In my first post on creation and the Creator God, I said in passing that I prefer to think God’s creative and upholding work together. Pannenberg distinguishes between them because he likes to emphasize that creation took place outside of time and the upholding of creation is taking place within time.
I prefer to think of time as an ongoing process of creation. Panneberg needs to think of time as something that sort of exists because of his idea of Spirit as field, which I do not know what to make of. Anyway, I like the thought of creation as something that is ongoing. This raises the question: is creation then also something that has a goal and a purpose? Is it going anywhere?
Certainly, if we are to remain within the Christian tradition we must believe that this is the case in one way or another. For the early church at any rate, time in this world was a way of getting from point A, creation, to point B, the eschaton, the next world that would be complete and perfect. To be a Christian is to live some aspects of life in the next world already in this one.
But does this mean that there is a progression from A to B? Well, if we ask a church father like Irenaeus he would probably answer: Yes and No. In Irenaeus vision there was certainly ment to be a progression, but this progression was haltered because of sin. The coming of Christ as the second Adam starts this progression again, but only for the believer. The same is true for many other fathers: they seemed to think that because of sin the natural progression of the world was stopped, but because of Christ human beings can instead start progressing. The goal would still be in the coming world, but the process of getting there would begin here.
Now, while the early church could envision the decline of elements of the culture they lived in, they probably could not imagine a culture that can bring the very creation itself with it in its downfall. In other words, for the fathers, the world wasn’t really in need of saving. That this is now the case brings very different perspectives to Christian theology.
The progression that the church fathers wanted to see among Christians was mainly or a moral kind. This would be a moral improvement in the individual, that would lead to an over all improvement of the entire church, and then the world.
Today we have a completely different sense of what progress is. We have the concept of biological evolution, we have the ever increasing complexity of science and technology and we have the economical idea of growth. None of these were known before the last few centuries. With them has come the idea of a progress of history towards a higher state of civilisation (Hegel). Somewhere along the way the idea of the Christian sense of progress, the moral growth of the individual, was connected with the overall “myth of progress” of our culture.
What we see is that two of these modern myths of progress are failing: technology has in a sense turned against us, by creating environmental problems and mass lay-offs, and economy is increasingly showing that its concept of growth is often anti-human, favouring solutions that create a deeply inhumane societies (and individuals).
If it were not for the fact that the world and humanity is facing a crisis that may mean the end of both, theology could with ease revert back to the old view of progress, seeing that the modern sense of progress is an illusion. Only humans can grow, by the grace of God. But since God is the creator not only of humans but also of animals and trees and lakes and atmosphere, this is not good enough. What we see is increasingly a culture against God: a destructive culture facing a creative God. God is not with us, he is against us.
This is the situation in which we must speak in a sensible way of salvation.