It is abundantly clear that God has created the universe, a natural revelation that can be observed in the everyday world around us. But the universe was made for a reason, and in the Bible we find the nature and purpose of creation.
In this new Gospel Coalition booklet Andrew Davis summarizes the Bible’s teaching on creation. He traces the creation of the world and humanity through the first two chapters of Genesis, emphasizing that all things, especially humans, were created to display God’s glory. He moves into the tragic consequences of the Fall and points us to the glorious truth of the eventual New Creation. Perfect for distribution to those wrestling with questions of their purpose in this world.
Creation offers a thoughtful explanation for point 3 of the Gospel Coalition’s confessional statement. The Gospel Coalition is an evangelical renewal movement dedicated to a scripture-based reformation of ministry practices.
About the Author
ANDREW M. DAVIS (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Durham, NC. In addition to his PhD, he also holds an MDiv from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He served as a church planter in Japan from 1994 to 1998.
D. A. Carson (PhD, Cambridge University) is Emeritus Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where he has taught since 1978. He is a cofounder of the Gospel Coalition and has written or edited nearly 120 books. He and his wife, Joy, have two children and live in the north suburbs of Chicago.
Timothy J. Keller is the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. He is the best-selling author of The Prodigal God and The Reason for God.
Read an Excerpt
There are two categories into which everything in the universe fits, and there is an infinite distance between the two: the Creator and creation. God alone had no beginning; he is self-existent and depends on nothing for his continued existence. Everything else in the universe was created by God and for God. In this booklet, we have the delightful work of considering the doctrine of creation, understanding its significance, and applying its truths to our lives.
The Nature of Creation: Revelation from God
All the information we have concerning the creation of the universe comes by revelation from God. The two great sources of this knowledge are the physical creation around us and the Scripture, which describes it accurately to us. From the very beginning, God crafted a universe that reveals his existence and true nature so that we would know him and worship him. Romans 1:20 asserts, "Since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made" (NIV).
The Purpose of Creation: Displaying God's Glory
God made the universe to display his glory. It was certainly not for any lack on God's part, as though God needed anything, but rather for a desire to give generously from the greatness of his being. The twenty-four elders who surround the throne in the book of Revelation are fulfilling the purpose of creation when they use it for the praise of God's glory: "Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created" (Rev. 4:11).
As God created the universe, he poured his glory into every atom and complex system, whether in the cosmos or in the ecosphere. As Psalm 19:1 puts it, "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork." The creation is not waiting to display the glory of God; it already does. The seraphim flying around the Lord's throne proclaim this constantly: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!" (Isa. 6:3).
The Purpose of Humanity: Knowing God's Glory
A prophecy by Habakkuk declares the purpose of humanity (and of redemptive history): "The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (Hab. 2:14). Since the earth already displays the glory of God, all that is left is for the earth to be filled with the knowledge of that glory. This task cannot be performed by the earth's atmosphere, the majestic cedars of Lebanon, the towering Himalayas of Nepal, soaring eagles, or powerful elks. Though all these created beings display the glory of God, they cannot know the glory of God. That vital task of worship was assigned to the human race, created in the image of God to search out both the obvious and hidden displays of God's glory in every aspect of creation.
But the immeasurable tragedy of Adam's rebellion in the garden of Eden is that the human heart, which should have delighted in God the creator, worshiped the creation instead (Rom 1:25). So while the human race has been fruitful and multiplied and in a large measure filled the earth with the image of God, the Lord's original intention — an earth filled with the knowledge of his glory — still awaits fulfillment.
There is only one force in the universe with the power to transform the idolatrous hearts of humans into those that will know the glory of the Lord as displayed in creation: the gospel of Jesus Christ. By this gospel our hearts of stone are transformed, made alive to the glory of God shining all around us. The fulfillment of this grand overarching promise awaits the new heaven and new earth, when the glory of God will illuminate every created thing and the righteous themselves will "shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father" (Matt. 13:43).
A Personal and Global Education in Theology
Our education in theology — God's existence and attributes — began from the moment we were conceived in our mother's womb and continued day by day long before we learned language. We were educated by the sound of our mother's heartbeat, the sensation of warmth, the tastes in our mouth, the blinding flash of light at birth, the brilliance of colors, and the aromas of our bassinet and clothes. David says in Psalm 22:9, "Yet You are He who brought me forth from the womb; You made me trust when upon my mother's breasts" (NSAB). When David was a nursing infant, God taught him how to trust as his mother provided for his physical needs. God was preparing David to put his trust in God for the salvation of his soul. Thus, physical creation prepares us for saving faith.
As we walked as children through the beauty of a forest in the splendor of fall, breathing in deeply the musty smells of the forest floor, feeling the warm breezes of a late fall afternoon on our faces, having our breath stolen by the fiery glory of a sudden scenic vista — a magnificent mountain valley, splashed with vivid reds and golds of trees preparing for the impending winter — our hearts were being shaped for the central reality of the universe: Almighty God.
This education is going on around the world; it is not unique to one nation or one region of the earth. Psalm 19:3–4 speaks of the way the heavens are declaring the glories of God in a wordless universal language: "There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world." Physical creation is a personal education in theology for people all over this globe.
All Things Created by Christ and for Christ
Everything in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, was created by Christ and for Christ:
All things were made through [Christ], and without him was not anything made that was made. (John 1:3)
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. (Col. 1:15–16)
In these last days [God] has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. (Heb. 1:2)
In some mysterious way God spoke the universe into existence out of nothing, and Christ was the word by which God did this powerful creative speaking (John 1:3). The universe was created for Christ (Col. 1:16), and God appointed Christ "heir of all things" (Heb. 1:2). So, in some astonishing way, every atom in the physical universe and every entity in the spiritual realm belongs to Christ by rights.
Even more amazing, the universe God created depends on Christ moment by moment for its ongoing existence: "He [Christ] is before all things, and in him all things hold together" (Col. 1:17). This pictures a needy universe that would cease to exist if Christ didn't exert his powerful will to keep it in existence. That much of this physical world can be analyzed and understood in strictly physical terms does not, in the Bible's view, vitiate the sovereign sway of God over every part of it. Biblical writers know about the water cycle, but frequently they prefer to speak of God sending rain, for the two modes of speaking do not cancel each other out. Owing to the force of gravity, a wounded bird falls to the ground, but no sparrow tumbles out of the heavens, according to Jesus, apart from his heavenly Father's sanction. Modern physics has identified four fundamental forces that bind everything together, but this does not prevent us from recognizing that Jesus upholds everything by his powerful word.
The Threat of Naturalism
In the final analysis, there are only two explanations for the existence of the universe: special creation by a divine being and naturalistic evolution by impersonal forces. In this strong sense of the terms, creation and evolution are mutually exclusive. The fact remains, however, that neither "creation" nor "evolution" is always used in these strong antithetical senses, and this helps to make discussion of the issues more than a little complex.
According to the Bible, God insists that sinful humanity, despite being surrounded by plain evidence of the existence and nature of the invisible God, suppresses the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). In other words, we make a willful effort to hold down what we consider to be an ugly truth: there is a holy and all-powerful Creator to whom we are eternally accountable. Rather ironically, the point is sometimes acknowledged by atheists. Richard Dawkins asserts, "Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose." In other words, one has to suppress the urge to notice that this or that was designed for a purpose!
It is worth recognizing that both scientists and interpreters of the Bible are far from agreed within their own domains of inquiry. In other words, they hold to somewhat diverse interpretations of both the scientific data and the Bible. To add to the confusion, not a few people occupy both roles — i.e., they are both scientists and Christian interpreters of Scripture — and such people do not always agree with their fellow scientists or with their fellow Bible interpreters.
Some examples may help. On the side of the Bible, some Christians hold to the gap theory (there is a gap of indeterminate length between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2); some hold to a day-age theory (each day of Genesis 1 represents an age); some hold to young-earth theory (each day is a twenty-four-hour day, and creation took place no more than ten thousand years ago); some hold to what might be called a literary week (each day is a twenty-four-hour day, but the entire week is meant to be a literary creation that does not pretend to tell us exactly "what happened" but aims to order the account for symbolic and theological reasons, variously understood).
Several of these theories are compatible with "theistic evolution," but that expression is itself more than a little ambiguous. In the thought of some, it presupposes evolution that is indistinguishable from a naturalistic accounting of evolution, except for the assertion that God was sovereignly if benignly presiding over evolution's unfolding (in much the same way that he providentially presides over sunshine and rain today, making it possible to say that God sends the sunshine and the rain). In the thought of others, while evolution by some kind of "natural" selection takes place (presided over by God), at various points God intervened miraculously to bring about results that could not have happened naturally (e.g., God made human beings qualitatively different from other primates: they are his image bearers, destined for eternal life).
Frankly, many Christians view one or more of these options as outside the pale and are open to only one or two of the options. For example, it is frequently argued that there is no compelling biblical reason to see billions and billions of years in Genesis 1. The reasons some Christians change their interpretation of that text come from outside the Bible: geologists and other scientists tell us that the evidence that the earth is billions of years old is overwhelming.
Because of these arguments, some Christians reinterpret Genesis 1 to fit the prevailing scientific stance, adopting interpretations that would never have been "found" in the text had it not been for the claims science. This result, they argue, domesticates the Bible and distorts its plain sense. Yet the issue is complicated. Long before the rise of modern science, Augustine (fourth century) asserted that the interpretation of Genesis 1 is difficult, but he argued, for what he thought were compelling biblical and theological reasons, that the universe was created instantaneously and that the creation week of Genesis 1 is a symbol-laden literary creation designed to make an array of theological points, not least the ordering of the human week and the establishment of Sabbath. In other words, some sort of literary-week theory antedates the rise of modern science.
The stakeholders of The Gospel Coalition are not on the same page with respect to all the details, but all of us insist that God alone is self-existing, that he is the creator of all, that he made everything good, that Adam and Eve were historical figures from whom the rest of the human race has sprung, and that the fundamental problem we face was introduced by human idolatry and rebellion and the curse they attracted. The reasons for holding such matters to be nonnegotiable are bound up with many passages of Scripture, not just the opening chapters of Genesis. For example, Paul tells us that God "made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth" (Acts 17:26).
On the side of science, as on the side of biblical interpretation, there is more uncertainty and diversity of opinion, at least on some of the issues, than is commonly acknowledged. Although the vast majority of scientists hold to the big bang theory, which asserts that everything in the universe was compacted into one incredibly dense body that at some point exploded in a "singularity" (i.e., an event in which the known laws of physics do not prevail) to produce, after about fifteen billion years, the universe as we know it, a minority of scientists remain suspicious. More importantly, there is no widely accepted theory about how that incredibly dense body came to exist in the first place. One theory postulates an alternately expanding and contracting universe, but the speculations involved are so extravagant that the theory has gained little traction.
If we sidestep questions about how that dense body came to be and focus instead on planet earth, we see that theories regarding the development of life along evolutionary lines have undergone repeated modification. The fossil record preserves so many gaps in the expected sequence of transitional forms that it is now common to follow the proposal of the late Harvard evolutionary theorist Stephen Jay Gould. He suggests that instead of smooth evolutionary development by natural selection, one must posit "punctuated equilibrium"; that is, evolution takes place in periodic surges of activity that were so brief they could not be captured by the fossil record. Moreover, despite the most valiant research efforts, the path from inorganic matter to a functioning and reproducing cell is still remarkably opaque on the assumptions of philosophical materialism.
Equally complex are recent debates over intelligent design. Over the past two decades or so, a small group of scientists and philosophers have argued that many biological structures are characterized by "irreducible complexity." By this they mean that for such structures to operate and be sustained (such as the eye), so many evolutionary developments would have had to take place at the same time that the statistical likelihood approaches zero. The components of the structure could not have developed piecemeal since they have no useful function apart from their place and role in the entire structure. This they take to be evidence of intelligent design.
A majority of scientists responds that this sounds like the outmoded "God of the gaps" theory: whenever science cannot explain something, we appeal to God, but the sad effect is that as science explains more and more of the "gaps," God becomes smaller and smaller. Those who defend intelligent design insist that what they are arguing is quite different: we do understand a great deal about these structures, and the evidence from these structures, from the science itself, is that one must factor intelligent design into the explanation.
Increasingly it has become clear that behind this debate is a fundamental dispute over the very nature of science. One side thinks of science as the set of disciplines, testable theories, repeatable procedures, measurements, and necessary inferences that enables us to make sense of and increasingly understand the nature of physical reality. Those who oppose intelligent design think of science as the set of disciplines, testable theories, repeatable procedures, measurements, and necessary inferences that enables us to make sense of and increasingly understand the nature of physical reality not only on an exclusively materialist basis but also on the assumption that such methods and results cannot speak to the existence of anything or anyone outside the material order.
In other words, this view of science is committed to functioning philosophical materialism. God is excluded by definition. Many scientists who hold this view are not atheists, of course, but they think that what may be known of God has no intersections with the material order, which must be allowed its investigative disciplines and results unchecked by anything outside itself.
Irony surfaces, of course, when many scientists, not a few of them atheists, speak of the order and beauty of science and numbers in reverential terms filled not only with awe but also with worship. Relatively few scientists who write on these matters treat the material order as utterly cold, the result of the statistical bumping of molecules and of atomic and sub-atomic particles.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Creation"
Copyright © 2011 The Gospel Coalition.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
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Table of Contents
The Nature of Creation: Revelation from God, 7,
The Purpose of Creation: Displaying God's Glory, 7,
The Purpose of Humanity: Knowing God's Glory, 8,
A Personal and Global Education in Theology, 8,
All Things Created by Christ and for Christ, 9,
The Threat of Naturalism, 10,
Genesis 1:1: The Foundation, 14,
The Unfolding of Creation Week: Genesis 1, 14,
The Climax of Creation: The Image of God, 18,
The Goodness of God in the Goodness of Creation, 19,
The Sabbath Rest, 20,
The Special Creation of Humans: The Details of Genesis, 221,
A Glorious yet Needy Earth Waits for Its Caretaker and Ruler, 21,
The First Man Created a Living Creature, 22,
The Special Commands of God, 22,
The Creation of Eve and Marriage, 23,
A Tragic Fall for Creation, 24,
The New Creation, 25,
Applications of the Doctrine of Creation, 25,
The Gospel Coalition, 29,