Science in Christian Perspective


Tension in Theology:
Creation vs. Redemption

Richard H. Bube
Department of Materials Science and Engineering
Stanford University
Stanford, California 94305

This is one of three keynote addresses on the theme, "Choices We Face,"
presented at the 1979 Annual Meeting of the American Scientific Affiliation
at Stanford University, Stanford, California.

From the Journal of American Scientific Affiliation 32 (December 1980):1-4

Several years ago I considered the theme, "Optimism and Pessimism: Science and Eschatology," in several talks and in a publication.1 The theme of that consideration was essentially this: How do we as Christians relate the pessimism about earthly affairs that is induced by the biblical revelation concerning unredeemed human nature and the future, with the optimism that is ours because we belong to God in Jesus Christ? I tried to show how the main outlines of the pre-, post-, and amillennial eschatological systems often correlated with specific emphases on this question. Here I take a somewhat different look at a closely related question. The subject does not seem to have lost relevance over the past decade; in fact it seems to be a crucial issue in Christian thought seeking to integrate science and Christian faith.

No Biblical Disjunction between Creation and Redemption

There is no biblical disjunction between Creation and Redemption, between the God who creates and the God who saves. It is toward this unity that I commend our thinking; it is this striving for unity in the midst of obvious difference that causes the tension in theology named in the title of this paper.

The Bible clearly answers the question: "Who is this God who saves?" with the answer, "The Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth." For reference I mention just a few of the passages that establish this perspective.

Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer,
who formed you from the womb.
I am the Lord, who made all things,
who stretched out the heavens alone,
who spread out the earth - Who was with me? (Isaiah 44:24)

The heavens are thine, the earth also is thine.
the world and all that is in it, thou hast founded theiii.
The north and the south, thou hast created them…
Thou hast a mighty arm; strong is thy hand, high thy right hand.
Righteousness and justice are the foundation of thy throne;
Steadfast love and faithfulness go before thee.
Blessed are the people who know the festal shout,
who walk , O Lord, in the light of thy countenance. (Psalm 89:11-15)

… all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made…He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God. (John 1:1-12)

…for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…all things were created through him and for him…He is the head of the body, the church… For in huh all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1: l6-20)

Given this biblical clarity, how could there be tension in preserving the integration of Creation and Redemption? It is not the first case where the twists and turns of human philosophy have been discontent to accept a biblical synthesis and have sought instead either for various kinds of disjunctions, subjecting one of these great biblical doctrines to the other, or for false syntheses, blurring the distinctions between them.

Greek vs. Hebrew Thought

Matthew Fox, for example, has argued2 that Greek and Hebraic understandings of creation itself are quite different. The Greeks saw "creation" as concerned with the mechanisms of the origin of the world, with the type of concerns that characterize a scientific view. The Hebrews saw "creation" as the inauguration of salvation history—a mighty work of God inseparably tied to the more transcendent aspects of salvation and redemption.

Fox goes on to argue that Greek and Hebrew readings of the meaning of "salvation" also differ appreciably. The Greeks saw "salvation" as a journey out of this world, and "redemption" as perfection. The Hebrews, on the other hand, saw "salvation" as a re-creation of this world, and "redemption" as liberation for the oppressed.

Considering the strong philosophical blending of Greek with Hebraic thought that underlies our own theological understanding of these concepts, it is not surprising that room for extreme positions can easily develop, extremes that in effect break the biblical correlation of Creation and Redemption.

"Radical" vs. "Compromise"

With his characteristic prophetic vision Dietrich Bonhoeffer also saw the full dimensions of this continuing tension. In his unfinished Ethics,3 Bonhoeffer spelled out the tension in what he called the problem of "the ultimate and the penultimate." Here "the ultimate" is the justification of the sinner by the grace of God; it focuses on redemption. "The penultimate" is everything that occurs in time on the way to the ultimate; it focuses on creation. Bonhoeffer points out two typical errors that result from treating either the ultimate or the penultimate without the other.

The first he calls the "radical" solution; it corresponds to exclusive emphasis upon redemption: the penultimate is destroyed by the ultimate, God is seen as Judge and Redeemer, the end is rendered absolute, and ethics are based solely on the Cross or the Resurrection. There is an implicit rejection or downplaying of creation, time, patience, wisdom, moderation and reality. This is the solution of the hvperfundamentalist with insistence on the saving gospel only, and an exaltation of Redemption over Creation.

The second Bonhoeffer calls the "compromise" solution; it corresponds to exclusive emphasis on creation: the ultimate is excluded by the penultimate, God is seen as Creator and Preserver, things-as-they-are are rendered absolute, and ethics are based solely on the Incarnation. There is an implicit rejection of redemption, eternity, decision, simplicity, the immeasurable, and the Word. This is the solution of the liberal with insistence on the social gospel only, and an exaltation of Creation over Redemption.

Bonhoeffer makes clear to us that another facet of the Creation/Redemption tension is the Incarnation/Cross tension. To focus on the Incarnation is to emphasize the value of man and of this real world; for God became a man and lived in this world. To focus on the Cross is to emphasize the worthlessness of man ("Would He devote that sacred head for such a worm as I?") and this sinful world; for human sin caused God to give up his Son to death.

We see also that the Creation/Redemption, Incarnation/Cross tensions are paralleled by the Social Gospel/Personal Evangelism tension in Christianity. Bonhoeffer calls Christians to be neither "radical" nor "compromisers" in this sense, but instead to realize that it is only in Christ that the resolution of this tension lies: his Incarnation shows the love of God for his creation, his Crucifixion shows the judgment of God upon all flesh, and his Resurrection shows God's will for a new world. Since these three are revelations of one God, one cannot he emphasized at the expense of the others.

Elevating Creation over Redemption

In some ways the Creation/Redemption tension is simply a reflection of the traditional Science/Religion tension. To elevate Creation over Redemption often takes the form, therefore, of elevating science over religion—indeed of attempting to establish a scientific religion, which since it is scientific, is devoid of all revelational aspects.

Ralph Wendell Burhoe, for example, has sought to set forth what he calls a "scientific theology" of which lie states,

the religious reformation now,…will be a theological adaptation of traditional religious beliefs and rituals to the modern sciences. The new religious language will be as high above that of five centuries ago as contemporary cosmology is above the Ptolemaic…I prophesy human salvation through a reformation and revitalization of religion at a level superior to any reformation in earlier histories.4

The motivation for this reformation of theology is to allow the benefits of "religion" to become available to the modern mind, saturated with scientific and skeptical perspectives. Since the realm of the applicability of science is the natural world, it inevitably follows that biblical revelation is rejected and only a very naturalistic religion results from the elevation of science over religion, i.e., of Creation (in a general sense) over Redemption.

In this "scientific theology" a thorough transformation of terms takes place. The God of the Bible is replaced by "nature." The total ecosystem is the Kingdom of Cod. The supernatural is anything not covered by common sense. Science is truth. Evil means non-viable. Salvation is man's quest for survival. Individual survival of death is rejected. Since there is no personal God, there is no holy God, there is no sin against moral standards, no need for atonement from sin, no biblical remnant of the concept of Redemption left, and of course no need for a Savior. Jesus Christ is curiously absent from scientific theology.

Elevating Redemption over Creation

To elevate Redemption over Creation is to elevate religion over science—to attribute no value to the present world because it will pass away before the new creation of the world to come. This is the strong thrust of much that has been called fundamentalist, particularly of the dispensational variety, in recent years, but it also has an historic root in Christian asceticism and monasticism.

It is indeed acknowledged that God did create—and in fact dogmatic insistence on anti-scientific views of the mechanism of that creation fairly generally characterize this position—but since the curses that followed the Fall were leveled against this creation, it is a dying and corrupted thing, suitable only to he set aside or tolerated for the present in view of the demands of eternity. Attempts to live responsibly in the real world by dealing with its real problems are commonly condemned as a waste of time: "When a great ship is sinking, one doesn't try to bale out the water or plug the holes; one tries to save the living." By which is meant the preaching of the Gospel to save souls.

Equating Creation with Redemption

Of the three distortions of the Creation/Redemption tension we have considered, this is perhaps the most difficult to evaluate. Since both Creation and Redemption in some sense are expounded as central concepts, the subtleties that lead to the confession, "Creation is Redemption," are more difficult to judge fairly and without error. If, in trying to give some examples, I misrepresent someone's overall position by trying to interpret what their written word intends, I apologize at the very outset.

One of the characteristic ways of maintaining that "Creation is Redemption" is to invoke the process of evolution as the means by which this works itself out in time. Teilhard de Chardin here seems to me to be an outstanding example; he saw the unfolding of the world under the power of the love of God, finally to he characterized by a period of convergence that would bring all into Christ.5 He saw evolution shaping the universe in cosmogenesis, bringing forth life in biogenesis, giving rise to thought in noogenesis, and finally reversing this diverging trend to unite all in Christ in Christogenesis. In this framework, however, evil and sin are simply byproducts of the process of evolution, and have nothing to do with the central issues of life. Either all mankind will arrive at Omega in Christ or none will. Although the name of Christ is named, it is not Jesus the Christ who lived, died and rose again, of whom he speaks—but rather a kind of universal "Christ symbol." If Creation is Redemption, then God redeems through creative activity, and not through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Mankind participates in the work of creation and hence of redemption: we become co-creators with God and high priests of God's creation.

The movement toward humanism is an everpresent danger: there is much talk about what mankind must do in the future to bring in this Kingdom of God. We must see the earth and all it holds as a whole. We must respond to the love of God which drives the evolutionary process. We must be caring, unselfish, open…indeed, we must he everything that unredeemed human beings cannot be!

The Allure of Space

Christians in science find this equating of Creation with Redemption particularly seductive. Sometimes it seems as if Christians have either crossed over into the "Creation is Redemption" camp, or at least write in such a way as to leave their position ambiguous. Without in any way wishing to offend, I would like to mention here two recent articles written by Christians of eminent standing that left me wondering if some violation of the Creation/Redemption tension were not involved at least in their style of presentation.

The first article was written by the distinguished President of Whitworth College, Edward B. Lindaman, who says in part,

after centuries of maturation, the hour has come when we are seeing our own significance in the physical world…Today we look out of our suburban dens (which have replaced our prehistoric caves), and we blink our eyes with the sudden realization that, thanks to science, all the filters have been removed from between is and everything that happens anywhere in the world. Responsibility has been handed back to us as individuals. Standing at the threshold between the age of gravity and the infinity of space, we must now begin to evaluate our celestial purposes. To handle this new level of responsibility we can borrow from the growing school of futurists a variety of techniques and postures which equip us to think and act wisely and with dispatch. Perhaps the place to begin is in taking charge of one's own life and assuming responsibility for creating one's own future…What we imagine of the future determines what will be.6

Now I am ardently in favor of our undertaking our responsibility as Christian stewards of God's earth—and even God's heavens. But I am troubled that there is no mention in this consideration of the future of an ongoing need for the change in human nature through faith in Jesus Christ and his work on Calvary. 1 am troubled that Christ is indeed not mentioned at all even though the title of the article is "Thinking in the Future Tense." Although a Christian commitment may well be assumed in view of both the author and the publication, the article itself is curiously non-theistic. I am troubled by what might be taken as an affirmation that Creation is Redemption, that what we might mean by "salvation" does not have all that much to do with what happened on Calvary or with what happens in human hearts today.

Higher Levels of Reality

The second article is the acceptance speech of Dr. Thomas F.Torrance, winner of the 1978 Templeton Prize.7 Dr. Torrance is concerned with what he calls "theological science," and writes,

The fact that the universe has expanded in such a way that the emergence of conscious mind in it is an essential property of the universe, must surely mean that we cannot give an adequate account of the universe in its astounding structure and harmony without taking conscious mind into account, that is, without including conscious mind as an essential factor in our scientific equations…If this is the case, as I believe it is, then natural science is on the verge of opening itself out toward higher levels of reality.

The fact that the structure of the universe appears to fall within that extremely narrow range required to allow the existence of human life on earth may well have profound theological and apologetic implications. But there is again no mention of Christ or of Redemption in this article to indicate the need for maintaining the crucial Creation/Redemption tension. Instead the article ends with a statement that could be construed as quite open-ended toward affirming that Creation is Redemption.

It is more and more clear to me that, under the providence of God, owing to these changes in the very foundations of knowledge in which natural and theological science alike have been sharing, the damaging cultural splits between the sciences and the humanities and between both and theology are process of being overcome, the destructive and divisive forces too long rampant in world-wide human life and thought are being undermined and that a massive new synthesis will emerge in which man, humbled and awed by the mysterious intelligibility of the universe which reaches far beyond his power, will learn to fulfil his destined role as the servant of divine love and the priest of creation.

Frankly I am troubled by this reference to a "massive new synthesis" in which all distinctions between science and theology will disappear; there are some distinctions that must he preserved in keeping the Creation/Redemption tension biblically sound. I am troubled by the implication that mankind will "learn to fulfil his destined role" by his interaction with the universe—for that sounds very much to me like saying that mankind will be redeemed through creative and not redemptive acts.

I ant troubled further that Dr. Torrance speaks about "science opening itself out toward higher levels of reality" arid seems to he falling into a semantic pattern that opens other doors. Mv concern with "Cosmic Consciousness" and its blurring of vital distinctions between authentic science and authentic theology has already been set forth previously and there is not space here to repeat those arguments.8 The key choice is the following: Shall we continue to view "science" as a valid endeavor within its historical limitations of knowledge obtained by the interpretation of sense data, or shall we opt for a revision of what it means to do science by seeing science inappropriately limited by its past methodology and needing to he broadened and freed to provide us with insights into wider realms?

A word of strong caution is in order. Authentic science as traditionally defined shares a worldview, with biblical Christianity. Changes ought to be made only with great care and as absolutely needed. A premature giving up of authentic traditional science may well initiate a new Dark Age where no claim to truth is valid. Let us at least be enough followers of David Hume to recognize that authentic scientific descriptions of the natural world are in general far more reliable than human psychological impressions. Nor should we on the other hand easily suppose that current scientific descriptions have obvious spiritual and theological implications.

Maintaining the Creation/Redemption Tension

As Christian men and women of science we have a particular calling to maintain the biblical tension, both integrative and distinctive, of Creation and Redemption. We live in God's world as God's stewards, called by him to care for the creation he has entrusted to us for a time. We are responsible before him to work out this stewardship responsibility faithfully, taking advantage of all the possible talents, techniques and opportunities that God has made available to us.

We also live in a world in need of Redemption, a world in which men and women will not live as stewards and caretakers for God unless they truly know God through faith in Jesus Christ. The application of human creativity without a change in human nature through the divine creativity of God in Jesus Christ will ultimately benefit nothing. To plan for the solution of mankind's problems by ignoring the orientation of the human heart outside of Christ, in rebellion against God arid his fellow man, is to neglect reality and to court delusion, unbelief and frustration.

The proper Creation/Redemption tension is so fragile, so easily lost with slippage to one extreme or the other, that we must exercise extreme care in discussing such issues so as not to mislead or lead into error. For that which God has created, he has provided the means of Redemption; for that which God has redeemed, he has provided a new creation.

All things were created through him and for him…through him
to reconcile to himself all things, whether in earth or in heaven,
making peace by the blood of his cross.


1Richard H. Bube, " Optimism and Pessimism: Science and Eschatology," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 15, 215 (1972)

2Matthew Fox, O.P., "Elements of a Biblical Creation-Centered Spirituality," Spirituality Today, December (1978), p. 368

3Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, E. Bethge, ed., Macmillian Co., New York (1961); see also R. H. Bube, "Ethical Guidelines," Journal ASA 30, 134 (1978)

4Ralph Wendell Burhoe, "The Human Prospect and the 'Lord of History,'" Zygon 10, 299 (1975): see also R. H. Bube, "Scientific 'l'heology," Journal ASA 29, 124 (1977)

5Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man, Harper, New York (1959)

6Edward B. Lindaman, "Thinking in the Future Tense," Theology, News and Notes 26, 3 (1979), Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California

7Thomas F. Torrance, "Acceptance Address for the Templeton Prize 1978," Journal ASA 31, 102 (1979)

8Richard H. Bube, "Pseudo-Science and Pseudo-Theology: (C) Cosmic Consciousness,'' Journal ASA 29, 165 (1977).