The Theological Impact of the Doctrine of Creation
The doctrine of creation is often de-emphasized among Christians today as holding secondary importance. After all, isn’t Christianity about salvation through Jesus? While it is true that the Christian message centers on the atoning work of Jesus that is not a reason to neglect creation.
Theology can be understood in two ways. On the one hand, “Theology is the topical and logical study of God’s revealed nature and purposes.” 1 It is the discipline which seeks to express a biblical understanding of God and what he reveals about the world, mankind, and mankind’s relationship with God. 2 On the other hand, however, theology is not a purely academic discipline. Every person has a theology because every person has thoughts about God, who and what mankind is, and what happens after people die. One person’s theology may be more fully thought out than another person’s theology, but every person has a theology whether he realizes it or not.
The various facets of theology are intertwined. One doctrine will inevitably carry implications for other doctrines. Changes in one area will create a rippling effect in other doctrines, and error in one area of doctrine will generate errors elsewhere. This is definitely true with the doctrine of creation.
This article is not about the impact of either theistic evolution or a denial of a historical Adam and Eve or Fall on Christian theology 3 but will instead review the significance of the mere fact of God’s creative activity on other doctrines. This article will discuss the impact of the doctrine of creation on the sovereignty of God, mankind’s place in the world, and the goodness of creation.
God’s sovereignty over all things
To say that God is sovereign is to say that God is in complete control. It is to acknowledge His kingship over His creation, His ownership of creation, and His right to create and manage as He chooses simply because He is God and creator. The Bible sometimes uses the image of a potter and clay to illustrate God’s sovereignty over mankind. God has the same rights over creation that a potter has over his lump of clay. In Jer. 18:1-6 God says he can do as he chooses with Israel as a potter does with clay. He does not need to answer to anyone (see also Rom. 9:18-21). 4
It is important to remember that God did not need to create anything. As the omniscient, omnipotent, and triune God, he was sufficient in Himself. He created the universe to reveal Himself, and the creation serves to glorify Him. “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Ps. 19:1). Creation displays His attributes (Rom. 1:19-20), including His power (Ps. 33:6-9), majesty (Ps. 8:1), transcendence (1 Kings 8:27; Is 29:15-16, 45:9, 64:8; Acts 17:24-25), and righteousness (Ps. 50:6).
Because God made everything He is the Lord over everything (1 Sam 2:6-8; Job 36:26-33; Ps. 104; Is. 44:24-28). As John Feinberg explains, “All things come from God and we exist for him; we are under his sovereign control.” 5 This also means that he is completely free in all of his actions and is not inherently bound by pre-existing conditions (such as natural laws) outside of His own nature, although He can choose to make a covenant commitment which He will then honor (ex: Gen. 9:8-17, 12:1-3; Exod. 19:1-8; Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8). 6
All created reality exists by Him and for Him (Rom. 11:36; 1 Cor. 8:6). Not only does created reality exist because God created it. It exists for His purposes and for His glory. “All things have God as their goal and purpose, and he brought them into being in the first place.” 7 John Morris explains:
Creation is the “worldview” concept which places God as the sovereign Controller over all. His role as Creator gives Him the authority to set the guidelines for life and the penalty for breaking His law. Just as the manufacturer has the right and responsibility to author the owner's handbook dictating how to properly operate and repair a manufactured device, so the Creator of mankind has authority over our lives and choices. 8
Man is not ultimate
Because God is the creator, people are dependent on Him for their very existence. 9 Because God is the sovereign creator, it follows that mankind is subject to His kingship. Man is not the measure of all things, and so this rules out any modern form of humanism.
God does not need to answer to mankind’s standards. “The Almighty—we cannot find him; he is great in power; justice and abundant righteousness he will not violate. Therefore men fear him; he does not regard any who are wise in their own conceit” (Job 37:23-24), When Job asks God why he has experienced great misfortune, God does not give him a complete answer. Instead He reminds Job of His position as God: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.” (Job 38:4).
God is not a tyrant, however. The God who governs creation and judges sin is the same God who provides for our needs. He “gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25), and He makes the rain fall on the righteous and unrighteous alike (Matt 5:45). He also sent Jesus as a substitutionary sacrifice for sin (Rom. 3:21-25) thereby providing the means of redemption from sin.
We will not always understand God’s decisions, but He will always act according to His holy, just, and sovereign nature. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Is. 55:8-9).
Physical reality is good
God created the universe to display His glory, and it will fulfill the purpose He intended. The world was also created good. In Genesis 1, as God creates the universe, he repeatedly declares it to be good (Gen 1:1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). Today, however, we see a creation that is filled with sin and both moral and physical corruption. When Adam and Eve rebelled against God, they not only affected their own standing with God. They also affected the entire human race (Rom. 5:12-21) and all of creation. As Paul says “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now (Rom. 8:22), but God will one day restore it to its former condition (Rev. 21:1-4). 10 After God judges the world He inaugurates the new heaven and earth which will last for eternity (Rev. 21:1-22:5). The physical creation is therefore not merely a temporary reality to be replaced by an allegedly superior non-physical reality. Instead, it is part of God’s eternal plan.
Because God declared His creation to be good, this rules out any form of dualism in which good and evil are equally ultimate realities. First of all, only God is eternal (Ps. 90:2; Exod. 3:14; 1 Tim. 1:17; Rev. 1:8), and He is good and holy. Second, nothing was inherently evil from the beginning. If all of creation owes its existence to God and was originally created good, then matter is not inherently and eternally evil although created beings can become morally evil. 11
Remembering this helps us to avoid devaluing the physical world. This world is God’s handiwork and should be respected and enjoyed as such. Creation has value by virtue of the fact that it was created by God. 12 Physical reality is not morally inferior to spiritual reality. Millard Erickson explains it well:
Although sin may well have disturbed the universe God created, the world was good when it came from his hand. There is no particular virtue, then, in fleeing the physical creation or avoiding bodily pursuits in favor of more intellectual or spiritual activities. The fact that we are intellectual and spiritual creatures does not negate the fact that we are physical beings as well. 13
Remembering the goodness of creation also helps us to avoid devaluing the incarnation of Christ in which he assumed a physical human form and lived as one of us. Even though Christ humbled Himself in the Incarnation (Phil 2:5-11), He did not participate in its sinful nature (Heb. 4:15). 14
A biblical view of creation also rules out any form of monism, in which the world is an emanation of God. 15 God created the world out of nothing and is distinct from it. Creation also is not divine and not to be worshipped (Exod. 20:4-5; Jer. 10; Rom. 1:18-23). Gordon Lewis and Bruce Demarest explain that “we ought to value creation highly as a great achievement of the most creative Being who is,” but we should not deify it. 16
Francis Schaeffer also explains that in the Christian doctrine of creation, the universe is “an objective reality” and not an extension of God, and therefore it can be studied objectively. It is worth investigating creation because it is God’s creation. 17 As Wayne Grudem states it well: “The doctrine of creation will also enable us to recognize more clearly that scientific and technological study in itself glorifies God, for it enables us to discover how incredibly wise, powerful, and skillful God was in his work of creation.” 18
The Bible warns against both materialism, the overemphasis on material possessions (Luke 12:13-21; James 5:1-6; 1 Tim. 6:9-10), and hedonism, the over-emphasis of pleasure (Prov. 23:19-21; Col. 3:5-7; 1 Pet. 4:1-6). Nevertheless, a person does not need to resort to asceticism which advocates avoiding physical possessions or other physical pleasures as inherently evil. After explaining the vanity of emphasizing wealth and pleasure, Eccl. 5:19 encourages people to enjoy what God gives them. After rejecting teachings which forbid specific foods and marriage, Paul explains that “everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Tim 4:4). 19
Grudem summarizes a biblical attitude toward use of physical creation:
Though the created order can be used in sinful or selfish ways and can turn our affections away from God, nonetheless we must not let the danger of the abuse of God’s creation keep us from a positive, thankful, joyful use of it for our own enjoyment and for the good of his kingdom. . . . Yet in all of this we are to remember that material possessions are only temporary, not eternal. We are to set our hopes on God . . . and on receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken.” 20
The appropriate response to creation is worship of God, both in attitude and in behavior. Feinberg explains, “In light of God’s great power, wisdom, and majesty so marvelously displayed in creating and preserving the universe, there is only one appropriate response from his creature: praise.” 21
The doctrine of creation is not a secondary doctrine which can be discarded. It is not a doctrine which we can set aside because it is controversial. It is an essential component of Christian theology which has significant impact. It shows us that God is sovereign over mankind and the whole of creation, and it shows us mankind’s place in the world. It also shows us that physical world can be appreciated despite its currently fallen nature. As John Morris explains:
Creation is the foundation for the worldview of Christianity. Without it we lose the logic of the doctrines of God, of sin, of man, of the penalty for sin, of salvation from sin based on the Creator's death on our behalf, of His coming Kingdom, and others. If we can so easily abandon the doctrine of creation, the basis for the others, which of the others are we prepared to ignore? 22
- 1Lewis GR and Demarest BA (1996) Integrative Theology, vol. 2, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, vol. 1, p. 23.
- 2Erickson MJ (1998) Christian Theology, 2d ed. Baker: Grand Rapids, 17.
- 3A discussion of such questions can be found in H. Middleton, Sola Scriptura: Our Standard for Theology http://tasc-creationscience.org/content/sola-scriptura-our-standard-theology Accessed 2014 June 3.
- 4Feinberg JS (2001) No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God, Foundations of Evangelical Theology, Gen. Ed. John S. Feinberg, Crossway Books, Wheaton, 559-60.
- 5Feinberg, 564.
- 6Erickson, 928.
- 7Feinberg, 559, 565.
- 8John D. Morris, “What Other Doctrines Do You Ignore?” http://www.icr.org/article/2904/ Accessed 2014 June 3.
- 9Van Til C, “For us God’s being is ultimate, while created being is, in the nature of the case, derivative” (Van Til C (2008) Defense of the Faith, Ed. Oliphint KS, P&R Publishing: Phillipsburg, NJ, 53). Van Til also says that reality is two-layered, consisting of the eternal, ultimate, unchangeable God and the temporal, contingent, changeable creation (Ibid., 52-53, 236-37).
- 10Grudem W (1994) Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 272-73.
- 11Erickson, 401-2.
- 12Ibid., 410.
- 13Ibid., 411.
- 14Ibid., 402.
- 15Ibid., 403-4.
- 16Lewis and Demarest, vol. 2, p. 58.
- 17Schaeffer FA (1982) How Should We Then Live? in The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer, vol. 5, Crossway Books, Wheaton, 163.
- 18Grudem, 309.
- 19This principle does not negate the Bible’s many moral rules which instruct us on the proper use of physical creation.
- 20Grudem, 272-73.
- 21Feinberg, 562. As examples Feinberg cites Ps. 97-99. He emphasizes Ps. 148 in which every part of creation praises God.
- 22John D. Morris, “What Other Doctrines Do You Ignore?” http://www.icr.org/article/2904/ Accessed 2014 June 3.