1) The sermon of creation is not a minimal thing - it's maximal. Romans 1:19 'what may be known about God... God has made plain.' Colossians 1:23 'the gospel... has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven.' Psalm 19:2 'Day after day they pour forth speech.'
2) Our blindness/deafness to this sermon is not minimal either - it is maximal. Note that in Psalm 19 David trusts that the creation daily pours forth speech in intentional evangelism. In Ecclesiastes 1 his son sees the exact same heavens. Yet even with all his wisdom, the 'teacher' of Ecclesiastes finds it utterly meaningless. The circuit of the sun which was such a vivid portrait of the Bridegroom Champion in Psalm 19 becomes, in the eyes of the 'teacher', a futile and meaningless cycle.
Humanity is blind to the things of God (2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:21). We cannot judge what the sermon of creation is saying by what we see. We naturally only see what we want to see.
3) The sermon of creation is not a static thing, it's dynamic, it's about movement and action and inter-relation. Literally Ps 19:2 says "Day unto day is a pouring forth of speech; night unto night is a displaying of knowledge." The sequence of day and night and day and night is itself a display of knowledge. This proclamation involes 'sun, moon and stars in their courses above.' The sermon of creation is expressed in dynamic action, it does not simply speak to us in static snap-shots of beauty.
So often people simply characterise the sermon of creation as something like "Look at a snow-capped mountain range, doesn't it fill you with awe. Well, now you should direct that awe to the God who is big enough and clever enough to have made it." That is certainly an element to what creation is saying, but it's not what David is drawing our attention to.
Psalm 19 highlights the progression of day and night, the movement of the sun across the sky, the heavens in their courses. The dynamic sermon of creation tells far better of the Glory of God who is not a static, unmoved deity simply waiting for people to give Him glory. The Living God acts and moves and relates. And His Glory, according to the Bible, is His Son acting, moving and relating. The theist will think of the sermon of creation in static terms because her god is static. The Christian knows the sermon is dynamic - just like our God.
4) The sermon of creation is 'the word of Christ.' It is not about abstract qualities of power or wisdom but about the Son. Of course this is so since Jesus is eternally the image of God (Col 1:15). There is no revelation that is not in Him.
In Romans 10 Paul asks if any have not heard the word of Christ (v17)? He answers, of course not and quotes Psalm 19! The sermon of creation is the word of Christ. When we examine Psalm 19 we see this to be so. His example of the sun is a dead giveaway. This sun is like a Bridegroom Champion who moves from east to west (like the journey the high priest makes from altar to ark) as the light of the world. (Ps 19:4-6; cf Ps 45). Here is a sermon regarding Christ.
Think also of John 12. When Jesus picks up a seed He doesn't say "How pretty and how intelligently designed" - He says "This seed proclaims my death and resurrection and, though this, the life of the world." The sermon of creation is a gospel word concerning Christ.
5) The sermon of creation is seen only through the spectacles of the Scriptures (Calvin's famous image). Ps 19 continues 'The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving/converting the soul.' (v7) That which left even Ecclesiastes' 'teacher' looking into the meaningless cycle of life and death is that which, through the spectacles of Scripture, becomes the dynamic proclamation of Christ and His gospel.
6) Now with Scripture's spectacles on, we can learn much from creation. We can 'go to the ant... consider its ways' (Prov 6:6); we can 'consider the ravens' (Luke 12:24); we can 'reflect on' farming, athletics and soldiering (2 Tim 2:4-7) and be given insight. This revelation is in a sense beyond Scripture. But it is never apart from it. We learn more from Christ's creation by doing this than if we stay in church and read our bibles. But if this 'more' is to be considered a revelation - if it is ultimately about Christ (which it really is) - then such learning must begin in the Scriptures and be co-ordinated by them.
But now, bible in hand, the Christian becomes an eager biologist, geologist, cosmologist, anthropologist, etc, etc. As we happily march off to our labs and digs and libraries the naturalists will frown at us and accuse us of treating the bible like a science text-book. Of course, this accusation is backwards. The real problem is that they treat naturalism like a revelation. But, never mind. This just shows how much they need the Scriptures.
The truth is that the Bible is not a container into which the Christian tries to shrink all scientific knowledge. It is a lens through which we hope to see the heights and depths. We do not think that the Scriptures exhaustively reveal the world to us. Instead, we believe that they uniquely reveal the way to know this world - by the Spirit and in Christ alone..
79 thoughts on “Six Thoughts on the Sermon of Creation [repost]”
Hi Glen - my name's Tanya Marlow, former UCCF worker, currently mainly housebound from chronic illness.
I see that you are trying to assert that the creation tells us the 'gospel' rather just than that it points to a creator. Two questions:
- what do you make of Rom 1:20, and why did you leave it out?
- if the creation so clearly explains the gospel (not just that there is a creator), why do you
need preaching at all?
I'm not sure I can speak for Glen, but I thought that his first point is making the point of Romans 1:20 - "For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. "
It seems to me that it would be quite amazing enough if Paul had suggested that the "visible" qualities of God were revealed in the creation... but Paul makes an even more incredible claim... that the "invisible" qualities of God are clearly seen! Just in case his readers were unable to grasp the shock of this, Paul specifies that even the eternal power and the divine nature itself are clearly seen in the temporal, mortal nature of this creation! How is this possible?!? How can the deepest and highest realities of the being of God be revealed through the creation that has only existed for such a short time?
In many ways I can understand the feeling that Paul may have got a little over-excited and gone too far here. Is it really possible that the Eternal Trinity could truly make that incomprehensible divine nature so clearly seen through the creation? Nevertheless, that does seem to be Paul's argument. In verse 19 he even suggests that "what may be known about God" is made known through the creation!!!! Think of the vast amounts that are written about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit... there is just so much that seems to be known about this Living God, and yet we are all aware that there is probably much more to know if only we were more godly and more clear thinking. Yet, Paul thinks that all this is not only revealed in the words of the Bible but also revealed in God's other book, the created order around us.
How can "what may be known of God" all be made known in the creation around us? I still find this one of the most mind-blowing claims that Paul ever makes. Is the creation really capable of such a weight?
I guess this supports the idea that the book of nature and the book of Scripture both teach the same truths, but I'm not sure if Glen is making this specific point.
We can see why Athanasius notes that if the invisible qualities of God are so clearly revealed in creation, then they creation must be created, controlled and upheld by the divine Mediator, Christ Himself - for He alone is the image of he invisible God.
I think what makes this so hard to digest is that we are so used to thinking of God as an essentially secret, hidden or elusive "idea"... something that can at best be glimpsed or hinted at. To my own mind I find that I tend to assume that the physical world around me is obvious and objective whereas the Living God is more of a subjective and elusive kind of knowledge. If someone doubted the reality of a cup of tea on the table in front of them I would think they were utterly irrational and mentally disturbed... but I find myself much more sympathetic if they deny the fact that the LORD Jesus Christ sustains all things by His powerful word.
Anyway, I think that the local church is at the very centre of everything that the Living God does. Before the creation existed He planned everything to be in and through and even for the church. So, the idea that He would use the sermon of creation to call, illumine and convert the world rather than through the verbal preaching of the local church seems unbelievable. It seems to me that the Father has purposed to use the preaching of the Church to save people rather than the preaching of creation. Fallen humanity just doesn't listen to the sermon of creation - there is no one who seeks after God, not even one.
True, nobody naturally, in their own strength and light, listens to the sermon of the Church either... but the Living God has determined to show His wisdom and grace through the Church. The Holy Spirit ensures that the preaching of the church comes not in word only but also in power.
Although both the sermon of the church and the sermon of creation have the same message of the LORD Jesus Christ, yet it is through the preaching of the church that eyes are opened, hearts regenerated and the Bride of Christ gathered.
Working with so many unchurched people - and Muslims and Hindus especially - I get great confidence from the fact that the gospel message we preach from the Bible is the very same message that is declared by the whole creation. When we preach the LORD Jesus Christ we are simply declaring the One they have been confronted with all their lives... the One who has given them life and breath... the One that they "sensed in the sunset" [as one person put it].
If we do not preach the gospel of the LORD Jesus from the Bible in our local churches then the world will never have the eyes to see that the earth is filled with the glory of God.
The LORD Jesus has sent us out to preach the gospel to every creature - and the Holy Spirit will use that message of the Church to open eyes and change hearts, to bring people over from death to life, all to the glory of Jesus.
just a thought on your second question. If God gives us the task of preaching to fill a gap/need etc that he hasn't met (and implicitly, that he needs us to do) then creation proclaiming the gospel would undo our need to preach.
If, however, God gives us the task of preaching as a gracious gift TO US to be involved with his work of restoring creation under Christ, then we don't need to preach: but we can delight that he chooses to use our preaching to give life, and not the preaching of creation.
(Heard a sermon recently on that theme from Judges 4-5 which picked up on God's graciousness in offering glory to Barak if he fought, and the graciousness given to the varios tribes in Israel who chose to fight and were consequently remembered throughout history as people who shared in the victory God brought about).
To add to the great points Josh and Paul have already made, I think Glen's point 5 is also relevant to the "why preach then, if creation is preaching?" question - preaching by the Church gives those scriptural lenses and shows what the universe looks like through them.
Hi Tanya, welcome to comments :)
Yes, what the others said.
We can all agree that the revelation of creation is not saving. "Faith comes from hearing the message (of sent preachers)", Rom 10:14-17.
But to say that the reason it's non-saving is that it's insufficiently clear flies in the face of everything else Paul says about the sermon of creation (Rom 1; Col 1).
In answer to your questions:
1) The whole post is an explication of Rom 1:20. Point 1 especially.
2) Firstly, see the Romans 10 point (and note that Paul quotes Psalm 19 right in the heart of it - v18!)
Secondly, salvation is not about accumulating sufficient data (i.e. as though creation gives you 15% of saving knowledge and the preacher tops you up with the other 85%). This is the Thomist (and therefore Roman Catholic) co-ordination of nature and grace and it should be anathema to any evangelical.
Thirdly, I hope I've made it clear that we maximally suppress the truth in unrighteousness. The preached word reveals the eternal Word through the written word. Only then, in Christ, do we have the Lens through which to see what creation has been plainly proclaiming.
A fourth thought occurs, today I heard about canyoucrackit.co.uk - this is GCHQ's way of recruiting for the next generation of code-breakers. Essentially you prove your worth by piecing together the puzzles and then maybe you're invited in. God does not want to recruit for the kingdom like this! It's not about cracking the code to understand the Creator. No the Father is building a family through personal invitation. Therefore preaching is central.
A question for you - Do you think that the way a seed produces new life preaches the gospel?
Thanks for your questions, hope you don't feel set upon. :)
The gospel was there, right from the start.
God had to spill some blood to clothe Adam and Eve.
But as others have said here, and said very well, the specific revelation of Christ Jesus and His cross, and heard through preaching and teaching about the same, is the way our Lord has decided to give people faith.
Wow - lengthy replies to 2 short questions! There are such a lot in the replies that it's hard for me to start to make a response. So - firstly, I think we all agree that the 'sermon of creation' is not salvific, and indeed cannot be salvific. We need the proclamation of the written word to lead us to the Living Word, as you say.
Therefore I'm a bit confused about why you're trying to assert that the 'sermon of creation' has the whole gospel in it. I'm not sure that Paul in Rom 1:20 is saying that 'all' of God's qualities and characteristics, visible and invisible have been made plain in creation. The emphasis is on them rejecting their creator and worshipping created things and Paul specifically states that it is God's eternal power and divine nature that are made manifest in creation (admittedly quite a lot about who he is, but not revealing the whole). Are you saying that from looking at
nature we should be able to deduce that God is loving, merciful? Just? And are you saying that is should be possible (even if in practice people don't) just from looking at creation to say, 'God so loved in world that he sent his only son to die so that none would perish but have eternal life?'
With regards the question about seeds, no, I don't think a seed is preaching to me. I think you can use it as an effective illustration to explain aspects of the cross or resurrection (as indeed Jesus does in John 12) but that is different to saying that is 'preaching'. I'm not sure how, even theoretically, you could say that the whole of the gospel could be deduced from looking at nature, even with the most un-suppressed non-wicked person being open to 'hear' it. Surely that is why God revealed himself in Jesus?
Your Romans 10 passage is as strong as your evidence gets for the 'gospel' being proclaimed in creation, but even there Paul is saying people can't possibly believe unless someone preaches to them. There is a problem with hardness of heart but that is the same problem when someone preaches (2 cor 4-5).
I think when you ask a typical non-Christian whether they think creation speaks to them of God most will say yes. If you ask them what it tells them about God, I think most people will say something like, his creativity, his 'bigness', his beauty, his care, maybe even his love. But I've yet to meet a non-Christian who by simply looking at creation says that we have a triune God who became incarnate and died as a sacrifice of atonement to bring us into eternal life with God. And I think it also exceedingly rare for a Christian whose eyes have been opened to the gospel to honestly declare that these things are 'revealed' to us in creation. We can use elements of creation as illustration, as St Patrick did to explain the trinity, for example, but that is not the same as a Christian being able to say, 'ah! A shamrock!
Of course! It was telling me all along that we don't have no god or many gods, but 3 in 1! I can't believe I wasn't listening to it!'
Maybe i've misrepresented you? (I must admit, I do struggle to get my head round it) but it seems to me this is what you end up saying?
I'm just on my way out, but I wanted to respond to the careful points from Tanya. It's really good to have a chance to think through another viewpoint.
I feel as if I'm missing something here because I just don't understand how to conceive of a genuine revelation of the Living God that happens without the LORD Jesus Christ.
I guess I start from the claim that Christ is the mediator of God right from the creation of the heavens and the earth - and also in all the works of redemption. Given that everything was created in, through and for Jesus Christ, I find it hard to imagine that the creation does not reveal Him... or that He formed all things in such a way that His Person and Work are concealed.
To my mind, the Bible seems to say that we twist and corrupt the message of creation to create all kinds of religions and theories of our own that exclude the LORD Jesus, the Eternal Word of the Father.
If this is so, then I'm sure that we would all be able to show how our non-Christian friends do not acknowledge the reality of the Father, Son and Spirit in the creation. It would be genuinely strange to find someone who acknowledged how all the seeds declare the reality and glory of Christ's death and resurrection ... whilst also being blind and dead in their trespasses and sins.
The typical non-Christians in the Hindu temple next to my house tend to see the revelation of creation in terms of a vast and diverse array of different deities. Some believe that all these deities are ultimately manifestations of the Divine One, but many do not seem to make that leap. The sheer diversity of the natural world seems to indicate to them the sheer diversity of divinity.
The Muslims in the local mosque are very clear that the revelation of creation is definitely not about the Trinity or about Jesus but instead reveals the all powerful and wise Creator who is Allah. If the creation is revealing a single divine person who is powerful and creative then I have to say that my Muslim friends are genuinely responding to that with devotion and sincere commitment. They are very passionate in their rejection of any worship of the creature - and in fact they accuse me of falling into this very sin when I worship Jesus! How will the creation make them "inexcusable" if they are basically worshipping a powerful creator?
To be honest, yes, I genuinely feel that the Trinity pops open my entire perception of reality. I find it hard to imagine how to make sense of the world without seeing how the one and the many are explained, integrated and given integrity by the Three who are One. I remember when I read Colin Gunton's book "The One, the Three and the Many" and feeling how it articulated just what I had been trying to say for ages. There are bits of Richard of St Victor that have a similar feel to me.
I find that there are so many relationships and features of the creation that declare the Trinity and the gospel. Just think how darkness is instantly defeated by light or how we go into a death-like state each night but experience a mini-resurrection each morning. Think how we are sustained all our lives by breath or how all life on earth depends on the heat and light of the sun. Think of the structure and organisation of an ant colony or a bee hive. Think of how trees clap their hands when the wind blows or how the life we get from our food depends on death - obviously in the form of meat but also in the way that plants too must die to give us their life. Unless of course we are thinking of fruit, that can give us life without the death of the parent and then we are into the whole character of fruit and why that unique privilege was given to us in Genesis 1. Think of the clouds of glory that float above us and drop the refreshing rain [a point that Jesus makes as a proof that the Father's perfection is found in loving the good and the bad]. The way that the moon is the faithful witness who reflects the light of the sun even at night or the shining of the stars in the dark universe are powerful gospel sermons. The way our bodies turn back to dust or the way all things decay are solemn proclamations of the wrath and curse of the Living God. The structure and reproduction of a human family, with the union of a man and woman to produce their offspring; the restlessness of the sea constantly resisted by the coastline; the energy lying beneath the solidity of the hard surface of my desk; the strength through unity in a tree trunk; the energy of fossil fuels produced through death.
I agree that these are only properly understood or appreciated when our vision is corrected by the Bible - as Glen said - but we are given eyes to see what is really there. The Living God has carefully designed this world to be a huge multi-media presentation of His reality and gospel.
“There is not one square inch of the entire creation about which Jesus Christ does not cry out, ‘This is mine! This belongs to me!’” – Abraham B. Kuyper
To go back to Glen's point about seeds, it always strikes me as utterly glorious how this dry and lifeless thing falls apart when buried... yet springs up into such a wonderful 'resurrection' body. How else could we view such a process? It would seem so weird to imagine such a constant miracle was telling us nothing about fundamental reality even though it is one of the most basic and repeated events on the planet.
Speaking especially with my Muslim friends in mind, my key question would be, if the creation speaks only of a powerful, single divine person, in what sense is a Muslim failing to respond to this natural or general revelation?
Romans 1:20 seems to suggest that the Muslim has no excuse. What does this mean?
Thanks very much for taking the time to reply and explain where you're coming from.
Let me first respond to the stuff you said about God revealing himself in nature, and then move on to the question of how this fits in with Muslims.
I feel as if I’m missing something here because I just don’t understand how to conceive of a genuine revelation of the Living God that happens without the LORD Jesus Christ.
I don’t think God revealing his power in creation is happening ‘without’ Jesus. It is my understanding that the creation reveals God to us (that is, not only God the Father but Father, Son and Holy Spirit) in that it reveals his/their power as creator (Rom1:19-20). Col 1 also says that all things were created by Jesus. So I am in agreement with you that the creation reveals Jesus to us, because Jesus created it. So I think God’s power is revealed in creation, but it is God the Trinity’s power revealed, not simply ‘God the Father’.
Unless I am mistaken, you and Glen seem to be saying something different - that creation reveals Jesus as distinctively, differently from the Father, and even more than this, that it somehow prophesies/proclaims the incarnation, atoning sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus, so that it is possible for us to get the whole gospel just from looking at nature. And you seem to be claiming that because it is possible to see and understand the whole of the nature of God and the whole gospel message in creation, we actively suppress it and so need preaching of the gospel. And that is why Muslims are without excuse - because they should have been able to look at the sun breaking through darkness, trees blowing in the wind, seeds growing - and from that alone understand the gospel? God's justice? That Jesus will come and die as an atoning sacrifice?
I don't really see how this can be what Paul is saying here in Romans, and I think that all the mentions of the significance of creation's 'sermon', both in Old Testament and New Testament are to do with the gloriousness of God as creator 'the heavens are declaring the glory of God' etc. I can’t see either the Biblical or logical justification for stretching this ‘sermon of creation’ to go any wider than revealing God’s power as creator (cf Rom 1:20).
So - onto your question about the Muslim person. How can I say she is without excuse if she is responding to nature's sermon that God is a single, powerful divine person?
I think this is a good question and important question, and deserves a good answer. Whether I can give a good enough answer is another matter! I'll do my best. I spent some time getting to know and dialoguing with Muslims in Oxford, and I think it's really important that Christians are involved in bringing the gospel to Muslims and explaining it to them in a way that will be attractive to them.
I do think that Muslims, as all of us, are ‘without excuse’, and I think Romans 1-3 is the key to answering this question, rather than merely Romans 1. Paul seems to be establishing different ways that God has revealed himself (through creation, law and people’s consciences), and how although these reveal God, they do not save.
In Paul's context, there were only two types of non-Christian - the Gentile/pagan in Romans 1 and the Jew in Romans 2, so it’s a little anachronistic to expect Paul to be answering how to deal with Gentile monotheists who don’t acknowledge Christ. Paul is establishing that all are guilty before God - Jew and Gentile alike, because of their response to the revelation of God. Paul spends Romans 1 saying that the Gentiles are without excuse because even from the revelation of creation they should have glorified and given thanks to their creator - but they didn't and decided to worship created things instead of the creator. They deny God and turn to polytheistic idolatry. Today we might recognise Hinduism as doing the things described in verse 23, though I think the ‘worshipping and serving created things rather than the creator’ (25) is fairly universal. Even as Christians, we fall into putting created things – food, money, relationships – as more important than God, and I don’t think Muslims are less guilty of that than us.
But then in Romans 2 he addresses the Jews, along the lines of 'don't start getting smug because you've got the law and you're not blind to God like the Gentiles, you're also unrighteous!' The Jews are unrighteous because although they know the law, they don't keep it. They are also ‘without excuse’ because although they knew God, and in a fuller way than the Gentiles who didn’t have the law, and even worshipped the true God, they failed to keep the law (2:13, 25). They also are not righteous.
Although chapter 2 seems to be predominantly talking about Jews, it is interesting as well that in Romans 2:14-15, Paul also talks of Gentiles having the 'requirements of the law written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times defending them'. Does this not suggest that we are without excuse because even without the law, these things are written on our hearts – and yet we don’t obey?
Funnily enough, I think that honest Muslims (and those who are nominally Christian but seek to justify themselves before God through works or ritual rather than faith in Jesus) would more readily recognise themselves in Paul's rebukes of Romans 2 than Romans 1.
So by Romans 3, we get the depressing news that 'no-one is righteous, not even one'. Having the greater revelation of the law is still not enough to produce righteousness before God, because we don't keep the law, we're still sinful. And then we get to Paul's wonderful, glorious, better-than-J.Lo's 'But' in 3:21 - 'BUT NOW, apart from the law, the righteousness has been made known' - the revelation of Jesus and his death has made it possible for us to be made right before God, so that both Jew and Gentile, legalist and idolater can be justified in God's sight. Paul then makes it clear that the only way of being made right is through faith in Jesus and his death (Rom 3:22) – which is why we need to preach. Salvation is through faith in Christ, and now that Christ has been revealed this 'ignorance' will be overlooked no longer, as Paul explains to the pagan Athenians in Acts 17.
Does this go some way to answer your question?
(I apologise for the length!)
On the question of the revelation of nature: let's not forget that Gentile astrologers were able to look at the sky and deduce the time and approximate location of the birth of the King of the Jews and see the universal claim that that presented...
I won't be able to post any more this week, so I wanted to put down all the thoughts I've been collecting in a couple of longer posts. Yes, they are too long and rambling, but I've not been able to edit them down - so sorry for repetition.
Tanya, thanks for all the thought provoking ideas - it's given me loads to think about.
Yes, I agree that the general revelation of God’s power through creation must be the power of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I think my confusion arose because when you referred to St Patrick I got the impression that you were suggesting that the Trinity is not revealed in creation. Similarly in the next post you seemed to be saying that creation does not reveal Jesus as distinct from the Father. I’m not sure how the creation gives a Trinitarian revelation of God’s power without distinguishing between the Father and the Son and the Spirit.
I get slightly nervous on that issue because I spend so much time with Muslim theologians who believe that creation speaks only of a single, all-powerful divine person. We don’t want to end up accusing the creation of heresy!
To me the reason that this issue has importance is the way it positions sinful humanity.
We all recognise that sinful humanity is saved when the Holy Spirit brings a sinner to trust Jesus by the gospel preaching of the church. However, what is the nature of the sin they are saved from? How sinful is sinful humanity?
If we say that general revelation is deliberately restricted by God to his existence and power, then I fear that excuses and mitigating circumstances are being made for the sheer evil of humanity in our unbelief.
I’ve been a very big fan of Cornelius Van Til and that whole tradition of Dutch Reformed thought since I was young. The basic patterns of his theology still make so much sense to me. The issue is not whether there is as much information in creation as in the Bible but whether the true and Living God, Father, Son and Spirit is truly and fully revealed in the creation. I'm not concerned with degrees of light in the Bible over creation, but in the character of the revelation itself.
This is why point two of Glen's post above is critical: this is about the difference deep problem with a Thomistic approach - https://christthetruth.net/2011/12/01/six-thoughts-on-the-sermon-of-creation-repost/#comment-11098
Cornelius Van Til “Introduction to Systematic Theology”, chapter 9 - “God, not some sort of God or some sort of higher principle, but God, the TRUE GOD, is displayed before men. This is the fact of the matter, whether men recognise it or not. Paul does mention the power of God in particular as the attribute that comes most prominently to the foreground, but he also says that men have the divinity [Theiotes] displayed before them. This does not mean that God is as fully displayed in nature as in the gospel of Christ. Yet we should remember that God is simple. God cannot be cut up into several attributes that are kept distinct from one another. When man knew God in paradise he knew God, not merely part of God... It is necessary to keep this point in mind clearly, inasmuch as all too much has been made of the difference between the mere existence of God and the nature of God. All too often it has been argued that on the basis of nature or by natural theology man should be able to establish the existence of a God, whilst it is only by Christ and through grace that we can know anything more full about the nature of this God. Now it is true that we can have the fullest revelation of the nature of God in Christ. On the other hand, it is also true that when man was created in paradise, he knew not merely of the existence of God, but he knew the nature of God... It is for the loss of this actual knowledge of the nature of God that man, when he became a sinner, must be held responsible. If this is not done, men will be looked upon merely as unfortunates who have not had the good fortune of having had the right information about God. Man has once had the right information. He needed not to know about God comprehensively to know him truly. He needed only to walk with God and trust His promises.”
“That winter and summer follow one another is actually a matter of God’s grace to man, as the covenant with Noah shows. This men ought to see. The facts are there before them, and they ought to see the facts.” [Van Til, page 103].
Yes, I know that in chapter 10 when Van Til deals with special revelation he says that nature does not reveal the grace/gospel of God, but I’m more persuaded by his chapter 9 argument that his chapter 10 one! His introduction to special revelation is helpful - “[The necessity of special revelation] does not lie in any defect in the general revelation that God gave to man when he created him. When we speak of the insufficiency of general revelation we do not wish to suggest that this revelation is as such insufficient for its purpose. It has been noted how all creation, including man’s own psychological constitution, is inherently revelatory of God. This revelation was so clear and unavoidable that man was always confronted with the face of God. But in sinning, man, as it were, took out his own eyes, so that he could no longer see God in his general revelation. Moreover, through this act of self-immolation man not only made himself helpless but also guilty and polluted before God...”
Though I would want to go a bit further than my old mentor Van Til, yet I wholeheartedly agree with his desire to provide no excuses whatsoever for the sinful unbelief of humanity.
The Bible reveals that the Father created all things through the Son in the power of the Spirit - and that the glory and divine nature of this Living God is generously, extravagantly displayed in and through all creation - from the smallest details to the vast expanses of space; from the flow of history to the nature of human beings as well.
The whole earth is filled with the glory of God! What a breath-taking and wonderful cathedral of gospel glory we live and move and have our being within!
The glory of God throughout the earth is awesome and majestic, filling His people with fear and trembling, awe and wonder. The glory of God is the shining out of the majesty and grace, the justice and holiness, the love and power of the Father, Son and Spirit. If the earth is filled with the glory of God then we are surrounded not by a minimal revelation of God but by a maximal one. The glory of God is not the forecourt of the Gentiles but the Holiest of Holies: if even the glory of God is displayed through the heavens and the earth then there is nothing left concealed.
Yes, as Van Til would say, we do not have an exhaustive revelation of God in creation, but it is a complete revelation of God. God does not reveal part of Himself, but always the whole of Himself. Yes, we do not and will never exhaustively grasp God’s revelation of Himself, but He is always presenting HIMSELF to us and never mere information about Him or merely one part or aspect of Himself.
Notice how the glory of God is spoken of through the Scriptures: the Living God displays His glory when He judges the Egyptians and redeems the Church; the glory of God shines in the tabernacle among His people; Moses desires to gaze on the glory of God and is given that incredible Trinitarian experience as the gospel nature of God is spoken to him; when Moses appeals to the gospel glory of the LORD in Numbers 14, he is told that this very glory fills the whole earth.
Isaiah 6:1-5 - “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”
John 12:41 - “Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.”
When the glory of God fills the temple or the tabernacle, the priests are unable to minister. Yet, somehow, in the impossible horror that is sin itself, we manage to not only live but actually rebel in a creation that is filled with the glory of God. We are surrounded by the glory of Jesus, revealing the Unseen Father in the power of the Spirit. When every eye sees Him at His glorious coming, every eye will know who He is and fear.
I’m not convinced that God gives salvific and non-salvific versions of Himself. Does He not simply reveal Himself as He is? The problem is never with His revelation but always and only with our sight and trust. The reason that people are not saved by the revelation of God in creation is not that God has not provided enough information! I can’t see that idea anywhere in the Bible. In fact the Bible seems to say that there is an overwhelming avalanche of the glory of the LORD Jesus Christ shouting at us in every detail of reality. The reason that we are not saved is entirely and utterly our own fault - due to the hardness of our hearts and our sinful behaviour.
When Jesus tells us to observe the birds and the flowers in Matthew 6, what does He expect us to learn from them? Is it simply the power of God? What about the universal coverage of sun and rain?
I’m not persuaded by the idea that general/natural revelation conveys a knowledge of God that is deliberately restricted by God to small bits of information that could not, even in theory, serve any useful purpose.
The reason that the sermon of creation is not salvific is because of the hardness of our hearts and our blindness. There is nothing inadequate about the natural revelation of God’s glory. The deficit is within us, not in general revelation.
Why would He need to restrict His revelation of Himself in creation? I remember someone saying that if God really revealed Himself in all His Trinitarian glory and love through the Cosmic Christ, with so many signs of His gospel written into the structure of reality, then someone might believe this without ever listening to the gospel presentation of the Church.. and then there would be salvation outside the church.
Ok. I understand the concern. The local church is the centre of all God’s purposes in creation. God is not saving individuals but the church family. However, if humanity is blind and dead in sin and transgression - and if nobody ever seeks after God without the work of the Spirit - then there is no danger that individuals are going to sneak into salvation without His purpose and will. In my experience when a Muslim receives a dream they are typically directed to a local church to hear the gospel message: they are not directed to inspect seeds or sunsets.
The suggestion is that Romans 1-3 deals with a revelation of a powerful creator and a moral conscience to establish the universal condemnation of humanity. I’m not persuaded that this is what Paul is arguing. I think that he is much more concerned with the specific issues of the Hebrew Scriptures.
Romans Chapter 1 indicates that although humanity [Adam] knew the Living God, he turned away from that and since then although the Living God is revealed around us and within us we all continue to reject Him. I think Van Til's is right to remind us that in Eden we really did know God and it was a very terrible sin to turn away from that wonderful condition. God's wrath is actively being revealed to us [verse 18]. Think of verse 32. Paul insists that humanity knows that the wages of sin is death. How does humanity know this if not either from Adam or from creation?
In Romans Chapter 2 Paul addresses not moral, religious people but specifically Jewish people who have had the Law of God, given at Sinai, and believed that they at least have not gone the way of the world in all its religions or irreligious hedonism. The unbelieving Jewish person is confronted with the fact that they fall into the same sins as the Gentile world. Merely hearing the law is no good: doing what the law truly requires [that is, trusting in Christ] is what God is looking for.
Paul’s great piece of evidence against the Law-worshippers is Gentile Christians. They have the Law on their hearts yet do not have the law! Therefore possession of the Law is not the key to righteousness and the friendship of God. Faith in Christ gives what the Law cannot give.
I’m not persuaded by the idea that the law on our hearts is nothing more than “moral conscience”. To have the law of God written on human hearts was the great glory and wonder of the new covenant described by Jeremiah [Jeremiah 31:27-37]. I’m not convinced by the claim that having the Law of God written on our hearts is a universal human characteristic in unregenerate humanity. Rather, it is a key blessing of new birth itself - hence the conclusion about circumcision of the heart at the end of Romans 2.
The Law-worshippers believed that righteousness came from them personally fulfilling the requirements of the the Law - but to attempt to do this was actually rejecting the testimony of the Law. Paul states that the righteousness of Christ does not depend on our own legal obedience, but on His fulfilling of the Law - and this is exactly what the Law and the Prophets testify to - “now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.”
The whole earth is filled with the glory of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The glory of God is much more than the idea that there is a powerful creator. God does not reveal part of Himself, but HImself as He is. This revelation is not exhaustive but it is complete. The glory of God is defined in the Bible in terms of God’s mercy, grace, forgiveness, judgement and redemption. In fact, Christ Himself is the glory of God.
There is nothing lacking in God’s revelation in creation: it is a comprehensive revelation of the nature and ways of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit - including presentations of the gospel eg light conquering darkness; death and resurrection through seeds etc etc
The revelation of creation is not saving because of the hardness of the human heart, not because of a lack of revelation. We know that people actually watched Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead and listened to His gospel preaching and yet they still rejected Him... perhaps even more so. So, there is no need to limit revelation in order to exclude sinful humanity: sinful humanity will defy the light and love the darkness no matter how brightly the light shines.
It is through the church that the Spirit brings illumination and salvation. When we are saved, when our eyes are opened and the Scriptures teach us to see properly, then we can recognise all the many and wonderful ways in which the glory and gospel of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are revealed throughout the whole creation.
In Romans 1-3 Paul establishes the universal sinfulness of all humanity, whether Jew or Gentile. The whole human race, since the very beginning in Adam when we knew God, continues to reject Him even though He is clearly revealed. We actively suppress the knowledge of God. Gentile Christians are the proof that mere possession of the Law is not the key, but trusting in Christ - as the Law testified - is the righteousness that comes from God.
I'm really struggling to think my way into a worldview that says creation reveals 'God' yet not the distinct Word of the Father through whom all things were made and through Whom alone God is known.
As Athanasius says of Adam and Eve in the garden: "It was open to them, by looking into the height of heaven, and perceiving the harmony of creation, to know its Ruler, the Word of the Father, Who, by His own providence over all things makes known the Father to all, and to this end moves all things, that through Him all may know God."
As Psalm 19 says, the sun is like a Champion Bridegroom. It's not just big and awesome - it's like the brightest object of our *love*, it's like the one that runs our course (from east to west) for us, it's the universal light of the world and nothing is hidden from its life-giving heat.
Imagine that we grew up in the tabernacle and knew nothing else beyond it. We might make all sorts of guesses about what the cherubim woven into the curtain meant, or the bread on the table or why the lampstand had seven lamps. And, without being told, we'd come up with all sorts of nonsense. But the tabernacle is preaching gospel truth to us. Some might suggest that "The tabernacle isn't *preaching* anything, it's just a good-looking structure that speaks of 'some kind of clever and artful architect'" but they'd be mistaken.
In Romans 1, 'God's power' has been defined just four verses earlier - it *is* the gospel (1:20). The idea that in v20 God's power explicitly *excludes* the gospel seems extremely unlikely. Especially given that Paul is telling us of 'what may be known about God.' It seems obvious to me that 'what may be known about God' goes well beyond His creative power.
Romans 10 and Colossians 1:23 also speak in gospel terms about the sermon of creation. So far from Romans 10 being my best shot at affirming a gospel revelation in creation I'm struggling to find a passage about the sermon of creation that does *not* include gospel truth about Jesus, the Son of the Father.
U said very very true things that Our blindness/deafness to this sermon is not minimal either – it is maximal.Because sometimes we just see and hear what we want to hear we not think about what God has written for usor what he plans for us actually.I totally agree with you say "Humanity is blind to the things of God".Sometimes we just ignore the actual things which are given by God to us and we just focous on those things which we want.Love your post...
Four not so briefish thoughts:
(1) I suggest you consider CS Lewis on being "outside" and "inside" the world in e.g. the weight of glory and elsewhere e.g. in Planet Narnia. As someone who has struggled immensely with the idea that the creation proclaims christ in his righteousness for us semantically (and if you think i've been too specific there I'm being so provocatively: is there any other christ?), I'm approaching a settled position. My best analogy is that the of a wedding ring - from a material point of view, a ring is "just" a piece of metal, bent into shape. But unless we're material reductionists, we say "that's not what that ring is, just what it's made of" - the ring is a "sign of our marriage". As such it has all sorts of significance for us - real significance, which is not constituted but apprehended by my imagining it; such that if people don't imagine those meanings they are not seeing a wedding ring at all. But it's true that from inside that marriage relationship the ring looks a lot bigger than it does from outside. Likewise we must find a way of saying something like only in christ does creation have these meanings - meaning it wouldn't and won't have outside christ - and christ not as some abstract eternal principle of revelation, but as the incarnate son who was raised from the dead & is now interceding for us.
(2) The heavenly law in Ps 19 seems to be non semantic: there is no speech, there are no words, its voice is not heard. But you're spot on to compare the inside the tabernacle question. heaven & earth are set out in scripture as tabernacle/temple. Only when the word becomes flesh in Christ do we hear it: is "let there be light": which shines on the earthly torah, from the earthly model temple in the earthly jerusalem, in christ the bridge between heaven & earth, for us men and for our salvation. I'm surprised Glen you seem to be taking the location we need to be inside in order to hear it; the spectacles we need to wear to be scripture.
(3) I REALLY suggest you all listen to read/listen to Peter Harrison (prof of science & religion at Oxford) on the Bible, Protestantism & the Rise of Natural Science, on the shift from contemplative to active life, the shift from allegory (not as a way of reading multiple meanings into scriputure as if words could refer to many objects but as a way of reading created objects as signs in themselves) and fixing the meaning and the origins of modernity - he cites Augustine, Origen & Hugh of St Victor on the "contemplation of the invisible things of God" with reference to nature e.g. birds, and scripture e.g. Song of Songs. You'd find him particularly fascinating on the rise of "natural theology" not as a desacralising of nature, but a reducing of the theological import of nature to God's wisdom and power...rather than for instance "consider the lilies, isn't God kind? consider the stars, isn't God generous, consider the leviathan - isn't man wild?" But NB also with the rise of modern science you have Newton's corpuscular matter theory broadly replacing Aristotle's essentialist matter theory of substances/accidents, which led to a (false) sacramental understanding of not only mass but nature in general. Could it be that seeing the "reason within" in e.g. Jonathan Edwards and other reformed orthodoxy on nature in the 17th century could be a re-reading of Aristotelian matter theory into their theology of nature?
(4) I'm increasingly seeing the word of the truth in the NT as the gospel, not the law, and not the scriptures; rather Christ, clothed in his gospel word. Thus I'm tempted to say that although I subscribe wholeheartedly to some of the doctrine that apologists have exploited about natural law etc in Romans 2, I think Romans 1-2 are about the unfaithful Jews who suppress the truth by their ungodliness, seeking (Rom 10) to establish their own righteousness by the law not by faith in Christ who is the end of the law. Therefore Romans 1 and the wrath being revealed from heaven is directed against the jews who need to be saved from the wrath to come by repenting and turning again to receive the holy spirit poured out in love on the gentiles and into hard hearts through faith. In other words, whether the doctrine is right or wrong, it's coming from the wrong scripture here, so that rather scuppers this whole conversation for me about Rom 1, which is too easily used as a surrogate for whatever view people are coming with. I'm inclined to say that my view (which also treats the wisdom of the wise in 1 Cor 1-2 as exactly the same as the fools Paul is bound to in Romans: a jewish temple context) will be with NT Wright & Simon Gathercole exegetically on Romans, but with TF Torrance on what creation reveals:in christ everything but outside Christ nothing.
I’m being double-teamed again! Thanks very much for your replies. I hope you don’t mind if I restrict my comments to the Bible passages and ideas you raise rather than dealing with the individual theologians you’re quoting. I think they have limited usefulness, as they, like us, are just fallible Christians, and I would probably need to see the whole context of what they had written to see to what extent they do in fact back up your claims. It seems enough to exegete the Bible without having to appeal to Patristics too!
Thanks for your individual points. Paul – I had another look at Romans 2:14-15. I think you make a fair point – the law written on hearts is reminiscent of Jeremiah. However, Paul’s language in these verses doesn’t match his description of Christians: verse 14 says that Gentiles ‘do by nature things required of the law’ – this is completely in contrast to his language describing Christians in Romans 8 where we are ‘not controlled by the sinful nature but by the Spirit’ (Rom 8:9) and the whole thrust of Paul’s argument in Romans 1-3 is establishing the unrighteousness of everyone. Do you not think that God speaks to us in our consciences?
Glen: really not sure what point you’re making with the tabernacle. The tabernacle is not creation – it’s built by people, following God’s instructions, and it is explicitly recorded for us what it means. With regards Rom 1:16, it says that the gospel is the power of God for salvation, not that the power of God is the gospel. I think there is a subtle but important difference. In verse 20 Paul says that what is seen is God’s eternal power, not his eternal gospel.
Glen and Paul: you both seem to be saying that it is imperative for us to see the three distinct persons of the trinity AND the whole prophecy/proclamation of the gospel (ie incarnation, death, resurrection of Jesus) in creation itself (ie by looking at the natural order of things). I keep checking that this is what you are in fact saying, because I keep thinking ‘surely they can’t actually believe this?’ Are you really saying this?
I believe in a triune God – that he is three and also one. Sometimes in the Bible the separateness of the three is emphasised; sometimes the unity is emphasised. You seem to want to say that unless the separateness of God is proclaimed in creation that it isn’t a true ‘trinitarian’ understanding, so it can’t possibly be revealing God. On one level I have a great sympathy with that. The doctrine of the trinity is so exciting – the fact that in his essence he is relational, that Jesus though coming as man is fully God, that his Spirit is not just powerful but personal – these truths are amazing, and as you say, so different from the presentation of Allah. But it feels very much to me that you are reading it back into the text, rather than letting the text inform your doctrine. You are saying ‘it MUST be saying that Jesus is revealed distinctively in creation, because otherwise it’s not truly trinitarian’ – but I don’t think it is saying that, nor do I think it has to say that.
I have been looking hard for evidence in the Bible and in nature for what you claim – and I just can’t see it. I can see plenty of illustrations and metaphors used in the psalms and gospels from nature to explain what God is like, but nothing that says ‘we look at creation and clearly see the cross and resurrection proclaimed’, nothing that says, ‘God is three but also one’.
Glen – you quoted psalm 19 and the metaphor of a sun. You seem to be confusing metaphors as symbols – ie it mentions a sun and a bridegroom – from New Testament we know Jesus as bridegroom therefore it must be Jesus. The sun = bridegroom because he is the object of our love. This seems to me to completely misunderstand poetry.
It says ‘In the heavens he [God] has pitched a tent for the sun,
which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is hidden from its heat.’ (Ps
He talks about the way the sun rises, as if it was in a tent, and it pops out from its tent each morning. The metaphors talk about the way that the sun appears – first that he’s like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion (ie he’s keen to come out!), then like a champion rejoicing to run his race. The sun is making its circuit but is doing so joyfully, triumphantly. The psalmist is talking about the beauty, consistency and power of the sun daily rising and setting – and saying that the sun and the skies show God’s glory (v1 ‘The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands’).
This is how the Psalms talk about creation – it’s beautiful, it shows God’s glory. Paul says the same in Romans 1 – he specifically says that the aspects of qualities of God that it reveals are his divinity (theiotes) and his eternal power (v20). In verse 21 he says that this should have led them to glorify God and give thanks to them and the emphasis is on the fact that they serve ‘created things rather than the Creator’. Again, I will gladly say that creation reveals Jesus to us – but together with Father and Son, not as distinct from them. This is not my emphasis – this is Paul’s! (the apostle, not Blackham ;-))
When we look at Acts 17 and see how Paul preaches to people in this exact position, it is very illuminating. He appeals to the sermon of creation as a witness, but very much along the lines I am proposing. He says ‘The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands.’ (Acts 17:24) He then mentions his sovereignty, our dependence on him and his desire for relationship with us (v25-29). He says that in the past ‘God has overlooked such ignorance, but now he calls everyone to repent’ – in other words, that we are now in a new era, a new covenant, because of Jesus’ appearance. Excuses are no longer valid – but not because of ‘creation’s sermon’ but because of the greater revelation of Jesus’ coming and resurrection: ‘For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.’
You seem to be saying that we are all guilty because we have ignored this sermon of creation which clearly proclaims to us the gospel. Why then, does Paul not use this argument? The apostles are at pains to emphasise the unity between the Old Testament and New. If it is so crucial to our understanding, why do they not mention it? Why does Jesus not use this argument? In John 12 Jesus, talking about his death/glorification, says ‘unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies it produces many seeds’. That’s all he says! It’s a metaphor to help the disciples understand why it is actually a good thing that he dies rather than a negative. Again Glen, I fear you are confusing metaphor with proclamation. The seed doesn’t tell us everything there is about the cross, Jesus uses one aspect of the seed to tell us one aspect about his death. Where’s the bit where Jesus says, ‘how foolish you are and how hard of heart not to believe what the trees have been telling you all along? My death is clearly prophesied in every seed that grows?’ It’s just not there.
Perhaps you will say that I am hard of heart for not seeing this? Unregenerate? I just can’t see the biblical or logical justification for it.
I think it is a shame to go hunting all over for possible ‘revelations’ of Jesus in flowers and animals when we HAVE the revelation of Jesus in his incarnation, death and resurrection. That’s the thing to be preaching, that’s the thing we need to hear, that’s what we’ll be judged on responding to.
Hello, sorry to be late to the party.
One of my favourite scriptures is in Revelation 5 and the glimpse into the heavenly throne room, and the declaration of Jesus wonderful power and work in being slain as a ransom. John is like a child in a sweetshop gazing at all the creatures and the amazing sights!
When he looks, he hears all creatures on heaven and on earth and even under the earth singing praises to Jesus and his Father.
That text doesn’t include the rocks (you get that in Luke 19) but it’s pretty clear that all creaturely creation sings to Jesus and His Father.
Tanya, re your last paragraph in your most recent post. I love the revelation of Jesus too, from Genesis to Revelation we have the revelation of Jesus. It is Christ we preach, always. Now, if I use an analogy from creation to help in my preaching of Jesus is that a bad thing? I recently preached about the resurrection and found it helpful to speak of caterpillars and butterflies to illustrate that the life and being, ‘the DNA’ continues, but the glorious body which comes after the strange deathly tomb of the chrysalis is so very different.
In preaching Jesus Christ I am joining in with creation and that song spoken of Rev 5.
I don't think we need to go to the New Testament to see that the Bridegroom in Psalm 19 is Jesus. Hosea and Isaiah 54:5, for example, all tell us that the LORD God of Israel is Israel's husband. And in case we think that they only understood this in general without a Trinitarian framework, we only need to consider Psalm 45, which speaks of a champion bridegroom who is blessed by God (Ps. 45:3), is God (Ps. 45:6) and also anointed by God (Ps.45:7) - i.e God blessed by God, God anointed by God, Christ. And if we doubt such a Christological interpretation of Psalm 45, that the Bridegroom, the Most Excellent of Men is none other than the Son, the writer of Hebrews is very clear that Psalm 45 are words that the Father is saying about His Son (Hebrews 1:5 & 8-9).
With this Divine and Cosmic wedding day that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit look forward to, it's no surprise then, that the sun was specifically set up to do what it does everyday - to point all to the Divine Bridegroom of the Church - the Priestly Divine Bridegroom who is the LORD who clothes His bride with garments of salvation (Isaiah 61:10), casting her sin as far as the east is from the west and brings her on His heart back to His presence in the west, as through the curtain into the Most Holy Place.
This is all very interesting, and has been helpful to me in sharpening up my own thinking. I think I have recently moved from a place which was at least broadly sympathetic to the perspective that Glen and Paul are unfolding to a standpoint much more like Tanya's. Sorry about the Glen and Paul, not that you're likely to be all that bothered. For the record, what flipped me was that I found myself thinking: 'do I *really* think this text is saying that?' - and the answer was always no. It just all seems hugely fanciful, and seems to involve misunderstanding how language works (e.g treating metaphor as if it were not metaphor - I see some of that above). So anyway, I'm in the other camp now, in so far as we need to have camps.
But enough of my autobiography. I think there are just two phrases I would drop into this discussion. They are 'natural theology' and 'logos asarkos'. I don't see how you can avoid resting a great deal on one or the other of these toxic concepts if you want to read creation in the way that the original article is suggesting. Glen, you're a man who will want to dodge both bullets - but how do you propose to do it? My own sense is that your reading of Scripture undermines the uniquely revelatory character of the incarnate Christ (and therefore, of course, decentres Scripture and opens the path to odd interpretations). How do we make sure that Jesus - not the Logos - is the source of revelation? Do you even want to make sure of that?
Do my concerns even make any sense at all?
Loving this discussion y'all. I come back to this issue every now and again, and am still (as will become very obvious below) figuring this all out.
Here's two of my cents on it all:
1. (and I think this probably relates to some of what you've said Chris Oldfield, which probably means I should read those things you suggest and listen to those lectures etc.) I don't think creation was ever 'meant' to be 'read' outside of covenant relationship with the Triune God. General revelation was never meant to stand alone. Adam in the garden had both special and general revelation. I think what this boils down to is that one of the ways in which the fall impacts our reading of creation is that it cuts us off from special revelation. Things looked very different east of Eden, we might say. This is not to say that the content isn't there in creation, only that we needed special revelation even before our eyes got damaged.
2. I suspect that some of the objections and 'what the heck!?' things that people feel when they encounter the kind of view(s) in Glen's post might be answered by combining 1. with the idea that humanity (even, hypothetically speaking, has Adam never sinned) are and were always intended to mature in their ability to 'read' the creation. Was Adam able to pick up a seed and a few bits of grass on Day 7 and immediately go 'hey, Eve, guess what I've just been reading - there's gonna be this guy called Jesus and he's going to die and rise again and ...' as if he could read the whole of salvation history off that one seed [though, after his own 'death and resurrection' in the creation of Eve he would probably have been able to see a fair bit in the seed]. This again is not to say that the content isn't there, but our ability to read (even as unfallen) would develop over time (and fuelled and shaped by special revelation).
I think both of these insights (if true) can be put together with a maximalist view of the content of creation's sermon.
And, I'm aware that 1. needs to be nuanced in such a way as to fit with Romans 1 saying that we can see enough in general revelation standing alone to leave us without excuse. But then I wonder how much Paul expects us to interpret Romans 1 without the insights of Romans 5?
More thought needed.
"we must find a way of saying something like only in christ does creation have these meanings" (Christ Oldfield)
1. Is there an objective meaning? As in it the world still says that stuff, but we mean its not heard - until the gospel is preached.
2. So, Creation is a Tabernacle, but outside of Christ it may just look like a tent? As the Tabernacle would have done to the nations... but when a priest came along and said, this is for this, and that is for that... then they'd begin to see?
3. That said... many are happy to say it points to the possibility of a powerful monad... and is that just us conceding the world to Islam? If Christians talked differently, and sung differently, might people start to see the world differently...
We seem ok in saying that creation speaks of the power and glory of God... what if we started giving the words "power" and "glory" gospel definitions rather than Islamic definitions? What if our creation songs were more about summer and winter, about evening and morning, about the progress of the sun rather than its power, about the dying of grain to give life, about the birds and the flowers... the kind of things the Bible talks about...
Building off Dave's thoughts...
should one of the jobs of the priests of point 2 be to say "this is not that"?
We should look at creation and say it cannot be made by a monadic Allah-in-the-sky. How could Allah make humanity as male and female? To claim creation speaks of Allah we have to (literally) cover up much of the evidence that speaks against Allah.
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Hi all, haven't forgotten the discussion.
Let me address Daniel B's two questions because they might help clarify some things...
I say a massive Nein to natural theology. That's precisely why I make the stands that I'm making. The danger of natural theology lies decidedly on the other side. To say that creation reveals *some* truths and that those basic truths are *known* but need topping up by preaching - that, as far as I'm concerned, is the Thomist co-ordination of nature and grace. No, the unregenerate need the gospel proclaimed to them - not because they half get it and need preachers to augment their unitarian 'knowledge' - they need preachers because they simply do not know God. Even when He's blared in their ears day after day, they suppress the truth in unrighteousness. As far as I'm concerned, my position is the one that *really* necessitates preaching. Because my position says that the unbeliever *maximally* suppresses the truth. *Only* in the word of Christ is creation's message understood.
Additionally, my position says there is no bed-rock level of God-knowledge which is then built upon by gospel truth. What theology could anyone hold which didn't consciously begin with the Word of the Father?? No, the preacher must begin again to proclaim the invisible God, made known *only* in Christ.
As for the "Logos asarkos" point - unless you want to say that God is completely unknown in the OT, *everyone* believes that the Word without flesh still reveals the Father. But He is still the distinct Revealer of the Father, the High Priest of creation, who makes known the Most High. I'll admit He is always Logos incarnandus (the Word to be enfleshed), but the Word (John 1:1) is *the* Revealer long before He takes flesh (John 1:14) - see our recent discussion on your blog.
It's "Christ Alone" that drives my position. i,e, It's Christ Alone and therefore what else is creation going to be saying!!? . And it's Christ Alone and therefore how can anyone outside of Him know anything .
It's also worth noting the very biblical comments of Dave B, Simulator, Josh VB Rich, and others - all of whom draw attention to the particular ways the sermon of creation is spoken of. It really is saying more than "God is big and clever"!
Paul B emailed me some comments which were too long for this thread, so I've made it into a post if you're interested:
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Thanks for this - this discussion thread has been very, very helpful for a Bible study I'm about to lead in (literally!) less than an hour's time...
One small addendum to the discussion thread: It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that "creation" must just be about natural physical things such as seeds and trees etc. But I heard a wonderful sermon once by Paul B where he described that, when we see the sacrificial love of a mother in a film, the reason it affects us so deeply and moves us is that it's tapping into a deep truth about Christ's sacrificial love that's hard-wired into the fabric of the universe. (Apologies if I've mis-described the point, Paul...) Anyway, my point is that "the creation" in this discussion should probably be thought of much more widely than merely natural *things* but also include the intangible creation of, for example, our emotions etc.
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Love this discussion. I agree with what you and Paul B say but have one point to raise (coming from the opposite side from most of the objectors here!). In an early comment, Glen, you said “Faith comes from hearing the message (of sent preachers)”, Rom 10:14-17. You seem to be saying that people never come to faith from the proclamation of creation alone, but faith only comes via a human evangelist. I'm not sure that Romans 10 says this.
You refer up to verse 17, but consider how verses 17 and 18 are linked. 17 says faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. 18 then asks "have they not heard [the word of Christ, from which faith comes]" - Indeed they have, for [Psalm 19 - the proclamation of creation].
Paul is saying that the creation preaches the word of Christ, and that it's the word of Christ that brings faith. I can't imagine the word of Christ being preached without the Spirit working with it. The Spirit works through the preached word to open the heart of the hearer. It seems to me that that would happen however the word of Christ is preached, whether by the creation or by an evangelist.
In one comment, Paul B gave a situation of a Muslim being confronted by a dream and then heading for a local church. Wasn't that dream and desire in them to find a church a work of the spirit that happened before they met an evangelist?
Not all Christians became Christians due to the direct speaking of a human evangelist. For example, Abraham heard from God directly. I don't want in any way to downplay the importance of human evangelism, but I just don't want to limit God's evangelism only to human evangelists.
Good points. I think Romans 10 puts both truths forcefully: 1) the voice of the heavens goes out to the ends of the earth with the word of Christ, and 2) how will people hear unless we sent preachers? Definitely, creation proclaims Christ. And definitely - as in dreams - people have come to Christ without preachers. But preaching is God's normal means of reaching the world. Otherwise we can't understand v14-17. I don't want to "limit God's evangelism" but I do want to point to the normal means of God's expansive mission.
Does creation preach the gospel? Well to answer this we must decide what the gospel is. If the gospel is essentially 'justification by faith alone' then creation does not preach the gospel. If the gospel is 'Jesus is Lord' then creation does preach the gospel.
'Jesus is Lord creation's voice proclaims it'. I believe creation does preach the gospel.
Faith comes by hearing the word of Christ. Surely, Creation proclaims that word because it declares His work as creator |(Paul's argument in Romans 1:20). but the Gospel is the message of Christ as Redeemer, yes?
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I'm currently doing a blog series on Romans, and in my post on Romans 10:14-21 I have linked to this post and its discussion as being very helpful, particularly the comments by Glen and Paul Blackham. In case anyone is interested, my post can be found at https://predestinationstation.wordpress.com/2015/08/03/romans-1014-21/
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