The Creation Gospel: part 2 - Creators not Critics

In his second talk on the Creation Gospel, Tony moves onto the ‘so what’ of a gospel that begins in Genesis one, rather than Genesis three. He argues that Christians have got stuck on ‘ethics’ as their main voice into the public arena. This backfires because it positions us – and our God – primarily as critics who are outside the system criticising it. Instead, he explains, we should be ‘designers’ who are the major advocates for reform and transformation in the public space. This opens a new curriculum for us – what Tony calls ‘the discipleship of design’.  This is a paradigm shift away from ethics and morality into creativity and transformation.



CreationTheology Part Two: Creators not Critics

Part one I charted the widerlandscape that Creation theology gives us – a wider landscape I argued, thanwhat I called the ‘Redemption’ gospel.  Iwant to stress that the key theme was not either or choice between the two – weobviously need ‘redeeming’ or ‘saving’ and any thinking person who denies thatis deceiving themselves as if humanity has no problem or blood on ourcollective hands…. No, my point was where does the gospel begin where does thestory of the gospel begin.  And we arguedthat the creation gospel begins with a deep anchor in Genesis one, whereas theredemption gospel begins – de facto – in Genesis three.

I made the point that this creationgospel is not a soft gospel.  Itchallenges the secular mind substantially – more substantially than theredemption gospel because its claims are wider and more stupendous. The claimof the creation gospel is that Jesus is Lord of all and there is therefore noone, no event, no system, that can claim immunity from his rule. He is not justLord of the church, he is Lord of the cosmos. Whereas the redemption gospelfeels more specialised – because it is religious. 

I saw somebody walking down thestreet recently in Newtown, where my daughters live. Newtown is dominated bysecularism and post modern scepticism. This lady had a T shirt which read onthe front “Jesus died for somebody’s’ sins…” and on the back it read “Just notmine”.  Of course that is blasphemousjust like a modern Jewish rabble who cried out ‘Let his sins be on myhead’.  But I read it as something more –a partly understandable rejection of the church’s posture and arrogance of namingpeople as sinners while exempting themselves of that nomenclature – you caneasily understand how that sounds to people.

So I asked myself what would I puton the front of that shirt with the Creation gospel in mind?  Perhaps something like “Jesus made everybodyspecial…”. Then the back of the shirt makes no sense – ‘Just not me’ starts tosound really sad and self sabotaging, which is pretty close to the truth.

 So what?  ‘Public theology’(political theology,,,)


This thinking gives an integratedview of creation; essentially this does two things

1)    Collapsespublic/private dualism (space dimension)

2)    Collapsesheaven v earth metaphysics and opens up continuity between heaven and earth

 It takes the gospel into the publicarena and hence it is often called ‘public theology.’ It opens up a widerlandscape for the actions of God, and for the actions of our faith. lots of good people are exploringthis wider gospel – ‘Public theology’

 ·     Regent College

·     Faith at work movement

·     Social gospel

·     Radical Orthodoxy etc

Individuals like

·     Tom Wright

·     Oliver O’Donovan

·     Jaques Ellul

·     Miroslav Volf

But this pubic engagement comes with problems…

1)    Takeover  - at the extreme end, Christian rightinvading politics, education.  

·     I call this a ‘distribution’ problem. Wideningdistribution of same old thinking.

·     In this case, the issue is that they are keepingthe sin-based gospel and merely taking the widening landscape as an invitationto distribute the same old sin based message everywhere.

o  This causes great divisions and resentment. Ierun the country like you run the church.

2)    Infiltrate.Even at the mild end, which I would call ‘faith at work’ movement, it runs intoproblems with all good intentions. Ie either you

a.    Use workplace to evangelise

b.    Ethics voice.

3)    Integrate.Thinking group – public theology is more explorative…

a.    Regent leads the way in exploringcreation thinking.  

                                              i.     Mostbible colleges aim to support specialised Christian ministries but Regent aimedfor the Christian in the world.

                                            ii.     Wideningof the gospel, and as an example, Iain Provan and Rikk on rethinking Genesisone and naming creation as temple.

                                           iii.     But“so what” is still vacant… traditional Christian skills/capabilities of bibleknowledge, prayer, pastoring etc are great but shaped by the outside in,specialist posture.  What mightalternative disciplines and skills be?

b.    Radical Orthodoxy – brilliant but veryacademic and philosophical.

c.    Public theology aims to critique issues

                                              i. by Anglican church – submissions to parliament on issueslike euthanasia, penalty rates, social sustainability

1.     Issues like ‘stem cell research,same-sex, refugees, immigration, human rights, cloning, etc

                                            ii.     AndrewCameron’s list of sacred seven and favourite five

1.     Divorce, euthanasia, gambling,substance abuse, abortion, sexuality, religious freedom,

2.     Refugees, climate change, equality,poverty, diversity, and inclusion.

                                           iii.     Andrewsaid we tend to gravitate for guidance, in public theology towards those partsof the scripture where the speaker and hearer do not share the same assumptionsabout how things are

1.    Prophets speaking truth to power

a.      Nathan and David

b.     Elijah and Ahab

c.      Esther v Ahasuerus

d.     Nehemiah to Artaxerxes

e.     Paul v Agrippa

2.    Practical examples were all about how to writeto media

Yearning for a new voice, new paradgim

But at their best, they still feelthe need for a stretching, as if that voice is not quite right. I would callthis a yearning for a new paradigm and a new rhetorical situation …. Lessadversarial.  A new communicationparadigm –

                                            iv.     Best exemplified in Andrew’s paper“How to say YES to the world: towards a new way forward in Evangelical socialethics.” 

But this ethics conversation still positionsus as critics.  Ie outside thesystem.  and this is by definition asidelined position, a voice from the edges, and a voice saying no.  It is hard not to hear a pharisaic tone in itall.  So we need more than a newcommunication paradigm. This is what I think began to haunt Bonhoeffer inhis prison letters.

We need a new posture. A newpicture of what it means to follow Jesus and be under his Lordship.

This is where the creation gospeloffers such a large change in perspective and paradigm. Because it changes our anthropology.  Not just our anthropology but our cosmologyand our sociology. Put simply the creation gospel declares that at heartwe – ie all humanity – are primarily creators (or sub creators) not primarilycritics.

This gives us a high anthropology –indeed the highest of all. Our first declaration as Christians is ‘You are madein the image of God’ – and that means he has given us a mandate to rule createdorder. It is an unashamedly anthropic view of reality. But is it more than that– it includes the capax dei as well. Ie humans are not just part of anincessant cause and effect machine, part of the endless waves of motion in aNewtonian machine – we are capable of initiating new reality.


But our education system conspires against this

I want to tell you a story toillustrate how significant a shift this – and how the critic mindset plaguesall our education (not just the Christian side of things). I used to be anEnglish teacher….  

What this story shows us is that tomake something, is far harder than to criticise something. It totally shiftsour posture. This act now demands a deeper engagement with myself, itchallenges my self image, and brings my deepest self into the picture.

But it also requires very differentskills. To make something requires love, art, discipline, perserverance. Tomake something involves aesthetics not just analytics. We humans don’t justmake things for merely pragmatic reasons, we make them for love. Itbecomes some form of self expression. Part of us is on the page, in thedrawing. It is a correlate of our mind. It is a kind of logos.


How Design helps us describe this creational posture

Mostly this kind of activity inschools is sidelined into arts and crafts. This trivialises it. It is seen asnon-intellectual, not mainstream. But slowly that is changing and the disciplinethat is doing it is called ‘design’. Design has become a profession – but more than that a form of thinking,famously named as design thinking. I am interested in the thinking not theprofession, and I will tell you why.  Weare all designers at heart and design is divine (Jim Faris story).


Design for Fine Arts[1]

A word to explain the differencebetween design and the arts. They use the same tools – and they are bothaesthetic arts.  But design has acommercial purpose whereas the arts do not. They focus on self expression. Designmakes products and services that change things for the better. They haveclients and customers. Design went through a big change in the 1990s when theyfound the customer or the user and what was called ‘human centred design’ wasdeveloped. This meant that my design/product became an act of service – and myaim was to shape a new experience for somebody. So customer experience became asignificant body of knowledge. This meant all good design had to be contextbound – the context of my customers and their use of my services.

So Design will help us forge a newparadigm for the art or act of being a Christian: not as critic who isoutside the system, but as a kind of creator inside the system.
Dorothy Sayers pioneered thisthinking in her great book ‘The Mind of the Maker’ in which she looked at thecreative writing process as an analogy of God at work in creation. I am sayingthat ‘design’ can do the same thing today but can probably take us further.


Designer of ‘what’ (four orders)

So I am saying that the so what ofthe creation gospel is not to be a critic – and that means ethics – but to be adesigner … of what you might ask.

Once we see that the whole cosmos is the theatre of God, the house of God, youcan see that there is no limit to my objects of design… but I would summarisethem as ‘situations’. And I would use a better word here to characterisethe act – transform rather than just design. we are called to shift theshape of situations.

Here I need to take a bit of an excursion for you and takeyou inside the theory of the four orders of design. Story of four orders… nowthe fourth order has gone further – the first object of design is actuallyyourself… (Pico here).


This leads to the ‘discipleship of design’.

This leads to a way of being in theworld and frankly a new kind of discipleship – discipleship of design. (theword ‘disciple’ means learner.)  So weare now disciples of transforming situations – which I can easily call ‘thekingdom of God’.  

This will open up a new space of rest in activity – a paradoxwhich bothers many people.  In short, amI a reflective person or a person of action. Henri Nouwen characterised this asmaking space for God to act. Not occupied with busyness. Allowing something tohappen that you hadn’t planned or counted on.

Let me give you a taste of the capabilitiesor disciplines of a ‘design disciple’.  

 1)    Beauty;Discover beauty in things. (Deify things)

a.    Beauty means both aesthetic and meaning

b.    Burning bush – glory within

c.    Mark Strom story…. (can you discover Beauty inpain)

2)    Purpose:Position purpose(s) at the core of all things

a.    Advocates of outcome, reasons, intent

b.    Enrich goals with values

3)    Hope:Frame all situations as latent with potential not fixed and determined

a.    Believe in change and possibility

b.    Informed by the hope of new heaven and earth

c.    See all of life as dynamic,

d.    See growth as the heart of life not riskmanagement, not

4)    Agency– put humans as authors of new reality, invert cause and effect

5)    Humility;Incarnate ourselves in the ‘other’ before we act or decide

a.    Humble to find context – clothe yourself withthe other,…

6)    Thankful:Receive all of life, creation, time, circumstance, history as gift

a.    Materials to work with

b.    Specific to me

7)    Transformsituations; see this as my calling.

8)    Alife of en-action:  marrying activityand contemplation. (Cf Henri Nouewn)

Let me finish with a story fromNehemiah.

[1]Long history of Christian thought interacting with art…. But not design as itis a more modern form of arts