On Creatureliness

W. Jackson Watts

Over the last 15-20 years I’ve spent an extensive amount of time reading, thinking, and occasionally writing about the interrelated themes of creation, culture, and creatureliness. Some of my interest in these was no doubt always latent, given that I was raised in a rural, agrarian region, and specifically on a family farm.

Yet the more academic or intellectual side of my interests was perhaps triggered most by Ken Myers, founder of Mars Hill Audio Journal, and Darrell Holley, English professor at Welch College. They set me on a course that would be cultivated by many other authors and mentors, including (but not limited to) Matt Pinson, Bruce Little, and eventually Norman Wirzba.

Wirzba was my advisor for Th.M. studies at Duke Divinity School. Our relationship was especially fortuitous. I didn’t fully realize when I matriculated that he was on the verge of distinguishing himself as one of the foremost theologians writing about creation, sabbath, food, and ecological concerns. To date, his works span these and related subjects, and have garnered him no small number of honors and awards.

It goes without saying that we don’t agree with our teachers on everything. (That’s truer for some more than others!) Yet Wirzba is the type of writer whose words pull me to and hold me close to each page. One commonly feels the urge to underline the vast number of elegant sentences he pens in each book.

Lately I’ve returned to his work, From Nature to Creation. One of my research interests in recent years concerns this question: what’s at stake in our usage of a word like “nature,” a word so prone to ambiguity and confusion? Wirzba’s book adds a crucial question alongside this one: what’s at stake in seeing and narrating the world as ‘nature’ versus ‘creation’? His answer: our faith and the world itself.

In this post, I want to share a few excerpts from Wirzba’s book that concern human life—what he rightly refers to as “creatureliness”—and creation more generally.


As we have already seen, modernity gave birth to forms of subjectivity in which human beings are the source and the center of value. Modernity established subjects as autonomous beings, as those who give the moral law to themselves, but it also declared human beings as the ones who determine the measures by which everything is to be sorted and weighed. I described this development as the outworking of an idolatrous impulse because modern subjectivity results in the remaking of the world in ways that bring satisfaction and glory to us. No longer content to contemplate the world so as to determine how humanity might fit harmoniously within the orders of reality, people, armed with the powers of new technologies, now set out to engineer the world in their own image.

For Athanasius the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ is of decisive significance for the whole world, because in Jesus’s fleshly body the sin-caused divide between Creator and creatures is healed. Though creatures, especially humans, had fallen away from the life God desires for them, God ‘became flesh’ so that creatures could be shown the way into true life. The Creator became a human creature, took on a human body, so that the bodies of creation might be freed from death and made incorruptible.

“Creation” names the ongoing reality of human beings, animals, plants, land, and weather, all connected to each other and bound to God as their source, inspiration, and end. As such, the teaching of creation provides a moral and spiritual map that enables us to see the significance of things and then move faithfully through the world. When we confine creation to an originating event, we lose the sense of it as a dynamic place so cherished that God enters into covenant relationship with it (Gen. 9:8-17), so beautiful that God promises to renew it (Isa. 65:17-25), and so valuable that God takes up residence within it (John 1:14 and Rev. 21:1-4).

What would a creaturely approach to food look like, and what would it practically entail? We would need to begin with the realization that food is first and foremost a gift from God given for the nurture of the world. Though it clearly functions within human economies, and so falls within monetary considerations, food is God’s love made delectable. There is a world of difference between naming food a commodity or fuel and naming it God’s love made delectable. If food is the latter, then it is the perpetual invitation into a life of hospitality and sharing and fellowship.

Let’s Reason Together

Christians desperately need to recover an ancient, premodern, and dare I say, biblical vision of the world. In so doing we will better frame our concerns over work-life balance, food and diet, ecological degradation, and much more.

This claim gives way to an appropriate opportunity to inform readers of the 2024 FWB Theological Symposium, slated for October 7-8 in Gallatin, Tennessee. Many of the presentations at this annual event will deal with theological anthropology. This theological locus is broad enough to take in the themes I’ve mentioned above, and yet narrow enough to focus us on what it means to be human in God’s world.

Our Commission (who sponsors this event) is still welcoming paper proposals and submissions. Does anyone have an itch to write about sexuality and gender, finitude and contingency, body and soul, mind and spirit, procreation and pro-natalism, or quite a few other topics? Send an email to Cory Thompson at fwbtheology@gmail.com. Do you just have a question or thought to share? Send me a message (jacksonwatts@hotmail.com).

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