‘Creation Regained’ by Albert M. Wolters

One will find this work referred to often in works on the worldview concept. The title highlights a significant point of any Biblical worldview, that it involves the regaining of a worldview that takes into account of the need to begin where the bible begins, with creation. The word ‘regained’ speaks to the central paradigm of this work, in that any biblical worldview must also take into account the fall, and redemption which has the full scope of regaining or restoring the whole of the created order. This also has the advantage of showing that the scope of redemption is something more than personal salvation. Getting ‘saved’, so to speak, extends beyond the private sphere of the individual, to include a call to properly fulfill the original creation mandate to exercise dominion as God’s stewards in the world.

Wolters seeks to argue that this is ‘a reformational worldview’, and it is important to bear in mind that this is not ‘the’ reformed worldview. In other words, there can be different reformed worldviews, just as there may be different ‘Christian’ worldviews, and even different ‘Biblical’ worldviews. To this end it is important to point out that Wolters’ worldview is that which stems from the Dutch tradition that he lists as having its roots in the thought of Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, Herman Dooyeweerd, and D.H.T. Vollenhoven (1). It is important to note however, that these men still had their own unique contributions. The fact is, the school which Wolters represents, owes more to Dooyeweerd than to anyone else, as any cursory examination will show.

One should commend the “deep desire to be obedient to the Scriptures in all areas of life and service.” (1) Wolters’ basic definition of what a worldview is a simple one and succinct – “the comprehensive framework of one’s basic beliefs about things.” (2) Nevertheless, his so-called ‘reformational’ perspective is not without its flaws. A key flaw, as this reviewer would suggest, is the positing of the idea of ‘law’ to include all those matters that reformed authors in the past have explained more specifically through other more consistently biblical terms and perspectives. For example, he wants to use the word ‘law’ for what has always been referred to as God’s ongoing active work of providence. Ironically he posits a so-called ‘law of creation’ that he argues will help guard against a concept of creation that may slip into Deism, when the very idea of ‘law’ is more likely to be subject to this danger (12-18)

He has to refer to terms used in the past, like ‘providence’, and ‘wisdom’, and ‘word’ to explain his novel conception of law, when the former speaks far more to the personal active living activity of God as we find it in the scriptures themselves. The fact of the matter is, reformed scholars spent a great deal of time in the past, continuing to the present, to disabuse people of thinking of God’s sovereign personal activity in sustaining the whole of creation against an idea of the so-called ‘laws of nature’, as simply the normal way in which God’s is active in the world. It is the biblical and reformed understanding of providence, and in particular the idea of covenant, that emphasizes the personal nature of God’s sovereign rule in and over all things. It is this personal aspect that is so much missing from the various secular conceptions of reality that make of God’s sovereign activity idols of their own construction.

Wolters even admits to this weakness in the following two-point admission of his novel use of ‘law’. “The first is that the word ‘law’ has to be stretched somewhat from its ordinary meaning to accommodate the sense of “particular command.” We do not usually use ‘law’ in this sense, although it is clearly very close in meaning to “command” and does bear this wider meaning in expressions such as “his word is law.” The second is that the universal validity of God’s law reflects his constancy in dealing with his creatures. We must not understand universal validity as entailing the absolute sense of a metaphysical determinism divorced from God’s personal characteristics of faithfulness or trustworthiness (Hebrew ’emet, “truth”) in his dealings with others. Though God may surprise and amaze us (and often does; we then speak of “miracles”), this does not suggest that we cannot depend on him; on the contrary, it underscores his utter reliability. In other words, there is no tension between the universal and particular in God’s law.” (18)

Why “stretch” the word ‘law’ when in fact it can have the effect of subtracting from the subject the idea of God’s personal living providential sustaining of his own creation. Why not stick with the biblical word ‘command’ which as a verb, clearly denotes this active superintendence? The word ‘providence’ has the advantage of referring to something of ‘universal validity’, but one that necessitates the needed corollary of resting upon the faithfulness of the Creator as personally actively sustaining his creation in a normally predictable way. It is the very idea of God’s faithfulness to his creation in his providence, that the secular worldview has sought to drive out of the discussion, but which alone can explain the very personal existence of humanity itself. It is  the personal nature of humanity, among many other things, that the secular worldview cannot explain, which is foundational to the biblical understanding of God as both the Creator and Sustainer of the whole of reality.

One might concede the use of the word ‘law’ when used in the area of hard sciences when speaking of ‘the laws of nature’, partly because it is so entrenched, but even here we must stress providence and not an autonomous view, or deistic view of law. However, Wolters wants to further “stretch” his definition of ‘law’ to absorb the perfectly adequate and superior words such as ‘norms’ or ‘principles’ or ‘standards’ of the more metaphysical sciences. In doing so he creates the very thing he warned against, “a metaphysical determinism divorced from God’s personal characteristic of faithfulness or trustworthiness (Hebrew ’emet, “truth”) in his dealings with others.” Wolters seems determined to remove the personal nature that the bible preserves further when he reinterprets the biblical conception of wisdom in personal terms, ie., personified as a woman (Pr. 1:22-23; 8:4, 22-23, 27-30), and reduce it also to his broad extra-biblical conception of law (25-27).

Another flaw in Wolters perspective has to do with how his concept of ‘law’ is founded upon the presupposition that the scriptures do not in fact give us sufficient principles or wisdom to guide us in the various academic disciplines. “In these areas, too, the Bible does not give more than general parameters.”(30) This is diametrically opposed to the broader evangelical and reformed work in the area of worldview formation and analysis, which has endeavoured to in fact establish a Christian worldview in every area of life on universal biblical principles. It is the logical fruit of Dooyeweerd’s conception of so-called sphere sovereignty and the so-called particular laws pertaining to them, that this tradition effectively creates areas where God’s word in fact has no place. It is a bald statement that in these so-called spheres, that the revelatory word is irrelevant (30).

Again, in another twist of irony, Wolters draws a parallel to the Christian seeking guidance to fulfill God’s will for one’s life, in particular one’s ‘calling’. It is ironic because it is an example which his conception in fact throws overboard with respect to an overall worldview. He states, with regard to seeking guidance that one must “continually check back with Scripture to make sure his bearings are right” (30-32), but these same scriptures give only “general parameters” for specific areas of study (32). His quote from Calvin, in which he uses the common worldview image of spectacles, in fact disproves his theory of natural autonomous sphere law. Calvin is clearly making the point that scriptural presuppositions are in fact necessary to not only understand the world, but the scriptures themselves (32, Calvin Inst. 1.6.1). The other image he refers to is ‘light’, but his perspective throws a basket over the scriptures as light (Ps. 119:105).

What is even more remarkable is he proceeds to turn to scripture to in effective disprove his hypothesis. In a wonderfully inconsistent glimpse of this light Wolters states the following. “In a way, therefore, the scriptures are like a verbal commentary on the dimly perceived sign language of creation.” (33 Cf. Ps. 19:3) It is more than odd that Wolters can then refer to his ‘law’ as a blueprint for building, when it is in fact the Scriptures which are the blueprints for a truly Biblical Christian worldview (34). Wolters called the wisdom of Proverbs 8 as “a kind of living blueprint preceding creation” (27), but then calls his autonomous law the ‘blueprint’, and the Scriptures as nothing more than ‘parameters’ in his ‘reformational’ worldview (30). Wolters states that without his conception of a blueprint (‘law’), the builder is at a loss “to puzzle out in general terms what the blueprint indicates.” (34) This is a radical departure from the vast majority of reformed and evangelical thinkers who in fact view the scriptures as providing the blueprint to properly understand general revelation, in every department of life.

The following summarizes the prime fallacy in this so-called ‘reformational’ worldview. “It is in this way that we must continue to try to discern, through empirical study and historical experience, what God’s specific  norms are for areas of human life that the Scriptures do not explicitly address – industrial relations, for example, or the mass media, or literary criticism.”(34) He firmly believes that “to say this is not to downgrade the authority of Scripture” (34), but that is exactly what he has done. Another truly astounding thing from Wolters is his interpretation of Mt. 5:17. He argues that the law of Moses has a ‘double reference’, the fulfillment of his so-called ‘creational law’ or its ‘deepest meaning’, which is the ‘substance’ which replaces the so-called ‘Jewish’ cultural context of the biblical law’s application. In the very passage where Jesus states categorically that he did not come to abrogate biblical law and the prophets, Wolters has the temerity to teach that his conception of ‘creational law’ replaces the biblical application!

Whereas reformed men like the puritans and Dr. Bahnsen sought to be guided by the application of the law as found in the scriptures, in applying the law in the current context, Wolters throws out this application as culturally irrelevant, and superceded by his conception of ‘creational law’! It is no wonder that he disparages the scriptures as at best only providing so-called ‘parameters’ for  Christian worldview. For one who claims a tradition in opposition to human autonomy, it is remarkable that he would even suggest such an ‘interpretation, and follow it with the following. “Another way of saying this is that God did the implementing for his people in the Old Testament, while in the New he in large measure gives the freedom in Christ to do our own implementing.”(35)

He arrogantly thinks that we are not apprentices like Moses’ first recipients, rather we are journeymen able to come up with our own constructions of his nebulous ‘creational law’. His view is like the baby in his analogy of the first two chapters of Genesis in relation to the third. It “contracts serious chronic disease for which there is no known cure”(39). There is a cure though, it is to give the scriptures the place that God has given them to us for our view pf life and the world. This is the only “process of healing” that will cure the sickness of this ‘revelational worldview’. By rejecting the LORD’s own application of his biblical law, constructing a theory of ‘creational law’, and finally by postulating so-called’ ‘positive’ law, that is, man-made applicational of man-made ‘creational law’, Wolters has drifted so far from scripture that it cannot be grouped with anything like a biblical worldview (43).

It is therefore inconsistent and illogical for him the conclude his chapter on ‘Creation’ with the following. “the most striking illustration of the goodness of positive law can be found in the Mosaic law. As we have indicated earlier (35), this is God’s own positivization of creational norms for ancient Israel. The books of the Old Testament never tire of praising its goodness and of stressing that safety and shalom can only be found by a return to the Torah. The longest psalm, Psalm 119, is one long paean of praise for the law of God in this sense.” (43) This final paragraph completely repudiates everything he has been arguing for up to this point. This is remarkable indeed.

There is another subject that overlaps into his next chapter on the fall, and that is the subject of theology. Wolters from the beginning wanted to stress that everyone has a worldview, but not everyone has a fully developed theology or philosophy, and hence why we need to keep this distinction in mind. Many would argue just the opposite, that in fact everyone does have a philosophy and theology that is part of their worldview, whether consciously or not. The knowledge of God and the logos or biblical philosophy, many would argue are innate, that in fact part of the corruption of sin is humanity’s effort to suppress this knowledge in unrighteousness. However, it is the very subject of theology which Wolters refers to when he defends the concept of ‘common grace’ (50).

This has been the traditional way that reformed people have explained how the order of creation is maintained to both the redeemed and the unredeemed, seen in his providential goodness and faithfulness in sun, rain, the changing of the seasons etc. This he wants to posit a different conception, that of the ‘structure’ or order of creation being preserved, while acknowledging that the ‘direction’ that one takes with this order is where sin comes in (49-52). In other words, one can behave as a good steward of the environment, directing it the glory of God as his servants, or one may direct it in opposition to what God intended. This, it must be said, is a good point, but may be clouded by introducing the terms ‘structure’ and ‘direction’ which may indicate more than has been traditionally understood. It becomes confusing when he regards ‘theology’ as ‘direction’ (9).

No doubt there is good and bad theology, but to say such is to admit that theology is indeed integral to everyone’s worldviews. It only becomes more obfuscated when he refers to the spiritual commitment of one’s heart as the subject of religion, and decidedly not theology. Additionally, he wants to draw a distinction between philosophy and theology, but it is not clear whether he sees a distinctly biblical philosophy, or if this is in the realm of ‘creation law’, and what part it therefore plays then in the ‘direction’ of things. All of this betrays what is a truly artificial construction, one unique to the Dooyeweerdian perspective, and frankly most unhelpful in seeking to form a biblical worldview. Surely a biblical Christian worldview must incorporate a full orbed biblical theology and philosophy.

It is commendable that Wolters stresses that sin is abnormal, and that the goal of redemption is the restoration or regaining the original good purpose of a good creation. In this sense the threefold paradigm is beneficial, but one must realize, not at all unique to the ‘reformational worldview, and frankly one of the few good things it affirms. Wolters also states another obvious element which is found in most efforts at constructing a biblical Christian worldview, that being the rejection of a ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’ dichotomy, such as is found in secularism. To this end it is also an accepted truism, that when the bible speaks of ‘the world’, it is acknowledged to be referring at times to an unbiblical worldview and practice (52-54), and not to the created order as such, seen in our need to be in the world, but not of the world.

Another related point of clarification needs to be made. Several times Wolters, like many others, refers to the fall as a result of “Adam’s failure to heed  God’s explicit commandment and warning” (44), or “Adam through his disobedience” (47), when a biblical covenantal view of the fall is better expressed when he wrote that the fall is as a result of “ourselves in Adam” (49). For one who wants to guard the goodness of God’s creation ‘structure’, it is puzzling why he would not want to emphasize the biblical and reformed conception that all humanity changed the ‘direction’ in Adam, and that this original sin is not passed down by the unbiblical notion of simple human procreation. We cannot blame Adam, since we were regarded by God as being in covenant with him. For this reason also we cannot blame our parents for the simple act of procreation, and indirectly then, of one of God’s creation ordinances.

Wolters rightly notes the role of Satan, and the spiritual battle that the LORD’s people wage (54-56 Cf. Jn. 12:31). By the same token, we must affirm that when God executed his judgments after the fall, he did not judge a snake, which had no volitional accountability. Rather the entire judgment of Satan included him being lowered to the level of a snake, and metaphorically placed in a position of forever licking the dust, so to speak, of submission to both God and redeemed humanity (Gen. 3:14-15; Rom. 16:20; I Cor. 15:25). Evil is therefore ultimately spiritual, but affects the whole of the created order. The creation is therefore in bondage, as is fallen humanity, such that only in the redeemed is the creation also freed from bondage (Rom. 8:19-20).

It is not coincidental that the most fruitful contribution of this work is found in Wolters’ final chapter on redemption, for here he turns to the scriptures throughout. It is however somewhat ironic, because in doing so he is practically suggesting that that the bible is only concerned with salvation. Happily, he is inconsistent here, for he rightly emphasizes the scope of redemption as including the whole of the created order, the very things that are embraced in a comprehensive world and life view. He also points out that the key words referring to salvation all denote a restoration of what has been lost. He only mentions in passing what is surely a key point in other conceptions of a biblical or Christian worldview, and that is the issue of discipleship. He writes that the above two points “are pregnant with important consequences for Christian discipleship.” (57)

He also rightly raises the topic of the kingdom, that as the reign of the King it is to include the whole of his domain. This is what we pray to come, on earth as it is in heaven. Sadly, he leaves the door open to the idea that Christ will need to come physically in his second advent to complete this work, when the scriptures clearly indicate that he will only return when the work is complete already (I Cor. 15:25). He rightly criticizes any notion of two-realm theory (65). However, as part of the notion of ‘creational law’ and so-called ‘sphere sovereignty’, he actually does limit the scope of scripture, and thus the scope of Christ’s kingdom. His final chapter concerns his elaboration of the construction of ‘structure’ and ‘direction’ referred to earlier.

A significant amount of time and space has been devoted to this work, mainly because it figures so prominently among many other thinkers, but sadly there is very little here that is unique, and what is unique is either to be rejected or irrelevant to a truly biblical Reformed Christian worldview. Again, by far the best portion of this work is where Wolters directs his attention to the scriptural revelation in the scope of redemption (57-64).

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