightly read the story

Douglas Green, in discussing Psalm 8 (here) makes this important and wise observation:

‘biblical texts should be read (by and large) in the context of the unfolding story of redemption. The meaning of a text varies depending on the way it is related to the larger story in which it is embedded. Each part of the unfolding story (including individual psalms) “make sense” on their own as the story unfolds; they have provisional meanings, which are discerned through grammatical-historical exegesis. But these earlier parts of the story will “make sense” in a different way once the climax of the story is known. The meaning of the parts is shaped by the whole, which, in an unfolding story, means that the parts only “make ultimate sense” in the light of the climax of the story. Now I admit that the Bible is not quite an unfolding story, but it is a book that takes its general shape from the history to which it bears witness. This connection to the metanarrative of redemption means there are (at least) two ways of reading Old Testament texts. The “first reading” can be variously named: reading towards an unknown conclusion, reading without the benefit of the conclusion, reading a text in the context of the story as far as it has unfolded. It is like the way we read a novel or watch a movie for the first time: we make sense of the individual parts in the context of what we have read or seen so far. But there is also is a second way of reading Old Testament texts, one that is distinctly Christian. It is fundamentally an act of rereading, or reinterpretation of earlier provisional meanings, in the light of the (sometimes surprising) Christ-ending to the story of redemption. Just as scenes from a movie watched or book read a second time can have quite different meanings once the ending is known, the same is true for Old Testament passages re-read in terms of the whole canonical story of redemption.’

 

Amen.

16
Nov
11

what is the mission of the church?

Kevin De Young and Greg Gilbert have written a book called ‘What is the Mission of the Church?’.  It has touched a raw nerve in the younger American evangelical scene.   Some have written fairly critical reviews of it (see here for an inventory of these).  De Young and Gilbert have responded here.

The debate is important for it affects what we understand to be our responsibility to society as Christians.  It is well worth taking the time to read the online discussion at the very least.  I have not read De Young’s book but I know my overall position is nearer to De Young and Gilbert than to those in the ‘missional’ camp (followers more of Christopher Wright and N T Wright).  The problem with the more ‘missional’ or ‘transformational’ paradigm, to my mind, is the biblical meta-narrative assumed.   Its advocates believe the story of the Bible starts with creation and see God’s mission as restoring creation.   They are, in my view, wrong in both counts.

  • While the biblical narrative begins with creation, creation is not the beginning of the story.  The ‘true’ beginning is only revealed as the plot unfolds.  The real beginning is God’s plan in eternity.   God’s plan is Christ and all who find their election in him, information not available in the story’s first chapter (Eph 1).  In other words, God’s goal was never Adam and the first creation but Christ and the new creation.  The End does not complete the Beginning; the Beginning is simply a prologue for the End.  Adam was only the type, Christ is the antitype.  Or, if you like, the Second Man was always the First.
  • If ‘transformationalists’ get the beginning of the story wrong, they also get the end wrong too.  The dénouement is not a return to the beginning but a new beginning that eclipses all that has gone before.  New creation is not creation restored or regained, it is creation radically reconfigured.   The missional perspective builds too much on continuity and does not give nearly enough credit to discontinuity.  They do not credit new creation with being just that, ‘new’.

The result of a misread plot is a skewed understanding of the act in the drama where we find ourselves now.  The task of the church is not to transform society but to bear witness to society of God’s new creation by proclaiming the gospel in word and life.  Of course, with the life of Christ in our hearts we will seek to do good to all men, especially those of the household of faith’ (for that is what Christ did) but that is somewhat different from seeing our mission as ‘the flourishing of creation’.  We will of course respect creation as good stewards of it but what we wish primarily to see flourishing is not creation, but new creation, which in my view is a very different thing.

12
Sep
11

a real adam and eve

Evangelicals are now being pressed by other evangelicals not only to jettison the literal historicity of the creation narrative but also the historicity of Adam and Eve.  The first is just conceivable but the second seriously strains any integrity in biblical interpretation and seriously compromises the biblical salvation narrative.  A few blogs consider some of these issues (here, here, here , here, here, here, here, and here) both biblically and scientifically and are well worth a read.

06
Jan
11

does god care more for people or plants?

The malevolent ingenuity of Satan and the muggable incredulity of Christians never ceases to amaze.  If there is a cockeyed way of thinking then Satan will suggest it and we will embrace it.  One that  deserves a place in Satan’s Hall of Fame for C21 delusions is the idea that somehow God cares more about plants than people.  Or to dress the barmy belief up in more respectable clothes (and let’s face it to be credible it demands all the theological help it can get) the trendy teaching that God’s big concern is the salvation of the Cosmos rather than the Church.

Now if we were simply hearing that God intends to renew creation that would be fine.  It would be eminently biblical and have an honourable tradition.  Evangelicals have always believed this despite the efforts of some to suggest otherwise.  But we are not simply being told that God cares for creation and intends to renew it.  We are being told this is God’s main concern.  We are being told the gospel that focuses on the salvation of individual sinners is a gross distortion of the gospel.  The salvation of individual sinners from sin is a selfish concern, a ‘redemptive myth’, or at best ‘bit part’ in God’s great Cosmic drama of salvation.

Kevin De Young, obviously aware of this trend, has a helpful blog about it here.  He well says,

Do not think that salvation comes to sinners because God has a cosmic purpose for the universe and individual sinners happen to be a part of that universe. The movement of salvation is not from everything to individuals, but from individuals to everything. Don’t mistake regeneration, redemption, and adoption as byproducts of the larger work God is doing to restore creation. That logic is backwards. Biblically, it’s the renewal of all things that rides in on the coattails of the salvation of sinners.

Precisely. It is hard to believe that any could read their Bible and think anything else.  Read the story of creation.  The great drama of creation in Gen 1 does not reach a crescendo in v1 when God creates the heavens and the earth.  Nor is it in the creation of light (day one), nor the separating of waters below and above the firmament (day two), nor the separating of land and seas (day three)… the climax and crescendo of creation is day six when God makes man in his own image and likeness and personally breathes into him the breath of life.  Man is the focus and prime purpose of creation.  He it is, who bearing the divine image, God intended (and intends) to ‘crown with glory and honour’ and give ‘dominion over all the works of his hands’ (Ps 8).

It is not the plants in the garden that God comes to savour in the cool of the day, he comes to have fellowship with Adam.  The heavens and the earth, an arena of divine glory, were nonetheless designed for man’s blessing (Gen 1:26-30; 9:1-3).

When sin enters the world and brings destruction, God’s first concern is man.  It is man he clothes.  Indeed, it is in Man that a serpent-slaying deliverer will be found.  God will himself become man (in the final analysis this nutty notion is an assault on the value of Christ himself).  God’s love ultimately is not creation, nor even angels, but the seed of Abraham (Hebs 2).

Throughout the OT, while God is concerned about his creation, his chief desire is a relationship with humanity.  The rich images of OT relationship underline this.  He is a Father to Israel.  He is a Husband to his People.  He is a Lover to those he has set his love upon.  He does not ‘know’ creation, he ‘knows’ his people (Amos 3:2).  It is his people he loves ‘with an everlasting love’ (Jer 31).

The NT is exactly the same.   Joseph was told in Matthew’s gospel to call the child ‘Jesus’ because he would ‘save his people from their sins’.   The gospels, we are told, are concerned with a bigger picture, yet here, right at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, we discover that Jesus has come to ‘save his people from their sins’.  Yes Matthew will speak later of the renewal of all things (Matt 19) but his concern even then, as he speaks of the ‘new world’ are those who will share with him in the life of that new world, the sons of the kingdom (Matt 19:23-30).

In new creation, as in old creation, God’s primary concern is not with property and plants but with people.  Like any good Father his primary love and chief absorption is not with his capital or chattels  but his children, not his real estate but his sons and daughters.  They are his heirs, a new heavens and earth is but part of their inheritance. In marvellous, staggering, dumbfounding grace God has made us his kin and bequeathed to us all he has (1 Cor 3:21).

Jesus argues from the self-evidently greater value of people over plants to convince his people not to worry.

Matt 6:25-30 (ESV)
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

De Young points out that in Roms 8 creation’s future is contingent upon Christians and not vice versa.

Rom 8:18-22 (ESV)
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

We could glance too at the picture of new creation in Rev 21.  What is interesting in this chapter is that only the first verse of the chapter mentions the new heavens and earth.  The rest of the chapter is taken up with describing, not the glory of the new heavens and earth but of the New Jerusalem, the bride of Christ and it is in her that the glory of God resides.  The high point of redemption is not a new heavens and new earth wonderful though that is but as the loud voice from the throne cries in joy and triumph,

Rev 21:3-4 (ESV)
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Just in case the point has evaded us, God’s joy and glory and fulfilment is in his people not plants.  That evangelical theologians are prepared to argue otherwise is simply a proof of how wily Satan is and how wacky (though wise in their own conceits) some theologians can be.

28
Sep
10

old earth, young earth…

I know next to nothing about cosmology.  Indeed, I know next to nothing about science itself.  I am glad that many Christians with a science bent and an able mind give themselves to wrestling with the questions involved in relating the current cosmologies of science to that of the Bible.  The issues are not incidental.

One big question for me is how to reconcile Scripture to an old earth cosmology.

It does seem to me, tentatively, that it is very difficult to arrive at an old earth through Scripture.  My difficulty is not so much with Genesis 1-3 per se.  Although these chapters have a narrative that reads as history (and literal), and although they are part of a book that otherwise is historical, it is just possible that they present the story of human origins like a parable, presenting truth, beyond the understanding of those to whom it was given, in a way that they could grasp.  There are undoubtedly some fairly stylized literary features at work in the composition of Genesis 1-3 that make a parabolic/mythological reading possible.  Possible, I would say, though not probable.  The burden of proof certainly lies with those who believe it is myth (not untrue, simply not literally true) to prove their case – preferably from the Bible rather than science.

My greatest difficulty with viewing chapters 1-3 as anything other than literal is that the rest of Scripture seems to treat them as literal and indeed builds some of its most fundamental truths on its literal historicity.  More of this in a moment.

Take for instance the words of Moses at the giving of the Law

Exod 20:8-11 (ESV)
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Moses appears to base the seven-day week of Israel on God’s seven-day week in creation.  There is no suggestion he views these creation days as anything other than literal.

Or take the teaching of Jesus regarding divorce in Matt 19:

Matt 19:3-8 (ESV)
And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.

Jesus equates the lives of Adam and Eve with ‘the beginning’.  The expression ‘the beginning’ does not normally refer to merely the beginning of the human race but the beginning of all things, indeed Mark specifically speaks of ‘the beginning’ as ‘the beginning of creation’  (Mark 10:6; 13:9).

Consider too that Paul builds a whole theology of the gospel in Romans 5 on the historicity of Adam (Roms 5:12-21).  Does it not seem special pleading for us to insist on the historicity of Adam (and Eve) in Gen 2,3 yet demur at the historicity of Gen 1.  If Genesis 1 is mythological (parabolic) then surely we must say the same for Gen 2,3.  Yet Scripture forbids us to do so.

You see my problem.  Coming to Genesis 1 from a purely biblical perspective there is little reason to read it as anything other than literally.  It is hard to escape the suspicion that it is only the voice of science that gives weight to the mythological reading.

What then are we to make of the old earth claims of science?  The first question I ask is how certain are they?  How far are they based on theory and how far on fact?

I ask too, is it not possible that scientists mistake the age of the world forgetting that when God created a new universe he created a mature earth.  Jesus turned water into wine that had all the hallmarks of age even although it was made at that moment.  Why can the same not be true of creation?  In fact, arguably, Jesus in this miracle is revealing something of his creatorial credentials; he, in this his first miracle, is simply doing what God did in the beginning.  He is the Creator.   To put the question in more basic terms, why should Adam not have a belly button?  And why should we claim that if he did God is deceiving us?

If we choose to believe in some form of uniformitarianism then it is not because God has suggested we should.  Indeed he has given us his Word which has long since told us he made the world and did so in seven days.  Paul’s view is that creation itself tells us there must be a Creator which should immediately make us realise that we cannot assume too much about origins.

Sometimes the Genesis flood is said to be localised.  Again the evidence of Scripture suggests otherwise.  We are expressly told that the flood was world-wide (Gen 6:17).  Could the dislocation of a world-wide flood account for fossils and anomalies in rock structures?  Or are the anomalies beyond being accounted for by a universe created aged and an earth distorted by flood?

I worry when we start from science rather than Scripture.  I worry because science is incapable of leading to a Creator.  The ‘why’ questions of science are not really ‘why’ questions but ‘how’ questions.  Science explores the mechanics of creation but since its  perspective is purely mechanistic it can never lead to a maker.  Physics is by definition not interested in metaphysics; its concerns are much more lowly and mundane.  Thus science will never posit a Creator if for no other reason than such a ‘theory’ is unprovable by scientific experiment.  If you couple this with the innate hostility to God of the human heart, science will posit multi-universes and any and every other mechanical solution but never suggest a Creator for science is both mechanistic and humanistic.  The question is how far Christians involved in science play along with, or worse still begin to embrace the rules of the game.  And what does this do to their Christian faith?

These are but a few ruminations.  Are they seriously naïve?  If so why?




the cavekeeper

The Cave promotes the Christian Gospel by interacting with Christian faith and practice from a conservative evangelical perspective.

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