A Wesleyan Account of the Doctrine of Creation

A Wesleyan Account of the Doctrine of Creation

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What follows is an account of the biblical doctrine of creation, as taught by John Wesley and early Methodism. It is an excerpt from The Faith Once Delivered: A Wesleyan Witness to Christian Orthodoxy (Seedbed, 2024).

Creation—Image Given and Marred

56. Creation is the work of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father worked through the Son and the Spirit. Creation began with the divine declaration: “let there be light” (Gen. 1:3). In an eternal movement, the Father spoke forth all things through his Word who was “in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being” (John 1:2–3). This Word, the Son, is the divine Image who served as the architect and serves now as the aim of creation (Col. 1:15–16). The Spirit hovers over creation to complete the work of the Father and the Son (Gen. 1:2).

An Ordered Creation

57. No matter how much we reduce the universe to its smallest components, we will be hard-pressed to find the reason or cause for its existence. The reason or cause for its existence and its continuance must be external to it. And yet, a contingent entity such as the universe cannot have a beginningless beginning; the universe is not eternal. And if it is not eternal and had a beginning, its beginning was caused. Nothing causes its own beginning. Wesley attributed the order of this universe to a first cause; namely, God. He asserted that a mindless chaotic beginning would not account for the order observed in the universe.

58. Why is there order in the universe rather than disorder? Wesley simply observed: “from what we see of heaven and earth, we may infer the eternal power and Godhead of the great Creator” (Notes on the OT, Genesis 1:1). God is the author and cause of the universe and the order that we see in it. Wesley’s views were consistent with other attempts to argue for the existence of God: the very existence of heaven and earth enable us to infer the existence of their causes; namely, the existence of a good God.

59. Creation is good, and the creation of human beings is very good (Gen. 1:31). From the highest to the lowest, goodness is built into every aspect of the creation. The goodness of every living thing testifies to the glory of God by expressing his holiness (Isa. 6:3). And in making creation good, God has given us the gift of his glory and called us to reflect that glory in holy lives.

God’s Relationship with Creation

60. God is in a dynamic and life-giving relationship with his creation. The entire created order is dependent upon him for life (Ps. 36:6; 1 Cor. 8:6). Nothing exists without the hands of the Potter holding it together (Isa. 48:13). Out of nothing, God made all things in a single divine act (Rom. 4:17; Heb. 11:3). To acknowledge God as God is to know that the Father sustains all things by his Word and continuously breathes life into all things by his Spirit (Job 33:4; Acts 17:25).

61. Creation unfolds in beauty and order through the Son and the Spirit. Reflecting on God’s bringing order to creation, Wesley states: “The Creator could have made his work perfect at first, but by this gradual proceeding he would show ordinarily the method of his providence and grace” (Notes on the OT; Gen. 1:2). God first created and then shaped creation so that it would reflect his life.

62. Genesis describes creation as moving from chaos to order by means of God filling the emptiness and ordering the disordered. All things come forth with time and through time as the Spirit enlarges and matures every living thing in accordance with its own design (Eccl. 3:1). Through God’s artistry, creation grows and blossoms into the harmony and symmetry found in the holiness of God. Through love, God made creatures in goodness so that, in radiating his glory, they might share his holiness and delight in his happiness.

63. As God’s handiwork, creation is forged in and for love. He fills creation with divine promise and purpose (Rom. 11:36). There is a deep relational structure to the universe that expresses divine communion and fellowship. The order and arrangement of creation in Genesis 1 reveals how everything has its own place in God’s grand symphony. From the sun and planets to the smallest forms of life, all is formed and knitted together so that the psalmist declares: “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14). Through this mutuality and interdependence, “the heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19:1). God has designed all things for relationship with himself and with one another.

Humanity as Object of God’s Love

64. Humanity as a whole and every individual within it has come into being as an object of God’s love. Humans are subjects of love in the sense that they are created as recipients of holy love, and made to be capable of loving with that same love. Indeed, the final purpose of human existence is only fulfilled in holy love, continuously growing in this life and in the one to come.

65. For this, humans were endowed in creation with the ability to observe and learn. We learn from the physical world, directly from God, from others, from past teaching and experience, and we use this capacity to reason, prioritize, and process information. Ideally, this gaining of information is transformed into understanding and wisdom expressed in holy actions and holy character, thus allowing the full expression of love.

66. The purpose of knowing is to suitably love. Love can be defined as the motivating affectionate desire for another that seeks the fulfillment of that other’s final purpose. It is motivating because it leads to willful action. This love is affectionate because it generates relationship and is expressed in desire for the company and well-being of the other. It seeks the final purpose because true affection is relational and oriented toward the ongoing good of those we truly love.

Humanity and the Image of God

67. According to Genesis, the creation of humans is distinctive because only human beings are created in God’s Image (1:26–27). The Image of God is a powerful idea, but is confined almost entirely to three passages in the opening chapters of Genesis (1:26–27; 5:1–2; 9:6; cf. 5:3). Even these passages are not entirely transparent as to what the idea means. This has resulted in the notion of God’s Image being invested with a vast number of meanings, not all of which can be accurate because not all of them agree.

68. Interpretations have taken two primary approaches. One view is to believe that the idea of humans being created in the Image of God communicates the specialness of human beings; the Image of God is a kind of essence (or substance) marking humans as inherently dignified and worthy of respect as “Image-bearers.” The other view is that the Image is less about essence than it is about ethics. From this perspective, human beings are in the Image of God if they do, in fact, image God. If they do not, then they are not.

69. Careful study casts light on these two views (and others). In the ancient world, monarchs were the royal representatives of the gods and often set up images of themselves in conquered territory to stand in for their own power and ownership. In this light, the biblical Image has profound ethical ramifications: human beings re-present God in the world. This would explain why Genesis 1 moves immediately to describe the privileged position of human beings vis-à-vis the rest of the created order (v. 28). But in Scripture, the Image of God is intrinsic to all humans everywhere and always. It never applies only to a powerful few at the top of the social hierarchy, nor is it based on ethics, but applies intrinsically to all humankind, explicitly including both male and female (Gen. 1:26–27; 5:1–2).

70. But what exactly is God’s Image? Just this far in Genesis 1, Scripture presents God as one who creates—making room for other things, entities, elements—and who does so nonviolently, arranging and ordering and blessing. These aspects of God’s Image must comprise part of what it means to image God. Human “dominion” over creation, for example, must image the God who is Lord of creation and rules benevolently with blessing for all creatures, not just humans, and judges all creation to be very good. The violence that marks life east of Eden (Gen. 4:1–16; 6:11–13) is a failure to bear God’s Image (cf. James 3:9); the spilling of blood is of utmost concern precisely because of the Image of God in humans (Gen. 9:6). We are called, therefore, to protect and value human life from conception to natural death. Violence against the creation is a rejection of the mandate implicit in being an Image-bearer.

71. It seems clear that the Image of God combines both ethical and essential aspects. But whatever else it communicates, the Image is fundamentally a creational category: God creates or makes humans in this fashion (Gen. 1:26–27; 5:1–2; 9:6), which means that humans do not create themselves, but belong to their Lord (Ps. 100:3). Connection to creation is apparent also in Christ, who the New Testament calls “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1:15; see also 2 Cor. 4:4; Heb. 1:3), and in whom all things were created (Col. 1:16; John 1:3, 10). Christ’s very essence is God—and comprehensively so (Col. 1:19)—with ethical ramifications; Christ, too, creates, orders, arranges, blesses, and chooses suffering rather than retaliation.

This is an excerpt from The Faith Once Delivered: A Wesleyan Witness to Christian Orthodoxy (Seedbed, 2024). Included are 213 articles of faith centered around:

  1. Section I
    God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
  2. Section II
    Creation—Image Given and Marred
  3. Section III
    Revelation—The Image Revealed
  4. Section IV
    Salvation—The Image Restored
  5. Section V
    The Church—Life in the Image
  6. Section VI
    The Fullness of Time—The Glorified Image

An appendix in the back offers discussion/reflection questions for each section. Get it from our store here.


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