Sunday, January 11, 2009

Plantinga Chapter 5 Creation

For people who are not familiar with the DCM format of the class: I realized that I never clarified that the Plantinga Engaging God's World entries are not based off of Lewis writings. Rather, I am in Calvin's required DCM (Developing a Christian Mind) class, and while my section is C.S. Lewis-themed, all of the sections are required to read this book by Cornelius Plantinga, the president of Calvin Seminary called Engaging God's world. Thus, I have entries about C.S. Lewis mostly but also based off of chapters from this book.

Plantinga divides the world's "drama" into three sequences: creation, fall, and redemption. The chapter on which I will be commenting is creation. I know this sounds very pompous, but I think I have been presented with most of the concepts of this chapter already. That was my first impulse reading it, and I figure if that's how I really feel, I should admit it outfront. Of course, my next thought was, "Well, if I know everything, am I really living this doctrine?" The answer is a resounding no. I find that as I study theology, there is an increasing danger that the more I learn, the more I become arrogant that "I already know this stuff." Sometimes when I try to open up the Bible, I'm like, "I already know what's going to happen here, why bother?" That is such a dangerous instinct. As we discussed in historical theology last semester, there is a huge difference between knowing God and knowing about God. Devotion should never be sacrificed for Bible study. I need to strive after humility, like it says in Philippians 2 (but not the part of it that Plantinga quotes on page 19 but the verses before that).

Overall, I think Plantinga's discussion on the subject is good. I like his emphases on Jesus' existence in the beginning of creation and the "perichoresis," or relational dance of God. In other words, God wasn't lonely and said, "Hey, I'm bored, how about I create some humans?" God has community in Himself, with the interaction between the Father, Son, and Spirit. Thus, within God's oneness, there is this three-fold sense of community. The Trinity is so often misunderstood or confusing to the point where it is sometimes not addressed at all. Plantinga does a splendid job of describing the Trinitarian view of Scripture. It reminds me of a Rob Bell DVD I got for Christmas, Everything is Spiritual. At Mars Hill, Rob Bell has also talked in length about the Trinity.

As Plantinga writes, "creation is neither a necessity nor an accident." I love what he says about the "poetic chapters" of Genesis 1, "These highly poetic chapters do not teach us zoology, but they do teach us something important. The chapters teach us that God loves creation. God celebrates creation. God even plays with his creation." To that, I would give a resounding AMEN! I have met one person before who was OBSESSED with "6 day, 24 hour new earth creation," this riddiculous doctrine that states that God made the world in exactly 6 days with each day having 24 hours... and by the way, the earth is only 4,000 years old. I think that's not only absurd but totally not the point. Genesis is not a science text; indeed, it shows that God loves creation. Genesis puts this idea in a loving, poetic way, but Genesis is not a science textbook! Anyway, end of rant.

Then comes the discussion on Genesis 1:26-28, the command for Adam and Eve to "have dominion over" the earth. For some reason I am cautious with Plantinga's argument on page 29, "This is the place in the story where Calvinist and other activist Christians take a cue to go to work. There's so much to do in the world-- so much caretaking and earthkeeping, so much filling and multiplying, so much culture to create." I have heard that argument and embrace that idea in a form, but to me, it sounds like the Earth is like our playhouse and we get to play house as long as we pick up after ourselves. Now, I admit, people have taken for granted the doctrine of creation by hurting the earth environmentally, etc. Plantinga then discusses the implications of creation. He states that we are charged with "care for earth and animals" and "developing certain cultural possibilities," basically the question of how we should be stewards over the earth. While I think this idea presents some valuable thoughts, the "creation work order" thing kind of scares me.

The above concern is alleviated somewhat with the assertion that, "Work is very good, but so is contemplation after work is over." Of course, the Sabbath, or 7th day of creation, is the "contemplation" time that Plantinga discusses. The idea of a Sabbath is something I need to hear over and over because I still find the idea terrifying. Even God Himself wasn't a workaholic... He rested, modeling that work and play rhythm to us. In our hyper, fast American society, the idea of a Sabbath is just absurd to me. I get so wound up sometimes, it's hard to relax and take a step back. It's such a counter-cultural notion.

Plantinga finishes the chapter by describing seven meanings of the doctrine of creation:
1. Any human being we meet is potentially redeemable.
2. Created things are unique and sometimes mysterious but also purposive and intelligible
3. God and the world are distinct (contrary to pantheism).
4. Material reality is good, but we should love the natural world without worshiping it.
5. God affirms the ordinary means of production and reproduction (Christians don't have to be locked up in monastaries or covenants to follow God).
6. Human responsibilities and rights are necessary-- earthkeeping, creativity, the right to respect and to life. These are "unalienable rights."
7. There is a need to balance our individual and corporate identities.
8. We are not God but only images of God.

All that stuff is good, especially the C.S. Lewis quote on page 40, "There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal." That is true! And I hardly want to say that people don't have a right to respect or that we shouldn't take care of the earth. But back to my concern with this chapter as I outlined above. God created us so we could "be fruitful and multiply," and He intended for us to take care of the Earth and the people, beings, and environment. Yet, I think that the stewardship metaphor is misleading. Our purpose on Earth is not to be like "earthly gods" taking care of everything because God doesn't feel like it. If God wanted, He could wave His finger and the whole universe could be restored to perfection. Then, the issue could be raised, "What's the point in doing anything, then, because God could well do it by Himself?" God does mandate us to do certain things-- He gives us resources (time, energy, money) so that we will work. It is awesome that we have a part in God's redemption of humanity, the restoration of Shalom. This last semester, I attended a church that was huge into social justice and "eliminating poverty." There is such a need for that. But the work in and of itself is not the point. We are not put on Earth to be a labor force, cleaning up the mess we've made.

God wants to know us, He wants to have community with us. He wants to be with churches and individuals, societies and families alike. The Bible is more animated that a flat idea of a set of three doctrines: creation, fall, and redemption. It is about God's love for us and how that love should outpour through us to others. We are nothing special, but God sent His son to die for us anyway. Of course Plantinga would agree with all of this... what I just articulated is exactly what Christianity is about. Right now I am more than anything distinguishing emphases. I believe that the emphasis should be on spreading the Good News and discipleship, following Christ. If that includes environmental advocacy or human rights activism, great. But it should be done out of love for God and after having sought God's will into the matter. To say, "Well, there is work to do and let's go do it," without asking God's input or thinking about God at all in the process, is prideful. We shouldn't make our own plans and ask God to bless them. I heard a joke once: How do you make God laugh? Answer: Tell Him your plans.

That was a long, roundabout way of saying that Plantinga brings up some good points here, but I worry about the overemphasis of the stewardship principle. Stewardship is important, because we should take care of what God has given us, but it should not be a means in and of itself. God wants our hearts more than anything else. He doesn't need us to be the most efficient or the most helpful in solving the world's problems. God prioritizes faith over works, as can be seen in the "Faith Hall of Fame" in Hebrews 11. Yes, we are called to care for God's creation. Yes, we are called to spread Shalom to every aspect of the world. On the other hand, that is not our only or most important mandate. Jesus tells us to make disciples of all nations and to feed His lambs. Caring for creation should not become an idol and should not replace our love for God, love for others, and striving to have the Kingdom come to earth. Jesus summarized the Law in two commandments: 1. Love God with your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and 2. Love your neighbor as yourself. I think we'd do best to highlight these aspects of the Christian life.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Charlotte,

    You have thought quite a bit! The comments "I already know what's going to happen here, why bother?" has been problematic also for me for quite some time, however, the deeper one digs in a portion of Scripture, the more It grows in significance: that’s what happened to you here! The Holy Spirit continues teaching… Great! Keep going….
    On "perichoresis", did you ever have the opportunity to read “Out of the Silent Planet” (Lewis of course!)? In the last chapter there is an awesome description of this. You would love it!
    About OBSESSED by creationism, sorry, maybe I am one of these ridiculous people. My only argument being: I do not see why I would believe that God can make an arm dead and back to life in one minute, heal a leprous patient or a paralyzed one and not be able to perform a 6 day, 24 hour new earth creation? I have no problem with the statement. For me raising oneself from the dead and creating a world in a week meets, in my mind, the same amount of faith… And I ask God every day for Him t have mercy with my unbelief.
    Finally about work; it seems to me that ‘labor’ is a Godly given (in paradise) therapy for our bodies, especially the labor on behalf of my neighbor…
    Keep thinking! It is greatly appreciated,
    A & P