An accidental blog

"If God is sovereign, then his lordship must extend over all of life, and it cannot be restricted to the walls of the church or within the Christian orbit." Abraham Kuyper Common Grace 1.1.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Structure and direction

The term 'structure and direction' has been coined to describe an important reformational concept. Vollenhoven used the term and it was popularised by H Evan Runner. This section from Brian J Walsh and J Richard Middleton. The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian Worldview. IVP, 1984, pp. 88-90. describes the concepts well, the image of a wire was 'borrowed' from Al Wolters.

Imagine dozens of entwined electrical wires, encased together in a cord. These wires are like the many aspects of life we experience. Together they constitute one whole structure. And that structure was ordained by God in creation. He structured by his word not just atoms and trees and galaxies, but societal and cultural life. All creation, existing as a response to God's laws, expresses his creation order.

Thus the various strands of our lives function alongside each other within the structure God has ordered. And they are many: physical, emotional, biological, intellectual, political, aesthetic, economic, ethical and devotional. Now these aspects by no means exhaust all that contributes to the structure of life—God's creation is too complex for that—but life seems to involve at least these dimensions.

Unlike the wires within a cord, however, the strands of life are not discrete parts. We can't separate them one from another; we cannot make an economic choice, for example, without reference to ethics, politics or intellect. We live them all together.

As wires do not exist for their own sakes, so the elements of life exist for a purpose. They are fields of activity. Electricity runs through the wires. God didn't create the world to be neutral, like a still-life picture.

In the beginning the current ran through his structure in perfect response to his creational covenant. Life moved according to the will of God—and it was good, says Genesis. Mankind (and all creation) served God in loving obedience.

Then sin came. It was a current running in the opposite direction. Sin didn't change the structure of life in the world; God's original creation continues to stand as he upholds it. What changed was the direction of the current.

God's work in salvation is to redirect the current of our lives. Redemption is the restoration of our obedience to the will of God, essentially our re-creation; the current runs in the original direction again so that we can be what we were meant to be.

Although obedience and disobedience may be compared to currents running in opposite directions, the comparison goes only so far. For life is complex. Good and evil are both present in God's creation. And the two kingdoms, or currents, are at war.

But notice that sin is not intrinsic to creation. It is never a strand of life in itself. The current of power does not flow one way in some aspects of life and the opposite in others, for good and evil are not structural parts of creation. God created all things good. Evil is the kink in every wire, in every aspect of life; it is the direction of current away from God into disobedience.

To think of some parts of life as good, as innately Godward in direction, and to consider others as by nature inferior, is to divide the structure of life into impossible categories. Such thinking is the basis of a sacred/secular dualism which reads good and evil into separate aspects of God's creation. Isolating some of the strands, it elevates them to a place of privilege—while depreciating others.

This is not the biblical view. Scripture suggests rather a certain "democracy" about the wires. Whatever sacred/secular or holy/common distinction may have been in force under the old covenant (with its special priesthood, Temple and sacrifices), all has been changed with the coming of Christ's kingdom. We need to heed Zechariah's prophecy of the Messianic age:

On that day "HOLY TO [YAHWEH]" will be inscribed on the bells of the horses, and the cooking pots in [Yahweh's] house will be like the sacred bowls in front of the altar. Every pot in Jerusalem and Judah will be holy to [Yahweh] Almighty. (Zech 14:zo-21)

All aspects of God's world are created good, but all aspects are also fallen. In Christ all may be redeemed.

What does this mean for our practical, day-by-day living? It means that we as Christians must seek to understand cultural phenomena and to bring them under the lordship of Christ. Of each part of life we must ask two questions. First, what in it is creationally good? Second, what in it is not good? In what ways has it been misdirected?

These questions apply to every area of human culture. We may not simply write off an aspect of human culture as if it were beyond redemption, nor may we accept it uncritically at face value. Instead we need to struggle discerningly with our brothers and sisters in Christ (as well as with unbelievers who are sensitive to creational norms). We need to listen to God's Spirit as he points us back to the guidance of his word for all areas of our life.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting that.... I agree with this but am still left with the question....
Did the fall result in some of the structures of the world being changed. Death entered the world...
It is only in the unveiling of the eschaton that creation, at leats in this aspect, will be reddemed. Death is normative for this world, but death is also to be seen, in some sense, as the enemy...

Steve Bishop said...

Great question! I'm not sure!!

I'll ask some who may know and get back to you.

Steve Bishop said...

Roy Clouser responds:

The death that entered the world was human death, not the death of plants or animals. St Paul puts it that after sin "death reigned from Adam to Moses" because it's only human death that is at stake. So there's no need to think that creation changed structurally because of sin.

Prior to the fall humans were completely under God's protection so that they were protected from animals, accident, and anything else that could cause death. But they were still by nature mortal - able to die (the "dust of the earth" always refers to mortality). After the fall they were no longer under God's complete protection but God's partial protection is a constant covenantal theme. So the promised land is the promise of protection, and its conquest is undertaken by Joshua with the comment that the enemies they will encounter 'have lost their protection but God will fight for us".

Eternal life is a gift to humans who are not by nature immortal, and it is secured by standing in right relation to God. It is literally true that "man does not live by bread alone but by every word of God".

Anonymous said...

I have posted some follow up comments on


Tim said...

Would you consider Paul's reference to his body as a "body of death" in Romans 7 to be a "writing off" of something as beyond redemption? Reason I ask is that in my own study and experience, I find that there is also a danger of expecting too much in the way of healing and transformation. I expect that until the day I die the imprint of sin will remain in my body, ready to be fully revived whenever I plug into it.