Review: Science and the Doctrine of Creation

Science and the Doctrine of Creation, Edited by Geoffrey H. Fulkerson and Joel Thomas Chopp, afterword by Alister E. McGrath. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021.

Summary: A study of ten modern theologians and how each engaged science in light of the doctrine of creation.

Creation and science. These are often viewed in conflict and the discussion of how these relate is often a contentious space. This work takes a more constructive approach based on the idea that the doctrine of creation consists of far more than how humans came to exist. We fail to consider the God who has created, what is entailed in the act of creating, and what the nature and end of what is created.

Rather than seeking to articulate the doctrine of creation, this work considers ten theologians from the last two centuries, how they engaged the science of their day, and brought their particular grasp of the doctrine of creation to bear on this engagement. There are both recurring themes and divergences among these ten voices. Each chapter begins with a brief biography of the theologian, a discussion averaging about twenty pages, with resources for further reading at the conclusion of the chapter.

The theologians discussed and authors of the chapters are:

William Burt Pope (Fred Sanders). Pope distinguished between primary creation, in which God calls all things into existence, and secondary creation, the formation of an ordered universe, which both scripture and science may inform.

Abraham Kuyper (Craig Bartholomew). Kuyper both affirms creation, common grace and the image of God that grounds the scientific enterprise, and how nonregenerate thought in all dimensions of thought is flawed. For Kuyper, this meant neither unqualified endorsement of evolution nor uncritical opposition.

B. B. Warfield (Bradley J. Gundlach). Warfield hosted Kuyper’s Princeton Stone Lectures. Many have claimed Warfield for eolution. Gundlach offers a more nuanced picture, emphasizing both Warfield’s humble and open approach to the science of his day while focusing on creation (including the idea of mediate creation), providence and supernaturalism.

Rudolf Bultmann (Joshua W. Jipp). This chapter looks at how Bultmann’s demythologization project applied to creation, with the conclusion that scripture doesn’t give us an objective view of the world or ontology. It is rather “faith in man’s present determination by God.” Jipp prefers the concord Alvin Plantinga sees between science and faith to the bifurcated view of Bultmann.

Karl Barth (Katherine Sonderegger). Barth had little to say about theology and natural science. Sonderegger contrasts Barth and Schleiermacher, emphasizing Barth’s doctrine of creation as one that “lays claim to the whole of reality.”

T. F. Torrance (Kevin J. Vanhoozer). Torrance propounded a “kataphysical” theology that brought together ontology and epistemology, denying a divergence between the way things appear and the way they are. Central to all of this Christ, the God-man, who is homoousios, of the same substance with the Father and the Spirit.

Jürgen Moltmann (Stephen N. Williams). Williams explores Moltmann’s “open system” doctrine of God and his vision of a common environment of science and theology.

Wolfhart Pannenberg (Christoph Schwöbel). Drawing on Faraday’s “field of force,” Pannenberg developed a theology of nature that is neither mechanistic nor a “God of the gaps” but rooted in the unity of all reality.

Robert Jenson (Stephen John Wright). Drawing on narrative and history, ideas of time and eternity, and Christology, Jenson contended both science and theology focused on the same reality, the world of creation.

Colin E. Gunton (Murray A. Rae). Gunton’s theological career focused on a reinvigorated understanding of the Trinity. Rae focused on how Gunton’s understanding of the Triune creator affirms creation ex nihilo, a contingent creation, and science as an extension of the human cultural mandate.

One of the themes running through a number of these chapters was the importance of understanding the nature of God to understand the nature of creation. Also, a number of the chapters countered the “non-overlapping magisteria” idea with a unitive vision of theology and science grounded God’s being and activity. One consequence is the intelligibility of the world, both through revelation and science.

This is a valuable resource for the science-theology conversation that moves beyond evolution debates. Both the theologians featured and those who write of them model humble appreciation of both the creative work of God and scientific inquiry. Not only do these contributions underscore, as Alister McGrath notes in the afterword, the coherence of Christian faith, but they highlight the glory of the Creator in the creation.


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.

Review: Narrative Apologetics

Narrative apologetics

Narrative ApologeticsAlister E. McGrath. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019.

Summary: An argument for and description of narrative approaches to offering a defense for the faith.

Most of us, when we think of apologetics, the making of a case for Christian belief, think of approaches that offer arguments or evidences that warrant Christian belief. This has its place in contending that Christian faith is rational, rather than a leap into irrationality. At the same time, apologist Alister E. McGrath observes both the power of story in our culture, and how much of the scripture consists of narrative, of story and how, from the prophet Nathan to the parable-teller Jesus, story has been a key element in conveying the purposes of God to people. McGrath joins with storytellers like G. K. Chesterton, J.R.R Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis to contend that the “big story,” the “Story of a Larger Kind,” that makes sense of all of life and tells a better story, may serve to create receptivity to following Christ, and making the Christian story one’s own.

McGrath begins by laying a theological case for narrative by drawing on H. Richard Neibuhr’s observation that when early Christian communities defended their faith in Christ, they used narrative to do so. He defends the idea of the great story or metanarrative against post-modern commentators by arguing that the narrative of Christian faith is not rooted in hegemonic modernist rationality but a story of God’s telling through the incarnation of the one who epitomized what it means to be in the image of God in human flesh, yet who humbled himself unto death, entering deeply into the human condition of suffering and sin.

He offers examples from Chronicles of Narnia that function as apologetics addressing the objection of God as projection, portraying the incarnation, and visualizing sin. He gives four examples of biblical narratives that articulate aspects of the grand story: the Exodus, the Exile, the story of Christ, and one of the parables of the kingdom, and then offers a list of a number of others.

He turns to strategies and criteria for narrative apologetics. He quotes C.S. Lewis who proposes that “to break a spell, you have to weave a better spell,” that is, tell a better story, one that makes better sense of the world, and offers a better sense of one’s place, purpose, and destiny within it. It means both proposing a metanarrative, and critiquing rival narratives. He then proposes four elements of narrative around life’s meaning:

  1. Identity: Whom am I?
  2. Value: Do I matter?
  3. Purpose: Why am I here?
  4. Agency: Can I make a difference?

In his concluding chapter he proposes the weaving of three types of narratives into a narrative apologetic: personal narrative, biblical narrative, and cultural narrative. In the last category, he speaks of literary writers, citing a few example. He admits these are but a tip of the iceberg, but he could also have suggested film and other visual storytelling media. A more extensive appendix of suggested works would have been helpful.

One other addition I would have appreciated is an example, perhaps a talk where the elements he has outlined are incorporated, and perhaps either commentary that identifies the elements, or an exercise where the reader must do so and observe how they are woven into an apologetic message.

While a model might have been helpful, what McGrath has done is both lay a foundation, and offer a blueprint of what a narrative apologetic consists. The challenge of understanding the cultural story, and telling a better one is matched by the conviction that such stories may be found both in our lives and in the scriptures, and even in dialogue with the stories our culture tells. Of course all of this is premised in Christians understanding in what story they are called to live, and not mistaking the culture’s story for the “Story of a Large Kind.”


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.