All posts tagged “creation

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The renewal of God’s creation project

Humans make bombs as well as music. They build torture chambers as well as hospitals and schools. They create deserts as well as gardens. And yet the vocation sketched in Genesis 1 remains: humans are to be God’s image-bearers, that is, they are to reflect his sovereign rule into the world. Humans are the vital ingredient in God’s kingdom project. When we ask about the way in which God wants to run the world and then focus this on the sharper question of how Jesus now runs the world, we should expect, from the whole of scripture, that the answer will have something to do with the delegation of God’s authority, of Jesus’s authority, to human beings… And Jesus’s kingdom project is nothing if not the rescue and renewal of God’s creation project.”

– N.T. Wright, Simply Jesus

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Repaso: Evangelical Anglophilia explained; doxology & desire; pastors & their people; Kristof goes to church; Kuyper mindmap; Tom covers Bob

1. Why American Evangelicals love the British
Molly Worthen has an interesting post at the new Religion & Politics blog (tagline: “fit for polite company”) about people like us and why we’re so hung up on guys like C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and John Stott. We Americans apparently have an intellectual inferiority complex, for one thing. Whether you buy all her arguments or not, it’s a good read. Here’s a bit of what she has to say about Stott:

John Stott represented British evangelical moderation at its very best. He spent much of his career advocating dialogue among evangelicals, Catholics, liberals and charismatic Christians. He recognized early on that the center of gravity in global Christianity had shifted to the developing world, and worked to break down the ethnocentric mindset of evangelicals in Europe and North America and convince them that preaching the Word and fighting for social justice were two sides of the same coin… Just as Tolkien and Lewis baptized the world of myth, magic and fantasy for evangelicals whose churches had long proscribed such things as demonic, John Stott helped evangelicals recover a capacity for compassion and civil conversation that was lost in the fog of the culture wars.

2. Doxology and desire
Sandra McCracken makes amazing music and she also happens to write beautiful essays, like this one at Art House America:

So with each passing day, I am becoming more attuned to the particular DNA I have from each of my parents — biology and theology — pushing me forward on the journey of conservation. I might be unqualified, but everybody has to start somewhere. Rather than burying my head in the sand like I am inclined to do, I have to lean into my discomfort. I’d rather deepen my longing, not assuage it. And I look to the great hope that all things will one day be restored and renewed. I want to honor and care for God’s creation not because of a marketing team pulling on my checkbook, but because of a doxological pull that tugs on my conscience.

3. Pastors and their people
I’ve decided I want to read everything Rich Mouw has written. I first read this and then this and, most recently, this. In a recent essay at Faith & Leadership, hosted by Duke Divinity School, he writes about the gap between the worlds in which pastors and their congregants live. He describes a conversation with a successful businessman who lamented the fact that his pastor didn’t understand the challenges he faced day to day:

I have thought much about that conversation. If I were that man’s pastor, what could I do to speak more directly to his felt needs as a businessperson? One thing I would not do is to preach detailed sermons about economics. My lunch partner made it clear that he was not asking for that kind of thing, and I agree with him. What this person was asking for was more sensitivity to the kinds of complexities he faces on a daily basis — a reasonable expectation. And his pastor could respond to this need in helpful ways without becoming an expert on corporate finance.

4. Kristof and Hybels have a chat
Last Sunday, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof was interviewed by Bill Hybels at Willow Creek Church about oppression against women and opportunities to right those wrongs. It’s a fascinating conversation, and the 40 minute video is (for the moment, at least) here. If you’re interested, here also is my review of Kristof’s book on the subject.

5. Wisdom & Wonder mindmap
Fellow Kuyper nerds will be interested to see this amazing mindmap by Steve Bishop of the first four chapters of Wisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science & Art. It all makes sense now.

6. Tom covers Bob
Some of you may have seen this already, but during a stop in Nashville this week, N.T. Wright picked up a guitar and played a Bob Dylan song, citing its “wonderful biblical imagery” and its solid eschatology. What a treat (though, admittedly, this might just be evidence of my own Anglophilia).

Repaso is intended as a thought-provoking compilation of news and commentary from the past week related to the intersections of faith, development, justice and peace. As always, I welcome your thoughts on any of the links and ideas in this roundup!

[Photo credit: a man lights his pipe and enjoys a pint at the Eagle and Child, where The Inklings met to plot goodness - via]

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Kingdom furniture and artificial grace

If you haven’t been following Christianity Today‘s This Is Our City project, I’ve got to tell you you’re missing out on some really great stuff. The project aims to tell stories about Christians seeking the flourishing of their cities in all sectors of public life. Portland and Richmond have been highlighted so far, and Phoenix is up next.

Most recently, they introduced a new short film by Nathan Clarke, featuring a furniture maker in Richmond named Harrison Higgins who believes that the work of our hands can either be a sacrament or a sacrilege (an idea he borrows from Wendell Berry).

Here’s the film:

Philosophy professor and author James K.A. Smith has now written a wonderful meditation on the film as well, called “Artificial Grace: Why the Creation Needs Human Creativity.” Here’s an excerpt:

[F]or Higgins, there is no simplistic opposition between nature and culture, between a pristine creation and human artifice—the creative “work of our hands” that gives birth to artifacts, to cultural goods. To the contrary, good artifice is its own kind of grace: to make is to serve, is to bear God’s image to and for the creation. A Christian theology of creation is not the same as Mother Earth mythologies of “the natural” that ultimately end up lamenting humanity’s presence as a blight on creation. No, we worship the Maker of all, the Artificer we come to know in Jesus of Nazareth, the son of a carpenter. A Christian affirmation of the goodness of creation is also an affirmation of artifice—redeeming the very word, we might say, from its association with the fake and the faux. In an older sense, artifice attests to creativity and craft.

You can read the rest here. When you get some time, I’d encourage you to spend some time perusing all the great reporting, essays, and short documentary films This Is Our City has produced.

[Photo credit: This Is Our City]

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Al Wolters on worldview in everyday life

In recent weeks I’ve been doing some reading and blogging related to worldview and the role it plays in shaping how we live as Christians in light of what God has done, is doing and will do in history. Michael Goheen really piqued my interest in this when I heard him speak here in Phoenix in early March. He described his theological and spiritual journey, including what he describes as an important shift from a theological system to a theological worldview (my notes from the talk are here). In last Monday’s post, Bryant Myers suggested “we are to see the world as created, fallen, and being redeemed, all at the same time.” And then on Thursday, Steven Garber in his book The Fabric of Faithfulness argued that if we are to weave together belief and behavior, it is essential to develop “a worldview sufficient for the challenges of the modern world.”

All these writers and thinkers have more or less the same thing in mind, I think, when they refer to worldview, but it’s also a term that carries all sorts of connotations for different people, so today I want to back up and take a look at what worldview means, drawing on the excellent little book Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview (Eerdmans). It was originally written in 1985 by Al Wolters, and then re-released twenty years later, with an afterword by Michael Goheen himself (there’s a lot of overlap between that afterword and what he had to say in his talk).

Wolters defines worldview as “the comprehensive framework of one’s basic beliefs about things,” a definition he then breaks down bit by bit (I won’t spell it out here, but each word is carefully chosen).

Like the others I referred to earlier, Wolters believes that a biblical worldview is best understood by the basic scriptural categories of creation, fall and redemption. He also contends that our worldview is to inform all of life; the Bible leaves no room for compartmentalizing certain parts of life into the mutually exclusive categories of sacred (church, spiritual practices, Bible study, etc) and secular (economics, politics, technology, etc). In other words,

The plea being made here for a biblical worldview is simply an appeal to the believer to take the Bible and its teaching seriously for the totality of our civilization right now and not to relegate it to some optional area called “religion.”

All of that is established in the first chapter, and then chapters two, three and four have to do with spelling out a fuller, deeper understanding of creation, fall and redemption, respectively. I hope you’ll read the book so you can see everything he has to say about the nuances of each of those three, but the biggest contribution Creation Regained makes is the chapter on discerning the difference between “structure” and “direction.” The terms may be confusing at first, but understood properly, the implications of that distinction are huge for our everyday lives.

I’ll try to sum it up in a paragraph. First, all things are created good (their “structure” is good), but all created things have been deformed by the Fall and sin (that is, they have been “misdirected”). As Christians, too often we recognize the directional distortion of something and discard it as sinful, but we fail to affirm its structural goodness, and miss the opportunity to see how, as a structurally good but misdirected part of creation, it can be redirected for purposes that please God and, in turn, serve the common good. With this distinction in mind, we can truly be “reformers” rather than either seeking to obliterate what’s tainted by sin on the one hand, or by fatalistically accepting the sin-tainted status quo on the other. In other words, distinguishing between structure and direction gives us an alternative to both “revolution” and “quietistic conservatism,” two approaches that leave much to be desired:

Our focus on structure rejects a sympathy for revolution, and our focus on direction condemns a quietistic conservatism… In sum we may say that whereas consecration leaves things internally untouched, and revolution annihilates things, reformation renews and sanctifies them. God calls us to cleanse and reform all the sectors of our lives.

That goes for our personal lives and our interpersonal relationships, but it also has huge implications for our life as citizens and as active participants in political, economic, and other systems. So, for an example applicable to the readers of this blog, when we’re faced with an ethical dilemma like alleged abuses of workers on the other side of the world tied to the practices of a corporation which we support through our purchases, we’re presented with an alternative to the two predictable and insufficient responses. It doesn’t do to ignore the abuses as inevitable, “necessary evils” in our complicated, interconnected world. And it doesn’t do to decry the corporation for being a corporation and part of the free market system. Rather, we seek to discern structure and direction. What about the corporation is structurally a good part of creation? What about the corporation has been misdirected by sin? And what might we as “reformers” (or what Gabe Lyons calls “restorers”) do to redirect and reform that corporation so that what is good about it can continue, and so that it can contribute to the flourishing of all, including those on the other end of the market equation?

That’s a whole new way of seeing the world, it seems to me, and a whole new way of living. It’s not cynical and detached, but it’s not playing to either side of the culture wars, either. It is, however, rooted in the big narrative arc of Scripture — creation, fall, redemption — which is also the narrative arc of history. It’s brimming with promise, isn’t it? It’s realistic and it’s hopeful. It has both roots and wings.

As Wolters says clearly, developing this sort of a worldview — learning to see the world and our lives through this kind of a biblical lens — doesn’t answer every question and solve every problem we will encounter. In community with other believers and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit we’re given the task of discerning the implications of biblical teaching for all these areas of life. We won’t do it perfectly all the time, but we can learn and grow. Most of all, developing a biblical worldview gives us a framework for understanding our lives in the world, and it gives us the right questions to ask:

To approach the phenomena of the world in terms of structure and direction is to look at reality through the corrective lens of Scripture, which everywhere speaks of a good creation and the drama of its reclamation by the Creator in Jesus Christ.

Do you find the themes of creation, fall and redemption — as well as the distinction between structure and direction — helpful for navigating the challenges of everyday life? Is there any part of this “worldview” you’d call into question?

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Created, fallen, being redeemed

These days I’m re-reading Walking with the Poor: Principles and Practices of Transformational Development (Orbis) by Bryant Myers. I first read it a few years ago during grad school, and am now reading the new “revised and expanded edition” for an upcoming magazine review. It’s basically the Bible for transformational development, not counting the actual Bible itself.

I’ll have more to say about it soon, but for now I thought I’d share a particularly poignant paragraph from Walter Wink, who is quoted in the theology chapter, supporting Myers’ conviction that “we are to see the world as created, fallen, and being redeemed, all at the same time.” Here’s Wink:

God at one and the same time upholds a political or economic system, since some such system is required to support human life; condemns that system insofar as it is destructive to full human actualization; and presses for its transformation into a more human order. Conservatives stress the first, revolutionaries the second, reformers the third. The Christian is expected to hold together all three.

That comes from Wink’s Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination (I’ve yet to read that one, but I found his little book Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way insightful and helpful when I read it and blogged about it last summer).

Because the world is created by God, is broken because of the fall, and is being redeemed through Jesus Christ, it’s important for development practitioners — and for all of us — to keep that three-fold creation-fall-redemption theme in mind as we do our work in the world.

It’s easy to just be a conservative or a revolutionary or a reformer; it’s tough to discern the proper place of each. But each impulse, each posture, has its place, and at times simultaneously. God help us to hold the three together.