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The Christian doctrine of God implies a definite conception of the relation of God to the created universe. So also the doctrine of God implies a definite conception of everything in the created universe. – Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 4th edition ed. by K. Scott Oliphint, 32.
1. In the biblical doctrine of Creation ex nihilo we are taught that prior to the divine act of making the world there was just God: God, self-contained and all sufficient, who needed nothing, being perfect in Himself. There was no coercion, no compulsion whatsoever within God to force Him to create the universe. He did not have to create. God made us and our world because He wished to do so. This means that the world is contingent not necessary. The only thing that is necessary is the existence of the Triune God.
2. God upholds and sustains and guides the world, but it is not a part of Him. In utter opposition to pagan cosmogonies, the earth is not created from the material of a god or gods; nor from eternal matter. Neither is it an emanation of God. The creation is not divine in itself. It has its own existence, which is separate and distinct from God the Creator. Thus the earth is not divine and does not share any sparks of divinity. Hence, when we read about the heavens and earth in Genesis 1:1, we understand that the universe is dependent on the independent Triune God.
3. God created the world wisely and carefully, and because of this He has placed both physical and spiritual laws within it, which stem from His original creative intent. God decreed both material, physical, and spiritual ways that the world should interact and operate, and it operates the way it does because of the implementation of His all-conditioning Plan or Decree. Some operations are spiritual and some physical laws. They obtain in this present time, but they do not function in a perfect way due to the effects of the Fall and its curse. The fact that everything was originally created good shows us that the Fall was a calamitous event which continues to affected both man and his environment. This truth must never be passed over in our worldview.
4. This means that the Doctrine of Creation and Fall is the ground for a true philosophy. It is because God has made things the way He has made them, and they run the way that they run, that our philosophies of life must match up with the connected doctrines of creation and providence.
5. Hence, in ontology, the theory of reality, we must first and foremost understand the Creator/ creature relationship. In epistemology, the theory of knowledge, we must understand that because God had a comprehensive plan for this world, which included every fact within the world and within time, plus the relationships of each fact to every other fact, it means that the framework for knowing anything, and knowing it properly, is to see it as God intended it to be understood. Facts are to be understood primarily in their relationship to the plan of God as revealed in His Word. We therefore think God’s thoughts after Him in a ‘revelatory’ world. God’s knowledge of all things is original and so prior to ours; prior to anything that we may find out. Our knowledge on the other hand, is derivative of God’s knowledge. We can only know something that is true if it aligns with God’s decree, God’s plan. Another way of putting this is to say, as Van Til used to say, that God’s knowledge is creative knowledge. He creates and establishes the facts of existence, while man’s knowledge is re-creative.
6. God certainly works in this world, and makes things according to the laws of thought, the laws of physics, and so on, of which He is the Source. Man’s works must follow these laws, but whatever he does is not a creation but a re-creation; that is, a re-conceiving of facts which lay with God that He already has put into existence, either within the actual physical realm or within the mind of man. This also implies an epistemology of realism; yet “revelatory realism,” not a critical realism (although they share much in common) with its source in the mind of man. What we see in this world does correspond, generally speaking, to what is there.
7. Not only is there a metaphysic and an epistemology that is implied by the Doctrine of Creation, but these also establish an ethic too. Biblical ethics follows from the teaching that God made man in His own image. Hence the greatest fact confronting man, the primary fact, is the fact that there is a Creator to whom we are responsible and who we must acknowledge and try to sincerely imitate.
8. Although God pronounced the creation very good on the seventh day, we must be careful not to conceive of the world as having attained its maximum potential right at the outset. Indeed, Genesis Chapters 1 and 2 encourage us to suppose that there was much to be done within the world so that it would eventually reach its potential. This was man’s role in what is sometimes referred to as the Creation Mandate, which is still in effect today. Christians must search the word of God, and think through the implications of the Doctrine of Creation to work out a proper creational worldview and way of working in the created order in every generation.
9. Creation needs to be viewed as a Project. It has a telos or goal. Even the fact of the Fall implies a purpose and eschatology. The original Creation Mandate needs to be fulfilled and needs to be corrected, and thus we are driven to a linear view of history because of the Doctrine of Creation. This eschatological note is also underscored because of the necessity of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is the Agent of Creation in the first place. He takes the place of sinful man, and is the cause of the salvation not only of man, but of man’s environment in the future.
10. The presupposition of biblical Creation is essential to a comprehensive, coherent, and scientific worldview. God created the world ‘good’. This means that God likes the physical order and man’s sensible interaction in it, and this encourages science. Creation properly understood was the catalyst for modern science; because of the mandate to go out and explore, to expect things, to expect to find God’s wonders there, to learn and think God thoughts after Him.
11. The Doctrine of a Creation to be explored and understood encouraged the modern scientific process, which was begun in the Renaissance and made explicit in the Reformation, with its insistence that daily work, however menial, was to be done to God’s glory. This dignified and legitimated many areas including many scientific pursuits. It followed from this that man’s significance is wrapped up in this teaching of creation. All of the fundamental questions of man; Who am I? Why am I here? What is my purpose in life? Where am I going after I die? Why is there something rather than nothing? are given concrete answers within a creational worldview.
12. Creation ex nihilo (as opposed from Creation ex materia) is unique to the biblical-Christian tradition and is consonant with the doctrine of God’s aseity, or Self-sufficiency. Even Unitarian versions of this teaching falter because a Unitarian “God” needs something beyond himself to display or actualize his attributes and communicate with. Biblical Trinitarianism teaches that God is perfectly “Self-actualized” through the mutual bond of love of each of the three Persons of the Godhead.
13. Because all things were made by and for God only God can tell us about the world as it really is. He has to tell us about first things and about last things. God has to tell us who we are and why we are not what we ought to be. Therefore, revelation is necessary to a creational worldview, but because of man’s waywardness it can only be understood by faith in that revelation.
14. Any other cosmogony, whether it be materialistic or pantheistic, always runs into open contradictions. Whereas the Doctrine of Creation ex nihilo is surefooted, comprehensive, coherent, and contains great explanatory power, a philosophical, naturalistic view of the world has to posit the eternity of matter and then has to reify that matter in order to make it do anything. It also has to go against established laws of science such as, something cannot come from nothing; life cannot arise from non-life; matter’s tendency toward entropy not evolution; the necessity for complex, specified information, etc. The pantheistic viewpoint is just a more outwardly mystical expression of former.
15. Non-creational models cannot explain the existence and prevalence of evil, let alone properly define it. Evil did not inhere within the original creation. God is not the author of evil. God, for His own reasons, allowed evil to enter and pervade this world, but not forever. Evil and sin are truly definable as, “a contradiction of the divine will and perfection.” (J. Murray). From this we can say that evil is not a part of the fabric of reality in the way that goodness and righteousness is. Evil is not eternal and will one day be no more. Within the biblical world-picture it makes sense that God would send His Son into the world to redeem it and point it toward its Telos.
16. This doctrine leaves room for man, as he comes from the hand of the Creator, to be responsible to believe God and to obey God. Whatever the effects of sin, this is man as God created him to be. The obedience of man to the good dictates of God requires that man is constructed to perceive and respond to God. In the same way, the phenomenal world is to be thought about in terms of the perceptual capability of the one for whom it was made as his home.
17. Creation is a past event. It is not occurring today. Those theologians who believed that creation is a continuous thing (e.g. Jonathan Edwards), were in grave error on this point. This confounds Creation and Providence and we must not do that. God “rested” from His creative work (Exod. 20:11).
18. Creation was not arbitrary, but displayed God’s thought, care, and love, as well as God’s beauty. God made things that were pleasant to the eye; orderly, textured, colorful, varying in their functions and contributions to the whole. Man was created to be Creation’s spokesman, as well as its supervisor. This entails the conceiving of the togetherness of the seemingly disparate parts of the world, both material and immaterial; sentient and mindless, into the harmony which it has as part of God’s realized (or better, ‘to be realized’) conception. Even “Space and time [Pannenberg] argues, are gifts through which the Spirit of God exhibits his creative, formative agency and power.” – (Anthony C. Thiselton, The Hermeneutics of Doctrine, 219). The concept of gift (as in Milbank) presupposes what has been said already about creation being intended for humanity.
19. God’s relationship with the world is to be seen in terms of the Creator – creature distinction and relation. This dichotomy starts with a true understanding of God as He has revealed Himself to us. Thus, God as Revealer lies behind God the Creator. As Colin Gunton says, “Creation ex nihilo prevents us from projecting God’s eternity on the world so that it is thereby deprived of its temporality, or from projecting the world’s time into God so that he is in some way limited by its temporal structures.” – Colin Gunton, The Triune Creator.
20. All meaningful discussion of Creation has to take man into account. The doctrine of Creation involves both the doctrine of God and the doctrine of man. This is because we are the ones who are considering it. We are the ones who are thinking through it. Therefore, because we are the focus of its theological intent, we must relate it to ourselves. We stand within a created environment from which there is no exit. We think and do theology from within the environment of God’s Creation.