Book Review: Creation Regained
Albert Wolters is an emeritus professor of religion and theology/classical languages at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario. In his book Creation Regained, Wolters seeks to provide an outline of the ‘content of a biblical worldview and its significance for our lives as we seek to be obedient to the Scriptures’ (1). He self-consciously notes that this worldview outline follows from the Dutch reformed tradition of Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, Herman Dooyeweerd, and D. H. T. Vollenhoven. Indeed, if you read this book with an awareness of the core theological insights of each of the thinkers previously mentioned, you will see their influence on Wolters in the shaping of his outline of a biblical worldview.
In Chapter 1, Albert Wolters introduces the idea of a worldview. His definition of a worldview is ‘a comprehensive framework of one’s basic beliefs about things’ (2). This definition is explained by highlighting four aspects of the definitions; 1) things mean anything that exists, 2) beliefs have to do with ‘cognitive claims’ as opposed to feelings or opinions, 3) these beliefs are basic in that they address the big questions of life, and 4) these basic beliefs form a ‘framework’ which is an interpretative grip for all things. Everyone has a worldview whether they are aware of it or not. One’s worldview can slowly be ascertained by observing the way one assesses and make judgments regarding the big questions of life or contemporary issues of society. This is because a worldview effectively serves as an analytical toolbox by which one can interact with a ‘thing,’ and not only make sense of it but also, make judgments regarding it. By the end of the chapter Wolters introduces us to the two main categories distinctions he identifies as constituting a biblically informed reformational worldview; 1) Creation, Fall, and Redemption, 2) Structure and Direction. These categories are the tools that make up the analytical toolbox of the reformational worldview, and by which we are able to engage, analyse, and assess things from a biblical perspective.
In Chapter 2, Wolters begins working through the first of three theological themes in the Christian worldview and story; that is, creation. Creation doesn’t just refer to the natural world, but to all things that exist — and as such this includes societies, education, the laws of logic, and so on. God acts sovereignly through what Wolters calls Law, that is ‘the totality of God’s ordaining acts toward the cosmos’ (15). Law can be split into two kinds; laws of nature (e.g. law of gravity) and norms (for culture and society). It is the latter that he argues we have often overlooked. After arguing for; the connection between God’s Word and his Law, the comprehensive scope of creation to include things such as culture, and the revelatory nature of creation (that it reveals God’s wisdom), Wolters points out that the creation mandate (Gen. 1:28) is in fact a command of God to develop creation (which he calls civilisation) and that requires a recognition and affirmation of the goodness of creation.
In Chapter 3, Wolters moves to the second of three theological themes, which is the Fall. The Fall was not merely an act of personal disobedience with restricted consequences to only Adam and Eve, but it also had consequences for the whole created order. This necessarily includes; society, culture, technology, and so on. However, this should not lead us to conclude that the fall and creation are now indistinguishable from one another. Wolters begins to outline his second set of category distinctions (structure and direction) to avoid this possibility. Structure means that the very nature of creation is still ‘good,’ however with the Fall came a change in ‘direction’ where creation is turned away from God. Wolters uses this category distinction to critique the faulty division between worldly/secular and godly/sacred. In this view, anything that does not require participation in explicitly Christian ideas is secular. However, using the distinctions of structure and direction we are able to understand the ‘sacredness’ of all things, in that their structures are normed by God and they can be directed toward God.
In Chapter 4, Wolters turns to the last of the three theological themes in his focus on redemption. This chapter begins with a brief overview of the use of the word redemption (and other soteriological words) to show that its’ scope is all of creation. He writes ‘If the whole creation is affected by the fall, then the whole creation is also reclaimed in Christ’ (72). For Wolters, this understanding is supported by a sound view of the Kingdom of God demonstrated in the ministry of Jesus (where restoration plays a prominent theme), and set against the deficient views of pietism, dispensationalism, and classical liberal Protestantism.
In Chapter 5, Wolters considers the practical implications for such a reformational worldview. Firstly, it has implications for our understanding of personal renewal (sanctification), and secondly, for our understanding of societal renewal (re-direction) where we see human institutions such as the family, school, church, and the civil government re-directed to be in accord with their God-normed structure. The chapter closes with Wolter’s application of the two tools (creation, fall, redemption along with structure and direction) on the analysis of four topics: aggression, spiritual gifts, sexuality, and dancing. Wolters shows in each case how one is to discern the structure (and therefore inherent goodness) and direction (mis-direction in the case of its fallenness, and re-direction in the case of its redemption).
For the 118 pages in which his work is contained, Wolters offers a remarkably succinct and yet full outline of a reformational worldview that is insightful and applicable. However, there are several concerns that arise when reading the work. Firstly, there is the scant appearance of exegetical work in the laying out of claims based on scriptural texts. Given the length of the book, one shouldn’t expect a detailed analysis of the original languages in every instance that the text of the Bible is engaged, however, the book remains wanting in its’ exegetical proximity to the text of the Bible (for example, there is no exegetical support for the distinctions of structure and direction, as compared to that of norms in creation, or scope in the fall). Secondly, there is the notable absence of the institutional or organic church in his outline of the kingdom of God when supporting the scope of redemption as all of creation. Not only is the absence a problem, but the absence necessarily leaves no unique role for the Church (either institutional or organic) in the redemption of the fallen creation. This problem is further compounded by Wolters implicit levelling of the Church with other human institutions (e.g. government) when discussing how we should think about the categories of sacred and secular. While the Church is certainly a human institution (like a civil government), it is also the called out and gathered people of God (unlike a civil government). Thirdly, and following from the second point, is the flatlining of sacredness such as, for example, to make equal the sacredness of woodworking with the sacredness of the worship of the gathered people of God on the Lord’s Day. While there is certainly a sacredness in human activities that ought to be affirmed, the unique set of spiritual practices (for example, Word and Sacrament) commanded by God to His people on a day set apart for Him results in a thickening, and intensification of the sacredness of the time and space bound reality of Worship.
While I regret the weaknesses of the book in the aforementioned areas, I find it ultimately convincing of a reformational worldview and beneficial for understanding the broad way in which the lens of Scripture serves as a grid for understanding and interacting with the vast array of things contained in creation. It is particularly helpful as a corrective to Christian worldviews that have been hyper-individualistic in their application of redemption to creation (as only tangibly applying to individual humans in the moment of conversion). The tone of the work is constructive and sensitive to the potential objections and questions readers may have as they read through the book. As such, it serves as a good introductory guide to what is a deep and broad tradition of philosophical-theological thought (Dutch Calvinist reformational philosophy).
 For example, the concept of ‘norms,’ which comes up in chapter two when Wolters deals with creation, and his mention of a pre-theoretical perspective in chapter one, can be traced back to Herman Dooyeweerd. For more see Andree Troost, What is reformational philosophy: an introduction to the cosmonomic philosophy of Herman Dooyeweerd (New York: Paideia Press, 2012)
 This is particularly surprising given the role of these two categories of understanding the church in Abraham Kuyper and subsequent Dutch-reformed thinkers such as Herman Bavinck and Herman Dooyeweerd.
 For more on this idea of the worship service as an intensification of sacredness see Dykstra and Bass, “Times of Yearning, Practices of Faith,” in Practicing Our Faith, ed. Dorothy Bass (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1997), 5