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Not Nature and Super-Nature – Old Creation and New Creation

Maybe it's been since the Enlightenment and/or maybe it's come through Aquinas with his Aristotelian nature/grace divide, but either way... Today we tend to imagine the interaction of nature and "super-nature" like this:

Nature is the solid and certain thing.  And it has its own self-determined course.  But every now and again this ethereal, super-natural world shows up and freaky stuff happens.  Then it's back to business as usual.

Of course once you grant the certainty and self-sufficiency of "nature" you're already committed to explaining away all "freaky stuff."  And, hey presto, naturalism.

Many of us will know how infuriating it is to engage with an atheist who has already defined God out of the equation through assumptions like these.  There is, perhaps, only one thing more infuriating.  That is the Christian who shares the atheist's assumptions but protests loudly: "No, seriously guys, God is really at work because... let me tell you about this other realm where freaky stuff happens." At that point the Christian is only confirming the Enlightenment worldview.

I suggest we should frame things more like this:

It's the old creation that is, in some sense, less real than the new.  It is subject to futility and plunging down into death.  There is an arrow here - there is a direction - but under Adam, that direction is downwards.

Overall however there is progress because the second Adam has come.  And He brings new creation.  The reality of this in-breaking kingdom holds true in Christ Himself and spiritually we belong to that new reality, even as we wait in this passing age.

But let's ask:  What does it look like for God to show up?

Well God is at work in the Old Creation and intimately so, it's just that Old Creation goes from life to death.   This is God's alien work, but His work nonetheless.  Overall though His proper work is the renewal of all things under the feet of Christ (from death to life).  Therefore the signs of His coming kingdom are restoration and recreation. Freaky is not so much the point. New life is.

I have friends who appreciate my emphasis on "the word" but wish I would equally emphasize the work of the Spirit. I long more and more to be a man of the Spirit but sometimes I fear that phrase is coming from a Diagram 1 view of the world, rather than Diagram 2. Sometimes people speak of word and Spirit as parallel to 'nature' and 'supernature.' So then word ministry is a vital foundation but then, in a discrete mode of operation, God also needs to show up."Nature" equals the ordinary operations of church - church structures, preaching, band practice.  But when God shows up the Spirit, almost by definition, works outside of structures. Regularity and order are fine. But Spirit equals spontaneous and sporadic.

What would it look like to see the work of the Spirit in the context of Diagram 2?  Here word and Spirit are not two spheres of activity (one being "natural" and the other "supernatural"). Word-and-Spirit is the way the gospel of Christ is proclaimed. And in that context we see new life.  Through the gospel, the Spirit spotlights Christ.  He opens hearts to Jesus.  He draws believers to their Lord and to each other.  He empowers the church to live in love.  And yes He heals today, of course He does. But the healing is not the point where God shows up.  Both the word of the Kingdom and the signs of the kingdom (which include all kinds of new life) are the work of the Spirit.

My two cents.

2 thoughts on “Not Nature and Super-Nature – Old Creation and New Creation

  1. Howard Nowlan

    God's redemptive work, noted Gerhard Forde, does not save nature by raising it to some higher level, but by allowing to be, once again, what it was made to be in the beginning, so grace places us back amidst creation and releases within that creation the powers and goodness that were lost through our fall, thus it is in the supper and proclaiming Christ that we truly gain a foretaste of God's intent - our 'spiritual' fellowship is never detached from such means as the spoken word or water, bread and wine - these are the very gifts God chooses to marry heaven and earth by marrying us to the person and work of His Son, whom He has brought down into flesh, to reconcile the world.

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