Creation in theological context

I thought it worth expanding the comment I made on penman’s quotation from N T Wright in a recent post, because it occurs to me that not everyone sees the creation issue in the same broad context that I (and those like Wright) do. Essentially, this is the context of biblical theology.

Biblical theology, in its various forms, sees the Bible as one unfolding story, rather than (say) as a disparate collection of historical theological attempts to grapple with the concept of God. Such a view presupposes the close oversight of God himself, through the Holy Spirit, on the composition of Scripture – perhaps paralleling the views I’ve always expressed on this blog about God’s close oversight of creation. Tom Wright clearly has such a high view of Scripture.

In my my comment I tried to summarise Wright’s comments on Adam in a sentence:

I like the big picture he paints of a chain going from creation, through man, through the Jews, through Christ and all the way back to a cosmic salvation again.

To re-expand that, Wright’s view of the Gospel (as a Pauline New Testament scholar) is very much that it retains continuity with the covenant of God with Israel. His controversy in that area is with those who see the Gospel as mainly concerned with getting individuals to heaven (and Israel as a people whose main purpose is to show that good works fail to achieve that).

In a recent radio debate with James White, the latter says that such a covenantal view is consistent with his own Reformed faith, and it is interesting that Wright agreed that the main theological issue he’s concerned with (“The New Perspective on Paul” – outside my remit here) is essentially a discussion within the Reformed Tradition, of which Anglicanism is a part (though, he says, many Anglicans don’t know that!).

That Reformed tradition, which I also embrace, has also tended to retain a corporate and even cosmic view of salvation, as distinct from the individualistic and pietistic strand that dominates Evangelicalism in the West today. Much of what Wright says, then, is stuff that I’ve already believed for decades.

So to Wright, Jesus came to do the job that Israel had failed to do through disobedience, which was to create a people to serve God – but to what end? Well, that mission of Israel – originally given through Abraham – was in turn to do the job that Adam had failed to do through disobedience. And that job was (as the Eden story shows) to create a race to be God’s stewards and viceroys in, and for, the whole created world. That mission is laid out first in Genesis 1, which implies that God’s creation, though “very good”, is incomplete, or imperfect, and that man was created to subdue and to rule it.

It’s at least possible that, as we’ve discussed here recently, Adam’s priesthood involved bringing an existing humanity into the fellowship with God that he enjoyed – to expand the garden of Eden, as it were, to the existing nations of men (or to existing hominins, if you want to push back the timeframe).

Wright, as an NT scholar, is not explicit about what needed doing by Adam and how he was to achieve it. But note that sin, both in the Genesis narrative and in Paul’s commentary on it in Romans 5, comes into the world through Adam. It’s the problem that spoils the job God had intended for mankind, and not the original problem man was created to solve.

So we can work our way back up the salvation chain. Adam having failed to bring creation (maybe including the human creation) fully into God’s rule, Israel was called to be the people who would, once made righteous themselves, bring the world back to God. Remember that God told Abram that “all nations would be blessed through him”.

After Israel’s own surrender to sin, Christ – the sinless representative of Israel, because the incarnate Son of God himself – achieved by divine power and grace what man had failed to achieve alone.

In the first place, he restores the nation of Israel to fellowship with God by forgiveness. At first that restored nation is only a remnant, chosen by grace – at length Romans 11 suggests it will be, in some sense, the entire people.

In the second place, that nation of¬† God’s own covenant people is expanded to include the Gentiles – thus fulfilling the human aspect of Adam’s priesthood (whether that means Adam was to serve an existing humanity, as I’ve suggested, or only to father a righteous people according to the traditional Augustinian understanding). Hence Wright’s emphasis on justification being an expression of ones membership of the covenant nation, rather than only a description of an individual’s salvation from sin.

In the third, Christ himself achieves, for and partly through this redeemed humanity, what mankind’s role was always intended to be at creation. The new heavens and the new earth are the realm in which creation comes to perfection, and in which mankind’s creation purpose¬† is fulfilled.

That being the case, the question of origins – of creation and evolution and the relationship between them – are not small-print issues for Christians, whose importance is limited to what they say about the reliability of Scripture, or even about the power of God in the philosophical sense. Rather, creation is closely tied into the reason for man’s existence in the first place, and the reason for the salvation history laid out through the Bible and culminating in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That Gospel itself culminates in a new cosmic reality, yet to come, but already inaugurated in the resurrection body of Jesus, and in the transformed lives of those who constitute his covenant people – the Church.

So the historical existence of Adam and Eve means more than discussions about genetics, or even important theological issues like original sin. The whole Christian worldview – a worldview that encompasses the “natural” world and man’s eternal role within it – is dependent on a chain that includes the reality of the man Jesus Christ, the man Abraham, and the man Adam. Thanks to N T Wright for pointing that out so clearly, and to penman for bringing it to our attention here on the Hump.

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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