Thursday, May 23, 2019

The work done by a doctrine of creation

It can be easy for the doctrine of creation to function merely as a backdrop - establishing a baseline, as it were, to make it easier to see the effects of the fall.  Yes, God made the world, and yes, it was good; but that's all in the past, and this side of Genesis 3 what matters is just pulling souls out of the wreckage before the whole thing goes up in smoke.

But a robust doctrine of creation - of the view that God made all this stuff and that it is therefore good, because it bears the mark of its Creator and serves his purposes - is so much more important than that.

Doctrinally, you can't make sense of Jesus without a sound doctrine of creation.  The idea that God the Son took on flesh makes no sense except in a scenario where God the Maker is still concerned for the stuff he has made.  The emphasis on stuff that pervades the gospel accounts - the physical healings, the miracles of food and wine, baptism and Supper - is inexplicable without a God who has not turned his back on his creation, or had second thoughts about the sheer physicality of the thing.  And then the resurrection - why all the insistence that it was with a real body that Jesus appeared after his crucifixion?  Why the eating of fish, the barbecue on the beach?  This is all such earthly stuff for the risen Son of God to be involved with, don't you think?  I wonder if a lot of the aversion which some people have to the idea of incarnation and resurrection actually comes from a sense that it just isn't spiritual enough for their idea of god.

The Christian hope also depends on our doctrine of creation.  Jesus rose in a physical body, and will return to raise our bodies and to renew the whole physical creation.  It is a new heavens and a new earth we're looking forward to, not an ethereal floaty existence as disembodied spirits.  Because God loves this creation he has made, he will redeem it.  All creation groans together in anticipation of that glory; it's a shame if Christians aren't excited at the prospect.

Ethically, there are a whole range of issues which Christians will tend to neglect without a firm doctrine of creation.  Environmental stuff, of course, but it goes a lot further than that.  I'm sure some of the debate a couple of decades ago about the right balance between evangelism and social action sprang in some measure from a deficient doctrine of creation: a sense amongst some that what matters is souls, not bodies or social systems or politics.  But if God is the Creator, all those things matter.

Most recently I've been thinking about how lack of a decent doctrine of creation makes our witness and evangelism harder.  It's easy for Christians to become interested only in 'Christian stuff', to the neglect of the world around.  Whether it's the person who can talk intensely about Christ and the need to be saved but has nothing to say about sport or art, or the person who sees value in reading theological tomes but has never enjoyed a good novel - it all serves to make Christianity seem anti-creation, anti-stuff.  Our lives are impoverished if we go even a little way down this road, and then who will want to join us in our impoverishment?

So anyway, God looked at everything he had made and saw that it was very good.