Creation and the Trinity
I was reading Bavinck the other day and ran across this thought: the doctrine of creation and the doctrine of the Trinity “stand and fall together.” This is a massive claim. It is one that I think many of us do not contemplate all that much, and I would dare say some of us may even question. It may be helpful to trace Bavinck’s thoughts on this point.
At its basest form Bavinck sees the alternatives to Christian Trinitarian theism as only two: deism or pantheism. That is, for Bavinck, if one does not have a Trinitarian conception of God then inevitably that person will believe in what some have called the “divine watchmaker.” This is a god who set up the world and the laws by which it functions, but this god is impersonal and detached from creation. The other option to Christian Trinitarian theism is pantheism where everything is god. Everything is divine. Bavinck says that only Christian Trinitarian theism will guard against these two extremes.
Now how does all of this tie back to creation? Well, if one does not believe in creation ex nihilo (out of nothing), one cannot conceive of the Trinitarian life both ad intra (ontologically or inside itself) and ad extra (economically or outside itself). In deism God is mundane. He ultimately can do nothing but create. The consequence is that Christ becomes a created being (Arianism). In pantheism everything is divinized. The result is Christ becoming an emanation of god and still nothing special because he is just like all of us. However, what Trinitarianism allows for is both creation and emanation (or to use better theological language: generation). As Christians, we believe that the Son, the second member of the Trinity, is the eternally generated Son. At the same time we know and believe that creation does exist, but it exists as a created thing. There is a definite distinction between the creator and the creature.
In all of this there is a confession that all the members of the Trinity are active in the work of God ad extra. This work is common to them all and indivisible. Yet our understanding of the Trinity and our understanding of creation as informed by Scripture is that there are certain works ascribed to certain members of the Trinity. That is to say that the work of God ad intra is diverse so we can still observe diversity in the works of God ad extra.
When we get our understanding of creation wrong, we get our understanding of God wrong. When we get our understanding of God wrong, we get our understanding of creation wrong. You see, these two doctrines stand and fall together. Thus, it is my contention (and I believe Bavinck would agree) that we must start with the confession of the Trinity and constantly be bringing our thoughts back to it. It is this confession that grounds us and our thinking. It is this confession that draws us back to a firm foundation. It is really the door through which we need to walk to enter the realm of theology.
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