Engaging Creation as God’s Word

As I Was Saying

As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.

Over the past 15 years I have preached hundreds of sermons founded on the belief that God authoritatively reveals himself through both the Bible and creation. This worldview has deepened my faith in profound ways and filled my life with countless real time icons and parables. The God who spoke the Scriptures speaks today, and hearing his voice through art, science, work, film, music, sport, and current events has changed everything.

And yet it hasn’t. Not for most churches. What’s been so compelling for me hasn’t caught on with many other preachers. Not in the same way. While many acknowledge creation as a source of revelation, few treat it as authoritatively as they do scriptural revelation—submitting to what the Spirit is specifically saying through the text. While I’ve written books on the idea (with marginal sales), spoken publicly (with limited buy-in), written articles (with minimal feedback), and taught preaching classes (with lukewarm reception), this world-changing idea doesn’t seem to have changed much at all.

I wonder why.

Do we believe that God doesn’t speak through creation? While not the official doctrine of most churches, it does seem to be the most operative. Which is really confounding, especially within my  theological tradition—where John Calvin calls creation a theater filled with God’s revelation, and Abraham Kuyper claims that everything that exists was a thought in the mind of God before it ever came to be, and Herman Bavinck reminds us that revelation “extends to the uttermost ends of creation” and then clearly calls us to read both creation and the Bible together: “General revelation leads to special [the Bible], special revelation points back to general. The one calls for the other, and without it remains imperfect and unintelligible. Together they proclaim the manifold wisdom which God has displayed in creation and redemption.” If the Christian church really believes that God authoritatively reveals himself through creation, they would be preaching creation as text all the time. We’d hear it from every pulpit, every Sunday. And yet we don’t.

Maybe it’s because we’ve never done it this way before. A couple of years ago, a seminary professor told me that this way of preaching challenges 2,000 years of church preaching tradition. This is true. But that’s how new things work. Didn’t Jesus promise that he would make all things new? We expect our scientists and entrepreneurs to discover new things and expand the horizons of human knowledge, yet we limit our understanding of the gospel to what we currently know about it. We’re made in the image of an infinitely imaginative God. God means for us to know and experience him through all things; through the redemptive messages of the theater, the communal joys of the playground, and the vocational image-bearing moments of the workplace. 

Maybe the problem is practical; preachers don’t know how to preach the creation text. It’s no surprise that seminaries lean toward the tried and true. Yet what’s been tried is increasingly untrue for many. People still believe in God, but they don’t believe in church. They want to hear God’s voice, but they don’t want to hear a traditional sermon. North American church attendance is dropping like a stone. Yet we refuse to teach preachers new ways. We leave them short when it comes to knowing how to exegete and preach God’s other book. Imagine the relevance of sermons that name God’s already-there presence in people’s day-to-day lives; in every waking, parenting, playing, hearing, learning, and working moment. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would guide us into all truth. Surely the Spirit can teach the church how to rightfully engage, preach and live into God’s creation-sourced words.

But this would take a lot of work. It’s hard enough to get a grip on one of God’s books (the Bible), let alone engaging the breadth and width of creation. How in the world could a preacher ever effectively engage science, art, work and sport? This is also a challenge for listeners who don’t have time to read God’s shorter book. We’d have to give our whole lives to this big a revelatory vision!

Yet it is possible. I’ve had glimpses of it, and it’s beautiful; researching and preaching sermons alongside members of a congregation—music lovers, scientists, business leaders, artists, restaurant servers, and politicians. Surrounded by a preacherhood of all believers, we have more than enough resources to deeply engage God’s Word through creation—if we’re willing to step out.

In Isaiah’s heavenly vision, he hears the angels sing: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isa. 6:3). The earth is full of God’s glory. Imagine diving into that glory more deeply and listening for God’s unique creation words more intentionally.

About the Author

John Van Sloten is a Calgary-based CRC pastor, teacher and writer. His latest book is Every Job a Parable; What Walmart Greeters, Nurses and Astronauts tell us about God  (Navpress USA, Hodder & Stoughton UK).

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Comments

Thank you, John, for an enlightening article.  The deist believes in God on the evidence of reason and nature only, with the rejection of so called supernatural revelations, such as the Koran, the Bible or the book of Mormon.  Through nature and our understanding of it, God reveals himself with a clear message.  Deists see supernatural revelations (such as the Bible) as manmade revelations that would attempt to explain God beyond his own self revelation.  The apostle Paul said, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made...” Romans 1:23  As you suggest, in the church, we seem to forsake the messages of creation and nature for the “Bible alone.”  Perhaps Christians should turn that around and see nature and reason as God’s primary revelation (his own self revelation) and the Bible as secondary.  Thanks again John for a challenging article.  As in the past, it’s a message that meets with little reception in the church.  I like it.

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