Jonathan R. Wilson. God’s Good World: Reclaiming the Doctrine of Creation. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2013. 283 pp. $26.00. Purchase at Amazon and for Kindle for less.
When members of my church approach me about the doctrine of creation, their questions inevitably center on issues such as the age of the earth, whether or not God used some kind of evolutionary process to create, or how long the days really were in the creation week. These are not unimportant questions. They also reflect the broader conversation in the evangelical world, even among academics. Yet they are a small part of the doctrine of creation, and overemphasizing these issues has led to a neglect of the broader biblical themes of creation. This neglect has had consequences not only for life inside the church, but also for how the church has engaged culture and lived in this world.
Jonathan Wilson, Pioneer McDonald Professor of Theology at Carey Theological College in Vancouver, aims to correct this neglect and recover a robust doctrine of creation. He builds his doctrine on two necessary truths: redemption and creation must always be kept together, and the doctrine of creation must be thoroughly Trinitarian. Ultimately the doctrine of creation is not about creation itself, but the God who creates. Wilson uses the phrase “the dialectic of the kingdom” to develop the idea that creation and redemption must be thought of and lived out together. The term “dialectic” refers to the inseparable nature of creation and redemption, while the term “kingdom” calls to mind God’s eternal plan of redeeming his creation. The reality of our Triune God also leads us to hold creation and redemption together, and Wilson emphasizes that we must have a “Trinitarian grammar of creation,” based on a Trinitarian grammar of redemption, to properly understand and live out the doctrine of creation.
God’s Good World is divided into three parts. Before developing his ideas concerning the dialectic of the kingdom or the Trinitarian grammar of creation in any depth, Wilson outlines the results of neglecting the doctrine of creation. He devotes a chapter apiece to the deficiencies he sees in the church, the academy, and society because of this neglect. These deficiencies are intertwined and include truncated theologies of salvation and the body, theological retreat, and a lack of proper creation care. Having demonstrated the need for a recovery of the doctrine of creation, Wilson then develops his main ideas, remaps the doctrine in light of those ideas, and demonstrates the Scriptural validity and foundation of his doctrine. In the last part of the book Wilson offers a series of short reflections on how the doctrine of creation should make a practical difference in our lives. His applications range from how we should worship to how we should understand science to how we should treat our bodies.
The most important question to ask in evaluating a work of constructive theology such as this is: does it succeed? Does Wilson offer a biblically faithful, coherent, and relevant doctrine of creation that helps us understand and live out the doctrine in a deeper, more meaningful way? That answer is unequivocally yes. Wilson’s concepts of the dialectic of the kingdom and the Trinitarian grammar of creation are both worth careful attention. The inseparability of creation and redemption should form the foundation for how we understand creation, and without question this idea needs to be recovered and stressed in our churches. Wilson demonstrates the serious consequences of separating creation and redemption and allowing science to set the terms of how we should understand creation, instead of grounding our understanding in Christ and his Word. His practical applications of the doctrine are broad, but also contain much pastoral wisdom.
This does not mean that the book is without its flaws. Wilson takes a while before he explicitly grounds his understanding of creation in Scripture. He also avoids directly engaging some of the topics he wants to move beyond, such as creation and evolution or many of the ethical concerns associated with the doctrine of creation like sexuality, bioethics, or ecology. Wilson presents some questionable ideas without taking the time to defend them, such as claiming the Son of God would still have become incarnate even without sin, or that death existed before the Fall. He makes much of the distinction between the “world” and “creation” in order to help us understand the difference between the sin-cursed world we live in now and the redemptive aspects of God’s plan. He neglects, however, to ground this distinction exegetically, and it doesn’t quite fit with the way the Bible always uses these terms. When I checked on the website Wilson mentions in his introduction for further study and resources, I found it devoid of content.
None of these flaws should keep you from reading this book. As Christians we need a robust, biblical doctrine of creation in order to understand our salvation and live for God like we should. Pastors need the theological understanding to help their churches recover the fullness of the doctrine of creation and move beyond reducing it to creation vs. evolution and age of the earth debates. God’s Good World is a helpful guide.