N.T. Wright on the Redemption of the Whole Cosmos


“Where the New Age has made its greatest inroads has been, I think, at the points where the church has allowed itself to slip into the prevailing dualism, with a distant god and a negative attitude towards creation (including one’s own personal bit of creation, that is, one’s body). The New Age offers a sudden and exciting reversal of this: creation, including oneself, is divine. Paul’s gospel offers the reality of which this is the parody. Creation is not God, but God has made it to reflect his own beauty and, ultimately, to share the freedom of the glory of his children. Human beings are not divine, but they are designed to reflect his own image, and to be filled with his own Spirit…

“In particular, the Pauline redefinition of God included, as we saw, the redefinition of the righteousness of God… (In Romans 8) Paul outlines and celebrates the hope that one day the entire cosmos will have its own great exodus, its liberation from bondage to decay. The point is this: the covenant between God and Israel was always designed to be God’s means of saving the whole world. It was never supposed to be the means whereby God would have a private group of people who would be saved while the rest of the world went to hell (whatever you might mean by that) Thus, when God is faithful to the covenant in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and in the work of the Spirit, it makes nonsense of the Pauline gospel to imagine that the be-all and end-all of this operation is so that God can have another, merely different, private little group of people who are saved while the world is consigned to the cosmic waste-paper basket. It is not insignificant that the critical passages at this point, the middle of Romans 8 and the middle of 1 Corinthians 15, have themselves often been consigned to a kind of exegetical and theological limbo, with Protestant exegesis in particular appearing quite unsure what to do with them.

“I suggest, in fact, that we should be prepared to think through the question of justice—God’s justice for the world, in the eventual future, and anticipated in the present—as part of the theme of what we cal the righteousness of God. The word dikaiosune, after all, can just as easily be translated ‘justice’ as ‘righteousness’. If it is true that God intends to renew the whole cosmos through Christ and by the Spirit—and if that isn’t true then Paul is indeed talking nonsense in Romans 8 and 1 Corinthians 15—then, just as the holiness of Christian living in the present is a proper, albeit partial, fitful and puzzling, anticipation of the future life of the resurrection, so acts of justice, mercy and peace in the present are proper, albeit inevitably partial, fitful and puzzling anticipations of God’s eventual design. They are not lost or wasted; they are not, in the old caricature, a matter of oiling the wheels of a machine that is about to run over a cliff. They are signs of hope for a world that groans in travail, waiting for its promised liberation.

“When we explore God’s righteousness to its very end, it reveals (as we saw) the love of God—the creator’s love for the cosmos he has made, and his determination to remake it through the victory of Christ over the powers that deface and distort it. God intends to flood creation with his own love, until the earth is filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea. If the gospel reveals the righteousness of God, and if the church is commanded and authorized to announce that gospel, it cannot rest content—for exegetical as well as theological reasons—with anything less than this complete vision. And it cannot therefore rest content while injustice, oppression and violence stalk God’s world. After all, Christians are commanded to bring one small piece of creation—their own bodies—into obedience to the healing love of God in Christ. Christians are to live in the present in the light of what God intends us to be in the future. That, as we saw, is what holiness is all about. How can we then not apply the same point to the whole of creation?”


      — from What Saint Paul Really Said (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997), pp.162-64

6 comments on “N.T. Wright on the Redemption of the Whole Cosmos

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