Friday, October 04, 2019

Creation and eschaton

Here is a tension at the heart of the Christian message: God is both the Creator of all that is, and therefore the one who establishes the natural order of things; and the Redeemer, who intervenes decisively in history to bring about the greatest revolution in the order of things that there has ever been or will be.  In terms of theology, it's the tension between the doctrine of creation and eschatology, the doctrine of the end.  In terms of the canon of Scripture, it's the tension between the book of Proverbs, with its stack of 'sanctified common sense' (and yes, I know that's not really what Proverbs is, but as a whole it nonetheless represents the 'order' end of the tension) and Galatians, with its power to burst through every established order with the revolutionary news of the gospel.

It is of course vital to maintain both sides of the tension.  God is the Creator; what is created is good.  Life, society, culture: although all bearing the marks of the fall, all stem ultimately from God and in some way bear witness to his goodness.  The stance of the Christian towards all this stuff can never be purely rejection.  On the other hand, the eschaton has come.  The old age is passing away.  If anyone is in Christ - new creation!  Dead to the world, alive to God in Christ.

A tension to be maintained, but not a symmetry.  The new really does overcome the old.  The good gives way to the better.  The end to which Christians look forward is not just a restoration of creation, not merely creation regained.  It is a wholly new thing, this resurrection life, even though the old life is its good seed.

So we must maintain the goodness of the divinely-established order of things, whilst looking ahead to and living in anticipation of the wholly new.  Practically, that means, for example, that the natural family is upheld as good, but is relativised in importance by the emergence of the family of faith.  (As a polemical aside, this is one point where I think those who hold to infant baptism have gone wrong; too much emphasis on the created natural family order, and not enough recognition that the family of God is defined by faith and not descent.  It is no coincidence that many of the Reformed theologians who advocate infant baptism also tend towards a heavy emphasis on the creational end of the tension).  Similarly, respect for political authorities or systems despite living with, and within, the revolution which will ultimately bring them all to an end when they are brought to kiss the Son; obedience for the Lord's sake, but not because they have any ultimate authority in themselves.  The ability to use and enjoy aspects of culture, whilst recognising that in the end all this will pass through the flames before coming to new life in the heavenly Jerusalem.


  1. I think I'd lean more to the pessimistic side of the equation (despite being relatively open, although not dogmatics, about infant baptism). For example, I've yet to hear the voice of Ecclesiastes (cf. Romans 8:20) applied to these questions in the usual sermons on work and so on.

    1. p.s. Ezekiel 27 has struck me as interesting on this topic: Tyre admired and lamented in many ways at the same time as being condemned. Brings to mind cathedrals - Notre Dame a case in point.