ne of my favorite axioms is, “Nothing is meaningful without a context.” This is especially true with respect to the scriptures. B.B. Warfield argued that unless we understand our faith systematically, that is, in relation to other biblical truths, we lose at least half of the spiritual value of each particular truth we study. Systematic theology is an important discipline. However, there is another helpful way of gaining this larger view. This is by using what has been called the redemptive historical approach—to understand the larger story or using postmodern language—the metanarrative of scripture.
If you had to summarize faith in Christ in a short form, it’s hard to do better than Herman Bavinck: “God the Father has reconciled his created but fallen world through the death of his Son, and renews it into a Kingdom of God by his Spirit.” Note the words created, fallen, reconciled, renews, and Kingdom of God. Note that each of these terms applies to the whole cosmos and not just to individuals.
We could summarize the biblical story in another way: God created the world and it was very good (Gen. 1-2). The fall of Adam and Eve into sin and its impact on the world is described in Genesis 3-11. Then from Genesis 12 to Revelation 22 you see unfolded God’s plan of redemption for his fallen creation. The story starts in a garden (the Garden of Eden) and ends in a city (the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven). If you don’t understand the place of creation, the extent of the fall, and the extent of redemption, and perhaps we could add here, the destiny toward which the whole story drives—the consummation—then we can easily get off track. Let me develop these themes in the rest of this article. (In subsequent Knowing and Doing articles I will look at each of these in a deeper way.)
From the very beginning of Genesis we see that God’s creation is real and good. Seven times God calls that which he made “good.” When he made mankind—male and female—he describes them as “very good.” “God made them in his image and likeness.” There have been many booklength studies on the nature of the image of God. One helpful (but not complete) way of describing the image is, “response–ability.” Adam and Eve were created to respond to God, to each other, and to the creation in appropriate ways. The fall damaged this capacity to respond in every area. We are now alienated from God, alienated from each other, and alienated from the creation. We no longer respond to God, others, or nature in the way we were created to do.
We were also created to “fill the earth and subdue it,” exercising our capacity to rule over the fish, the birds, and the whole creation. The capacity to rule is also described as exercising dominion, developing the potential of the creation around us. Another term for this call is the “cultural mandate.” What starts with ruling over the birds and fish is extended to “caring for and tending the garden” (Gen. 2:15). Very soon (Gen. 4:20-22) various people develop early “technologies” such as “all implements of bronze and iron,” the “lyre and pipe,” tents, and herds of livestock (building, music, farming). It is important to note that when the new Jerusalem comes down out of heaven in Revelation, the “tree of life” (Rev. 22:12), the same tree of life that was in the Garden of Eden, is now in the midst of a developed city. The cultural mandate has been fulfilled.
Creation Real and Good
The Bible teaches that creation is real. God made distinct things such as animals, birds, fish, and humans. When theologians talk about God creating “ex nihilo” (out of nothing) they are, in part, saying that the creation was not made out of God. This is in contrast to pantheism (all is God), as exemplified in various forms of Hindu, Buddhist, and New Age philosophies. Various New Age authors articulate this “All is One” or “All is God” philosophy in the negative—the principle of “non-distinction.” This means that the distinctions we see in this world between plants, animals, and people are illusory. The distinct world created by God is not real but an illusion.
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