We have seen how the concept of creation must be taken much more broadly than Christians ordinarily take it, and how mankind's fall into sin affects the entire range of that broadly conceived creation. All of this has been preparation for making the basic point that the redemption achieved by Jesus Christ is cosmic in the sense that it restores the whole creation.
This fundamental confession has two distinct parts. The first is that redemption means restoration—that is, the return to the goodness of an originally unscathed creation and not merely the addition of something supracreational. The second is that this restoration affects the whole of creational life and not merely some limited area within it. Both of these affirmations are crucial to an integral biblical worldview, and both are pregnant with important consequences for Christian discipleship.
It is quite striking that virtually all of the basic words describing salvation in the Bible imply a return to an originally good state or situation. Redemption is a good example. To redeem is to "buy free," literally to "buy back," and the image it evokes is that of a kidnapping. A free person has been seized and is being held for ransom. Someone else pays the ransom on behalf of the captive and thus "buys back" his or her original freedom. The point of redemption is to free the prisoner from bondage, to give back the freedom he or she once enjoyed. Something similar can be said about reconciliation, in which, again, the prefix re- indicates going back to an original state. Here the image is that of friends who have fallen out, or former allies who have declared war on one another. They have become reconciled and return to their original friendship and alliance. Another salvation word beginning with re- is renewal — in fact Paul uses the comparable prefix ana- to coin the Greek word anakainosis when he speaks of "the renewal of your mind" in Romans 12:2. Literally, this word means "a making new again." What was once brand new but has gotten worse for wear is now renovated, brought back to its former newness. Still another is the Greek word for "salvation" itself: soteria generally has the meaning "health" or "security" after sickness or danger. As a matter of fact, the first English translation of the Greek New Testament, published by William Tyndale in 1525, regularly renders this word as "health." Christ is the great physician who heals our sickness unto death and restores us to health. Finally, the key biblical concept of "regeneration" implies a return to life after the entrance of death. All these terms suggest a restoration of some good thing that was spoiled or lost.
Acknowledging this scriptural emphasis, theologians have sometimes spoken of salvation as "re-creation"—not to imply that God scraps his earlier creation and in Jesus Christ makes a new one, but rather to suggest that he hangs on to his fallen original creation and salvages it. He refuses to abandon the work of his hands — in fact he sacrifices his own Son to save his original project. Humankind, which has botched its original mandate and the whole creation along with it, is given another chance in Christ; we are re-instated as God's managers on earth. The original good creation is to be restored.
The practical implications of that intention are legion. Marriage should not be avoided by Christians, but sanctified. Emotions should not be repressed, but purified. Sexuality is not simply to be shunned, but redeemed. Politics should not be declared off-limits, but reformed. Art ought not to be pronounced worldly, but claimed for Christ. Business must no longer be relegated to the secular world, but must be made to conform again to God-honoring standards, Every sector of human life yields such examples.
In a very significant sense this restoration means that salvation does not bring anything new. Redemption is not a matter of an addition of a spiritual or supernatural dimension to creaturely life that was lacking before; rather, it is a matter of bringing new life and vitality to what was there all along. It is true enough, of course, that the whole drama of salvation brings elements into the picture that were not part of God's creational design (think for example of the regulations that were necessitated by sin: capital punishment, divorce legislation, cities of refuge, and so on). But like scaffolding attached to a house being renovated, or bandages covering a wound, these are all incidental to the main purpose, meant only to serve the process of restoration. In fact, once that purpose is served, they are discardable. It would be foolish to say that medical treatment aims at more than the restoration of health because it brings medicines, bandages, and stethoscopes into the picture. By the same token, salvation brings many things into the lives of God's people that are not solely part of the restoration of creation, and yet that restoration is nonetheless the exclusive focus of redemption. At bottom, the only thing redemption adds that is not included in the creation is the remedy for sin, and that remedy is brought in solely for the purpose of recovering a sinless creation. To put it in the traditional language of theology, grace does not bring a donum superadditum to nature, a gift added on top of creation; rather, grace restores nature, making it whole once more.
If salvation does not bring more than creation, it does not bring less either. It is all of creation that is included in the scope of Christ's redemption: that scope is truly cosmic. Through Christ, God determined "to reconcile to himself all things," writes Paul (Col. 1:20), and the words he uses (ta panta) preclude any narrow or personalistic understanding of the reconciliation he has in mind. It may seem strange to us that the apostle uses the word reconcile in this connection, when he has more than human beings in mind, but this usage simply confirms what we have learned about the scope of the fall: "all things" are drawn into the mutiny of the human race and its enmity toward God, and their strained relations with the Creator must be "patched up," brought once more into harmony with him. The scope of redemption is as great as that of the fall; it embraces creation as a whole. The root cause of all evil on earth — namely, the sin of the human race — is atoned for and overcome in Christ's death and resurrection, and therefore in principle his redemption also removes all of sin's effects. Wherever there is disruption of the good creation — and that disruption, as we saw, is unrestricted in its scope — there Christ provides the possibility of restoration. If the whole creation is affected by the fall, then the whole creation is also reclaimed in Christ.
We touch here upon an essential point. What distinguishes a reformational worldview is its understanding of the radical and universal import of both sin and redemption. There is something totalitarian about the claims of both Satan and Christ; nothing in all of creation is neutral in the sense that it is untouched by the dispute between these two great adversaries.
The biblical accounts of sin and redemption are similar on another point. In both cases, although the whole creation is involved, it is still humanity that plays the pivotal role. Just as the fall of man (Adam) was the ruin of the whole earthly realm, so the atoning death of a man (Jesus Christ, the second Adam) is the salvation of the whole world. Likewise, just as the first Adam's fall was aided and abetted by the subsequent disobedience of humankind, so the salvation of the whole
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Albert M. “Al” Wolters was born in 1942 in the Netherlands. He studied at Calvin College (B.A., 1964), the Free University of Amsterdam (Ph.D., 1972), and McMaster University (M.A., 1987). Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview is his best known book, and it was first published in 1985. Since then it has been translated into eight languages. Nicholas Wolterstorff sings “Creation Regained’s” praises when he says “This is the best statement I have come across of the ‘reformational’ Christian worldview.” Wolters is professor emeritus of religion and theology and of classical languages at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario.