“Creation, Redemption, and Christian Education”
November 14, 2021
Faith Presbyterian Church – Evening Service
There is a lot we can say about Christian education. Tonight I want to talk about how Christian education fits into God’s work of bringing redemption in Christ to all areas of life.
God, in Christ, is restoring all things to their creational intent. In many ways, of course, this will not be completed until Christ returns at the end of history.
But at the same time, it is also an ongoing work of God’s kingdom right now. By the power of God, the future renewal of all things flows into the present. Through the gospel Christ is restoring not just isolated men and women to himself, but churches, families, communities, even cultures. There are many ways that God’s people can participate in this work. One way is through Christian education.
To better understand a work of restoration, it is of course helpful to know the original state of what is being restored.
And so, with that in mind, we hear now from a portion of the story of creation – Genesis 1:26-2:17.
Please listen carefully, for this is God’s word for us this evening:
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
2 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.
4 These are the generations
of the heavens and the earth when they were created,
in the day that Yahweh God made the earth and the heavens.
5 When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for Yahweh God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, 6 and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— 7 then Yahweh God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. 8 And Yahweh God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 And out of the ground Yahweh God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
10 A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. 14 And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
15 Yahweh God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And Yahweh God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
This is the Word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God.)
We have just heard from part of the account of God making humanity, and placing humanity in the world.
And one of the things I want to highlight tonight is that before the fall – before sin entered the world – there was a unity and a harmony between humanity and everything else.
Or, to look at it from the other end, at creation there was no division in humanity’s relationship with God; there was no division in humanity’s relationship with one another; and there was no division in humanity’s relationship with the created world.
Consider some of the details of our text.
First, consider humanity’s relationship with God. It is a relationship that is close and intimate, as humanity is made in God’s image, as we read in verses twenty-six and twenty-seven. It is a relationship of partnership, with God beginning a work and then calling on humanity to continue it, as we read in verses eight and then fifteen. It is a relationship of mutuality, as we read of God’s provision for humanity in verses twenty-nine and thirty as well as humanity’s calling to serve God, verse twenty-nine and also verses fifteen to seventeen. In the account before us, all is right between God and humanity.
And with that, we also see that all is right with humanity’s relationship to one another. All humans are made in God’s image, we read in verse twenty-seven. With humanity made male and female, there is diversity, but at the same time there is a shared unity – a unity in diversity that reflects the triune God himself. There is also a unity and diversity in humanity’s calling, in verse twenty-eight. Humanity, in its origin and in its calling, is diverse, but also united as one.
And we can imagine the trajectory of all this if sin had not entered the world. First there would be a family that related to each other rightly. Then it would extend to a community. Then to a civilization – and with that, all that comes with a civilization: a culture, with literature, the arts, and more – all without sin.
And then there is humanity’s relationship to the rest of creation, and the many ways God has made humanity to live in relationship to creation. In verse fifteen we read of how humanity was called on to cultivate creation in the garden. In verse twenty-eight we read of how humanity was called to go out and to subdue and develop creation beyond the garden. And in verse twelve it is implied that humanity was meant to go out and make discoveries – to discover the gold and the bdellium and onyx stone that God had hidden and buried in Havilah, and to make use of it.
And so in each area of life, humanity is created and called to have a good and harmonious relationship: with God, with one another, and with creation.
But – and this is key – each of those relationships was not to be lived in isolation. They weren’t separate silos of life. But instead, they were interconnected.
Human beings could not separate their relationship with one another from their relationship with God. On an individual level the basis of each person’s value was, after all, rooted in the fact that that other person bore God’s image.
But the same was true at a communal level – at the level of civilization and culture. The value of a culture and a value of a civilization was rooted in how that multitude of people, not only individually, but in community, bore God’s image. And that, in fact, was God’s stated intention for humanity.
The Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck put it like this – he writes that the creation of Adam and Eve was “not the end but the beginning of God’s journey with mankind.” He continues: “It is not good that the man should be alone; nor is it good that the man and woman should be alone. Upon the two of them God immediately pronounced the blessing of multiplication. Not the man alone, nor the man and woman together, but only the whole of humanity is the fully developed image of God, his children, his offspring.”
Bavinck continues: “The image of God is much too rich for it to be fully realized in a single human being, however richly gifted that human being may be. It can only be somewhat unfolded in its depths and riches in a humanity counting billions of members. Just as the traces of God are spread over many, many works, in both space and time, so also the image of God can only be displayed in all its dimensions and characteristic features in a humanity whose members exist both successively one after the other and contemporaneously side by side.” [Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 2.577]
In other words, both individual relationships, and whole societies, and the results of human culture: language, literature, music, art, and more, have their significance because they are an unfolding and an ever-deepening reflection of the image of God, as human beings and their creative expressions are multiplied.
Humanity cannot separate their relationship with one another from their relationship with God – whether on the level of individuals or cultures.
And in a similar way, humanity’s relationship to creation was also all tied up in their relationship to God. When Adam was called to cultivate the garden, he was not just doing a human activity. He was instead to seek to imitate a God activity. It was God who maintained the creation, and in maintaining the garden, Adam was to imitate him.
In a similar way, when Adam and Eve were to go out and subdue the rest of creation, they again were not just creating a new pattern out of their own heads, but they were to imitate God. In verse seven God made Adam. And in verse eight God planted a garden – he took wildlife and he subdued it into the pattern of a garden. And Adam saw the pattern God followed – he saw what godly subduing looked like. And when God called him to go out and continue the work of subduing creation, Adam knew he and his descendants were to do it in a way that followed the pattern of God.
And then, when Adam or his descendants sought out and discovered the gold and bdellium, and onyx stone that God had hidden, there they were not so much imitating God as interacting with him. They weren’t discovering something that just happened to be there, but they were discovering something that God had hidden so that humanity could later discover and use it. Even the stones and metals found in the earth could not be separated from their relationship with God.
And so, at creation, not only was humanity living in a right relationship with God, and creation, and one another, but these relationships were all intertwined. God had not made them as separate silos, but he had brought them together and made them interconnected.
And then sin entered the world.
And when sin entered, not only was each of those relationships broken, but their unity was also shattered.
In the events that followed the rebellion of Adam and Eve, humanity’s relationship with God was broken, humanity’s relationship with one another was broken, and humanity’s relationship with creation was broken.
And with that, what God had brought together was now torn asunder.
Human beings not only have conflict with one another, but they separate their relationship with one another from their relationship with God – cheapening human life by ignoring the image of God in other human beings, as is reflected in the attitude of Lamech in Genesis 4.
Human beings, still called to subdue the earth, would now often do so apart from any relationship with God – cultivating the land, discovering new things, and making new things, but severing those activities from their relationship with God, as we read of with Jabal, and Jubal, and Tubal-cain in Genesis 4.
Sin not only corrupted every area of life, but it divided those areas from one another.
But in Christ, there is redemption. In Christ, God is restoring all things to how he meant them to be. In Christ, God is setting the world to rights.
He does that by calling people to himself and saving them. But then he calls those people not only to rightly relate to him, but to rightly relate to one another, and to his creation. Which means that he calls them to bring those aspects of life together once again – as they were always intended to be.
And there are many approaches to doing that – many ways we can seek to fulfill that call. But one of them is through Christian education.
Christian education is not just regular education with prayer adding to what is said, and with the Bible adding limits to what is taught, and with Christian ethics adding to what behaviors are allowed. It is all of that – but it’s also much more.
Christian education seeks to reunite what sin tore asunder.
And so in Christian education students are called to relate rightly to God – not as a churchy add-on to everything else, but as a core concern that as creatures there is nothing more fundamental than relating rightly to our Creator.
As students relate to one another, they are given not just utilitarian rules and ethics for getting along, but they are urged to treat one another as those who bear God’s image and so deserve honor and respect.
As students engage in the humanities: in literature, and rhetoric, and language, and history, and philosophy, and the visual arts, and music, and more, they are not just studying a particular tradition, or becoming more equipped as citizens, or learning to think critically. They are doing all those things – but they’re not only doing them. They are also seeking, in the creative expression of other image-bearers, to glimpse more of the image of God, imbedded in humanity. And then, as image-bearers themselves, they are seeking to add their own expressions – as we have already heard from some students this evening.
To be sure, the humanity whose works and words they study is fallen. But they remain people in God’s image. And they cannot help but reflect him – even in spite of some of their best efforts.
And so, in Christian education, we seek to reunite our relationship with others – on the personal level, and on the larger cultural level – to our relationship with God. And as we do so, we learn moreabout human beings, more about the humanities, and more about God than if we had kept those things apart.
And the same is true of math and the sciences. For in those studies we connect our relationship to creation with our relationship with God. And so what we find, and what we discover cannot be separated from the God who made them.
Scientific discovery is not just human inquiry into neutral matter, but it is rather a seeking out what God has left for us to find. For just as God hid the precious stones and metals in Havilah, so he has filled his creation with secrets, with the intention that humanity should discover them. The disciplines of biology, and chemistry, and mathematics, and physics, and more are disciplines of discovering what God has hidden for us to find. For as Proverbs 25:2 says: “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.” We may not be kings in an earthly sense. But we are children of the king in a cosmic sense. And in the sciences God has called us to find what he has hidden for us.
Similarly, in still other fields we learn to cultivate and care for what God has made, just as he does. Whether in the fields of agriculture, or the culinary arts, the helping professions, or the trades, we are cultivating and caring for God’s creation, in imitation of him.
And so our relationships with one another, with the humanities, with the sciences, with the trades, are all tied up with our relationship with God – not separate from it. God is not an add-on to our education – he is what gives our education meaning, and orientation, and direction.
And so, truly Christian education is not just an education that has a spiritual add-on. … not just education that holds to traditional morals … but it is education that seeks to restore our students’ relationship to the wider creation, and make it more like what God has always intended it to be … education that seeks to participate in some small way with God’s great work of making all things new.
This sermon draws on material from:
Bavinck, Herman. Reformed Dogmatics. Volume Two: God and Creation. Edited by John Bolt. Translated by John Vriend. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004.
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