Did God Create the World and the Human Race?

The Scripture reveals that God created the heavens and the earth in all its vast array. He created all things visible and invisible. There is nothing in the entire universe, including space and time, which does not have its origin in God’s being and creative acts. God is the first cause of everything. Christians have long distinguished between immediate and mediate creation. Immediate creation means that God creates directly “out of nothing.” He spoke and matter was created. He spoke and order was brought out of chaos, and so forth. God also creates in mediate ways, meaning that he superintends the ongoing creative overflow of the world. This means that God not only started everything by creating time, space, and matter, it also means that he continues to superintend his creation even as we participate with him in creation through childbearing and other kinds of creative acts, including everything from painting a portrait to designing a rocket to creating an electronic circuit for cell phones and personal computers.

While all Christians believe, in principle, in both immediate and mediate creation by God, there are genuine differences about where the line is drawn. Some Christians have a very broad view of mediate creation which would include an extended evolutionary process in the emergence of the current created order. Other Christians reject most evolutionary theories and believe that the entire created order, in all its detailed intricacies, is the result of the immediate act of God’s spoken word. Certainly no truly Christian view, however, can deny that God is the first cause of the universe, that he created man and woman in his own image, and that he is sovereign over all of creation, including a direct supervision of the whole creation. God created the world out of nothing by calling it into existence.

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What Is the Trinity?

Christianity, like all monotheistic religions, asserts that there is only one God. We do not believe in three Gods. However, Christianity is unique in our understanding that the one God exists in three eternal and personal distinctions known as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The church has used the word “Trinity” to capture this great mystery. The word “Trinity” is a combination of two words, “Tri” and “unity.” The “tri” refers to the three eternal distinctions; the “unity” is to reinforce that we believe in only one God. This is normally expressed by saying that we believe that God is one in essence, but reveals himself through three eternal personal distinctions known as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The purpose of this revelation is primarily to demonstrate the personal, relational nature of God. God is, even apart from creation, eternally personal and relational. As the Puritans once observed, “God is, in himself, a sweet society.” There is relationship in the very nature of who God is. The whole universe flows forth from an eternal, relational tri-unity, not from a non-relational, solitary figure as taught by Islam.

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Keys to Catechesis: Discern the Prior Working of the Holy Spirit

Christians are commanded to “make culture” by reconstructing the grand narrative of the gospel. This grand story echoes from creation to fall, from covenant to incarnation, from resurrection to ascension, from Pentecost to church, from the return of Christ to New Creation. This big narrative of God’s mighty, redemptive acts loses its coherence when we only tell bits and pieces of the story. Often the surrounding, post-Christian culture forgets the grand story completely. Yet, the greatest tragedy is that the Church itself has so fragmented and domesticated the grand story that we are called to rebuild the broken walls almost from scratch. As Wesleyans, we must focus on the distinctives of our tradition as we seek to restore the fragmented gospel story.

The first rebuilding step is catechesis, or oral biblical instruction in the church and home, sometimes called altar and hearth catechesis. Although traditionally catechesis relates to the Catholic tradition, all Christian faiths are commanded to verbally share and teach others the gospel story. In Deuteronomy 6:6-7 Moses gives a command from the Lord, saying:

“Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder; inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and on your city gates.” (MSG)

Often when Christians begin to think about catechesis they begin by brainstorming what Christians should “do” or “know.” The “do” list includes such spiritual disciplines as prayer and scripture reading. The “know” list likely includes key doctrines such as the two natures of Christ, the doctrine of the Trinity or the Ten Commandments. However, the Wesleyan catechesis does not begin with knowledge, but with the person of Christ. Catechesis begins with the prior act of God in prevenient grace. Wesley believed all spiritual formation began with God’s action on behalf of the sinner, bridging the gap between human depravity and free will. Prevenient grace lifts the human race out of its debauchery and grants us the capacity to respond further to God’s grace. Jesus declares that “no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). This verse clearly refers to a longing rooted in the Triune God that precedes our justification. God’s prevenient grace is His act of unmerited favor. God’s grace “enlightens everyone” (John 1:9) and lifts us up, allowing us to exercise our will and respond to the gift of Christ. Thomas Oden aptly says that “the divine will always ‘goes before’ or ‘prevenes’ (leads the way) for the human will, so that the human will may choose freely in accord with the divine will.”1

Often, Wesleyans are wrongly accused of denying human depravity because of our emphasis on free will. However, Wesleyans believe in total depravity every bit as much as any five point Calvinist. Wesleyans and other denominations differ because Wesleyans believe that if the doctrine of human depravity is not linked to God’s action in prevenient grace, then serious theological difficulties arise. Wesleyan thought affirms that God has taken the initiative to create a universal capacity for the human race to receive His grace. Many, of course, still resist His will and persist in rebellion against God. Love wins, yes, but justice also wins. Wesleyan thought is actually a middle position between a Pelagian view (which makes every person an Adam and admits no sin nature or bondage due to Adam’s nature) and the Reformed view (which affirms limited atonement). By free will Wesleyans actually mean “freed will,” a will in bondage liberated by a free act of God’s grace. God’s grace, of course, is not free in every possible respect since we are all influenced in many ways by the effects of the Fall. However, as a result of God’s grace we now have a restored capacity that enables our hearts, minds and wills to respond to God’s gift.

1. Thomas C. Oden, The Word of Life (San Franscisco: Harper & Row, 1989), 2:189.

This is one of the “keys to catechesis” from my book Seven Keys to Catechesis in the 21st Century available for free at Seedbed.

Who Is God?

God is a personal being, infinite in love, knowledge, and power. He is perfect in wisdom, goodness, righteousness, justice, holiness, and truth. God is both the creator and sustainer of the universe. He is the final goal and judge of the universe, infinite and perfect in all his attributes.

The Jewish/Christian understanding of God is unique among all the religions of the world. Hinduism remains uncertain whether we can know that God is personal, or infinite in his perfections. Islam affirms that God is infinite in his perfections, but is uncertain if God can be personally knowable. Buddhism is officially nontheistic, denying all first causes, including God. In contrast, Christians affirm that God is personal and knowable.

To say that he is perfect in all his attributes is to declare that every attribute of God is enjoyed by him in its perfect state. He is infinitely pure, infinitely holy, infinitely righteous, infinitely loving, and so forth. Because we only know these attributes in fragmentary and distorted ways, we cannot fully comprehend how all these attributes are held perfectly and infinitely by God. Sometimes we may look at circumstances and not be able to discern how the justice or the love of God is manifest in certain situations. We do find comfort, however, in knowing that in the end, we shall see him as he truly is, and that he will make all things right. In the meantime, we can put our full trust and confidence in God’s nature and character.

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Introducing Thirty Questions: A Short Catechism on the Christian Faith

My book 30 Questions: A Short Catechism on the Christian Faith is available for purchase from the Seedbed store. This resource makes for a great teaching tool in local churches. Recently you’ve seen a few chapters posted, highlighting some of the content. From now on we’ll feature a chapter from my book each week in hopes of encouraging you to pick up the book and share it with others as well. Here you’ll read a snippet from each chapter, but you can read the entire passage at Seedbed.com.

Christians in the Western world have enjoyed a long sojourn at the center of cultural life. For hundreds of years we could expect that, broadly speaking, Judeo-Christian values were held up as worthy of emulation. People may not have followed the Ten Commandments, but they believed that they were true and that they reflected how people should live. Christianity was widely regarded as setting forth the proper moral standard for society. Christian values were generally defended in the church, in the home, and in society.

The word “catechesis” means “to sound down.” It refers to a teaching exchange between a seasoned, secure Christian and a new believer. The church has invested enormous time and energy into catechesis all through history. Small manuals were produced which were used to teach the basics of Christian faith. They were often in question-and-answer format and generally covered the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, the nature of the church, and the sacraments. There were longer manuals which were used by the church in confirmation classes and shorter manuals which were used by parents at home. All of the Protestant churches which emerged in the sixteenth century produced catechesis manuals. John Wesley’s first encounter with the Christian faith would have been through an Anglican catechism which he learned from his mother, Susanna, who became widely known for her deep commitment to the catechesis of children—not only her own children, but many others as well.

The purpose of this meditation is to provide a thirty-day short course in the Christian faith. Like traditional catechesis manuals, it is organized in a question-and-answer format. The questions can be used as a morning or evening devotional during any month of the year. Alternatively, a church or small Bible study group can use the manual over an eight-week period as follows: Week 1, questions 1–3; Week 2, questions 4–6; Week 3, questions 7–11; Week 4, questions 12–15; Week 5, question 16; Week 6, questions 17–20; Week 7, questions 21–25; and Week 8, questions 26–30.

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