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Creation, Culture & Gunton

July 13, 2007

Colin Gunton was a formidable scholar and thoughtful pastor, specializing his research in the doctrines of creation and the Trinity. Here are some closing remarks from my recently submitted article: “Colin Guton’s Trinitarian Theology of Creation: Creation as Creed, ex Nihilo, and Trinitarian.” Commenting on the relevance of the Trinity to culture Gunton writes:

“Modernity is like all cultures, in being in need of the healing light of the gospel of the Son of God, made incarnate by the Holy Spirit for the perfecting of the creation.” Gunton even goes so far as to say, “…the value of the theology of the Trinity lies more in enabling a rethinking of the topics of theology and culture than in offering a privileged view of the being of God.”

Thus, Gunton’s trinitarian theology of creation calls for personal, communal, interaction with creation, particularly in culture-making, not as a byproduct of being human, but precisely because we are human, made in the image of the triune God. By believing in creation ex nihilo as a product of the triune God, we must do something; we must create but not merely create, re-create, bringing the healing light of the gospel of the triune God into theology and culture for the perfecting of creation. Our creed calls us to participate with the two hands of God in the perfection of creation for the glory of the Father. In so doing, the transcendent Creator will become an ever-increasing immanent, personal God. By embracing Gunton’s theology of creation—as creed, ex nihilo, and trinitarian—creation becomes the context and substance of relation and worship, community and doxology, through our personal relationships, cultural participation, and praise.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Chris permalink
    July 14, 2007 5:28 am

    Interesting. I think what gets lost on many people is that to live in the spirit is to be MORE HUMAN as individuals. As we were made in God’s image and given the spirit to help us grow in our walk with Jesus, living in the spirit as a body/community/culture enhances our HUMANITY.

    PLUS through the expectation of God’s future grace, we gain confidence as believers to be able to share and broadcast that illuminated participation in our walk to (even if ever so slightly) broaden the narrow path to truth for others to join us.

  2. Steve permalink
    July 14, 2007 10:56 am


    I have a question that is somewhat off topic. I have noticed that many people who try to bring theology to bear on culture (if you know what I mean) often emphasize creation as a major theme. Within this stream of theology, creation ex-nihilo plays a pretty big part (I think). My question: is creation ex-nihilo really important for this type of engagement? How much would change without this doctrine?

  3. July 15, 2007 12:34 pm

    Great question, Steve. I haven’t really thought about that angle much. Where have you picked up on the ex nihilo doctrine being prominent in theologies of culture? Not that I disagree, but certainly its not in the pop xn publishing world. Here are a few thoughts:

    1) There is not a theology of culture per se in the Bible, so we are forced back to the origins of culture-making–creation.

    2) If God did not make creation “ex nihilo” this would mean that creation was either made from him (emanation/panentheism) or that it was always around (eternal creation/pantheism). Both have been views held by the church at various points in history.

    If creation is an emanation of God, then God is directly implicated in all of its shortcomings and successes; there is no real distinction between God and the world(s). As a result, creation is deified and is degraded, and in turn, culture is deified or degraded, depending on the state of creation or culture considered. For example, majestic peaks in the swiss alps mean God is majestic and terrible town-wrecking tornadoes mean God is the author of evil. A very Greek view of God and creation.

    If creation is eternal, then this posits a impersonal, divine rival to God. Thus, panthesits are right to worship creation because it has always been and is self-sufficient, not dependent upon a Creator. A very Eastern view of “God” and creation.

    When it comes to culture–mankind’s manipulation of creation–both pantheism and panentheism would lead to a deification of culture. We are little gods making worship-worthy things out of him. A beautiful series of notes, arranged by a composer, should be worshipped for what it is divine. The ontological distinction between culture and God is blurred and we end up with God/Creation getting all teh credit for culture. On the flipside, gross cultural practices like child pornography would ultimately be God/Creation’s fault, with humanity as a inconsequential participant in what is a product of the divine. Human responsibility is marginalized when creation is not distanced from God by a mediator.

    3) Creation ex nihilo gives creation free-standing purpose and ontological value, since it isnt made from some other more important substance, like God, while also preventing a deification of creation/culture because it is an historical rival to God–it always has been. This, in turn, give meaning and purpose to culture making, allowing for culture to be both good and bad, depending on how it reflects the creator’s design and ethics.

    4) Without creation ex nihilo, creation and culture collapse into God, making the three ontologically indiscernable. God becomes eternal stuff; not a divine community. Personal value and commununal participation in culture-making are rendered obsolete, since creation and culture come from an impersonal force, not a tripersonal god. For instance, without creatio ex nihilo by a triune God, sports are reduced to a “battle of the gods”, creation versus God, man versus man. With ex nihilo via the Trinity, culture is necessarily marked by a communal creativity, by humanity made in his image. Culture is neither deified nor degraded on the whole, but can (1) be valued as free-standing creativity in the image of God (2) foster human community as a product of a divine community (3) not be rejected out of hand as “the bad culture” because it is made from stuff that God made out of nothing (4) should not rule our lives, since God is greater that creation and culture.

    How does that resonate?

  4. Steve permalink
    July 15, 2007 2:04 pm


    Thanks. That answers my question. I am off to Ireland in a few hours and will not be able to comment, but I wanted you to know that I appreciated the thought you obviously put into my question.

  5. July 15, 2007 2:20 pm

    Have a great trip. It is an amazing country! Be sure to read Patrick’s Confessio and check out the his hot spots north of Dublin.

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