January 12, 2007

Albert Wolters, Creation Regained

Understanding the Christian worldview is essential for Christians as they engage the world and be obedient to Scripture. So says Albert Wolters in Creation Regained. In this short book, Wolters sets out to explain what a worldview is, and therefore its importance, and then briefly outlines the major components of a specifically Christian worldview. He then concludes with a discussion of how this worldview can be put into action through using the categories of structure and direction to discern appropriate ways of life and action. He works from what he calls a “reformational” perspective—that is, a perspective that seeks to recognize the biblical concepts of sin and redemption as central to understanding life, as well as a perspective that recognizes the need for constant “reformation” of the Christian life as we seek to always conform more and more to God’s will.

Wolters begins by defining worldview as “the comprehensive framework of one’s beliefs about things” (2). This careful definition points to a number of major themes that define what a worldview is: it is about things, that is, everything from politics to cosmology to God; it involves belief, that is, reasoned and committed assertions; and it is a comprehensive framework, meaning that it involves a system of interconnected beliefs that define how we see the world. Wolters goes on to assert that worldview is an essential field of study, because everyone has a worldview, whether they know it or not, and our worldview helps define how we see the world and understand ourselves in it. After laying this important groundwork, Wolters spends the next three chapters defining and elaborating on the three major components of a Christian worldview: creation, fall, redemption.

The first major theme of the Christian worldview is creation. At the heart of how Christians understand the world is the basic assertion that God created, and that all that is is God’s creation. An important theme for Wolters as he discusses creation is law, which he defines as the totality of what God ordains in creating and upholding the world. Law can be understood in both the sense of natural laws, which are enacted in a direct way by God upon that which he has created, and norms, God’s standards and intentions woven into creation but which humans are responsible to uphold and follow. Here he also asserts the essential need to distinguish between law and gospel, between God’s actions and ordinances in creating and God’s actions and ordinances in redeeming that which has been created.

A few important insights come out of this discussion. The first is that all that is is God’s creation, and is therefore within the puriew of a Christian worldview. All things are subject to God’s laws, whether understood as natural laws or as norms. This includes all aspects of human civilization, not just some separate realm of “ethics.” A second important theme is that God’s “wisdom” can be seen in creation. All things witness to God and God’s designs and intentions for the world and for human life. Through God’s special revelation in Scripture, we can discern God’s will in the creation, and also seek to discern God’s will for our lives, as we seek to conform our lives to that divine Wisdom. A final important note about creation is that God created it to be a developing creation. God created humans to be stewards of what had been created, and to till the soil, and be fruitful and multiply. This implies the development of culture, family, agriculture and commerce, as well as many other human endeavors. These too fit under God’s good creation. As Wolters simply puts it, the Bible begins with a garden and ends with a city.

This leads us to the second main theme of a Christian worldview: fall. Once we have understood that all things have been created by God, the second thing we must include is that, though created good, the entire earthly realm has been marred by sin. In Adam’s fall, human life, and with it all of God’s earthly realm, has been tainted by sin. God’s good work and intention has been distorted. This includes the natural world, with disease and death, our personal lives, with relationships and choices, and also our societies, with misguided politics and priorities. Things are not as they should be.

As with creation, Wolters offers some important insights that can be gained from this perspective, and also that help to clarify it. One of these is that “sin neither abolishes or becomes identified with creation” (57). Sin is a parasite on creation, and we must therefore understand the world in terms of two orders, that of creation and that of sin. It is at this point that he introduces what will become the basic categories he will use to apply the Christian worldview: structure and direction. Structure is the good way in which God has created something, its essence, the way something is as part of the order of creation. Direction is the orientation of that thing, its use and development along the plane of sin and redemption. These two concepts will become the filters through which all things are seen, as Christians seek to determine what about a thing is structural, that is, what components or dimensions are part of God’s good creation, and what about a thing is directional, what is in conformity to God’s will and what is against God’s design and intention.
The third major component of the Christian worldview is redemption. God has created the world and has a good plan and intention for it, but it has been tainted and distorted by sin. But God doesn’t leave it there. God’s intention is redemption, the new creation of all things. Central to Wolters’ understanding of redemption is that it is restoration, the bringing of all things back to conformity with God’s will. But this restoration is not simply a return to the garden, a repristination, but instead will incorporate and redeem all of God’s creation, including the redemption of those things that humans have developed, such as society, technology, and art. A second important emphasis about redemption is that its scope far exceeds “personal salvation,” the saving of humans souls for heaven, and includes all that God has created. God’s kingdom is an earthly kingdom in the sense that it involves the whole of earthly reality, brought from sin to a right orientation and relationship with God.

An important component of Wolters’ discussion includes a rejection of any type of “two-realm” or “two-kingdom” thinking that divides the world into sacred and secular arenas. Christians can and should engage all of life as God’s creation, as good, fallen, and awaiting redemption. A Christian can and should live out the Christian life in art, politics, or accounting just as much as one should live out this life in pastoral ministry or other ecclesiastical positions.

Wolters concludes his discussion with a final chapter on discerning structure and direction, the applying of this Christian worldview to life. Through the use of a number of examples, such as sexuality, aggression, and dancing, he illustrates how these two categories, understood in light of the three major movements of the Christian worldview (creation, fall, redemption) can help to illumine difficult questions and help propel Christians forward into the world. It doesn’t provide easy answers, but does help give Christians some guidelines and tools for discerning God’s will in all areas of life.

This second edition of Creation Regained also includes a Postscript authored by Wolters and Michael Goheen, discussing the role of a Christian worldview, and explicitly placing it within the biblical story and the missional life of God and his community on earth. These helpful thoughts ensure that Wolters helpful discussion isn’t seen in isolation from these important and foundational dimensions of the Christian life.

Wolters has written an important study on what it means to be a Christian in the world. Worldview is an absolutely essential category for understanding the Christian life, and for understanding Christian interaction with all of life. His categories of structure and direction are especially illuminating as they help Christians to recognize and affirm the good that God has created in all areas of life, far beyond the church, but also help Christians to name those dimensions of reality that are distortions of God’s will and intention. It is a good introduction to these topics, written at a level that all intelligent readers will be able to appreciate and learn from. Wolters has done an admirable job of challenging Christians to be reformational Christians, God’s reforming representatives throughout all the world.

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