Nature

What is the extent of the redemptive work of Christ? Does it extend only to humanity or it will also extend to the whole nature? Some authors believe that the redemptive work of Christ include only the human beings, while this created universe will be completely destroyed and replaced by a new universe. Most of these authors understand this new universe (New Heaven and New Earth) as a immaterial and ethereal realm. On the other hand, are those who believe that the redemptive work of Christ will not only include the human beings but also nature itself, where the man will dwell forever. The latter view can be called Holistic or Cosmic view of Redemption, while the other can be called Reductionist View of Redemption.

While the Holistic and Cosmic view was the common and natural view of the first Christians until the second century

[1], the reductionist view appeared in Christian Theology gained ground in the late second and third centuries. Today, by far, this is the most common view in the people’s mind. However we will see that the Bible supports a Holistic view of Redemption.

 

How The Holistic View of Redemption Was Abandoned by the Church?

A great factor to explain this abandonment is the union of some concepts of Platonism with the Christianity. Randy Alcorn called this union as “christoplatonism”.[2] Origen is pointed by many scholars as the author who promoted this fusion. [3]

Due to the influence of Platonism, the concept of salvation began to be understood as the liberation of the soul of this material world.[4] Therefore, the Christians abandoned the idea of a restoration of this Earth, since the material world turned to be seen as a prison of the soul.[5]

Oscar Cullmann, in the book Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead, shows precisely how the Greek philosophy of the immortality of the soul influenced Christian thought about the future life, which resulted in the abandonment of the hope of a physical resurrection to inhabit a renewed Earth , in favor of an immaterial and ethereal view of eternity.[6]

Since the works of Origen and Augustine, the spiritual view of eternity and redemption has become popular within the Christian imaginary. For this reason, many people today think that the idea of redemption, that encompasses the nature, or even the idea of a material Heaven, Is a carnal and sinful hope.

Unfortunately, this wrong thought influenced even some dispensationalists of the classical period, who believed in an earthly eternity to Israel and a heavenly one for the church.[7] In recent times, some dispensationalists tended to a more immaterial model of eternity (Charles Ryrie and John Walvoord), while others, to a physical one (Alva McClain and Dwight Pentecost).[8]

 

Why a Holistic View of Redemption?

David Lawrence says correctly that “The story of the Fall is one of tragedy on a cosmic scale.”[9] In the same way, we can say that the Redemption will also have a cosmic scale. This statement has nothing to do with the heresy called Universalism, which teaches the salvation of all humanity at the end. The expression “Holistic Redemption” it is used here in the sense that the plan of redemption includes the whole created universe and not just humanity. George E. Ladd writes about the biblical view of redemption in these terms:

 “…salvation does not mean deliverance from creaturehood, for it is an essential and permanent element to man’s essential being. For this reason the Old Testament never pictures ultimate redemption as a flight from the world or escape from earthly, bodily existence. Salvation does not consist of freeing the soul from its engagement in the material world. On the contrary, ultimate redemption will involve the redemption of the whole man and of the world to which man belongs.”[10]

The theologian N.T. Wright explained very well that redemption do not intend to rescue spirits and souls from the material and evil world, such as the Gnostics would like it to be. Form him, redemption implies renewal of creation, treating the evil that disfigures and corrupts it.[11]

F. Bruce has said that as well as the man needs to be redeemed of the consequences of the Fall, so the whole nature needs to be redeemed, because it was also affected by the same fall.[12] Sam Storms, in the book “Restoration of All Things”, states that the redemption of the whole universe is at the heart of Christian eschatological hope: “The eschatological hope of the Christian is inescapably earthly in nature. God’s ultimate aim in the redemption of his people has always included the restoration of the natural creation..[13] For this reason, I. Howard Marshall says correctly that the “renewal of the world is an integral part of hope in the Judeo-Christian tradition.”[14]

The Bible makes it clear that Christ is not just the redeemer of mankind, but the redeemer of all things (Acts 3:21). Not only man awaits the redemption, but the very nature also waits for it. Randy Alcorn said very appropriately: “The gospel is far greater than most of us imagine. It isn’t just good news for us—it’s good news for animals, plants, stars, and planets. It’s good news for the sky above and the earth below.”[15] The words of the Apostle Paul show this truth indisputably :

“For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope  that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” (Rm 8.19-23)

Paul says that all creation suffers now because of the corruption of sin, and not only the humanity (Rom 8:22). The consequences of sin, therefore, have a universal extension. This means that the fall not only reached this small planet, called Earth, but it reached the whole universe. All creation, from the smallest to the largest living being, all atoms and molecules, everything was reached by the fall –even the most distant galaxies in the universe. Charles Swindoll expressed it in the following words: “From the center of Eden to the edge of the cosmos, creation has groaned for redemption since the fall”.[16] Randy Alcorn says that “…there is not an amoeba or chromosome or DNA strand or galaxy unaffected by mankind’s fall. “[17]

If the fall had a universal scope, the redemption must also have a universal scope. Nancy Pearcey, in the book Total Truth said that “all of creation was affected by the Fall, and when time ends, all creation will be redeemed”. Elsewhere she states that “just as all of creation was originally good, and all was affected by the Fall, so too all will be redeemed.”  Albert Wolters affirmed that the creation horizon is both the horizon of sin and salvation. For him, conceive the fall or the redemption of Christ as embracing something less than the whole of creation is to compromise the biblical teaching on the radical nature of the fall and the cosmic scope of redemption.[18]

Therefore, as stated by NT Wright, the effects of Jesus’ death not only have an impact on humanity, but also impact the most far recondite of the universe.[19] For Anthony Hoekema, nothing less than the total liberation of the creation of its corruption brought by sin can satisfy the redemptive purpose of God.

Therefore, the redemption in the NT is not the hope that one day we will escape from this material world, but the hope that one day this very material world will be redeemed and restored of the consequences of sin, and will become a perfect environment where we will live forever with resurrected bodies.[20] Paul said that the nature is not just a spectator of redemption, but is itself a personage of the history of redemption. [21] This confirms the words of theologian R. J. Bauckham that the Christian hope is not for redemption from the world, but for the redemption of the world.” [22]

Paul does not say that the creation will be annihilated, but that it will be released from its captivity. [23] The thought of Paul is that the creation itself must be redeemed so that the man may have a suitable environment for their survival in eternity.[24] Thus our hope is not only the salvation of our souls, but also the salvation of our bodies and the planet on which we will dwell (Romans 8.19-21).[25]

Elsewhere, Paul returns to speak of redemption in a cosmic and universal sense. In this passage, the apostle speaks of both the creation and the restoration of all things through the blood of Christ:

“For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth… For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Cl 1.16-20)

Paul starts talking about “all things” that Christ created on earth as it in heaven. Dr. Douglas Moo explains that the phrase “all things” means the whole universe.[26] Later, Paul says that Jesus’ death propitiated reconciliation not only with humanity, but with all creation (the universe). In this text, it is evident that the work of redemption not only reaches the humankind, but the whole creation. Both humanity and the nature will be restored to their original state of peace. This text is a clear evidence of the cosmic scope of redemption.[27]

Finally, let’s see what some authors have said about the theme:

 

 

“It is with us also that the renovation ought to begin; because we hold the first rank, and it is through our sin that “the creatures groan, and are subject to vanity,” as Paul shews. (Romans 8:20.) But when we shall be perfectly renewed, heaven and earth shall also be fully renewed, and shall regain their former state.”Calvin[28]

 

“The earth will freely give its produce, and all evil will be removed, just as Isaiah said … for God has refashioned such a world in his kingdom just as it had been made in the beginning before the first-made human being ruined it, who after he had disobeyed the word of God all things were spoiled and ruined and cursed by God’s word: “the earth will be cursed in your works.” The former shape of this world will become the kingdom of the saints and the liberation of the creatures.” Gregório de Elvira[29]

 

“It is remarkable that John’s picture of the final age to come focuses not on a platonic ideal heaven or distant paradise but on the reality of a new earth and heaven. God originally created the earth and heaven to be man’s permanent home. But sin and death entered the world and transformed the earth into a place of rebellion and alienation; it became enemy-occupied territory. But God has been working in salvation history to effect a total reversal of this evil consequence and to liberate earth and heaven from bondage to sin and corruption (Rom 8:21).”Alan F. Johnson [30]

 

“The transformation that Paul saw taking place in the lives of believers (2 Cor 3:18; 4:16–18; 5:16–17) will have its counterpart on a cosmic scale when a totally new order will replace the old order marred by sin.” Robert H. Mounce [31]

 

 “The Fall impacts all areas of God’s creation. It shouldn’t be surprising that redemption is applied to all areas of life as well. However, this insight has been missed by most evangelicals. The focus on personal or individual redemption, which, of course, is foundational, has overshadowed corporate or cosmic redemption.” Art Lindsay[32]


 

 

Notes:

[1] Citado por Michael Vlach. Models of Eschatology Part 2: The New Creation Model. <http://theologicalstudies.org/blog/398-models-of-eschatology-part-2-the-new-creation-model> acesso 18/05/2013.

[2] Randy Alcorn . Heaven (Kindle Location 1191).

[3] Alister McGrath. Teologia Sistemática, Histórica e Filosófica. Pg 644

[4] Michael Horton. The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Kindle Locations 24189-24190). . Ver também George E. Ladd. The Greek Versus the Hebrew View of Man. Disponível em <http://www.presenttruthmag.com/ archive/XXIX/29-2.htm> acesso (28/08/2013)

[5] W. Wayne House. Creation and Redemption in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society Volume 35. 1992. Pg 12.

[6] Oscar Cullmann. Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead?. Pg 3. Disponível em <http://www.jbburnett.com/resources/cullmann_immort-res.pdf>

[7] Craig Blaising in Bock, Darrell L. Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond (Kindle Location 2786).

[8] Craig Blaising in Bock, Darrell L. Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond (Kindle Location 2828).

[9] Lawrence, David (1995-09-01). Heaven: it’s not the end of the world (Kindle Locations 197-198).

[10] George E. Ladd. The Greek Versus the Hebrew View of Man. Disponível em <http://www.presenttruthmag.com/archive/XXIX/29-2.htm> acesso (28/08/2013)

[11] N. T. Wright. Surpreendidos Pela Esperança. Pg 113

[12] F. F. Bruce. Romanos. Pg 137

[13] Storms, Sam. The Restoration of All Things (p. 20).

[14] I. Howard Marshall. Teologia do Novo Testamento. Pg 279

[15] Randy Alcorn . Heaven (Kindle Locations 2491-2492).

[16] Swindoll, Charles R. Insights on Revelation  (Kindle Locations 5616-5617).

[17] Randy Alcorn . Heaven (Kindle Location 2616).

[18] Albert M. Wolters. Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview (Kindle Locations 962-964).

[19] N. T. Wright. Surpreendidos Pela Esperança. Pg 113

[20] Michael Horton. The Christian Faith.  (Kindle Location 24182).

[21]Joseph A. Fitzmyer. Romans. Pg 509.

[22] Bauckham, R. J. . Eschatology. (D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer, & D. J. Wiseman, Eds.)New Bible dictionary. Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press.

[23] W. Wayne House. Creation and Redemption in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society Volume 35. 1992. Pg 13.

[24] Dunn, James D. G.: Word Biblical Commentary  : Romans 1-8. Pg 471

[25] Michael Horton. The Christian Faith (Kindle Location 26220).

[26] Douglas J. Moo. Nature in The New Creation em Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society Volume 49. Pg 471.

[27] Douglas J. Moo. Nature in The New Creation em Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society Volume 49. Pg 472.

[28]John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries: Isaiah, electronic ed., Logos Library System; Calvin’s Commentaries (Albany, OR: Ages Software, 1998), Is 65:17.

[29]Mark W. Elliott, Isaiah 40-66, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture OT 11 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 276.

[30]Johnson, A. F. (1981). Revelation. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 12: Hebrews Through Revelation (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.) (592). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[31]Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 384.

[32] Art Lindsay. Creation, Fall, Redemption. < http://www.cslewisinstitute.org/Creation_Fall_Redemption_FullArticle> (15/04/2014)


 

Author: Leonardo Costa