Wednesday, August 23, 2006

In the Beginning

What is the Christian teaching (doctrine) about creation?

The triune God created and made all that exists apart from God. Strangely, to understand the beginning, we have to first understand what to expect at the end. So although genealogy is about the beginning of existence, it can only be fully understood with reference to the final purpose at the end of creation, its teleological eschatology. The human race was not so much created as it was made, from created matter (earth and moisture). We were made in the image of God. But “What for?” The Church teaches that it is to exist and enjoy the glory of God in life everlasting. This presumes that existence is preferable to non-existence. It also presumes that fellowship is preferable to isolation. Finally, it presumes that to love and be loved is preferable to hate and be hated. To create is to establish and bring to being something previously without existence. The perennial question asked about reality is “Why is there something rather than nothing?” “How is God active both towards the world and within its structures?”

The Christian claim with regard to the origin of reality takes two forms:

1) God’s act of establishment is uniquely free and sovereign (The universe is in the hands of someone good and powerful rather than someone indifferent. This makes the issue of evil and suffering even more perplexing).

2) The theology of mediation of divine action (process of creation) takes various forms:

2.1: BY PERSONAL WORD: By the mere word of command: “Be” (“Let there be..”), an accommodation to the nature of creation, of a different order than of the creator. (The giving of space permitted there to be a reality other than God. God’s action of creation permits something its own unique freedom to be.

2.2: BY CRAFTSMANSHIP: Forming what has been created - God’s creation also includes the formation of what was initially created, e.g. Man (Psalm 139: 13-14 “ ... you knit me together in my mother’s womb, ... for I am fearfully and wonderfully made”) and the earth (Job 3: 14 describes the formation of the earth from primeval stuff “The earth takes shape like clay under a seal...”). God willed to allow another space and time to develop its own reality, writes Karl Barth. What about the six days of creation? Are these intervals ancient renditions of modern measures of time? Rather than wondering if ‘days’ meant six 24 hour cycles or not, Colin Gunton points to Basil of Caesarea who said, the pattern of days serves to establish the world’s relation to eternity Creation brought time to being. Gunton says that the seventh day of rest suggests that time is what God gives to things for their right development. [Time is God’s way of preventing everything from happening at once]

3.3: BY MINISTERIAL OPERATION: God enables some parts of creation serve as mediators of God’s creation of other parts (Genesis 1: 11, 20 “Let the earth bring forth...” the birth of a child). Humanity is the chief ministers of creation, as in the creative act of the sciences, and the arts. All fields of human inquiry are in fact examples of ministerial acts of creation by which we serve even unwittingly to further God’s will in creation. *Creation also means that all life belongs intimately to God because God alone is the giver, lord and master of life. ‘Life’ is peculiarly the Lord’s domain. Christians pray before each meal because all meals are intrinsically religious occasions in which we intrude God’s domain by killing life, i.e., all eating involves the sacrifice of other lives. Vegetarians do not escape this realization that the paradox of life rests on the inescapable necessity of death.

The Christian worldview learns to unprivilege the unnecessary grip of this life to the exclusion of anticipating the life everlasting to come. One commentator suggested that the Christian belief in life after death in the presence of God liberates us from the incessant need to memorialize ourselves through our DNA via expectations imposed on our children, physical monuments, preserving our ideas of physical beauty and youth, etc. If we are to be divinely renewed, we need not hang on to perishable masks for dear life. This permits us to truly love beyond our immediate kin and make progress towards 'loving our neighbor'.


The doctrine of creation states that God created everything that is not God. What does it mean?


1) There is other reality than God and that it is really other than he. [The only ontological distinction is between creator and creature, there are no intermediate forms. God maintains this divide but crosses it by the energies of the Son and the Spirit. In Jesus Christ, creator and creation meet with the meeting of the two realities]

2) Everything made by God is good. The world is supposed to be worldly. While the world was created good, the world we encounter is far from good. It presents us with a combination of good and evil. It needs to be redeemed.

3) Creation was ‘formed in Christ’ who holds it together (Colossians 1: 16). Unlike the pantheism of Spinoza or the postmodern retreat, this posits a fundamental unity of being and truth in Christ. This opens up the possibilities for evolutionary development without being limited to a consistency with the various forms of Darwinist dogma.

The doctrine of providence teaches that God cares that everything so created is maintained and sustained by divine power. The account of creation in Genesis places the seventh day as the day of rest, when God’s creatio initio (creation) is complete and creatio continua (providence) begins.

This doctrine of genealogy issued by divine revelation touches on the question of origins. How did the beginning begin? God need not and could have not but in generosity did will to create. We conclude that in the beginning God in generosity took the initiative to create creation and make out of it the human race. As we image ourselves after God, the principal driving force may well be the characteristic of generosity. We ought to be loving not because we are grateful but because we have the seeds of generosity within us.


Implications and applications:


1. If we were created for a purposeful future, someone greater than ourselves must value us. Life is a precious gift. To live a human life is a special gift. We are capable of much more than we dare hope. We are called to a nobler existence than we presume.

2. If we are provided for in our everyday existence, we must not be unnecessarily anxious about the wrong issues. We ought to consider what is beyond our capacity to transform and what is within our ability to change for the better.

3. In responding to science, history and religious pluralism, the greatest challenge to the development of a Christian worldview, we may ask

(i) how does this knowledge from the Scriptures direct our attitude towards the powerful advances in science and technology,

(ii) how does it help us understand the impact of history and our ability to learn from it for the future, and

(iii) how does the knowledge that we are dependent on the triune God embolden us to think about the responsibility and privilege of testimonial witnessing with the power of the gospel to heal, to comfort and to bring joy?

On Septemebr 24th, 2006, this lecture will be delivered at the ACT Kairos Lecture at Redeemer Presbyterian Church that meets at Hunter College, City University of New York.

Please check www.actministry.org for more details.

2 comments:

Alex Tang said...

Dear Dr.Choong,

Thank you for your preview in what promises to be an exciting lecture in September. May I assume your target audience are non-Christians? I hope you do not mind to clarify a few of your statements so that I may understand better.

"The Christian worldview learns to unprivilege the unnecessary grip of this life to the exclusion of anticipating the life everlasting to come."

Are you saying that eschatology is not part of the Christian worldview? I find that this is in contradiction to your next statement where you quoted a commentator who said "the Christian belief in life after death in the presence of God liberates us..."

In your 'doctrine of creation' you stated "1) There is other reality than God and that it is really other than he. [The only ontological distinction is between creator and creature, there are no intermediate forms. God maintains this divide but crosses it by the energies of the Son and the Spirit. In Jesus Christ, creator and creation meet with the meeting of the two realities]"

You started the statement with one reality and ended your parenthesis with two realities in Jesus Christ. how many realities are they?

I agree with you in that there is a divide between creator and creature. What do you mean that "God maintains this divide but crosses it by the energies of the Son and the Spirit." ? I assume here that you are talking about God's work with his creatures and not about the Trinity.

In your second point you wrote "The world is supposed to be worldly." Please explain.

In your third point "Creation was ‘formed in Christ’ who holds it together (Colossians 1: 16). Unlike the pantheism of Spinoza or the postmodern retreat, this posits a fundamental unity of being and truth in Christ." v15 stated that He is the firstborn over all creation. How would you explain that in relationship to your first point. Would your third point be considered fidelism?

I agree with you fully in your conclusion- that the doctrine of creation has a very important role to play in developing a Christian worldview.

Shalom

Dave Chang said...

A significant cultural reality we live in today (and affects our mission) is people live long with better medicare/nutrition/cures etc

As such, the question of death tends to be postponed longer and focus is on the here-and-now - what difference does faith make in my life now is more pressing than wat happens after death? (though this question does not go away altogether when we see untimely deaths)

Nt Wright, for example, argues that the Christian eschatological hope is not in a spiritual 'life after death' but in the RESURRECTION - an embodied and transformed life after 'life after death' :D

Yet this emphasis on the here-and-now, while helpful to wean us off a platonic dualism (world is evil, spirit is good), also needs to be held in tension with what Ron says here...

Knowing that life does not end at the grave liberates us from "the unnecessary grip of this life to the exclusion of anticipating the life everlasting to come"

We are free from the compulsion to "memorialize ourselves" w children, fame, monuments, physical beauty.

It reminds me of CS Lewis' quote that those who are of most earthly good are those who yearn for heaven :D