Last week my firstborn son and I went kayaking for his twelfth birthday. For five hours, we enjoyed the beautiful Arkansas countryside. It is good for the human soul to bask in God’s creation. As we navigated through the rushing white waters and glided through calm pools, we noticed the Caddo River bedecked with stacks of turtles and the occasional crane. I couldn’t help but to feel continuity with

creation. But moments later a large pile of empty Pepsi cans, crumbled Lays Barbeque potato chip packages and other random bits of rubbish interrupted my musings. My awe at God’s creation erupted into anger at man’s pollution of it.

When I was twelve years old, I camped with a group of Christian men. As we were packing up to leave, someone asked whether we should pick up the litter. One of the leaders responded: “Nah, it’s all gonna burn anyhow.” His words were seared into my memory. What did he mean by “it was all going to burn”? I heard similar expressions throughout the next few years. I came to understand that this idea was based on their interpretation of passages in the Bible. God is going to burn the world to the ground. He is going to annihilate the earth and then replace it with a new version: Creation 2.0.

But this is not what Paul says in Romans 8.

“19The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” (NIV)

In this passage the Apostle connects the current state of creation to Genesis 3 where God cursed the earth in response to Adam’s sin. You see, the history of sin is more than a human tragedy: it is a cosmic calamity. Therefore, according to Romans 8, God’s rescue mission is not merely for his children but also for his creation. Or, as my friend Eddie Adams puts it,  “salvation consists not so much in the rescue of human beings from a sinking ship, but in the recovery of the wayward vessel itself.” For this reason, the world waits—not to be destroyed but to be delivered. At the second coming, when the children of God appear, the earth will be renewed rather than replaced. And the world cannot wait. For at that time, in the words of Nietzsche,

“Nature, which never leaps, makes one leap, and that a leap of joy: for then it knows that at last and for the first time it has attained its goal.”

To be fair, I should say that Paul’s view of creation in Romans does cut against the grain of a common Jewish and Christian ideology that did expect a cataclysmic destruction of the earth. But in Romans, Paul does not subscribe to such a radical antithesis between the old world and the new. Instead, creation is to be redeemed, not redeemed from.”[1]

Despite the importance that Christians tend to place on Romans, I find it curious that many have tossed this view of creation onto the cutting room floor. Instead of saying, “it’s all gonna burn anyhow,” perhaps we should reconsider Romans 8, pick up our Pepsi cans and be stewards of our inheritance. But please do not misunderstand my point: this post is meant to be more than an anti-litter rant or Go-Green rally. It is an appeal for us to change the way we think about creation altogether, to know that, like us, nature is not hopeless. Over against the picture of an incinerator—the world in ash, I prefer that of labor and delivery—a new world that proceeds from the womb of the old.[2]



[1] James Dunn.

[2] Ibid.

 

7 COMMENTS

  1. ” Instead of saying, “it’s all gonna burn anyhow,” perhaps we should reconsider Romans 8, pick up our Pepsi cans and be stewards of our inheritance.”

    Sinners and litterers would drink Pepsi.

    In all seriousness, solid post. I’m working on Genesis 1/2 Cor3:8 for this Wednesday, so it’s always good to be able to take a step back, see other portions of the text, and refresh! Great job Dr. Dodson!

  2. Killer post, bro!

    Spot on with Romans 8. I’d love to hear your thoughts on 2 Pet 3:10-13. Do you think that Peter and Paul (and Mary?) have the same view of new/re-creation, or do you think that Peter lines up more with the apocalyptic view of a more cataclysmic destruction you mentioned? I know there’s a ton of translation problems in 2 Pet 3:10-12.”Burn up,” “melt,” etc.

    Preston

  3. Funny that when quoting someone about the subject of redemption, you choose someone who denies the deity of Christ. I know that is trendy for our day but it still strikes me as odd every time when Christians use willful haters of God to interpret the Scriptures for them.

    • A few other Dunn quotes lest you think I am being a ridiculous extremist…
      “(Christ is) the one through whom the pray-er prays to God (Rom 1:18; 7:25; II Cor 1:20; Col 3:17), but not the object of worship or prayer. So too (Paul’s) reticence about calling Jesus ‘God’. Even the title ‘Lord’ becomes a way of distinguishing Jesus from God rather than identifying him with God (Dunn’s Christology in the Making. p.226)
      “But here too it is sufficiently clear that it is a begetting, a becoming, which is in view, the coming into existence of one who will be called, and will in fact be the Son of God, not the transition of a pre-existent being to become the soul of a human baby, or the metamorphosis of a divine being into a human foetus… Luke’s intention is clearly to describe the creative process of begetting … Similarly in Acts there is no sign of any christology of preexistence.” (Dunn’s Christology in the Making. p.50-51)
      “The Lord says to my lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool.’Its importance here lies in the double use of kyrios [lord]. The one is clearly Yahweh, but who is the other? Clearly not Yahweh, but an exalted being whom the Psalmist calls kyrios…The point for us to note is that Paul can hail Jesus as Lord not in order to identify him with God, but rather, if anything, to distinguish him from the One God (Dunn, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament. p.53)
      “I use the term ‘Jesus-olatry’ as in an important sense parallel or even close to ‘idolatry’. As Israel’s prophets pointed out on several occasions, the calamity of idolatry is that the idol is in effect taken to be the God to be worshiped. So the idol substitutes for God, takes the place of God. The worship due to God is absorbed by the idol. The danger of Jesus-olatry is similar: that Jesus has been substituted for God, has taken the place of the one creator God; Jesus is absorbing the worship due to God alone.” -Did the first Christians Worship Jesus? James Dunn p 147.
      ‘The New Testament writers are really quite careful at this point. Jesus is not the God of Israel… He is not Yahweh.” ibid p.141

      • Thomas,

        Thanks for dropping in and taking the time to chase down all of those Dunn quotes.

        I’ll let Joey chime in when he has a chance, but I want to point out that you have neither proven Dunn’s position to be wrong, nor your position to be right. You haven’t given any constructive argument and therefore your response lacks depth, precision, or biblical support.

        For instance, you quote Dunn, saying: “(Christ is) the one through whom the pray-er prays to God (Rom 1:18; 7:25; II Cor 1:20; Col 3:17), but not the object of worship or prayer. So too (Paul’s) reticence about calling Jesus ‘God’.” But, you haven’t shown that all the passages Dunn cites (Rom 1:18; 7:25; 2 Cor 1:20; Col 3:17) DON’T, in fact, support his position and how they DO support yours, which, I assume is that Jesus is NOT the one through whom we pray to God and NOT the object of worship or prayer. Neither have you proven that Paul often calls Jesus God (theos).

        You haven’t disproven that “in Acts there is no sign of any christology of preexistence.” (I’d actually love to see where Acts does assume preexistence. I don’t know of a passages that does.)

        And on and on.

        To say that Dunn denies the deity of Christ and is therefore a hater of God is inaccurate and logically lazy. He only says that the deity of Christ is a developed doctrine and that it isn’t until the latter letter (e.g. John) where it comes out clearly.

        Thomas, to pursue Christian dialogue, you must use arguments rooted in the text, not just throw around a bunch of quotes and think that you have settled the issue.

        Preston

      • Dear Thomas K,

        Thanks for taking the time to read my post and to respond. I apologize if the quotes by Nietzsche and Dunn offended you. I assure you that by citing them I did not mean to endorse everything that they propound. Since my argument is not based on these quotes–they chiefly serve aesthetic purposes, I hope that you can still find value in it.

        grace and peace,
        @jrrdodson