Jonathan R. Wilson is Pioneer McDonald Professor of Theology at Carey Theological College. Before joining the Carey faculty in 2006, he was Professor of Theology and Ethics at Acadia Divinity College (2003-2006) and Professor of Religious Studies at Westmont College (1989-2003). A native of Oklahoma, he is ordained by Canadian Baptists and pastored in Western Canada from 1978-1986, where he also earned an M.C.S. from Regent College and an M.Div. from Regent-Carey. He has a Ph.D. in theology from Duke University (1989). Among his books are God’s Good World: Reclaiming the Doctrine of Creation (Baker Academic), Living Faithfully in a Fragmented World (Cascade), God So Loved the World: A Christology for Disciples (Baker), A Primer for Christian Doctrine (Eerdmans), and Why Church Matters: Worship, Ministry, and Mission in Practice (Brazos). Jonathan’s teaching invites followers of Jesus Christ to connect how we live with what we believe.
KW: In your book God’s Good World: Reclaiming the Doctrine of Creation you talk about some of the effects of a poor understanding of the doctrine of creation. Why do you think Christians have lost sight of its importance?
JW: We began to lose sight of the importance of the doctrine of creation when the rise of the sciences seemed to offer more understanding and control of the material world. We have to submit to another power and source of life if we believe in “creation” (or better believe in the Father, Son, and Spirit as Creator). So abandoning “creation” gives us the illusion of control over life. As this illusion of control over our destiny collapses, we become more and more a culture of death and power.
KW: How would you explain the importance of the doctrine of creation to those who assume that it only has to do with creation care?
JW: “Creation care” is inextricable from a mature and robust doctrine of creation. When we care for creation we are caring for things that are made through and for Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:15-20), so we care for creation as an act of love for Christ. But the doctrine of creation doesn’t teach us just to keep thing as healthy as we can while we await the return of Christ; the doctrine teaches us to locate all of God’s work and our lives in the story of the redemption of creation. So we must learn also to locate beauty, work, bodily life, and all other things within the story of creation being redeemed. Thus, every bit of our lives becomes a testimony to God’s good world and the gospel of Christ. (As your next question indicates, I argue that we must keep creation and redemption together.)
KW: In your book God’s Good World you talk about the dialectic of the Kingdom – can you summarize that and its implications for how we understand creation?
JW: Well, dialectic may seem like a bit of jargon, but I use it deliberately to slow readers down. I am attempting to get us to see two truths: (1) creation without redemption has no purpose or meaning; (2) redemption without creation has no reality. We don’t really know what “creation” means if we don’t know that it is redeemed in Christ. And we don’t really know what “redemption” means if we don’t tell it as the completion of God’s creating work.
KW: Can you give one or two examples of the difference a better understanding the doctrine of creation can have for a believer?
JW: If we had a better understanding and practice of the doctrine we would live in such a way that people would ask us why we are so hopeful. And we would be able to tell them a beautiful, glorious, overwhelming story of hope. We would also begin to see that the work of the Spirit in the church is meant to be the primary sign of the redeemed creation. This is because in the church our created differences that alienate us and make us enemies—all of these are being reconciled in Christ. (This leads us into all kinds of justice issues and practices.)
KW: What implications do you think it has for Christian communities and for justice?
JW: I think that the cry for justice is the work of the Spirit inside and outside the church. This is an invitation to rediscover some of the lost depth, breadth, and height of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In order for God’s people to be faithful in our account of justice and witness to justice, we must be grounded in the gospel of the redemption of creation in Jesus Christ as the work of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Only then may we resist other accounts of justice that fall short of good news. Thus, in all of our work for justice and in the way we work for justice, we must pray to be faithful to this gospel and discern together (that is, argue, debate, agree and disagree) the path of faithfulness. We will also be sustained in faithfulness when we appear ineffective and useless. Justice is the promise of God, present now, to which we bear witness by the way we live and speak.