Alexander Campbell & the Regeneration of CreationAuthor: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Alexander Campbell, Christian hope, Church History, eschatology, Restoration History, resurrection
The biblical teaching of renewed creation has been a subject of controversy at this years Freed Hardemen University Lectures being addressed in both the Open Forum by Ralph Gilmore and in a class setting by Tony Lawrence. My friend, John Mark Hicks and myself along with our book Kingdom Come were mentioned by name. I was not satisfied with the presentations of either however and remained committed to the position of the early church and beyond that what I believe is the biblical teaching on redemption, salvation and regeneration.
One of the basic flaws in both Gilmore and Lawrence’s presentation is the failure to grasp that renewed creation does not rest upon a single text with a significant textual variant (2 Peter 3). Rather renewed creation is embedded in the entire biblical narrative from Genesis to Revelation as the outworking of God’s comprehensive plan of salvation. Over the years I have become more impressed with Alexander Campbell’s grasp of biblical theology. He was neither inspired nor right about everything but he clearly understood that the Bible had a unified story to tell on regeneration, redemption and salvation. He also understood that Christianity is not a form of Platonism – NT words have a Hebraic hue to the them rather than Platonic. I have previously noted some similarities between Campbell & N.T. Wright but in this blog I want to quote Campbell at length to show his grasp of the biblical flow of regeneration.
What I am about to share is not exactly isolated teaching in Campbell. I will be quoting from an essay that was originally published as an “Extra” for the August 5, 1833 Millennial Harbinger (pp. 337-384). Campbell would reprint this same essay without change in his classic Christianity Restored in 1835 (pp. 257-309) and again in The Christian System (pp.219-265). The Reformer would return these themes in other publications as well (i.e. Familiar Lectures on the Pentateuch). It is apparent this was not a minor theme to Campbell rather he thought it lies near the basic story of scripture itself.
Campbell begins his essay with the heading “REGENERATION” with “I create New Heavens and a New Earth. (Is. lxv.18: ‘Behold I make all things New.’ Rev. xxi.5.” underneath. Declaring that he has neither learned his theology from Athanasius nor his morality from Seneca but rather from immersion in the biblical narrative he says we need to listen to the prophets, Jesus and the apostles to learn what regeneration means. The biblical narrative, along with the Incarnation of the Word, are the pivot points for any biblical understanding of regeneration:
“God’s own Son is proposed as the model. Conformity to him in glory, honor and immortality, as the perfection of the regenerate, is the predestination of him who speaks of things that be not, as though they were. Regeneration is, therefore, moral and physical; or, in other words, there is now a renovation of the mind – of the understanding, will, and affections; – and there will hereafter be a renovation of the body: ‘For this corruptible body shall put on incorruption, and this mortal body shall put on immortality” (p. 338).
Christology, it is apparent affects eschatology! Following his intro Campbell proceeds to give, as he sees best, a comprehensive biblical understanding of the flow of redemption. The bath of regeneration, New birth, renewing of the Spirit, and the new life. These themes lead to physical regeneration, regeneration of the church, the world and the heavens and earth. I will quote from under the headings of physical regeneration and then heavens and earth.
“Our mortal bodies are yet to feel the regenerating power of the Son of God. This is emphatically called ‘the glory of his power.’ ‘The redemption of the body’ from bondage to corruption, is the consummation of the new-creating energy of him who has immortality. Life and incorruptibility were displayed in and by his resurrection from the dead. It was great to create man in the image of God, greater to redeem his soul from general corruption, but greatest of all to give to his mortal frame incorruptible and immortal vigor. The power displayed in the giving to the dead body of the Son of God incorruptible glory and endless life, is set forth by the Apostle Paul as incomparably surpassing every other divine work within the reach of human knowledge. He prays that the mind of Christians may be enlarged to apprehend this mighty power – that the Father of glory would open their minds, ‘that they may know the exceeding greatness of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places.’ Faith in this wonderful operation of God – hope for the riches of the glory of the inheritance of the saints in light, are the most powerful principles of action which God has ever planted in the human breast. This is the transcendent hope of the Christian calling, which imparted such heroic courage to all the saints of eternal renown. This better resurrection in prospect, has produced heroes which make cowards of all the boasted chiefs of worldly glory. As the magnetic needle ever points to the pole, so the mind influenced by this hope ever rises to the skies, and terminates on the fullness of joy and the pleasures forevermore, in the presence and at the right hand of God.
To raise a dead body to life again, is not set forth as more glorious than by a touch to give new vigor to the palsied arm, to impart sight to the blind, or hearing to the deaf; but to give that raised body the deathless vigor of incorruptibility, to renovate and transform it in all its parts, and to make every spirit feel that it reanimates its own body, that is an insusceptible of decay, as immortal as the Father of eternity, is a thought overwhelming to every mind, a development which will glorify the power of God, as the sacrifice of his Son now displays his righteousness, faithfulness, and love to the heavens and to the earth.
This new birth from the dark prison of the grave, is fitly styled ‘the redemption of the body’ from bondage, ‘the glorious liberty of the sons of God.’ As in our watery grave the old man is figuratively buried to rise no more, so in the literal grave, the prison of the body, we leave all that is corrupt; for he that makes all things new will raise us up in his own likeness, and present us before the Father’s face in all the glory of immortality. Then will regeneration be complete. Then will be the full revelation of the sons of God.
Immortality, in the sacred writings, is never applied to the spirit of man. It is not the doctrine of Plato which the resurrection of Jesus proposes. It is the immortality of the body[sic] of which his resurrection is a proof and pledge. This was never developed till he became the first born from the dead, and in a human body entered into the heavens. Jesus was not a spirit when he returned to God. He is not made the Head of the New Creation as a Spirit, but as the Son of Man. Our nature in his person is glorified; and when he appears to our salvation, we shall be made like him: we shall then see him as he is. This is the Christian hope …
Thus matters stand in the economy of redemption. Thus the divine scheme of regeneration is consummated: the moral part, by the operation of moral means; the physical part, by the mighty power of God operating through physical means. By the word of his power he created the heavens and the earth; by the word of his grace he reanimates the soul of man; and by the word of his power he will again form our bodies of an incorruptible and everlasting union. Then shall death ‘be swallowed up forever.’ ‘Where now thy victory, boasting grave.?’ But for this we must patiently wait … (pp. 358-359).
Alexander Campbell clearly believes several things: it is a glory of the Lord to bring physical bodies back to life; that hope of actual resurrection is one of the greatest motivating forces in all the Christian faith; that Jesus was raised bodily and ascended to the presence of God and exists now in that same presence in bodily form; and it is clear that Campbell understood that Plato who applies immortality to the SOUL is alien from the Bible which applies it to the BODY; and it is clear that Campbell did not interpret Romans 8 as the lecturers at Freed Hardeman University have done. But we are not done …
The belief in a bodily resurrection is directly tied to renewed creation. Without fail those who deny renewed creation also teach some kind of “spiritual” resurrection and denigrate the holy nature of God’s creation. But not Alexander Campbell as we have seen. Long before that trouble maker N. T. Wright came along Campbell (like innumerable Church Fathers and Christians before him) believed the ending of Revelation was somehow tied to the Genesis …
“The Bible begins with the generations of the heavens and the earth; but the Christian revelation ends with the regeneration or new creation of the heavens and the earth. This is the ancient promise of God, confirmed to us by the Christian Apostles. The present elements are to be changed by fire. The old or antediluvian earth was purified by water; but the present earth is reserved for fire, with all the works of man that are upon it. It shall be converted into a lake of liquid fire. But the dead in Christ will have been regenerated in body before the old earth is regenerated by fire. The bodies of the saints will be as homogeneous with the new earth and heavens as their present bodies are with the present heavens and earth. God recreates, regenerates, but annihilates nothing; and therefore the present earth is not to be annihilated. The best description which we can give of this regeneration, is in the words of one who had a vision of it on the island of Patmos. He describes it as far as is connected with the New Jerusalem, which is to stand upon the new earth, under the canopy of the new heaven. As the natural close of our essay on regeneration, we shall transcribe the picture of this new earth and the New Jerusalem, drawn by the direction of that Spirit to whom the future is as intelligible as the past: –
“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the former heaven and the former earth were passed away; and the sea was no more. And I, John, saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem, descending from God out of heaven, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and he shall pitch his tent among them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be among them – their God. And he shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more, nor grief, nor crying; nor shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.'” (p. 377)
Campbell extends his quotation to the entirety of Revelation 21 from the Living Oracles version of the New Testament. Alexander Campbell believed, correctly I believe, that God’s reply to the Fall was to answer and undo ALL the effects of the Fall. Second Peter 3 does not teach the annihilation of the earth (and Campbell is not even reading from those nefarious versions – NIV, ESV or NRSV!!). No, God did not abandon his creation because to do so was to actually abandon humanity itself! Campbell believed the line we sing but perhaps do not grasp holistically … though Isaac Watts did …
“No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow FAR AS THE CURSE is FOUND, Far as the curse is found, Far as, far as the curse is found.” (Joy to the World, v.3)
May we not minimize the victory of God but loudly proclaim it. As Campbell testifies, it is breathtaking.