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Yesterday we looked at incarnation and trinity.  Today I'll just make some observations about incarnation and creation.

Christ is "The Beginning", "The Alpha", "The First".  His Person is itself the basis for creation.  He is the One who is eternally Other from the Father and the foundation for all else that is other than Him.  Because of Him, through Him and for Him flows a creation. 

Christ is by nature and eternally from the Father in the Spirit. 

Creation is by grace and in time from the Father through the Son and in the Spirit. 

This shows us

a) the spreading goodness of the triune God, Whose being is outwardly curved.  Creation is not necessary to God.  But God's being, like a fountain, by nature overflows.  It is a being going out towards the other.

b) creation is not a free floating reality but something beginning in the Son, crafted by Him, cohering in Him and headed towards Him as His inheritance.  While God's being reaches out towards the other it is simultaneously a being that draws the other in bonds of love. 

These twin tendencies - the going out and the drawing in - find fulfilment in creation and incarnation.

Let's think about Genesis 1.  The heavens (masculine) and the earth (feminine) - like head and body, husband and wife - set the scene for this theatre of God's glory.  And centre stage is man - Adam made from the Adamah (the ground).  He is not spoken into being.  This man of dust (Gen 2:7) is made of the very stuff of the earth - drawn up, pinched off like clay and breathed into.  The earth-man is strongly united to the earth over which he is placed as head. 

Adam means 

a) that particular bloke;

b) 'a man' (a true human being) and

c) 'humanity' (as a whole).   

This central actor - man - is king.  He is God's ruler, through whom He exercises dominion.  From the outset God's rule is a mediated rule - through man.

Now when man is disobedient you may have thought that God would renege on His determination to rule through man.  But no.  He takes this mediation through man very seriously.  It is because of the cosmic kingship of man that man's fall entails the fall of all creation.  The ground (adamah) is cursed because of man (adam).  Man remains king.  But while man is perverse, so is his world.

But all of this looks towards the Man of Heaven (1 Cor 15:47-49).  Flesh and blood could never inherit the kingdom of God.  Men of dust were never the intention.  The intention was always the union of heavenly Man and earthly man.  The intention was always for the Logos to take this flesh and as Man to rule as God's true king.  This rule was not to be a divine rule over and against man.  It was to be a heavenly rule in and through man.

And so came the eschatological Adam (1 Cor 15:45).  He is

a) that particular bloke, Jesus;

b) 'a man' (a true human being) and

c) 'humanity' (an eschatological humanity to answer Adam's)

He sums up the man of dust, his being and life.  He retraces the steps of his disobedience and hammers out instead a being and life of perfect faithfulness.  And then, exalted as the pinnacle of all creation, this eschatological Adam is lifted up between heaven and earth - absorbing the curse of both and reconciling one to the other.  As Priest He ministers by the Spirit, offering to God the true worship of earth (Heb 9:14).  As Lamb He receives the curse of God on behalf of man (Gal 3:13).  As King, He reigns from the tree, manifesting God's righteous rule to the ends of the earth.

Ascending as Priest, Lamb and King to the Father's right hand, Jesus has lead captives in His train and sat down as Head over all things for the church.  The True Man, our Brother, sits in heaven as ruler of earth, not over against earth.  Rather, having taken Adam (and in him, adamah!) to Himself, He rules as and for man for all eternity.  When the heavenly Husband (masculine) moves house with His Father to earth (feminine) there will be the Marriage to end all marriages.  The manifested union of Bridegroom and bride will be at the same time the manifested union of heaven and earth.  Christ and creation will be consummated that day.

As Alpha, Christ has crafted a creation and granted it a gracious otherness.

As Omega, He has entered in and drawn back that creation to a gracious oneness.  

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This is in response to Orange Mailman's question on my last post:

Creation preaches Christ.  Creation cannot save.  I definitely want to uphold both things.  And Romans 10 is a great place to highlight both. 

Verse 14: How can they hear without someone preaching? 

Verse 17-18: Psalm 19's Word of Christ goes out to the ends of the earth.

Perhaps we have trouble putting those two truths together because we tend to think like this:

  • We don't 'hear' creation speaking about Jesus
  • When our fallen (and very western) minds assess creation we just 'hear' some kind of unitarian revelation of a creator god.
  • Therefore we conclude that this is the sum total of what creation is actually saying. 
  • Then the Christians among us conclude: "Ah yes, so that's why creation doesn't save. It doesn't proclaim Christ."
  • Then we say, "So that's why we need special revelation.  Special revelation fills out the general revelation (which is silent about Christ) and adds to it extra information about Jesus. 
  • Ergo - That's the fundamental difference between general and special revelation - a difference of content.  General revelation is sub-Christian.  Special revelation is Christian.

But, as my last post was arguing, this is not how we should think.  The bible does not say that the sermon of creation is a minimal thing.  No, no, no.  It is an immensely wide, long, high and deep revelation of the Logos of God, the Logos of this world - the LORD Jesus.

If we don't see that, then it just shows how blind we really are.  In thinking these things through again yesterday it struck me just how estranged this world really is from the life of God, and yet how intimately related!  How completely insane it is that we are not living in the direct personal presence of Christ our LORD!  Once we were.  One day again we will be.  But how far have we fallen!!?  In Him all things hold together.  And yet...  how ignorant the unbeliever is, and how forgetful is the Christian most times.  He is the true Light that enlightens every man and yet we live in the midst of such darkness.

All of this is to say that the fall is HUGE!   MASSIVE!  Beyond our reckoning.  If I don't hear Jesus proclaimed in the creation my first reaction should be: "What a wretched person I am!  How blind to the Light of the world!"  What I should not do is conclude: "Creation is an indistinct and minimal word."  The bible never says that.  It says the very opposite.

If you asked the Hindu what creation is saying, they'll hear many gods.  If you ask the atheist what creation is saying, they'll hear nothing 'spiritual'.   And let's be honest, the only reason we think 'general revelation' speaks of some single creator deity is that we're conditioned by centuries of western philosophy, not to mention centuries of western theology that thinks of the one creator God separately from the triune God revealed in Jesus.

So really this is a plea to take the fall seriously.  And to say that only the proclamation of the church will pierce deaf ears and remove the scales from blind eyes.  Not because of a different content but because of a different mode.

Not sure if this illustration is helpful but perhaps we are a bit like Mary in the garden of the resurrection.  There is the risen Christ.  THE RISEN CHRIST!!!  It's not like she doesn't have all the information she needs.   It's not like she's only been presented with a minimal, indistinct word!  There is the very Glory of God shining at full strength.  And she thinks He's the gardener!!  But then she hears Him speak her name and suddenly what has been true all along comes home with living power.  That's a bit like the revelation of creation and the revelation through human proclamation.  Both are saying the same things, but only one awakens faith.

As for why creation doesn't save, I remember asking Richard Bewes that question (former Rector of All Souls Church, Langham Place).  He thought for a second and said "God's not enlisting individuals, He's building a family."  It's people-on-people contact that grows the church to bless the world.  I think that's the best answer I've heard to that question.

Feel free to come back to me on this stuff...

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As we've been thinking about how to know God (and how not to) we're basically thinking about the subject of revelation.

It's common when speaking of revelation to treat two categories - general revelation (God made known through nature and conscience) and special revelation (usually meaning 'the bible').  Now of course such a distinction can be fruitfully and biblically made.  Psalm 19 for instance spends the first 6 verses describing the proclamation of the heavens but the last 8 verses speaking about 'the law/testimony/precepts/commandments of the LORD.'   And while creation's voice is not said to revive the soul - the bible does in fact give us life (v7ff).  And so, often, the difference between general and special revelation is imagined to be something like this...

gen-revelation-1

 

Such a presentation protects the fact that general revelation cannot save.  Well that's a good thing.  But here are four things that I think are really problematic with such a view:

1) It works off the assumption that salvation is a matter of accumulating stuff - in this case knowledge.  And it imagines that God works salvation by adding to our natural stash a supernatural donation and together it gets us over the line. 

I hope alarm bells are going off.  I mean let me just switch the terms from epistemology (knowledge of God) to soteriology (salvation by God).  As we've seen in previous posts, these are parallel concepts.  Hopefully you'll see the problem immediately...

gen-revelation-3

 

That's no way to conceive of salvation.  Not this side of the reformation anyway!  It's not a matter of God's grace bridging the gap between my good works and God's standard.  God's grace in Christ judges even my righteousness.  In fact - especially my righteousness.  You see, because salvation is a gift, any imagined journey towards salvation via works is proved to be completely backwards.  Only receiving in faith is the proper response to a gracious salvation.  Works don't advance me towards this salvation at all.  Now of course, at the same time there are such things as Christian good works.  Yet those works flow from faith and do not lead to faith.

In just the same way we mustn't think of general revelation (knowledge of God that which we piece together from observing nature) as advancing us towards the truth that is in Jesus.  By all means there is a Christian knowledge to be had in observing the creation.  But because of point 2 below, observing the creation does not by itself lead to Christian knowledge.  Rather from the knowledge we have in 'special revelation' we perceive the creation rightly.

In short - the problem with general revelation is not its lack of content in getting us over the line.  The problem is any idea of 'getting over the line' in the first place.  Knowledge, like salvation, must be received.  Where it is not received, attempts to grasp it don't just 'leave us short' they are travelling in entirely the wrong direction.

2) Let me re-assert my reformed credentials and drop some shibboleth terms like 'total depravity' and 'the noetic effects of sin.'  I believe in these.  More to the point, I think the bible teaches them:

 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God (Rom 8:7)

In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Cor 4:4)

You... once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds (Col 1:21)

Straight after Paul tells us that "what may be known about God" has been made plain to all people through creation he says that men "suppress the truth." (Rom 1:18,19).  Humanity once knew God (aorist tense, v21) but something has happened.  Humankind "became futile in their thinking" (v21) - a reference, I believe, to the fall.  Our foolish hearts have been darkened and we have become fools (v21-22).  We have exchanged the truth for a lie (v25).   Our epistemological depravity is every bit as deep as our moral depravity - and in fact the two are inextricable.  Just as there is no-one righteous, not even one (Rom 3:10), so there is no-one who understands (Rom 3:11). 

In short - the reason general revelation doesn't save is not because its content is supposedly sub-Christian.  The problem is sin.  Humanity is blind to the bleeding obvious - ie Jesus is LORD.

3) I just don't see the bible teaching that the content of general revelation is sub-Christian.   In fact I see the opposite.  Psalm 19 tells us one prominent example of how the heavens proclaim the Glory of God (hint hint!).  Verse 5 goes into detail about the light of the world that is like a Bridegroom Champion (cf Psalm 45).  And Paul specifically calls this Scripture 'the word of Christ.' (Romans 10:17-18) 

We've already noted how Paul says "what may be known about God" is made plain in creation (Rom 1:19).  Do we really imagine that "what may be known about God" should be understood to be some minimal information about how big and clever the creator deity is?  Is that really "what may be known about God"??  Don't we know a wee tad more than that?

I believe Revelation 5:13 to be a present reality - all creation sings about the Lamb.

Colossian 1:23!  The gospel has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven.  That statement makes perfect sense in the context of Colossians 1.  To say that creation preaches the gospel is simply what you'd expect if you take the previous 8 verses seriously!  Col 1:23 is no more hyperbole than Col 1:15-22!  The creation that was made by and for Christ and holds together in Him - that creation proclaims Him.  Of course it proclaims Him.  Who else is it going to speak about?

In short - I do not think the biblical evidence supports a 'sub-Christian' content for general revelation.  In fact I think the bible tells us that Jesus is being proclaimed in manifold ways, at all times and in all places. 

4) What kind of knowledge of God is there that's sub-Christian?  I just don't get it.  Are we to imagine that creation proclaims a basically unitarian creator deity - a kind of Allah-lite?  Please no!  And please don't tell me that this basically unitarian creator deity is a foundational revelation that can set me up for true knowledge of the Father, Son and Spirit! 

I remember speaking to a lecturer at bible college about these things.  Incredulously he spluttered out, "So you think that tree out the window is preaching Christ to you right now?!"  I'm sure I'm remembering my response with a few coats of gloss but I said something like: "Of course it's preaching Christ, who else would it speak about??"

Ok.  Enough ranting.

I can say all I want to say with the old hymn:

Jesus is LORD, creation's voice proclaims it.

The difference between the proclamation of creation and the proclamation of Scripture is not basically one of content (though obviously there are differences).  Both of them preach the triune God, Christ as Mediator, His life, death, resurrection, ascension, the church, etc, etc.  

Perhaps this diagram gets at what I'm trying to say.

gen-revelation-2 

The difference in size between the two boxes is immaterial.  (In some ways I could have drawn the General Revelation box bigger - after all, the data available in everything from the horsehead nebula to sub-atomic particles seriously outstrips the bible!).   But really the difference is in the way that true knowledge comes.  No-one becomes a Christian through creation because all are blinded in sin and no-one can earn knowledge of God.  Just like salvation, it must be received.  Which is why the gospel must be specially revealed.  But once it is, we are equipped (and more so as we study the Scriptures) to hear the profoundly Christian sermon of creation.

Sorry.  A lot of words to say not very much...

,

As we've been thinking about how to know God (and how not to) we're basically thinking about the subject of revelation.

It's common when speaking of revelation to treat two categories - general revelation (God made known through nature and conscience) and special revelation (usually meaning 'the bible').  Now of course such a distinction can be fruitfully and biblically made.  Psalm 19 for instance spends the first 6 verses describing the proclamation of the heavens but the last 8 verses speaking about 'the law/testimony/precepts/commandments of the LORD.'   And while creation's voice is not said to revive the soul - the bible does in fact give us life (v7ff).  And so, often, the difference between general and special revelation is imagined to be something like this...

gen-revelation-1

 

Such a presentation protects the fact that general revelation cannot save.  Well that's a good thing.  But here are four things that I think are really problematic with such a view:

1) It works off the assumption that salvation is a matter of accumulating stuff - in this case knowledge.  And it imagines that God works salvation by adding to our natural stash a supernatural donation and together it gets us over the line. 

I hope alarm bells are going off.  I mean let me just switch the terms from epistemology (knowledge of God) to soteriology (salvation by God).  As we've seen in previous posts, these are parallel concepts.  Hopefully you'll see the problem immediately...

gen-revelation-3

 

That's no way to conceive of salvation.  Not this side of the reformation anyway!  It's not a matter of God's grace bridging the gap between my good works and God's standard.  God's grace in Christ judges even my righteousness.  In fact - especially my righteousness.  You see, because salvation is a gift, any imagined journey towards salvation via works is proved to be completely backwards.  Only receiving in faith is the proper response to a gracious salvation.  Works don't advance me towards this salvation at all.  Now of course, at the same time there are such things as Christian good works.  Yet those works flow from faith and do not lead to faith.

In just the same way we mustn't think of general revelation (knowledge of God that which we piece together from observing nature) as advancing us towards the truth that is in Jesus.  By all means there is a Christian knowledge to be had in observing the creation.  But because of point 2 below, observing the creation does not by itself lead to Christian knowledge.  Rather from the knowledge we have in 'special revelation' we perceive the creation rightly.

In short - the problem with general revelation is not its lack of content in getting us over the line.  The problem is any idea of 'getting over the line' in the first place.  Knowledge, like salvation, must be received.  Where it is not received, attempts to grasp it don't just 'leave us short' they are travelling in entirely the wrong direction.

2) Let me re-assert my reformed credentials and drop some shibboleth terms like 'total depravity' and 'the noetic effects of sin.'  I believe in these.  More to the point, I think the bible teaches them:

 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God (Rom 8:7)

In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Cor 4:4)

You... once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds (Col 1:21)

Straight after Paul tells us that "what may be known about God" has been made plain to all people through creation he says that men "suppress the truth." (Rom 1:18,19).  Humanity once knew God (aorist tense, v21) but something has happened.  Humankind "became futile in their thinking" (v21) - a reference, I believe, to the fall.  Our foolish hearts have been darkened and we have become fools (v21-22).  We have exchanged the truth for a lie (v25).   Our epistemological depravity is every bit as deep as our moral depravity - and in fact the two are inextricable.  Just as there is no-one righteous, not even one (Rom 3:10), so there is no-one who understands (Rom 3:11). 

In short - the reason general revelation doesn't save is not because its content is supposedly sub-Christian.  The problem is sin.  Humanity is blind to the bleeding obvious - ie Jesus is LORD.

3) I just don't see the bible teaching that the content of general revelation is sub-Christian.   In fact I see the opposite.  Psalm 19 tells us one prominent example of how the heavens proclaim the Glory of God (hint hint!).  Verse 5 goes into detail about the light of the world that is like a Bridegroom Champion (cf Psalm 45).  And Paul specifically calls this Scripture 'the word of Christ.' (Romans 10:17-18) 

We've already noted how Paul says "what may be known about God" is made plain in creation (Rom 1:19).  Do we really imagine that "what may be known about God" should be understood to be some minimal information about how big and clever the creator deity is?  Is that really "what may be known about God"??  Don't we know a wee tad more than that?

I believe Revelation 5:13 to be a present reality - all creation sings about the Lamb.

Colossian 1:23!  The gospel has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven.  That statement makes perfect sense in the context of Colossians 1.  To say that creation preaches the gospel is simply what you'd expect if you take the previous 8 verses seriously!  Col 1:23 is no more hyperbole than Col 1:15-22!  The creation that was made by and for Christ and holds together in Him - that creation proclaims Him.  Of course it proclaims Him.  Who else is it going to speak about?

In short - I do not think the biblical evidence supports a 'sub-Christian' content for general revelation.  In fact I think the bible tells us that Jesus is being proclaimed in manifold ways, at all times and in all places. 

4) What kind of knowledge of God is there that's sub-Christian?  I just don't get it.  Are we to imagine that creation proclaims a basically unitarian creator deity - a kind of Allah-lite?  Please no!  And please don't tell me that this basically unitarian creator deity is a foundational revelation that can set me up for true knowledge of the Father, Son and Spirit! 

I remember speaking to a lecturer at bible college about these things.  Incredulously he spluttered out, "So you think that tree out the window is preaching Christ to you right now?!"  I'm sure I'm remembering my response with a few coats of gloss but I said something like: "Of course it's preaching Christ, who else would it speak about??"

Ok.  Enough ranting.

I can say all I want to say with the old hymn:

Jesus is LORD, creation's voice proclaims it.

The difference between the proclamation of creation and the proclamation of Scripture is not basically one of content (though obviously there are differences).  Both of them preach the triune God, Christ as Mediator, His life, death, resurrection, ascension, the church, etc, etc.  

Perhaps this diagram gets at what I'm trying to say.

gen-revelation-2 

The difference in size between the two boxes is immaterial.  (In some ways I could have drawn the General Revelation box bigger - after all, the data available in everything from the horsehead nebula to sub-atomic particles seriously outstrips the bible!).   But really the difference is in the way that true knowledge comes.  No-one becomes a Christian through creation because all are blinded in sin and no-one can earn knowledge of God.  Just like salvation, it must be received.  Which is why the gospel must be specially revealed.  But once it is, we are equipped (and more so as we study the Scriptures) to hear the profoundly Christian sermon of creation.

Sorry.  A lot of words to say not very much...

,

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) Finally, 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.

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