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Creation

Oxford Handbooks Online


Creation  
David Fergusson
The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology
Edited by Kathryn Tanner, John Webster, and Iain Torrance

Print Publication Date: Sep 2007 Subject: Religion, Theology and Philosophy of Religion
Online Publication Date: Sep 2009 DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199245765.003.0005

Abstract and Keywords

The doctrine of creation has undergone a resurgence of interest in recent years. The
ecological crisis has encouraged study of the theology of the natural environment, while
also recalling the problematic legacy of earlier church teaching and practice in this field.
Physicists have reinvigorated the case for older cosmological and design arguments for
the existence of God as creator. At the same time, biblical scholars have rediscovered how
pervasive the theme of creation is throughout scripture. Salvation history has a cosmic
context that cannot be ignored. Recognition of this biblical integration of creation with
other significant themes promoted a sense of its significance for other articles of faith.
This applies particularly to the doctrines of the Trinity, anthropology, and redemption. In
the field of comparative theology, study of the doctrine of creation has been undertaken
with reference not only to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam but also to the eastern
religions.

Keywords: Christianity, creation, theological debates, ecological crisis, scripture, salvation history, Trinity

THE doctrine of creation has undergone a resurgence of interest in recent years.


Relatively neglected during mid-twentieth-century theological debates, it has attracted
wide attention in the last generation. There are several factors contributing to this
renewed interest. The ecological crisis has encouraged study of the theology of the
natural environment, while also recalling the problematic legacy of earlier church
teaching and practice in this field. Physicists have reinvigorated the case for older
cosmological and design arguments for the existence of God as creator. Attention to the
finely tuned structure of the cosmos in the first moments of its existence has led to strong
claims for a divine intention superintending the birth of the universe. At the same time,
biblical scholars have rediscovered how pervasive is the theme of creation throughout
scripture. Salvation history has a cosmic context that cannot be ignored. Recognition of
this biblical integration of creation with other significant themes has in turn promoted a
sense of its significance for other articles of faith. This applies particularly to the

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Creation

doctrines of the Trinity, anthropology, and redemption. In the field of comparative


theology, study of the doctrine of creation has been undertaken with reference not only to
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam but also to the eastern religions. Some discussion of each
of these areas will be offered, following an initial account of the doctrine of creation in
scripture and the history of the church.

I. THE TESTIMONY OF SCRIPTURE IN


(p. 73)

MODERN THEOLOGY
The appearance of two creation stories at the opening of the Bible might suggest to the
casual reader that a belief in creation precedes other articles of faith. Acting as a preface
to a more distinctive revelation in history, the account of creation could be seen as little
more than a scene-setting for an ensuing narrative. This is a mistaken assumption. Both
creation stories are embedded in wider beliefs about the nature of God, the environment,
human beings, animals, and the redemption that awaits the cosmos. Moreover, despite
their location in Genesis 1–2, we cannot suppose that these were written or originated in
advance of other portions of the Bible.

Genesis 1 famously recounts the story of a creation in six days. The formal structure of
the story suggests its use in liturgy, while the emphasis on the sabbath rest is redolent of
later Israelite religion. Recent exegesis has pointed out that the climax of the story is not
the creation of human beings on the sixth day, but the day of rest that follows. ‘The goal
of every Jewish and every Christian doctrine of creation must be the doctrine of the
sabbath’ (Moltmann 1985: 276). On the sabbath, the world and its maker rejoice in the
harmony of the good creation. Stressing the cosmic dimension of the day of rest, recent
theology has sought to offset the anthropocentrism that has sometimes characterized
earlier theologies of creation. The world is not made only for human benefit but for the
glory of God, a glory that is attested also by other forms of life. In this criticism of
anthropocentrism, strong ecological concerns are clearly at work. The life of the planet
and its manifold species belong to God's good creation; these have a divinely appointed
place not reducible to the service of human interests.

There are several other significant features of this story. While there are debates about
the grammatical structure of its opening phrase—these are mirrored in the different
English translations of the text—it is in any case uncertain whether Genesis 1: 1–2 offers
a description of creation out of nothing. The formless void and the deep appear already to
exist prior to the creative action of God. The divine word initially creates light from
darkness and order out of chaos. This textual uncertainty became a point of doctrinal
debate in later centuries. What is clear, however, is that for Genesis 1 the creation of the
world proceeds serenely by a series of divine commands. There is no temporal interval,
let alone conflict, between the speaking of God's word and its execution. God speaks and
it is accomplished. In this respect, the Hebrew creation story contrasts with other ancient
near eastern creation myths that depict the making of the world as a struggle between
rival forces. Although there may linger a residual element of the surd in the references to
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Creation

the formless void and the face of the deep, the act of creation takes place by the effortless
and uninterrupted speech of God. Despite hints of struggle elsewhere in (p. 74) the canon,
the work of creation is here a free, unconstrained act. A similar testimony is offered in
the first article of the Apostles' Creed: ‘I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of
heaven and earth.’ This is significant, as we shall see, for recent trinitarian constructions
of the God–world relationship in which creation is presented as a free act, but one
entirely consistent with the divine being.

The interpretation of the six days of creation occasioned much controversy, particularly in
the nineteenth century. Were these literal days of twenty-four hours' duration, during
which the world as we know it today came into being? If so, then the opening chapter of
the Bible seems radically at odds with the world view of much modern science that holds
to a gradual evolution of matter and life over many billions of years. This controversy
becomes more apparent than real if we can understand the creation narratives as
testifying to the origin of the world in the being and act of God. The scientific account of
the how of creation can thus sit alongside the theological account of its why. Since
theology and science function at different levels of explanation, these are not competing
but complementary accounts of the world. While this does not exclude the prospect of
dialogue, it should be sufficient to avoid contesting on religious grounds the
overwhelming consensus within the modern scientific community regarding cosmic
evolution. Two further considerations lend support to this argument for complementary
types of explanation. The genre and symbolism of the two creation stories suggest that
we are in the realm of theological and ethical description, rather than the discourses of
science and history. Second, the writings of the early church fathers, particularly
Augustine, reveal an impressive capacity to interpret these texts in non-literal ways, thus
suggesting that symbolic readings are not the invention of modern thinkers intent merely
on accommodating scripture to contemporary secular thought.

Recent cultural conflict has been generated, particularly in the USA, by attempts to
present Genesis 1–2 as offering an alternative cosmology to that of the modern scientific
world view. Instead of galaxies, planets, and life forms emerging from a violent explosion
from a point of infinite density around twelve billion years ago, ‘creation science’ has
attempted to maintain a ‘young universe’ only thousands of years old (Frye 1993). While
allowing for some changes that are attributed to the effects of the flood, the world is
perceived as created in much the same condition as we observe it today. The intellectual
impossibility of this movement is evident from its attempt to challenge not merely
biological evolution but the confirmed theories of other well-established scientific
disciplines, including cosmology, astronomy, physics, geology, and palaeontology. From
the theologian's perspective, it is an unnecessary fight to pick for the reasons outlined
above. As Steve Jones, the distinguished geneticist, has often said, the conflict between
science and religion resembles a fight between a tiger and a shark. Each will prevail on
its own proper territory, but it will be hopelessly defeated by encroaching on the domain
of the other.

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Creation

The creation of human beings in the divine image has provided Christian anthropology
with one of its leading concepts. The imago Dei has been interpreted (p. 75) in a variety of
ways, some of which reflect philosophical presuppositions that could not have been
shared by the writers and redactors of Genesis 1. In its Hebraic context, the divine image
refers not to the possession of an immortal soul (as in the Greek tradition) but more to
the role exercised by human beings in the cosmic order. As those who can hear and obey
the divine word, human beings are charged with acting on God's behalf in relation to one
another and to the rest of creation. This more functional or relational account of the
divine image makes better sense of the succeeding verses that speak of the roles of
human beings in the world already made. This recent exegesis favouring relational,
rather than substantival, accounts of the imago Dei meshes with more holistic
anthropologies that stress the essential embodiedness of human beings (Macquarrie 1982;
van Huyssteen 2006). The reaction against Cartesian body–mind dualism and the
privileging of the intellect in modern philosophy has provoked theology to return to its
Hebraic roots in stressing the person as a psychosomatic unity (cf. Kerr 1997). This is
further confirmed by the incarnation of the Word of God as an assumption of human flesh.
As a human person who is the image of the invisible God, Jesus Christ is not merely a
spirit or soul but an embodied human being. This reading of the imago Dei has important
ethical implications. If it is not a property possessed by human beings but a form of
relational life to which we are summoned in Christ, then the diversity and universality of
the church becomes an important determinant of how we understand the divine image
(McFarland 2005).

Contrary to some later Christian interpretation, Genesis 1: 27 maintains that women and
men equally bear the image of God. There is no suggestion of a stratification by which the
man more perfectly images God than the woman. However, the divinely authorized
dominion by human beings over creation in 1: 28 raises further problems about the
ecological impact of the text. In its original pastoral setting, it implies a benign
stewardship. At this stage, there is no permission given to eat the flesh of other
creatures; this may reflect a vegetarian ideal or eschatological hope. Yet, as we shall see,
the language of ‘dominion’ is problematic and requires careful handling.

Both Genesis 1 and the more anthropologically oriented account in Genesis 2 are
narratives of grace. The making of the world in Genesis 1 is a free and unconstrained act
of God. There is no sense of divine compulsion or necessity. At the outset, God speaks
spontaneously and the world is brought into being. In Genesis 2, Adam is given the
garden with its diverse plant and animal life. Eve is created from him to become his
lifelong ‘helpmate’. Following their disobedience, they do not die as earlier predicted
(Gen. 2: 17). Instead they are spared, provision being made for their survival and the
propagation of the species. The linkage of creation and salvation history characterizes the
maker of the world as also its redeemer. Creation is only the first of God's works. It
begins the drama of a covenant relationship that is cosmic in scope. Here recent
Christian readings of scripture have been influenced by Jewish exegesis that sees in the
creation stories already the (p. 76) commencement of God's work to overcome evil
(Levenson 1994). Instead of a world that is merely ordered and conserved in something
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Creation

like its original condition, a more dynamic account emerges in which there is significant
change, development, and historical movement. (As we have already seen, this is partially
resonant with modern cosmology which understands the physical universe itself to have
undergone significant changes over billions of years.) The good creation is not one which
is already perfect. It is fit for its purpose and displays the constant love of God for
creatures (Berkhof 1986: 174–83). Yet its destiny awaits it in the future. From the
beginning, therefore, an eschatological tension emerges in the creation story. The rest on
the seventh day is itself an anticipation of that final sabbath when the cosmos comes to
its appointed end.

Elsewhere in the Old Testament we find a further integration of creation theology with
other central themes in Israelite religion. The Hebrew verb used to denote the creative
work of God at the beginning is also a term reserved for the salvific actions of God in
history. This linguistic usage connects the past, present, and future activity of God. ‘For I
am about to create new heavens and a new earth’ (Isa. 65: 17). In this context, the
making of the world can be seen as the first of God's creative works. The creator's
activity continues in nature and history; it reaches its end only with the creation of a new
world. Creation and covenant are closely related theological concepts, for example in
Hosea 2: 21 and Jeremiah 31: 12. Conversely, threats of disorder and disruption in the life
of Israel are also linked to the notion of chaos and the corruption of nature itself. In the
Psalms there is a wealth of references to the world as God's creation, yet this is also
integrated with other themes of cosmic order, social justice, kingly rule, and the gift of
divine law. Psalms 8, 19, and 104 testify to the beauty and order of the world, the
providential care of creatures, and the regulation of human conduct by the divine law.
Psalms 96–8 celebrate the kingship of God as creator and executor of justice. Creation is
again linked to the sovereignty of the Lord and the future redemption of the world. The
order of creation is known, affirmed, and represented in the worship of Israel. In singing
God's praise, we not only acknowledge but display the divine ordering of the world. God's
good work invites responses of human wisdom, ethical obedience, and public celebration.

The notion of ‘wisdom’ provides further evidence of the integration of creation and
salvation in the Old Testament. As the creative agency of God, wisdom is celebrated in the
Psalms, Proverbs, Job, and some of the deutero-canonical works. In some places, such as
Proverbs 8, wisdom is personified as a divine agent. The divine wisdom by which the
world is created is also apparent in the regularity of nature, the divine law, and human
affairs. This notion of ‘wisdom’ is later fused with the Greek concept of ‘Logos’ and
becomes vital for expressing the linking of creation and Christology in the New
Testament. In the prologue to John's Gospel the Word (Logos) of God is the one by whom
and through whom the world is created. This Word which is made present to Israel
becomes incarnate in Jesus Christ. In this cosmic Christology, the significance of Jesus is
understood with (p. 77) respect to the origin and purpose of the created order. Already in
Paul's writing and elsewhere in the New Testament epistles, we find similar cosmic
themes (e.g., 1 Cor. 8: 6, Col. 1: 15–20, Heb. 1: 1–4). By describing creation as Christ-
centred, these passages offer two related trajectories of thought. First, the origin and
final purpose of the cosmos is disclosed with the coming of Christ into the world and his
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Creation

resurrection from the dead. Second, the significance of Christ is maximally understood by
reference to his creative and redeeming power throughout the created universe. Writers
at different periods in the history of the church would later use this cosmic Christology to
describe the appearance of the incarnate Christ as the crowning moment of history. No
longer understood merely as an emergency measure to counteract the effects of sin and
evil, the incarnation was the fulfilment of an eternal purpose. The world was made so that
Christ might be born. This is captured in Karl Barth's dictum that creation is ‘the external
basis of the covenant’ (Barth 1958: 94).

The rapid development of Christology in the New Testament also provided a further
integration of creation and eschatology, along lines already mapped out in the Old
Testament. In describing the world that is to come, the New Testament writers again use
Christological categories set alongside creation themes. If anyone is in Christ, he or she
is a new creation (2 Cor. 5: 17). The world is moving towards the goal that has been
promised in Christ (1 Cor. 15: 28). The end of the world will bring about an
acknowledgement of ‘the name of Jesus…in heaven and on earth and under the
earth’ (Phil. 2: 10). The writer of the Apocalypse transfers to Christ titles ascribed to God
in Second Isaiah. He is the first and the last, the beginning and end of all things (Rev. 1:
17; 22: 13). This integration of creation, redemption, and eschatology is also matched by
a wealth of pneumatological reference. Both the resurrection of Christ and the life of faith
are perceived as the first fruits of a new creation, the produce of the divine Spirit (Rom.
8: 11, 23; 1 Cor. 15: 20).

Several important features emerge from this reading of scripture, all of which are
stressed in recent theological debate.

1. The account of creation is not primarily an explanatory hypothesis about how the
world got started. Although there are philosophical elements in scripture,
particularly in the wisdom literature, the theology of creation is set within the circle
of faith. The stories of Genesis 1–2 are as much proclamation as explanation. Their
allusions to creation recall us to other vital theological ideas which in turn shape our
understanding of the world with reference to God. The world continues always to be
dependent upon the will of God. In this sense, creation is a continuous, ongoing
action rather than a single event of origination (Schwöbel 1997).
2. The doctrine of creation shapes an account of the God–world relationship. The
world is not divine, since it comes into being by the will and word of God rather than
any emanation from the divine being itself. This enables the Bible to depict God's
transcendence and otherness from creaturely reality, while at the same (p. 78) time
stressing the significance of a relationship that can be characterized by the language
of covenant and fellowship. As we shall see in the next section, the ontological
distance between God and world is a necessary condition of their particular form of
relatedness.
3. In terms of its fitness for its purpose, the goodness of the world is affirmed. The
creation narratives of scripture do not allow a denigration of the material world or a
dualism that depicts the world as a battleground between rival cosmic powers. Even

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while it is the arena of decay, suffering, conflict, and sin, this world remains God's
good creation. Its goodness is not limited to some past golden age in Eden. The
Psalms still testify to the beauty and providential ordering of the cosmos in a post-
lapsarian setting. Despite generating intense difficulties in the face of evil, the Bible
seems willing to embrace these problems rather than to seek an escape route by
diminishing either the goodness or the power of God. In this respect, a theological
depth is purchased occasionally at the cost of an easy or simple consistency of ideas.
4. Creation is imperfect in the sense that it is incomplete and unfulfilled. The making
of the world is only the first of God's works. As the beginning of a history, it sets in
motion a narrative that has a focal point in the coming of Jesus. The ordering of the
Christian canon itself suggests a pattern of promise and fulfilment. God's creative
work is ongoing throughout the history of Israel and the church. It includes
resistance and struggle in its dealing with people and natural forces. It has been said
that the Bible offers us not so much a doctrine of creation as a doctrine of the
creator. This comment is instructive if it reminds us of the ways in which the
description of the world's creation is deeply related to God's other works of
redemption. Robert Jenson remarks that what God creates is not so much a ‘thing’ as
a history or a narrative. The loss of this insight, he argues, was ‘the great historical
calamity of the doctrine of creation’ (Jenson 1997–9: ii. 14).
5. The pattern of divine action that unfolds in scripture has a rudimentary trinitarian
character. The world is created and ruled by the sovereign God who is confessed as
Father. It is informed by the wisdom of God in both its natural harmony and in the
gift of law to human beings. Threatened by evil, sin, and death, the world is also the
locus for the incarnation of that wisdom or Word through whom it was created and in
whom it will finally be recreated. Yet God's action is not confined to creation,
incarnation, and eschatological fulfilment. The work of the divine Spirit is persistent,
regular, and universal in scope. It indwells all things and acts to bring them to
conformity with the divine purpose (Gunton 1998: 170). In modern theology, this
understanding of creation as an action of the triune God owes much to Karl Barth,
who argued resolutely that the doctrine of creation is a distinctively Christian article
and not merely a general theistic preamble that could be established on grounds
exterior to revelation. In appropriating creation to God the Father, the creed also
directs us to its essential unity with the work of the Son and the Spirit. ‘The decisive
anchorage of the recognition that creation and (p. 79) covenant belong to each other
is the recognition that God the Creator is the triune God, Father, Son and Holy
Spirit’ (Barth 1958: 48).

The development of each of these ideas can be traced in recent treatments of the
classical idea of creation out of nothing.

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II. CREATION OUT OF NOTHING IN RECENT


CONTROVERSY
By the end of the second century, the doctrine of creation out of nothing (creatio ex
nihilo) had emerged as the standard teaching of the church. The sudden and subsequent
unanimity of support for this doctrine is one of the most interesting episodes in the
history of dogma. Once argued and defended, it was perceived as the only adequate
Christian alternative against Greek views of the eternity of matter and gnostic accounts
of emanation.

On the concept of creation out of nothing, scripture is inconclusive, although one can
legitimately argue that it is a requisite interpretation of biblical themes (Craig and Copan
2004). The opening verses of Genesis 1 seem to suggest a formless void that preceded the
divine act of creation. As disorderly and chaotic, it could not in itself be viewed as the
good creation of God. For this reason, rabbinic Judaism did not teach creation out of
nothing (Neusner 1991). Other passages in scripture hint at the notion of creation out of
nothing (e.g., Rom. 4: 17; Heb. 11: 3), but these may only be metaphorical expressions to
describe the power and wisdom of the creator. 2 Maccabees 7: 28 also comes close to the
later orthodox notion of creation out of nothing: ‘I beg you, my child, to look at the
heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not
make them out of things that existed.’ Yet here again we may simply have a poetic
depiction of divine power. In the ancient world, ‘what is not’ can merely denote that
which lacks form and order. It is not until theologians contested the prevailing Greek
philosophical assumption about the eternity of matter that the idea of creation out of
nothing emerged as a fully articulated concept.

As Gerhard May shows, by about the third quarter of the second century the doctrine of
creation out of nothing had become a settled teaching with arguments systematically
advanced in its favour (May 1994). Writing to Autolycus, Theophilus of Antioch argues in
effect that the eternity of matter would compromise the sovereignty of God. Nothing can
be co-eternal with the one God without itself being considered divine. The splendour of
God, moreover, is attested by the making of everything ex nihilo. ‘The power of God is
shown in this, that, first of (p. 80) all, He creates out of nothing, according to His will, the
things that are made’ (To Autolycus 2. 13, in Roberts and Donaldson 1990: ii. 99). Here
one can begin to detect something like a set of standard arguments for the ex nihilo
doctrine. Each of these is directed against claims for the eternity of matter. If matter is
unoriginate, then God cannot be reckoned the creator of everything. God's nature as the
source of everything is thus compromised. Moreover, if both God and matter are
unoriginate and coexistent, then matter itself appears in this respect to be divine. As co-
eternal, God and matter exist forever alongside one another. This appears to disrupt the
transcendence and priority of God in relation to created reality. And, finally, the grandeur
and power of God are better represented by a creation out of nothing, rather than a
creation out of something.

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In their polemics against gnosticism, both Irenaeus and Tertullian reinforce and extend
the doctrine of creation out of nothing. It is required not only to contest the assumption
about the eternity of matter, but also to maintain the strict ontological distinction
between the one God and all created reality. The cosmos does not represent a series of
ontological gradations emanating from the divine outwards. There is one God, and
everything else exists through the power of the Word of God. Since the Word of God is to
be regarded as of the divine essence, it cannot be an intermediate deity that links the one
true God with lower levels of reality. On both sides, therefore, the God–world distinction
requires the doctrine of creation out of nothing. Neither is the world divine, nor is God
divisible and composite like creaturely beings. So we must think of the world as the good
creation of the one God from out of nothing. In this respect, ‘nothing’ simply denotes ‘not
something’. ‘Nothing’ is not some shadowy substance suspended between being and non-
being. Instead, it refers to what does not exist. In other words, the cosmos is not formed
from eternal matter, nor does it emanate from the divine being. One implication of this
sharp ontological distinction between creator and creation is that it belongs not to
theology but to natural science to discover how the world works. This is a corollary of the
Christian refusal to divinize the world, albeit one that has not always been recognized.

A further feature of this contrast with emanationist accounts is the emphasis now given to
creation as a free and unconstrained action of God. There is no natural necessity in the
creation of the world. Nothing within the divine being requires that the world come into
existence or implies that it must possess a particular form. As a free act, creation is
gratuitous. God does not need to make the world; its appearance is itself a sheer act of
divine grace. Hence emphasis upon the ex nihilo doctrine from the late second century
entailed a corresponding stress upon creation as a free, unnecessary movement of God ad
extra.

Already well established by 200, the idea of a creation out of nothing was further
reinforced by the Nicene controversy (Pelikan 1971–89: i. 204). In opposition to Arius and
his followers, theologians in the fourth century came to affirm a strong distinction
between the Father's eternal begetting of the Son (Logos) and the (p. 81) creation of the
world. Scripture had taught that all things were made through the Logos in the
beginning; however, the Logos was not to be thought of as a creature or half-divinity, an
intermediary communicating between the eternal God and the temporal world. This
position was not affirmed without protracted struggle and complex debate. These were
formally resolved by the affirmation of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed (381) that
the Father and the Son were co-eternal and consubstantial. What is significant for the
doctrine of creation here is that the ontological difference between God and the world is
further accentuated. There is one triune God, three persons in relation to the others fully
expressing the divine being. And there is also the world that this God creates and that
neither is begotten nor proceeds from out of the divine being.

The recent interest in classical trinitarian theology has been accompanied by a


reinvigoration of arguments for creation out of nothing in writers such as T. F. Torrance
(1988: 76–109), Wolfhart Pannenberg (1991–8: ii. 1–174), and Colin Gunton (1998). In

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Creation

light of the doctrine that the being of God is constituted by three persons in relation, the
God–world distinction is sharpened. The world must be thought of as contingent, since it
is not necessitated by the being of God which in itself is complete and self-sufficient. Nor
can the world be described as eternal. The life of God is prior to the life of the world,
even if this cannot be expressed as a temporal priority. We should not posit the world as
co-eternal alongside the triune being. Indeed, despite the difficulties in conceiving God
apart from the world, we must think of creation in this respect as something ‘new’ in the
eternal life of God. Nevertheless, the world is always related to God as a created reality;
it is endowed with a particular shape and character consistent with the divine life.
Sustained in being and possessing a divinely appointed purpose, creation is the locus for
ongoing divine action. Hence the ontological differentiating of God and world does not
imply a lack of involvement or loss of connectedness between these two. Nor does it
imply that an inferior world is at the disposal of a brute divine power. Instead, one should
think of the classical difference between creator and creature as enabling and shaping
the relationship that obtains between them, a relationship that requires the use of
personal categories if it is to be adequately described.

This casting of the God–world relationship in trinitarian terms is partly intended to


militate against both deist and pantheist constructions. The relationship between creator
and creation is not so remote as to render subsequent divine action and covenant
partnership unintelligible. At the same time, an ontological differentiation is maintained
that guarantees sufficient distance and otherness for biblical models of personal agency
to make sense. Both deism and pantheism in their different ways prevent notions of
agency that attach to the work of the triune God. Ironically, they produce the same
outcome: God cannot be conceived as acting within the cosmos (Gunton 2002: 12–19).

Although the doctrine of creation out of nothing was uncontested in the Middle Ages and
Reformation, it has been heavily criticized in modern theology. In (p. 82) advocating an
everlasting creation in which God is always creative, process theology represents a
return to something like the earlier idea of creation out of chaos. This alternative
construction of the God–world relationship accentuates the divine influence through
allurement as opposed to the sheer sovereignty of the ex nihilo tradition. Creation is to be
understood better as a gradual evolving of patterns of order from chaos (a low-grade
physical state or set of events)—patterns which realize values such as consciousness,
pleasure, freedom, and love. The deliberate limitation of divine omnipotence is largely
presented as a response to the problem of evil. By abridging God's power, a clearer
commitment to the goodness of God can be affirmed in the midst of manifold evils. David
Griffin, for example, argues that since God and the creation are always coexistent there is
a resultant sharing of power (Griffin 2001). Sovereignty is here distributed in a manner
that significantly qualifies the ex nihilo tradition. Divine power works not through action
but through influence and gradual persuasion of creatures. The capacity for this
allurement will vary according to the degree of spontaneity and receptiveness of the
entity in question. However, while this offers some account of divine presence, it seriously
curtails divine action in ways that render vast tracts of scripture and tradition untenable,
thus calling into question its adequacy for the faith community. Yet its proposal is
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Creation

relatively innovative in contesting the centuries-long assumption that creation out of


nothing is somehow intuitively correct and obviously better than its rivals.

Formidable ethical criticisms of the ex nihilo tradition have also been advanced by
ecofeminist writers. The stress upon divine will and transcendence militate against
anthropological holism, it is claimed. A preference for the intellectual dimension of
existence prevails over embodiedness, with disastrous ecological results. The denigration
of matter and privileging of mind and will over body lead to a doctrine of creation that
does not properly value our material home. Writing in this vein, Sallie McFague has called
for a greater stress on the metaphor of the world as God's body (McFague 1987). Against
a traditional model that privileges mind over body and male over female, a more holistic
account of the God–world relationship is now required. ‘The monarchical model
encourages attitudes of militarism, dualism, and escapism; it condones control through
violence and oppression; it has nothing to say about the nonhuman world. The model of
the world as God's body encourages holistic attitudes of responsibility for and care of the
vulnerable and oppressed; it is non-hierarchical and acts through persuasion and
attraction; it has a great deal to say about the body and nature’ (McFague 1987: 78).

It is ironic that the ex nihilo tradition should be charged with something resembling a
gnostic dualism of mind and matter—the need to avoid such a dualism gave much of the
initial stimulus to the doctrine in the writings of Irenaeus and Tertullian. Despite this, it
seems that the insistence upon divine transcendence and otherness can lead in some
theologies to a disjunction of God and world that undervalues the latter. These have also
connected the sovereignty of God to patriarchal rule in ways that are (p. 83) deeply sexist.
Yet there are other essential themes in the doctrine of creation including the goodness of
the world and its covenantal relation to God that ought to prevent the disjoining
perceived in this charge. The tradition may be in need of repair at various points, but it is
another matter whether the replacement of the traditional model of creation out of
nothing will prove adequate. The order, beauty, and intrinsic goodness of created things
are gifted freely by God; these are not produced out of some inner divine need or
necessity. The creation of the world with covenant partnership and incarnation in view is
hardly the capricious act of a detached despot. Classically conceived, the creation of the
world by God's wisdom is not only an act of divine will but one of divine love. In this
respect, the traditional doctrine can release us both from notions of creation as a random
act of divine force and also from any sense of the world as ontologically unrelated to the
being and purpose of its maker (Williams 1999). The castigation of the monarchical
model, as above, contains significant elements of caricature, while the alternative model
of the world as God's body appears to problematize any personal interaction between
creator and creation.

A similar argument is developed by Pannenberg in his relating of the immanent trinity to


the act of creation (Pannenberg 1991–8: ii. 20–35). Unlike the relations of origin within
the divine being, the creation of the world is not necessary to the identity of God. Without
the world, God would remain God in the unity of the three persons. The Father begets the
Son, and the Spirit proceeds from the Father ‘before all worlds’. Yet the freedom, love,

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Creation

and life within the triune God render the creation of the world an act expressive of the
divine identity. It is neither random nor constrained. As the expression ad extra of God's
life, it can be understood as an act both of divine freedom and love (Pannenberg 1991–8:
ii. 19). Eternity and time are thus correlated without being confused or collapsed into one
another. Much the same point is made by Eberhard Jüngel when he argues that the
character of creation as grace requires a distinction to be made between the eternal
relations of the Trinity and the derivation of the world from God. Our dependence on
divine grace is recognized by maintaining a clear difference between the Son's coming
eternally from the Father and the human creature's coming to be temporally (Jüngel
1983: 384).

As already noted, throughout the Middle Ages the doctrine of creation out of nothing held
sway amongst Christian theologians. A fusion of philosophical and theological arguments
was advanced in support of the doctrine. Reserved for divine action alone, the concept of
creating was sharply distinguished from that of making or changing. Unlike creaturely
acts of causation, the divine creating produces a world from out of nothing. This claim
was heavily reinforced by cosmological arguments that presented the self-existent God as
the necessary explanation of all contingent processes and entities, including matter.
Thomas Aquinas, for example, asserts that only God creates and that everything must
owe its existence primarily to the creation out of nothing (ST 1a. 44, 2, in Aquinas 1975).
Aquinas also claimed that this notion was wholly compatible with an everlasting creation,
i.e., a world that has no initial temporal boundary. Even a world, such as that supposed by
Aristotle, that had no (p. 84) beginning in time would still have to be created by God out
of nothing. Nevertheless, Aquinas affirmed a beginning of the world by reference to the
teaching of Genesis. It is revealed in scripture that the universe began, thus providing
further testimony to the splendour of its creator's work.

In this respect, Christian theology did not experience the tension with philosophy that
was present in Islamic thought in the Middle Ages. Al-Ghazali (1058–1111) famously
argued that the universe had a beginning in time through the use of the so-called kalam
cosmological argument. This was rehearsed at a time when Islamic philosophers such as
Avicenna had argued for the eternity of the world on the basis of their reading of the
classical philosophers. Convinced that the Qur'ān taught that the creation had a
beginning, Al-Ghazali argued vigorously against the conclusions of his philosophical
predecessors. Yet this friction between philosophical and theological trends was generally
not present in the Christian tradition, where the compatibility of reason and revelation
was widely accepted.

III. ANIMALS AND THE ENVIRONMENT:


CURRENT FOCI
The creation stories in Genesis display a keen sense of human beings as created
alongside animals and sharing in their physical existence. Yet much of the tradition has
forgotten this vision of a community of creation, instead regarding human beings as
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Creation

exclusively set apart by virtue of their constitution and role in the economy of salvation.
This had led to an excessive anthropocentrism in which the importance of other beings
has been neglected both in relation to God and to ourselves. In some measure, this is
attributable to the way in which the concept of the divine image has been handled. Where
it signifies the possession of a non-physical component such as soul, mind, or
consciousness, the essential self tends to be defined in contrast to non-rational creatures.
This is largely attributable to the influence of the Greek philosophical tradition, especially
Platonism, and is quite evident in Augustine and other Christian writers. It reaches its
most extreme version in the writing of Descartes, in which animals, on account of their
lack of mind, are represented as mere automata rather than as fellow, sentient beings.

Elsewhere in the Christian tradition, animals were only regarded as of ethical


significance insofar as they could be considered the property of human beings. For
Thomas Aquinas, their moral status was determined by three factors: lack of reason,
natural servility, and potential to become human property (ST 2a2ae. 64, 1). Yet this
hardly reflects the wisdom literature in scripture, which implies that God values animals
for their own sakes and not merely for their human usefulness. (p. 85) The contribution of
animals to the narrative of creation is stunningly expressed in Yann Martel's novel, Life of
Pi. It concludes with the following exchange:

Which is the better story, the story with animals or the story without animals?

That's an interesting question…

The story with animals.

Yes. The story with animals is the better story.

Thank you. And so it goes with God. (Martel 2002: 317)

 More recent theology has recalled the pervasiveness of animals in scripture and
suggested that many historical attitudes were seriously disordered (Linzey 1994; Birch
and Vischer 1997; Webb 1998). As fellow creatures, animals surround us and accompany
us. Their presence may often be unobtrusive, but they are never far away in the teaching
and life of Jesus. Our kinship with animals has been further stressed by recent
evolutionary science that reveals common ancestral origins and genetic similarities. The
bonding of humans with animals has always been a recurrent feature of human life, and
not only in rural communities. The growing sense of the divine purpose as intending a
community of creation has heightened ethical awareness of animals, whether this be the
conditions under which they are housed and slaughtered, or the threat of extinction now
posed to many species.

Similar issues arise with respect to the natural environment. A standard charge against
Judaeo-Christian attitudes to nature is that these are hierarchical, domineering, and
rapacious. The command to exercise dominion over the world (Gen. 1: 26) has sometimes
been taken as licence to utilize and exploit natural resources. While the Hebrew verb
does indeed seem to connote the notion of mastery, some commentators have argued that
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in this initial pastoral setting it must be read in terms of a benign stewardship, the
exercise of a divinely mandated duty of care for the earth and its inhabitants. Instead of
undermining it, the textual tradition can thus be seen as promoting environmental
responsibility. In the context of Genesis 1, the gift of ‘dominion’ must be viewed in terms
of responsible representation. However, while this may ease some ecological concerns
about the text, other critics have claimed that the role of human beings should not be
seen as managing the entire creation on God's behalf. This anthropocentric notion
requires to be challenged by the recognition that there are reaches of creation that we
should let be as wilderness. The world is not for us alone; it possesses a beauty and value
under God's providence that are not dependent upon their instrumental function for
human activity. More recent scientific recognition of the age and size of the cosmos tend
to reinforce this claim; animals inhabited the earth for hundreds of millions of years prior
to the emergence of hominids.

A further concern about overplaying the managerial role of human beings is the need to
realize our own dependency upon the natural world and its ecological balance. In this
respect, human welfare is a function of a wider harmony of life forms and climatic
systems. Without the regularity of seasons, the stability of an (p. 86) eco-structure, the
provision of healthy food, and natural resources, our lives become unsustainable. What is
required for the well-being of our planet and future generations is a greater wisdom
about our relation to the natural world and our dependent status as creatures, as opposed
to mere technological knowledge and accumulation of wealth (Northcott 1996;
Rasmussen 1996). In articulating our dependent status and place within God's creaturely
community, theology has its part to play.

IV. APOLOGETICS
Since at least the early modern period, the doctrine of creation has been closely involved
in apologetic responses to developments in the natural sciences. Although the
cosmological and design arguments for the existence of God have their roots in classical
philosophy, their regular appearance from the seventeenth century is symptomatic of
strategies to defend the faith in the face of doubt and criticism.

Karl Barth's vehement attack on natural theology in the twentieth century appeared to
declare a moratorium on all such apologetic tactics (Barth 1957: 63–254). These were
perceived to defend the faith on neutral territory that conceded too much to forces of
unbelief and scepticism. More importantly, apologetics was a displacement of the real
locus of theological knowledge—Jesus Christ, the Word of God, in whom alone the divine
act and being are revealed to us. Nevertheless, while undermining all evidentialist
strategies for asserting the rationality of religious belief, Barth's criticism of natural
theology has not altogether banished apologetics even within the tradition that has
largely followed him. T. F. Torrance's commitment to theological science and, albeit to a
lesser extent, Hans Frei's recognition of ‘ad hoc apologetics’ provide scope for showing
some consistency of theological knowledge with the natural sciences and philosophy. In

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any case, the controversy over natural theology should not be confused with the need to
develop a theology of nature.

The cosmological argument typically proceeds from the question of why there is a
universe at all. In the version expounded by Leibniz, it argues for the existence of a
necessary being as the first cause on the grounds that this is the only sufficient
explanation for the world. Everything contingent is thus explained if and only if there is a
self-existent being. This (non-temporal) version of the cosmological argument differs from
the kalam proof, which seeks to demonstrate God's existence on the basis that a first self-
explanatory cause is necessary to account fully for a temporal sequence of causes (Craig
1979). It functions largely through denying the possibility of actual infinites on the
grounds that these are inherently contradictory. Some recent exponents of the
cosmological argument have sought support (p. 87) in the scientific consensus for big
bang cosmology. According to their reasoning, the universe cannot now be thought of as
everlasting. With its otherwise inexplicable commencement at the big bang, the universe
requires to be explained by some non-scientific principle. As a proof of God's existence,
the difficulty with this argument is that critics can always propose an alternative
hypothesis, such as that of a multiverse, or assert bluntly that the universe may be
uncaused. Nevertheless, a more modest apologetic strategy can reasonably claim the
consistency of big bang cosmology with the classical doctrine of creation out of nothing.
As Ernan McMullin has written, ‘If the universe began in time through the act of the
creator, from our vantage point it would look something like the big bang cosmologists
are now talking about’ (Kelsey 1985: 190).

Since the eighteenth century, the design argument has been a source of fascination to
philosophers and theologians. It argues to the existence of God on the basis of putative
marks of design in the observed world. From the time of Newton until Darwin, writers
were struck by the majestic regularities of the solar system, the intricate adjustment of
biological components in organs such as the eye, and the seemingly providential match of
species to their physical environment. Although the most formidable objections to the
argument were presented by David Hume in his posthumously published Dialogues
Concerning Natural Religion (1779), the argument was continually reinvigorated at least
until the publication of Darwin's The Origin of Species (1859). Here what had been
explained by reference to divine providence could now be accounted for on the basis of
the principle of natural selection. God had not originally matched species and
environment; instead, through a long process of evolution, life forms had changed and
adapted according to the ecological niches they occupied. Moreover, the randomness and
waste that Darwin perceived seemed to challenge the order and harmony apparently
detected by defenders of the design argument.

It would be wrong, however, to suggest that Darwin's theory of evolution terminated the
design argument. Other late nineteenth-century writers, some of quite conservative
persuasion, perceived in the long process of evolution an emerging beauty and
complexity that was consistent with the biblical account of creation. Evolution could thus
be perceived as the means by which the creator enabled new patterns of life; indeed, it

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Creation

could be seen as betokening a God continually involved in the history of the world.
Instead of a deist creator who merely lights the blue touchpaper, we now have immanent
divine involvement in the course of nature and history. Debates about the consistency of
evolutionary and theological explanation continue to rage. A range of explanations can be
detected. In its most militant form, the neo-Darwinian position, popularized by Richard
Dawkins, argues that the pervasive forces of genetic mutation and natural selection are
sufficient to render any religious account of the universe redundant (Dawkins 2003: 173–
9). Other neo-Darwinists, for example Stephen Jay Gould (1999), appear to suggest that
science and religion function at quite different levels of explanation (p. 88) and should not
be seen as mutually exclusive, provided each respects the other's domain. Alternatively,
the recent work of Simon Conway Morris (2003) suggests that there are significant
constraints upon the evolutionary process that make the emergence of complex life forms
inevitable, though rare, in the cosmos. This appears to open further possibilities in the
contemporary scientific context of a consonance between Darwinian evolution and divine
creation. At any rate, it may be a more plausible apologetic strategy than intelligent
design theory that too rapidly asserts divine design wherever gaps in current scientific
explanation temporarily appear (Dembski and Ruse 2004).

The design argument has also found recent support amongst physicists who claim that
the initial conditions governing the universe in its first milliseconds after the big bang are
evidence of cosmic fine-tuning. The universe could not have produced stars, planets, and
carbon-based life forms had the temperature, the rate of expansion, and the formation of
the forces of nature not been precise (Polkinghorne 1988). This series of ‘cosmic
coincidences’ has elicited a sense of wonder and a demand for explanation that is
redolent of early forms of the design argument in the scientific community.

Whatever the validity of such arguments, they must fall short of establishing the Christian
doctrine of creation. Hume's stricture that the design hypothesis is compatible with a
range of theisms should caution against too heavy a reliance upon such strategies. At
best, apologetic arguments for a creator based on scientific and philosophical
consideration can attempt to show the compossibility of faith with other areas of
knowledge. In some respects, this may be redolent of the wisdom literature. But such
arguments can neither ground nor exhaust the theology of creation. Deeply connected to
other themes derived from scripture and the church's long tradition of reflection upon its
witness, the doctrine of creation remains a rich and integral component of Christian
theology.

References Suggested Reading


AQUINAS, ST THOMAS (1975). Summa Theologiae. London: Blackfriars.

BARTH, KARL (1957). Church Dogmatics II/1. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.

—— (1958). Church Dogmatics III/1. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.

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Creation

BERKHOF, HENDRIKUS (1986). Christian Faith. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

BIRCH, CHARLES, and VISCHER, LUKAS (1997). Living with the Animals: The
Community of God's Creatures. Geneva: World Council of Churches.

CRAIG, WILLIAM LANE (1979). The Kalam Cosmological Argument. London:


Macmillan.

CRAIG, WILLIAM LANE, and COPAN, PAUL (2004). Creation out of Nothing: A Biblical,
Philosophical, and Scientific Exploration. Leicester: Apollos.

DAWKINS, RICHARD (2003). A Devil's Chaplain: Selected Essays. London: Weidenfeld


& Nicolson.

DEMBSKI, WILLIAM, and RUSE, MICHAEL (eds.) (2004). Debating Design:


(p. 89)

From Darwin to DNA. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

FRYE, ROLAND (ed.) (1993). Is God a Creationist? New York: Scribner's.

GOULD, STEVEN JAY (1999). Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of
Time. New York: Ballantine.

GRIFFIN, DAVID RAY (2001). ‘Creation out of Nothing, Creation out of Chaos, and the
Problem of Evil’. In Stephen Davis (ed.), Encountering Evil: Live Options in Theodicy, rev.
edn., Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 108–25.

GUNTON, COLIN (1998). The Triune Creator: A Historical and Systematic Study.
Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

—— (2002). The Christian Faith: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine. Oxford: Blackwell.

JENSON, ROBERT W. (1997–9). Systematic Theology. 2 vols. New York: Oxford


University Press.

JÜNGEL, EBERHARD (1983). God as the Mystery of the World. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.

KELSEY, DAVID (1985). ‘The doctrine of creation out of nothing’. In E. McMullin (ed.),
Evolution and Creation, Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.

KERR, FERGUS (1997). Theology After Wittgenstein. 2nd edn. London: SPCK.

LEVENSON, JON (1994). Creation and the Persistence of Evil: The Jewish Drama of
Divine Omnipotence. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

LINZEY, ANDREW (1994). Animal Theology. London: SCM.

MACQUARRIE, JOHN (1982). In Search of Humanity: A Theological and Philosophical


Approach. London: SCM.

MC FAGUE, SALLIE (1987). Models of God. Philadelphia: Fortress.

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Creation

MC FARLAND, IAN A. (2005). The Divine Image: Envisioning the Invisible God.
Minneapolis: Fortress.

MARTEL, YANN (2002). The Life of Pi. Edinburgh: Canongate.

MAY, GERHARD (1994). Creatio ex Nihilo. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.

MOLTMANN, JÜRGEN (1985). God in Creation. London: SCM.

MORRIS, SIMON CONWAY (2003). Life's Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely


Universe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

NEUSNER, JACOB (1991). Confronting Creation: How Judaism Reads Genesis: An


Anthology of Genesis Rabbah. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press.

NORTHCOTT, MICHAEL (1996). The Environment and Christian Ethics. Cambridge:


Cambridge University Press.

PANNENBERG, WOLFHART (1991–8). Systematic Theology. 3 vols. Grand Rapids:


Eerdmans.

PELIKAN, JAROSLAV (1971–89). The Christian Tradition. 5 vols. Chicago: University of


Chicago Press.

POLKINGHORNE, JOHN (1988). Science and Creation. London: SPCK.

RASMUSSEN, LARRY (1996). Earth Community, Earth Ethics. Maryknoll: Orbis.

ROBERTS, A., and DONALDSON, J. (eds.) (1990). Ante-Nicene Fathers: The Writings of
the Fathers down to A.D. 325. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.

SCHWÖBEL, CHRISTOPH (1997). ‘God, Creation and the Christian Community: The
Dogmatic Basis of a Christian Ethic of Createdness’. In Colin Gunton (ed.), The Doctrine
of Creation, Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 149–76.

TORRANCE, T. F. (1988). The Trinitarian Faith. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.

VAN HUYSSTEEN, J. WENTZEL (2006). Alone in the World? Human Uniqueness in


Science and Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

WEBB, STEPHEN (1998). On God and Dogs: A Christian Theology of Compassion


(p. 90)

for Animals. New York: Oxford University Press.

WILLIAMS, ROWAN (1999). ‘Good For Nothing? Augustine on Creation’. In Everett


Ferguson (ed.), Doctrinal Diversity: Recent Studies in Early Christianity, New York:
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BARTH (1958).

FERGUSSON, DAVID (1998). The Cosmos and the Creator. London: SPCK.

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Creation

GUNTON (1998).

MC FAGUE (1987).

MAY (1994).

MOLTMANN (1985).

PANNENBERG (1991–8: ii. 1–174).

POLKINGHORNE (1988).

SCHWARZ, HANS (2002). Creation. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

TANNER, KATHRYN (1988). God and Creation in Christian Theology: Tyranny or


Empowerment. Oxford: Blackwell.

WARD, KEITH (1996). Religion and Creation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

WELKER, MICHAEL (1999). Creation and Reality. Philadelphia: Fortress.

WESTERMANN, CLAUS (1974). Creation. London: SPCK.

David Fergusson

David Fergusson is Professor of Divinity and Principal of New College at the


University of Edinburgh. He is author of Faith and Its Critics (2009) based on the
Gifford Lectures (2008).

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