Can a so-so book be important? It can.
Jonathan R. Wilson, God’s Good World (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013). Subtitled “Reclaiming the Doctrine of Creation,” this is an important book because the author demonstrates the solid connection between creation and redemption, and redemption (salvation) and all of creation.
Wilson insists that “A mature, robust understanding of creation is essential to growth in Christian discipleship and witness to the gospel.” I believe he is correct in this, especially for our day, when we have so narrowed the Gospel to addressing little more than forgiveness, assurance of eternal life, and a ready means of comfort for trying times in the here and now. Wilson wants us to see that the work of Christ and the salvation He has gained are as big as all creation. Creation and redemption must be held together.
The doctrine of creation – and of its redemption in Christ – is for the most part missing in churches today. Wilson writes, “If God’s work in Christ is the salvation of this creation, then the church’s witness to this work in Christ must be whole. It is not a matter of evangelism as saving people for eternity and social action as caring for their bodies until they die. It is rather a matter of witnessing to God’s whole work in Christ for the salvation of the cosmos.” Christian colleges and universities, as well as seminaries, are doing no better in showing the cosmic scope of Christ’s redemption. This means that a doctrine of creation – and the peace (shalom) that Christ’s salvation brings to it – is missing in our society today, for neither church leaders nor members are equipped to bring the salvation of the Lord to the whole of life.
Wilson says that “a faithful community of disciples of Jesus Christ will bear witness to another, most real world, in which the telos is the flourishing of the universe in the new creation. The mission of the disciple community is to participate in that ‘realizing eschatology’ so that others may believe and enter into the good news of creation redeemed in the new creation.” He insists, “Without a doctrine of creation that calls us to worship and serve the Creator, we become captive to created things and serve them.” He is undoubtedly correct.
Wilson argues that we need a Kingdom perspective and framework if we’re ever going to recover the doctrine of creation and join it with redemption. He explains that the “dialectic of the Kingdom” is its existing now, but not yet. It has come and is advancing, but we must look forward still to its full development in the new heavens and new earth. Christ has reconciled the world to God; and He has given us His Kingdom as the framework within which to pursue the work of restoring the world to God’s glory and goodness.
Christians must learn to see creation as the work of God and “a gift because that work gives to the cosmos the overflowing joy of being alive and in relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, whose own life together is one of eternal, overflowing, ecstatic love.” And he adds, “To see that creation is a gift and to act in accordance with that vision does not free us from responsibility for life on this planet, as some Christians seem to suppose. Rather, creation as a gift opens up the possibility that we can act in accordance with life as God creates and redeems it, not in accordance with a false vision of life as something that we create and control.”
This is an important book, but it’s not an especially good book. I found the reading tedious and distracting at times, and the frequent repetition of certain terminology a bit thrumming. But this is a book every pastor should read, with a view to understanding how we may recover the Gospel of the Kingdom and preach Jesus for the restoration of the reconciled world. We should remember Wilson’s main point, that “the good news of peace for all creation is the good news that God in Christ is bringing the world to the wholeness of life that will be enjoyed forever in the new creation.”