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Creation and Salvation – Irenaeus and Athanasius 7

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Implications

We've been following the thought of Irenaeus and Athanasius and have seen creation and salvation united as the one divine work of the one divine Word.  Creation is a gospel project for the Gospel God.

Let's sketch out some implications.

Perhaps the first application of these truths should be in the realm of evangelism.  Such a theology of creation and redemption means that the call to “trust Jesus” is not just for Christians.  It is the calling of every creature.  All are to find their peace, their life, their goal in Him.  If, as the Apostle Paul says, “All things are made by [Christ] and for [Christ]” then the question for every creature is, “Am I for Him?”  Christians must have no embarrassment about the greatness of the commission laid upon them for the One they herald is not simply a spiritual Teacher for spiritual people.  He is the Maker and Heir of each one of us.  Pointing to Jesus is not simply a special calling for sprecial Christians but our vocation as human beings.

Secondly, the ‘cultural mandate’ as it's often called ('fill the earth and subdue it', Gen 1:28) is recapitulated in the great commission.  If Irenaeus is right that Adam’s is a ‘sketched out’ ensouled humanity to be filled out by Christ’s spiritual humanity then it is right to see Adam’s commission as similarly recapitulated.  In Matthew 28 Christ, as the Second Adam, tells His people to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth with the gospel.  “Making disciples” is not a second task alongside a quite separate ‘cultural mandate’.  That would be to assume that God has two works, creation and redemption rather than one work of creation-redemption.  Therefore, making disciples is the renewed and elevated mandate given to new creation people.  This means that care for the environment and socio-political involvement must be strictly co-ordinated under the over-arching requirement of gospel proclamation.  We are to care for this old creation, but we are to do so by pointing to its one hope, Jesus.

Thirdly, the gospel we proclaim needs to be much more comprehensive than the communication of certain moral or spiritual truths.  The gospel is about everything.  In fact, it is the reason for everything.  In ‘pointing to Jesus’ we are not narrowing things down to a small range of religious truths.  Rather we must see how all of history, philosophy, science and the arts, all of created life, is a gospel reality.

Fourthly, we should beware of escapist eschatologies that despise the body and our earthly future.  Our great hope is not some aphysical, anaemic vision of heaven, but of a renewed creation summed up under Christ.  Yet this rightly orients our concern for the environment.  It is not environmentalism that will save the world but Christ Himself.  Our love for the world must take its shape from God’s gospel love for the world.  This will entail a passion for His gospel mission.

Fifthly, we must take seriously our embodied physicality in life.  Our bodies are neither to be despised as unspiritual nor merely indulged or worshipped but they are “instruments for righteousness” (Rom 6:13). More specifically, our gendered embodiment, as part of God’s good creation, is internal to our identity and not something incidental to our personhood.  It is a neo-Gnostic spirituality that would tell us that we are ‘trapped’ in the body of the opposite sex or that a union of bodies is not really a union of persons or that gender is immaterial to such unions.  In modern debates about gender or sexuality, the liberal arguments may present on the surface as a celebration of bodily life.  Yet this is quickly undermined as soon as it is asserted that “my gender or the gender of my partner is immaterial.  What counts is...”  Such arguments are a rejection of our concrete creatureliness in order to ground our true being elsewhere.  It becomes the very opposite of a celebration of bodily life.  We need to return to the more robust doctrine of creation provided by the bishops (the ancient ones, that is).

Seventhly, we must take seriously our embodied physicality in worship.  The evangelical wing of the church will more usually emphasize worship as an all-of-life sacrificial service (Rom 12:1).  This is a right application of the creation-redemption union.  But the catholic wing of the church points with equal and justified concern to a right reverence for the sacraments.  It is not more spiritual to bypass the creaturely gifts of water, bread and wine.  It is not more spiritual to close our eyes and disregard the bodily.  Our spiritual life takes shape precisely in our creatureliness and will do so eternally.  This is not a fact to be lamented but celebrated.  These two wings of the church can help each other to live out the creation-redemption link in worship.

Conclusion

Wherever salvation is spiritualized, wherever the body is denigrated, wherever gender is trivialized, wherever the future is immaterial, wherever the sacraments are Platonized, wherever worship is merely internalized, we have lost the insights of Irenaeus and Athanasius.

Irenaeus must be heard again as he proclaims the triune Creator’s good purposes for this world.  Man ruling under God was the creation blueprint realized in Christ, the Heavenly Man ruling under God in the redeemed creation.  Christ’s work is the triumphant reversal of Adam.  More than this, it is the kingly accomplishment of God’s eternal plan for the creation.  Christ reigns from the tree.

Athanasius must be heard as he holds out Christ as the divine Agent of creation and redemption.  The incarnate work is nothing less than a re-creation of the de-created cosmos disintegrating under the weight of sin and death.  The Redeemer is therefore no-one less than the Creator taking responsibility for His handiwork and making all things new.

When we fail to hold together creation and redemption, Christ’s work is entirely misunderstood.  It is either considered as a superfluous addendum to the purpose of creation or it achieves a goal subordinate to it, or it begins a work alien to the creative intention or, worst of all, it is won as a salvation from the created order (and perhaps even from the Creator).  Yet none of these say what the Scriptures insist and what Irenaeus and Athanasius knew must be proclaimed.  That is, that redemption is the accomplishment of the one work of God, encompassing both creation and redemption.  Christ’s work is not an awkward adjunct but rather the accomplishment and consummation of His own creative intent.

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For more applications see Dev's recent post.

Here's Leon Sim on Irenaeus and the Trinitarian OT - great stuff.

Dan Hames on Irenaeus.

And Mike Reeves' introductions to Irenaeus and Athanasius
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6 thoughts on “Creation and Salvation – Irenaeus and Athanasius 7

  1. Pingback: Creation and Salvation: Irenaeus and Athanasius « Christ the Truth

  2. John B

    Is there a "sixthly"? (The implication, that is; the part I've found.) Wonderful series! Patristics is great for breakfast!

  3. Pingback: Creation and Salvation – Irenaeus and Athanasius 6 | Christ the Truth

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