Creatio ex creatis: God’s Culture

Memory of the Garden of EdenAndy Crouch, in For the beauty of the church: Casting a vision for the arts, refutes the common notion that culture originated with man’s creation. Recounting the events of Genesis 1-2, Crouch suggests that, “Unlike Genesis 1, Genesis 2 is not about creatio ex nihilo…. It is about creatio ex creatis–creation out of what was created. Making something of world” (32). The garden of Eden reflects culture as “God made all sorts of trees grow up from the ground—trees that were beautiful and that produced delicious fruit” (Gen. 2:9). Crouch notes that, “The trees trees of the garden are not just good for something. They are good simply in the beholding. They are beautiful” (33). In the description of the rivers that flow through the garden (Gen. 2:12), precious minerals in the description also suggest a non-utilitarian function. Here Crouch observes that, “God has located the garden in a place where the natural explorations of its human cultivators will bring them into contact with substances that will invite the creation of beauty” (33).  The aftermath of the fall reflects culture overstepping its boundaries. Crouch concludes that, “The man and woman try to use the world for something more than it can ever be–to replace relationship with God…. It is not good enough that the world be beautiful and good–we want it to be self-sufficient. We want to be self-sufficient in it” (34). The man and woman immediately produce culture after the fall by sewing of leaves to cover themselves (Gen. 3:7). Here Crouch notes that, “Culture is no longer the good, gracious activity of tending a good, gracious world. It is a defensive measure, an instrumental use of the world to ward off the world’s greatest threat–…of being known, of trusting one’s fellow creatures and one’s Creator” (34). However, the Creator intervenes providing an adequate covering for his creation prior to expelling them from his presence. Crouch concludes, “Far from washing his hands of the dirty dusty business of culture, abandoning it to human being at their best and worst, the Creator continues to create ex creatis. He stays in the story. Indeed, he ultimately enters the story at the point of greatest pressure and pain” (35).

Many observations could be made here on Crouch’s treatment. I would suggest a couple starting points when thinking about culture. First, we should recognize that God’s creative activity is very earthy. He created gardens from materials available to us. Therefore, we should not think of culture as something different than us– something out there, something to fear. Second, maybe one way to assess the rightness or wrongness of culture creation is to ask whether it is reflecting dependency on the Creator or self-sufficiency of the created. Third, we should recognize that God’s creative activity is ongoing. Paul reminds us, “anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him” (2 Cor. 5:17-18). The new person is a creative act of God through Christ. We now have a mission to bring others to know this creative act of God. God’s on-going creativity should remind us that no period of creativity is more sacred to God than another. Good wholesome culture happened in the garden as well as bad culture. Good culture happens today as well as bad culture. The question that remains is whether we are going to display self-sufficiency by refusing to engage today’s culture– refusing to assess its rightness or wrongness, running from it and creating our own fig leaves.


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