Review: Engaging the Doctrine of Creation

engaging the doctrine of creation

Engaging the Doctrine of CreationMatthew Levering. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017.

Summary: A systematic theology of the doctrine of creation beginning with the nature of the Creator, the significance of creatures, the meaning of the image of God, the mandate to be fruitful and multiply, original sin, and atonement that engages with scripture, contemporary sources, and most significantly, the theology of Thomas Aquinas.

In the last century, the discussions of the doctrine of creation often quickly have degenerated into creation-evolution debates. Classically, the doctrine of creation has been foundational to our understanding of God, our place in the cosmos, the purpose of our existence, the tragedy of our fallen condition and our hope of redemption. In this magisterial volume, the third in a series on doctrines of the Church (the first two on Revelation and the Holy Spirit), Matthew Levering seeks to recover this classical focus, and particularly one which draws not only upon scripture but the work of Thomas Aquinas.

This is no where more in evidence than in his first two chapters on “divine ideas” and “divine simplicity” in which he draws upon Aquinas to answer more contemporary theologians such as Victor Lossky in defending the idea that all creation has its origin and existence in God’s eternally present thought with no resort to something external to God’s self and that God is identical with his attributes and without parts spatially and temporally. Thus, God as wise and good is utterly distinct from his creation, and yet its source. These chapters involved close theological reasoning worthy of careful attention.

The next chapters focus on God’s created beings. The third chapter focuses on creation and particularly, accepting the geological records, the profusions of creatures that have lived and died on the earth, dealing with the difficulties of death and destruction that are part of this succession. He contends that nevertheless, these offer a kind of “cosmic theophany” that proclaim through “a superabundance of finite ways” something of the infinite and yet personal God. He then turns particularly to humans in the image of God and explores in what this consists, which he contends involves our rationality employed in our royal and priestly mission as wise and good stewards of the creation. In chapter 5, Levering engages the contention that as creatures, we have fulfilled the mandate to be fruitful and multiply and should limit procreation, made by Christian environmentalist Bill McKibben, and others. Upholding Catholic teaching, Levering would not have us “constrict the circle of interpersonal communion for which God created the whole cosmos.”

The last two chapters explore the doctrines of original sin and atonement. In chapter six, he takes on contemporary theologians like Peter Enns, who argue against the idea of a historical Adam and thus, never an original goodness. Levering argues that this undermines the idea of a wise and good Creator in making God the author of sin, and that if we believe in a wise and good Creator, then it follows that there was originally a human who was free of sin, sustained by God in that goodness, until willfully rebelling against God.

The chapter on atonement would seem out of place in this volume until one understands the concern Levering seeks to address and the integral importance of creation to responding to that concern. Levering engages the contention of philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff that since Christianity commends freely forgiving our debtors, it is inconsistent to insist upon a penal character to the atoning work of Christ. Levering’s response, again drawing upon Aquinas points to the original relational justice of the good Creator that was broken or breached by human rebellion that must be restored through the relational act the death of God’s Son. Thus, the doctrines of creation and atonement are closely linked.

Levering writes as a Catholic theologian and yet engages thoughtfully with Protestant, Orthodox and secular writers. I would consider this a sterling example of excellent theological writing. Levering is not content to engage the writers of the last ten or fifty years, but roots his work in biblical teaching, the work of the church fathers, as well as major teachers of the church like Thomas Aquinas. One may not concur with all of his contentions, but to read Levering is to read someone, who like Aquinas, gives first the reasons of other positions, then his own carefully thought-through conclusions leaving it to the reader to conclude which are the better arguments. For those desirous of rooting their faith in rigorous thought and not simply devotional passion, Levering’s work is worth the careful attention it requires.

[My review of Engaging the Doctrine of Revelation appears here.]

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free in e-book format from the publisher through Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

5 thoughts on “Review: Engaging the Doctrine of Creation

  1. You may enjoy this post, Bob. Bobby Grow’s posts usually are deep. But I think this post may overlap some with what your review (and the book that you review) engages. It compares Aquinas’ view that God’s grace restores nature, with Barth’s view—-which includes that idea that grace somehow undergirds or forms the basis for creation.

  2. Pingback: The Month in Reviews: November 2017 | Bob on Books

  3. Pingback: Bob on Books Best of 2017 | Bob on Books

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