Creation Regained | Albert M. Wolters

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Wolters, Albert M. Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview. Second Edition. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2005. 143pp. $14.00.

Post-Christendom approaches to culture generally fall into two broad categories that find their source in Reformation thinking—so-called “two kingdom” doctrine and what has come to be called the “transformationalist” view. Traditionally, the two kingdom view represents the thinking of German reformer Martin Luther, while transformationalists trace their lineage to French reformer John Calvin mediated through the teaching of Dutch-reformed theologian Abraham Kuyper. This is particularly true for the so-called Neo-Calvinists. Among such theologians is Albert M. Wolters, who seeks to articulate a “reformational worldview” in Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview. Wolters is Professor of Religion and Theology at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario. He is a student of Henry Stob, former professor at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a bastion of Neo-Calvinism. Creation Regained was originally published in 1985, having been translated into eight different languages, and its second edition appeared in 2005.

Wolters very much reflects Kuyper in the aim of his book, which he says “is an attempt to spell out the content of a biblical worldview and its significance for our lives as we seek to be obedient to the Scripture” (1). This is not just any “biblical worldview,” however; Wolters specifically calls it “reformational” and in particular ties his understanding to the Dutch reformed movement. Before he articulates exactly what this worldview is Wolters sets out to define the concept of worldview as “the comprehensive framework of one’s basic beliefs about things” (2), exploring each of the elements of this definition in the first chapter. He argues that one’s worldview “speaks centrally to everything in our life and world, including technology and economics and science” (8), again reflecting the teaching of Kuyper.

After defining worldview this way, Wolters asks the question, “What is distinctive about the reformational worldview?” (11ff). Essential to his “reformational worldview” is the idea that all of the scriptural concepts of salvation apply not just to individuals, but to the entire creation:

The reformational worldview takes all the key terms in this ecumenical Trinitarian confession in a universal, all-encompassing sense. The terms “reconciled,” “created,” “fallen,” “world,” “renews,” and “Kingdom of God” are held to be cosmic in scope. In principle, nothing apart from God himself falls outside the range of these foundational realities of biblical religion. (11)

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He repudiates what he calls the “dualistic worldview,” which distinguishes between “sacred” and “secular.” Instead, Wolters’s primary thesis is that “the redemption in Jesus Christ means the restoration of an original good creation” in its entirety (12). Thus, Wolters is clearly setting out to defend a transformationalist approach to culture as opposed to the two kingdom doctrine.

In his next three chapters, Wolters explores the transformationalist motif of creation (Chapter 2), fall (Chapter 3), and redemption (Chapter 4), developed first by Herman Dooyeweerd, a disciple of Kuyper. Creation, Wolters argues, is “the correlation of the sovereign activity of the Creator and the created order” (14), and thus it is intrinsically good. This truism extends beyond simply what God has directly created to “the structures of society, to the world of art, to business and commerce. Human civilization is normed throughout. . . . There is nothing in human life that does not belong to the created order” (25). In fact, the original creation was essentially empty, and “people must now carry on the work of development: by being fruitful they must fill it even more; by subduing it they must form it even more. Mankind, as God’s representatives on earth, carry on where God left off” (41). This objective is known as the “creation mandate.” Wolters argues that the history of mankind has been a progressive “unfolding” of God’s desire for the universe (44ff). He asserts that despite sin, man’s cultural production will climax one day in “a new heaven and a new earth” that will maintain an “essential continuity with our experience now” (48). Thus Wolters reasons for an essential goodness of creation, including later human cultural developments.

Although creation itself—and by extension culture—is inherently good, mankind’s fall into sin did have certain consequences, what Wolters describes as “catastrophic significance for creation as a whole” (53). Sin created the possibility of perversion of God’s creation. However, he is quick to insist that “sin neither abolishes nor becomes identified with creation.” Rather, it “introduces an entirely new dimension to the created order” (57). In order to explain the relationship between the intrinsically good creation and the effects of sin, Wolters introduces the ideas of “structure” and “direction.” Structure “refers to the order of creation,” the natural creation of God (59). Direction is a relationship toward or away from God. “Anything in creation,” according to Wolters,” “can be directed either toward or away from God—that is, directed either in obedience or disobedience to his law” (59). The structure of creation itself presents limits as to how warped it can be turned, which is what Wolters describes as “common grace” (60).

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This framework allows him to discuss elements in culture that in themselves are rooted in the created order (structure) but nevertheless have been used in ways contrary to God’s will (direction). Creation, Wolters insists, was made good, but since the fall mankind has directed various elements of creation away from God. God’s desire is to redeem these elements and redirect them. He argues that “dualists” often reject the structure instead of simply dealing with its direction.

The “reformational worldview,” according to Wolters, seeks to redeem elements whose structures are rooted in the created order and thus good, but whose direction has been warped by fallen mankind. “The original good creation is to be restored” (71). This, according to Wolters, extends to all realms of human development including marriage, emotions, sexuality, politics, art, and business. This is God’s plan, according to Wolters, and it is also the mission of all Christians: “The obvious implication is that the new humanity (God’s people) is called to promote renewal in every department of creation” (73).

In his final chapter, Wolters explores how this approach will affect Christian living. He makes clear that redemption implies fundamental transformation or “inner revitalization” (89), and that this involves every area of life. Here he specifically applies Kuyper’s principle of “sphere sovereignty,” in which this renewal occurs within its original context. This means that in order to redeem all of creation, Christians must be active in all spheres so that true transformation can take place, and in the rest of the chapter he explores several specific test cases including aggression, spiritual gifts, sexuality, and dance.

Wolters’s perspective has an overall ring of truth to it, but he nevertheless fails to recognize several key distinctions in his argumentation. First, Wolters fails to distinguish between God’s creation and man’s creation. He often conflates the two categories, equating the intrinsic goodness of God’s handiwork with that which mankind produces. He is correct that everything God creates is intrinsically good and that even the act of human creation is a good thing. However, to insist that the product of man’s hand is therefore also always intrinsically good is to slide dangerously close to Pelagianism.

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Second, Wolters fails to distinguish between what might be called elements and their forms. He may be correct in that the basic elements of human civilization are good, but the forms they take may be intrinsically evil. His structure/direction categories are actually very useful and have the potential of helping to distinguish between elements (structure) and forms (direction), but he often fails to do so by miscategorizing forms as elements. He lists several different “structures” that Christians may face, but some of what he lists is actually the form (the direction) of a more basic element (structure). For example, he lists technology as a structure, but technology is actually already a direction itself; it is a form of the more basic element of communication. The same is true for dance. In short, Wolters’s structure/direction categories are a good starting point, but the situation is actually often more complex.

Finally, Wolters’s descriptions of the two kingdom perspective are often quite caricatured, not to mention the fact that he calls his position “the reformational worldview” even though the two kingdom doctrine could rightly be called reformational as well. Wolters is not unique in this hyperbole, however, considering that Kuyper himself called this worldview true “Calvinism,” even though many Calvinists insist that Calvin articulated more of a two kingdom perspective himself.1

Nevertheless, Creation Regained does provide a clear and engaging portrait of the Neo-Calvinistic transformationalist approach to culture.

  1. For example, David VanDrunen argues that Calvin essentially agreed with Luther on the two kingdoms and natural law, contrary to the Neo-Calvinists who insist that their transformationalism comes from him: “Though John Calvin is not often associated with the two kingdoms doctrine, he affirmed it from the beginning to the end of his theological career and put it to work when addressing various topics, perhaps most notably Christian liberty and the respective authority of church and state” (David VanDrunen, Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: A Study in the Development of Reformed Social Thought, Emory University Studies in Law and Religion [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009], 69). In fact, VanDrunen argues that H. Richard Niebuhr miscategorized Calvin as a transformationalist in his influential taxonomy in Christ and Culture (New York: Harper & Row, 1975). []
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