A Feature Review of
God’s Good World: Reclaiming the Doctrine of Creation
Jonathan R. Wilson
Reviewed by Scott Elliott.
God’s Good World: Reclaiming the Doctrine of Creation by Jonathan R. Wilson is a book full of hope. In this theology of creation Wilson seeks to help Christians recover the full message of the gospel. He believes the good news is not just a message of redemption, but a message of creation and redemption. Wilson presents a theology of creation that is meaningful and relevant, a theology that does not get weighed down in political disagreements, because its politics is rooted in Jesus. Both Biblical and practical, God’s Good World is a book that will benefit any Christian who takes the time to mine the many treasures found within its pages.
God’s Good World is divided into three parts. Part 1 focuses on how the doctrine of creation is missing in the church, academy, and society. Wilson not only shows that the doctrine of creation is missing in these three areas, but he also shows how this missing theology of creation has harmed the church, the academy, and society. Part 2 contains the meat of the book, in which Wilson presents his theology of creation. He begins by showing the importance of the doctrines of kingdom and the trinity to creation, before moving on to creation itself, and finally creation in Scripture. Part 3 explores what this theology of creation might mean in practice. Wilson wants the reader to not only have knowledge of the creation, but to apply that knowledge in everyday life.
In chapter 1, Wilson shows how a church that is missing a healthy teaching of creation suffers. He writes, “Here is my deepest concern briefly put: without a robust doctrine of creation, the church has little understanding of and grounding for our life in this world” (10). He shows how churches can and have adopted forms of gnosticism because they have failed to teach creation. He also shows how this can negatively effect the churches teaching on the body, the spiritual life, and even salvation. He concludes the chapter by calling the church to focus on the practices of baptism and communion. He writes, “In baptism and the Eucharist, the stuff of creation bears witnesses to God’s grace in life because God’s redemption of creation makes the stuff of creation sacramental” (12).
In critiquing the academy in chapter 2, Wilson appeals to the writings of Wendell Berry on more than one occasion. He agrees with Berry in the need for “creation care.” He also believes with Berry in the need to adopt the proper language and vision. He gives reasons why the term “creation” is preferred instead of “environment.” He also shows why all practices concerning creation need to be rooted in God and not a person’s selfishness. In chapter 3, Wilson moves from the academy to society. Here he critiques the language of “nature” and warns against worshiping “created things rather than…the One who created all things and redeems them” (45).
The kingdom of God and the trinity are the focus of chapters 4 and 5. Wilson believes these two doctrines are essential to fully understanding creation. In chapter 4, he wants the reader to realize the importance of not separating the terms creation and redemption. He defines the kingdom as “the reality of God’s redemption of creation” (51), and he goes on to explain how redemption and creation are both involved in new creation, resurrection, and incarnation. Next Wilson shows how important the doctrine of the trinity is to creation. He argues for the use of “trinitarian grammar” and explains how ignoring any personality within the trinity is a detriment to the theology of creation. Wilson believes it is important for Christians to “confess one God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” because “these three-and-one work together in creation and redemption” (71).
Chapter 6 is where Wilson lays out his theology of creation. God’s Good World is a book of hope and chapter 6 is where it all comes out. Wilson explains how creation is not a “burden” but a “gift.” He also shows how creation is a “blessing” and when viewed as such the Christian is able “to know the proper place of beauty in life” (106). In the middle of the chapter, Wilson turns his attention to the subject of life. For him, life is rooted in God, and at the heart of godly life is giving and receiving. Wilson reminds the reader that the way of life is not easy for the disciple of Jesus because the world is ruled by death. He writes, “It is hard to live a faithful life of Christian discipleship – giving and receiving – in a world enslaved by taking and keeping” (110). Finally, Wilson wants the reader to understand that the doctrine of creation is not just about the beginning. Creation is continual and creation has an end and a purpose. Understanding the telos of creation will help Christians properly understand the world’s brokenness and work towards God’s shalom.
In chapter 7, Wilson turns his attention to Scripture. He offers theological commentary on several passages including: Rev. 21-22; Heb. 1:1-3; Col. 1:15-20; Rom. 8; John 1:1-18; Psalm 104; and Gen. 1-2. He also includes sections on Isaiah, Deuteronomy, Wisdom in Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes. In these passages from the Bible Wilson shows how his theology of creation fits within Scripture. He again wants the reader to understand that creation is not limited to Genesis 1-2, but is something that encompasses all of Scripture.
In the final section of the book Wilson turns his attention to practical matters. He is concerned that his theology not just be an academic exercise, but that it be a working theology that every Christian accepts and applies to their life. He explains how a proper understanding of creation will help the reader to understand the world, worldliness, consumerism, desire, the problem of evil, prayer, bodies, worship, and more. There is a lot of helpful information in this section and at the end of each chapter he offers practices that can be adopted immediately.
Chapter 10 on “Consuming Desire” was especially enlightening. This chapter is about consumerism, but Wilson understands that consumerism is a word that is so often used that people do not even pay attention to it anymore. With this in mind Wilson seeks to move the conversation forward. He wants the reader to understand that not only do we live in a consumeristic society, but “we are being consumed” (207). He also shows how desire itself is a deadly disease and suggests that people not even be tempted to desire items.
God’s Good World is a book that will surprise you. It is a theology of creation, but it is not just about Genesis 1-2 or “creation care.” Wilson shows how creation is tied to redemption and how creation is a part of the whole drama of Scripture. He shows how ignoring the doctrine of creation will lead to false doctrines and unhealthy practices. God’s Good World calls the church back to the biblical doctrine of creation found in Scripture. According to Jonathan R. Wilson, this has been a doctrine that has been lost to most of the church for many years, but this is a book that will help give the doctrine of creation the proper hearing and attention it deserves.