Book Write-Up: Creation and Doxology

Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson, ed. Creation and Doxology: The Beginning and End of God’s Good World. IVP Academic, 2018. See here to purchase the book.

This book contains essays about how Christians should see creation. A significant portion of the book is about their engagement with science, in terms of what science has concluded about origins and the cosmos, as well as technological advancement. The book also engages theological issues, such as the question of whether creation is sacramental and the importance of looking to Christ to understand the image of God. Here are some comments about the essays:

“Reading Genesis 1 with the Fourth Commandment: The Creation Week as a Calendar Narrative,” by Michael LeFebvre.

LeFebvre argues that the Hebrew Bible sometimes takes events and dates them in reference to Israel’s liturgical calendar, in order to make a theological point. This is the case with the Flood story, and also with Genesis 1-2:4, where creation is mapped in reference to the work week and the weekly Sabbath. The implication is that God did not literally create the world in six days. This is a model to consider. At the same time, how does one know that P did not believe that these events literally occurred on those dates and in those times?

“Galaxies, Genes, and the Glory of God,” by Deborah B. Haarsma.

This essay sometimes reads like an infomercial for Biologos, yet it does explain the Biologos position in a lucid, concise, and friendly manner. It engages questions, such as the theological significance of stars dying and being born on a continual basis, the vastness of the cosmos, the emergence of order from randomness, and how danger accompanies beauty in creation. Haarsma also briefly presents a model that states that evolution can be compatible with the existence of a literal, historical Adam and Eve who sinned and passed on their genes to all humanity, as their descendants mated with other humans.

“Mere Creation: Ten Theses (Most) Evangelicals Can (Mostly) Agree On,” by Todd Wilson.

Basically, God created, the Bible is authoritative, God exercises providence, and Christians should be nice to each other. Wilson makes the interesting observation that, in Genesis 1-2, humans are similar to animals, and yet distinct. Genesis 1-2, in that sense, overlaps with evolutionary models that present humans as advanced animals.

“All Truth Is God’s Truth: A Defense of Dogmatic Creationism,” by Hans Madueme.

Madueme does not find scientific young earth creationist arguments to be convincing, yet he still seems to embrace young earth creationism and finds Biologos-type arguments to be problematic. The essay is commendable on account of its honesty, though readers may conclude that it presents questions rather than answers.

“Is the World Sacramental: Ontology, Language, and Scripture,” by Jeremy Mann.

A critique of a sacramental view that sees God as present in creation. For Mann, such a view can lead to idolatry of the natural world, and yet creation has value, as a gift of God’s grace and as something that the church should orient towards its Maker. Mann also refers to Aquinas’ discussion about how God is present and not present in demons.

“Irenaeus, the Devil, and the Goodness of Creation: How Irenaeus’s Account of the Devil Reshapes the Christian Narrative in a Pro-terrestrial Direction,” by Gerald Hiestand.

For Irenaeus, the devil fell because he did not want to be subordinate to man, who was to become steward over God’s creation. Such a model differs from Platonic and Stoic ideas that devalue the material. It also differs from Milton’s account of Satan’s fall, which overlaps with Platonic ideas.

“Wendell Berry and the Materiality of Creation,” by Stephen Witmer.

Witmer engages Berry’s insight that sexually objectifying women disconnects men from reality: how they are, and how the women are. This is vital to remember, yet the essay would have been better had it balanced that insight with the consideration that humans have natural, sexual desires.

“Creation, New Creation, and the So-Called Mission of God,” by John H. Walton.

Some aspects of this essay will not be new to those who have already read Walton. I still enjoyed the essay as a concise reminder of Walton’s points, such as his view that Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 sought to replace God with themselves as the “source and center of order.” Walton relates Babel to Pentecost, as if Pentecost undoes Babel. Others have done this, but Walton helpfully highlighted their differences and the theological significance of those differences. Walton also engages the question of whether Genesis 3:15 is about Christ’s victory over Satan. As Walton observes, Genesis 3:15 presents ongoing conflict, not victory. Walton notes that Romans 16:20 interacts with Genesis 3:15 yet is about the church, not Christ, trampling Satan. Walton does well to question whether the biblical writers saw Genesis 3:15 as “launching a metanarrative,” as many Christians think, yet he did not really flesh out the theological implications of his observations. Walton’s overall argument is that the Hebrew Bible is about God’s dwelling with God’s creation. There may be something to this. At the same time, I wonder if all of the biblical writers had this big picture in mind. Did P, for example, agree with an eschatological scenario in which God intimately dwells with creation, or did he think that God dwelling in the Temple was as good as it got?

“Intellectually Frustrated Atheists and Intellectually Frustrated Christians: The Strange Opportunity of the Late-Modern World,” by Andy Crouch.

People are learning that they do not know as much as they thought they did about the cosmos. Yet, Crouch maintains that scientific conclusions are consistent with Christianity. Crouch also comments on the theological significance of a cosmos in which death and decay have existed from the beginning, raising Revelation 13:8’s statement that Christ was slain from the foundation of the world. I thought of Pastor David Grantland’s view in Catherine Marshall’s Christy that there may be an afterlife because death and resurrection are prevalent in nature. As Crouch shows, so are relationality, mystery, and logos.

“It All Begins in Genesis: Thinking Theologically About Medicine, Technology, and the Christian Life,” by Paige Comstock Cunningham.

How can Christians respond to technological and scientific advancements, which will likely confront people in their community at some point, and have already? While Cunningham acknowledges that the Bible does not explicitly comment on such issues, she believes that it does provide principles, such as the folly of human hubris (Babel) and the need to respect animals rather than seeing them solely as means to human ends (i.e., do not eat blood). The part of me that is defiant against Christians telling people what to do winced at this essay, but it still does well do posit ways that Christians can constructively engage ethical issues, on the basis of their tradition.

“Justice, Creation, and New Creation: In Christ All Things Hold Together,” by Kristen Deede Johnson.

This essay supports the Barthian-type tendency to recoil from natural theology and to uphold Jesus Christ as the starting-point for theology and anthropology, in this case, the meaning of the image of God and justice. The conclusion is that humans are with God and are with one another. Johnson offers interesting considerations in supporting her point: Barth, of course, believed that natural theology contributed to Nazi racialism, but Johnson shows that Reformed beliefs about recovering a divine order of creation contributed to Apartheid. She also raises the profound insight that Jesus recapitulated creation but also took it in new directions, as she looks at Jesus’ imparting of the Spirit through his breath in light of God breathing into man at creation (John 20:22; Genesis 2:7). And she briefly discusses Barth’s attempt to appreciate the Old Testament as a record of God the creator’s acts in history, while still seeing the Old Testament as inadequate. Where I wince at essays like this is that they seem to think that saying “Jesus Christ” over and over solves everything. This is my impression of Barthians, but also of progressive Christians who say that we should look at Christ for our theology rather than the Old Testament. Perhaps Johnson and company are correct that such concepts as God’s covenant with humanity and the incarnation can richly shape and inform a Christian conception of justice. Still, does looking at Jesus solve everything, since what Jesus said and did can be taken in progressive but also regressive directions?

“Creation, Theology, and One Local Church in Southern California,” by Gregory Waybright.

Waybright presents case studies of scientists and educated people and reflects on how the church can minister to them. A scientist is going along his merry naturalistic way, then he sees a woman he knows become healed of her blindness at a small church. A person goes to college and hears how humans arrive at their beliefs and wonders if the faith of her youth can hold its own intellectually. I could identify with these case studies.

This book can be a friendly resource to Christians wondering how they can respond to science, taking science and their faith seriously. Its overall points are not earth-shakingly new, for I have encountered them before: they are the sorts of obligatory things that Christian intellectuals usually contribute to the discussion. Still, there were occasional insights that were new to me and that point in potentially helpful directions.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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