Tuesday, March 03, 2015

The Telos of the Creation

I'm currently rereading Al Wolter's Creation Regained (Eerdmans, 2005; second ed.), as it is a textbook in a class I'm teaching.  I chose it specifically because it was so instrumental in my becoming a Neo-Calvinist (or Reformational) in college and grad school.  I was a card-carrying Dooyeweerdian, fighting for the end of dualism, especially in theology (which, to tow the party line, was beholden to Platonic dualism or one sort or another).  Now that I'm teaching, I knew this was one book I wanted my students to read: it had been so formative for me, how could I resist?

You can never go home again.

Maybe it is the intervening years, maybe it is the changes that I went through in seminary, maybe it is my ever-deepening reading of the Fathers of the Church, I don't know.  But I find myself, over and over again, disagreeing with Wolters.  Some things I can heartily affirm: creation is good, even despite the ravaging effects of sin.  However, after that, things get dodgy.  Part of it goes to some of the tacit (worldview?) assumptions that go unexamined throughout the book.  One is that creation, as it stands, is meant to largely run as we experience it (not in its corruption from sin, but in its creational structure).  However, this opens Wolters up to the charge of an incipient deism, especially once we reach his thoughts on "salvation as restoration."  As he puts it, "redemption means restoration -- that is, the return to the goodness of an originally unscathed creation and not merely the addition of something supracreational" (69, emphasis original).  Redemption functions as a reset button, as it were, on creation.  However, this ignores the fact that the original creation was meant to run on "the addition of something supracreational," that is, God's Life.  God, who promises to be "all in all" (1 Cor. 15:28, Eph. 1:23, etc.), pours Himself out into His creation "deifying" it, to use the Patristic term.  Creation was meant to be filled by God from the beginning.  Salvation, then, cannot be about merely restoring the creation and then developing it along human lines (which is where Reformational thinking goes about its "culture making"); rather, salvation is about restoration and glorification.  Certainly, we can and should develop the creation to its potential, but if we do not realize that the point of its potential, the telos of its telos, is union with God, then we miss the point entirely.

I wonder, although I cannot prove this so do not take it as a rebuke or accusation, if all this might be the effects of the crypto-Nestoranism that plagues much of Reformed Christology (going back, some argue, to Calvin himself -- I cannot judge one way or the other).  In classical Nestorianism, the person of the Word takes on human nature without changing it or fulfilling it.  It is a "union of wills," at best.  Human nature is not raised up into theosis, or deification, or glorification (whatever you want to call it), but remains untouched by the indwelling of the Logos.  This means that, while Christ restores nature (for how could sin negatively affect His human nature after the resurrection), He does nothing else with it.  It is not a true, Chalcedonian union.  Rather, classical Christianity has held that creation is fundamentally incomplete -- and tends back to the nihil as both Sts Athanasius and Maximus the Confessor argue -- without the vivifying presence of God "everywhere present and fulfilling all things."  Creation is not enough; that doesn't mean it isn't good -- acknowledging creational limitation built into its very structure by God is not Gnosticism.  Restoration is not enough.

This gets to the second assumption that I must disagree with: sin is what is wrong with the world.  Don't get me wrong, though: sin is a problem.  But it is more of a symptom to the real problem, which is the corruption of death.  Again, St Athanasius speaks on this much more powerful than I can in his On the Incarnation.  God is Life, so to be separate from Him is to be in a state of death.  Mere biological existence (which is in line with the structural norms given by God) is now necessarily in death; something does need to be added back, which is God.  Now, death is brought into the world via sin, but, as St Athanasius says, you can repent of sin, you can't repent of death.  Christ, in His Incarnation (which includes the Cross, Resurrection, Ascension, and Session) not only defeats sin, but death as well.  It is only through His full union with human nature that this can be accomplished for us.  Death is the real problem.  Culturally, this means that mere "development" along the lines of redirected creational structures isn't enough; every discipline, every cultural endeavor, and so on must go through the Cross.  Each aspect of creation must partake of the death of Christ to be freed from the corruptive effects of sin and death.  This means that we will not, and cannot, "bring in the Kingdom" by our efforts, nor will we reach a sort of "principled pluralist" utopia.  Rather, we remain faithful in all aspects of life, bringing them again and again to the Cross, so that they might be raised on the last day (which is itself the fullness of the Crucifixion).  I haven't fully worked through the implications of this -- but it has changed the way I interact with cultural goods and norms.  One thing I know now, though, is that the fullness of the Kingdom will not be realized culturally or socially until Christ comes again -- I have officially left post-millennialism for a robust amillennialism.

More, of course, needs to be said and written.  But this brief introduction will have to suffice for now.

No comments: