a brief theology of nature (part 1)

I’ve been working up some material about Genesis 1-3 for La Trobe Christian Union’s ‘Summit’ (our mid year conference). One issue I’m wrestling with is how the overall storyline of the Bible needs to set the agenda and constrain the answers we give — especially to questions surrounding creation and evolution.

To help me with this, I’ve decided to repost this short series (which I originally ran on my now dormant blog about the environment). I’m really keen for any feedback. So have at it!

When I was younger I attempted to read Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. I guess part of what attracted me to it was its title’s implicit claim to both brevity and exhaustiveness.

At risk of repeating such a futile gesture, I want to develop — in outline — a brief theology of nature according to Scripture. Central to this is the question: What creation is for? What’s its purpose (or telos)?
In this context, Michael Hill’s distinction between historical teleology and natural teleology is worth bearing in mind (The How And Why Of Love, p 28):

[T]eleological theories in ethics locate the telos by looking at the nature or the design. For obvious reasons this type of teleology is call natural teleology. By way of contrast, we may set ourselves goals (teloi) in our lives. These would be goals that we would strive to reach in the future. This type of teleology is called historical teleology.

There is undoubted value to this. But the danger is that when it comes to thinking about creation’s purpose and design, we end up casting around for what seems ‘natural’ and obvious — which may be cultural or even downright sinful — and treat it as what God intended. This can be disastrous (as the ‘naturalisation’ of Volk prejudice by the established Church in Nazi Germany attests).

We mustn’t pit God’s ultimate intentions (historical teleology) against His original intentions (natural teleology) — as though creation and redemption were somehow opposed! But we do need to recognise that when God graciously brings about creation’s consummation, He does so in a profoundly wrenching way, showing us that so much of what seems natural and obvious is actually distortion (e.g., Jesus’ correction of His disciples’ assumption that power brings privilege in Mark 10.41-45).

In short, an adequate theology of nature will be thoroughly apocalyptic.

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4 comments

    1. Good question, Jenny. I guess, I’m keen to avoid saying that God’s grace straightforwardly ‘completes’ nature — in the sense of giving it (or just what happens to look natural to us but may in fact be quite cultural) an unqualified tick of approval.

      I’m absolutely convinced that God vindicates his good creation in Christ and liberates human life to be itself (and all that stuff). But I don’t want to gloss over the fact that there’s usually a significant wrenching involved in this. I think we see this with the man who’s oppressed by the legion of demons (e.g., in Mark 5): Jesus restores his humanity; yet in doing so the herd of pigs is destroyed.

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