The Doctrine of Creation: A Constructive Kuyperian Approach, Bruce Riley Ashford and Craig G. Bartholomew. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020.
Summary: A study of the doctrine of creation, demonstrating how this doctrine is foundational and related to everything else in Christian theology.
The doctrine of creation has often been eclipsed in various ways in recent years. It has come under attack by some scientists and the arguments about the timing and efforts to harmonize biblical and scientific accounts have overshadowed the broader implications of this doctrine. The ongoing struggle of Christianity with gnostic tendencies have led to de-emphasis on the physical creation for some spiritualized, disembodied version of Christianity. For others, a Christocentric or cross-centric approach to theology also has led to de-emphasis on the doctrine of creation.
Ashford and Bartholomew draw upon the Kuyperian tradition in which the doctrine of creation is foundational and has implications for everything else while engaging other theologians and differing viewpoints in a constructive theological approach to this doctrine. This is one of those cases where they show as well as tell, not only making the argument, but showing the connections of this crucial doctrine to our understanding of culture, of God’s providence, of redemption and our eschatological hope, centered in the new creation.
They begin by outlining the doctrine of creation as an article of faith and how this relates to our doctrine of scripture and doctrine of God, and the fundamental idea of the goodness of creation, shaping our relationship with the physical world. They then engage in historical theology, surveying all the important theologians from the church fathers up through the modern period in two chapters. Before exegeting the early chapters of Genesis, a chapter is devoted to the omnipotence of God, the nature of evil, and the implications the idea of ex nihilo creation, which the authors support.
The next four chapters (5-8) walk through Genesis 1-3. They observe that from Genesis 1 alone we learn:
- the existence of light;
- the reality of time, days, seasons, years, and history;
- the three great places of our world: sky, sea, and land;
- the distinction between birds, sea creatures, and land animals;
- the extraordinary world of flora and fruit trees and their importance in the food chain;
- humankind as similar to and yet distinct from the other creatures and with unique capacities;
- humankind as called to responsible stewardship of the creation;
- humankind as gendered and inherently relational; and
- humankind as inherently religious–that is, made for God. (p. 171)
The subsequent chapters explore Genesis 2, a discussion of the “heaven” in “heaven and earth” and the fall.
The authors then turn to other doctrines and the influence of the doctrine of creation. First is the influence of creation on our understanding of culture. A highlight of this chapter included a vocational focus on the rise of modern science, the art of Makoto Fujimura, and philospher Alvin Plantinga. The chapter on providence, “Creatio Continua,” was the highlight for me in a book full of treasures. In particular, they delineate the threefold providence of God as preservation, accompanying, and ruling. They even throw in a striking insight of the providence of God in the Septuagint, which gave a whole dictionary of Greek theological terms on which the early Christian movement could draw. Creation and the new creation are vitally intertwined, not simply as the beginning and end of the story. To what degree will the new creation restore, repristinate, or replace the old? And how should what is coming shape the way the church lives as disciples in the present.
The last chapter on “Creation And…” is a tour de force as the authors offer some of the best delineations I have seen in a few pages each of creation and…philosophy, the table (thinking about the implications of creation for how we eat), time, science, the self, and human dignity. An appendix follows in which Bartholomew and Michael Goheen outline in enumerated points the contours of a missional neo-Calvinism that shows in concise form how creation and the redemptive mission of God are integral to one another.
As noted, this work shows the richness of the doctrine of creation in its implications for all of life. The insets in the text may seem distracting at first but offer crucial theological elaboration of the discussion in each chapter. This is a work to be read slowly and reflectively. In the tradition of Calvin and Kuyper, one will be rewarded with deepening wonder in the greatness of God and delight in God’s creation and its implications for all of life.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.