Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert build their case from a range of biblical texts in What Is the Mission of the Church? In engaging their work, I’ll start with how they portray the beginning of all things—the creation account and God’s intentions for humanity.
I find their treatment of the character of creation problematic in two ways, and I’ll treat these in separate posts. First, throughout their book they distinguish between worship and human flourishing, setting them over against each other as two separate dynamics. Referring to the consummation of all things in the end, they assert the following: “Worship is the end of the end of the story, not human flourishing, because a redesigned world is nothing without delight in God” (p. 247).
I noted in the previous post that for DeYoung and Gilbert, the central task(s) of the church is worship and disciple-making. Seeking the flourishing of creation through good works is something that is commendable, but not essential. It’s a distraction from the church’s central task and it’s something Christians may do on their own when the church scatters.
But this misrepresents the essential identification of worship and human flourishing in the creation account. Genesis 1-2 utilizes temple imagery to frame God’s relation to the world and humanity’s relation to God and the world. Scripture depicts the whole of creation as God’s temple, the place where he is encountered, known, and worshiped. God places Adam and Eve in the garden as his “image.” Just as “images” are found in pagan temples to represent an unseen deity, so God places Adam and Eve in the garden to “image” the unseen Creator God.
God charges Adam and Eve with tending and keeping the garden (Gen. 2:15). Further, they are to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28) He had already commanded them to be fruitful and multiply (v. 28), referring to the procreation and spread of humanity all over the earth. So “filling the earth” involves the development of culture in all its wonderful variety.
Just as God formed what was formless, and filled what was void or empty (Gen. 1:2), humanity is to fill the earth with all sorts of created and creative things. It is crucial to note that Scripture identifies these pursuits as the manner in which they play the role of being God’s image.
Further, Adam and Eve were to “subdue” the creation (Gen. 1:28). In Genesis 1-2, the garden reality is not equivalent to the whole of creation. The garden is where God’s shalom was present. Outside the garden is still undeveloped, loaded with potential. Creation—both the garden and what was outside the garden—needs humanity to continue to manage it, overseeing its flourishing and the cultivation of ever-expanding and ever-increasing shalom. God gives humanity the task of spreading shalom throughout the whole of creation so that all of it might flourish.
And here’s the point: All of this is worship. All human pursuits are activity within the temple. Their work was worship. Their Sabbath rest-from-work, their play and exploration of the wonder of creation was worship. Their discovery of new tasks and development of tools was worship. Their discovery of one another and delight in each other was worship. At the point of creation, all human activity is carried out in the temple and is therefore “sacred.”
The identification of all human activity as worship in Reformed theology, along with other Christian traditions, is why most Reformed theologians do not operate with a split between the sacred and the secular.
Humanity’s furthering of shalom and their management of creation’s flourishing constituted exactly and precisely their worship of the Creator God. It was the means whereby they enjoyed being all God designed them to be in God’s good world. God delighted in their filling out what it meant to be human and enjoyed it all along with them.
There’s so much more to say about this, but the bifurcation between worship and seeking human flourishing in DeYoung’s and Gilbert’s book falls short of a faithful representation of Genesis 1-2. This leads to a serious misreading of the character of salvation and the mission of the church. Throughout their book, they set discipleship over against good deeds. They set worship over against seeking the flourishing of creation. Obedience to God, on their view, is something other than God’s original intention for humanity. This leads to the “sacred-secular” split that runs through their work. Activity in church is essential, but what I do the rest of the week, however good, is non-essential.
We’ll address the important question of whether God is recovering what was lost at the fall, or if he sets aside humanity’s original design and pursues something else. DeYoung and Gilbert indicate that salvation involves the latter. Since God’s design has gone wrong, the tasks to which God committed humanity are no longer our responsibility. They claim that Christ has fulfilled Adam and Eve’s commission (p. 211), and indicate that after the consummation of God’s saving purposes humanity will once again take up its original task (p. 213). For now, however, human flourishing is a distraction from the church’s central task. The Christian church should focus on worship and making disciples. The flourishing of creation is not our responsibility.
We’ll revisit this claim as we work through the Scriptures. Just to look ahead, at point after point, Scripture portrays God’s saving mission as one in which he is recovering what was lost, restoring humanity to its original role as God’s “image.” This role does not allow for the division of worship from seeking creation’s flourishing.