12 September 2009

Grace Redeems Nature

My new friend Herman is helping balance me out. (Do you know him? He wrote this magnificent series)

As someone who has grown up in and loves more than ever evangelicalism, I have understood the ultimate message of the Bible to be the grace that is mine as an individual sinner when I die. Through the influence of Tim Keller, N. T. Wright, Greg Beale, the major prophets, Romans 8, common sense, and a renewed understanding of the biblical story that moves not just from earth to heaven but from Eden to New Eden, this has been getting filled out the past few years.

The key person God is using to open my eyes to this right now is Herman Bavinck. Some have summed up his teaching with the three words: grace redeeming nature. Bavinck gives a wonderfully all-encompassing and cosmic and breathtaking vision of what God is doing in and in the wake of his historically climactic giving of Jesus Christ, between whose two comings, one lowly and one triumphant, we now live.

I'm learning that fully biblical 'redemption' is both individual and corporate, both existential and cosmic, both pardoning and recreating, both vertical and horizontal, both conscience-cleansing and world-cleansing, both wrath-removing and injustice-removing. These pairs ought to be viewed asymmetrically--the former grounds the latter in each case. But as I realize the ways I've neglected the latter, I want the Lord to help me move forward in my thinking and living with a more trenchantly biblical view of the redemption God is working right now.

By all this I do not mean (as Wright has at times unfortunately put it), that the gospel is about new creation and not what happens to me when I die. That would be just as lopsided. Nor must we simply say 'both/and.' The removal of your and my sin is fundamental to the biblical gospel in a way that the future eradication of earthquakes is not. Penal substitutionary atonement, that is, is the heart of the gospel in a way that includes other atonement models but places them in a derivative position. Moreover, the future life remains our great hope. But this future life, built on the solid foundation of the cornerstone smashed on our behalf, will be not an annihiliation of this world but a restoration of it, as physical as Adam himself only without the capacity to sin. That's why the picture at the top right of this blog evokes such longings.

Grace redeems nature. Nature is screwed up because of human sin (Rom 8:18-25); and for nature to be restored, human sin must be dealt with. Sin, wrath, justice, and forgiveness for the individual must remain at the center of the message of redemption. But the coming renewal that has dawned in Christ the firstfruits is not limited to the human heart but includes the sun, the trees, daffodils, Madagascar, Ethiopia, Wheaton Illinois, the Pacific Ocean, butterflies, birds, lions. 'The wolf and the lamb shall graze together' (Isa 65:25). All founded on a long weekend on an obscure hill in the Middle East twenty centuries ago.


ErinOrtlund said...

Great post Dane! Very helpful.

Eric said...

Lovely post, Dane. Something interesting in the prophets: they tend to portray the return to the land, the healing of the relationship between God and Israel, the fructification of nature, giving of the Spirit, etc., as one big thing - especially Ezekiel portrays it as a single act in many dimensions. The odd thing is, thought, that in Ez-Neh, the same problems show up again, even though they've back in the land.

But despite this "problem" in interpreting the prophets, it sheds light on the personal/cosmic salvation you're talking about: the land "fructifies" when you come into Christ. Am I making sense here?

Dane Ortlund said...

Fascinating, thanks Eric. It does make sense.

krista said...

Well said, Dane, and very helpful. I appreciate your distinction between a "both/and" perspective (which I think I've been in), to a perspective more like a ripple effect all flowing out from one center.

Great thoughts! He is making all things new!