“Theologies of Creation” edited by Thomas Jay Oord

Edited by Thomas Jay Oord, Theologies of Creation: Creation Ex Nihilo and its New Rivals explores the new options for a Christian theology of creation. As the majority of scholars within this work argue, creatio ex nihilo, a theology which basically states that God chose at some moment in time something from a literal nothing, has no biblical precedent. And while many theologians recognize the complications of God’s creative acts, such as the idea of creatio continua, “relatively few believers… have thought deeply about how God initially created our universe” (1). The following 10 essays explore other viable options for creation theologies via a philosophical and biblical perspectives. Because each explanation for God’s initial creation is a unique author, each will be addressed briefly upon their own terms, divided by chapter.

1) Mary-Jane Rubenstein approaches the issue with an attempt to synchronize the biblical account of creation with modern understandings of physics, ultimately arguing for creatio ex multitudine. In essence, she argues that God did create out of nothing; however, the “nothing” was akin a molecule so low on the Planck scale that it actually flashes in and out of existence. This gives proper grounds to argue that there was “nothing” before God, “nothing” being something.

2) Philip Clayton argues along similar lines regarding what “nothing” is. In his words, “nothing separate us. Nothing. But what nothing it is” (17). His perspective in defining “nothing” relates more to a philosophical understanding. That is, “the finite and contingent… not only exist but also participate in its infinite source; and that consequently we… could actually affect the course of the evolving divine experience” (21). With a Christian pantheistic approach in which the worlds is with the divine as God transcends the world, he argues that God is necessarily free; thus, his choice to create is as well free, with less dichotomy between God and creation than some others. Thus, creation participates with and within God.

3) Catherine Keller concludes these first three essays by attempting to unite the preceding essays. So she doesn’t deny the absence of creatio ex nihilo; rather, she emphasize the idea of multiple true interpretations, including, but not limited to, creatio ex nihilo and profundis. After exploring the practical implications of a creation theology, she concludes by saying that sometimes “we become too polemically neat in our constructions” (39). For her, humans don’t necessarily hold the knowledge, or even ability, to fully grasp the breadth of God’s creative act. And, ultimately, our understanding of creation may be more of a reflection regarding our shared humanity.

4) Marit A. Trelstad approaches creation theology from a scientific and biblical perspective. After exploring claims of quantum cosmologies, she shows how theology does not always fit hand in hand with quantum physics, such as the simplicity of existence and non-existence. From this framework, she demonstrates how “nothing” within mathematics is not a mere nothing but potential. So, she pushes for a more accurate understanding of creation, creatio ex potentia, in hopes of uniting theology and science.

5) Eric M. Vail attempts to maintain the title of creatio ex nihilo; however, in doing so, he remodels it to be more accurately represented. Primarily operating from Lyle Dabney’s pneumatoogy and his perspective on the Word, Vail pushes forward a creation theology focused on the Spirit of God. In short, he emphasizes the ongoing role of the Spirit in the world. how the Spirit blow through and makes possible. Rather than emphasizing origins, he focuses more upon creatio ex nihilo as a way in which to explain that the world is not autonomous from God; however, the Spirit does give life by moving through the world.

6) With a high Christology, Stephen Webb approaches creation from a perspective that the world was created through Jesus Christ. In what he calls creatio a materia ex christi, Webb uses a Trinitarian framework do demonstrate through New Testament sources that Jesus is the “material” by which the world was created. Importantly, this demonstrates the relational aspect of Christ over the world. The greatest downfall to this approach is the lack of honest discussion of the Hebrew Bible and the restrictive Trinitarian framework.

7) Similar to Stephen Webb, G. Michael Zbaraschuk takes a stance of creatio ex deo, creation out of God. This creation, Zbaraschuk argues, is “more true to the incarnation, a better expression of embodied Christian spirituality, and more pro-feminist and should have better ecological consequences” (79). Pentecostal Spirituality presents a solid framework for him because it is a personal example of God creating out of his own self, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Pointing out the dangers of the emphasis on God’s freedom, Zbaraschuk emphasizes that conceptions of it may easily result in a hierarchical society where women are subordinate to men. Thus, creatio ex deo, that God creates out of God’s own self, draws out the relational aspect of God that ultimately culminates in the incarnation.

8) Richard Rice returns to creatio ex nihilo in support, though nuanced from the traditional understanding. In dealing with Genesis, he points out that it is not about material origins, but functional order. Other Old Testament passages like Psalms 103:14-30, 139:13, and 147:8 also emphasize God’s freedom in creating, and understanding which soon came to be recognized as creatio ex nihilo. So, rather than focusing on how God began, Rice’s explanation seeks to explain what kind of God created and what kind of world did he created.

9) Michael Lodahl, in continuity with Rice and Webb, argues for creatio ex amore, God creates out of love. Pursuing an understanding of creation as grace, Lodahl argues that, while creatio ex nihilo may uphold God’s free gift giving, it does not take seriously enough the fact that God wholly created out of love. Rather than a focus on the time of existence for the universe, he draws out the eternal Divine Love, something that has always been clear and present. Creatio ex amore answers questions like why God simply doesn’t eradicated evil; thus, it is a superior creation to creatio ex nihilo.

10) Thomas Jay Oord concludes by discussing his view that God always creates out of creation in love (creatio ex creatione a natura amoris). Starting with Scripture, Oord begins by briefly showing how Scripture presents God and creation, pointing out that it does not support creatio ex nihilo. After presenting to unconvincing reason to support creatio ex nihilo, an inherently evil world and God’s omni-sovereignty. With their own nuances, Oord presents 5 aspects of his framework that shape his creation theology: creation depends on God, God does not need creation to exist, the world is not coeternal with God, God creates all things, and the creator differs from creation. These standards are all met by creation ex creatione a natura amoris, which is simply “that God ahs always – everlastingly – been creating out of that which God previously created… and God’s creating is endless; it had no absolute beginning” (117).

In conclusion, Theologies of Creation: Creatio Ex Nihilo and its New Rivals presents 10 possible creation theologies, each with their own focus, that assist in expressing a more biblical and accurate theology. While each has aspects that are not fully demonstrated or believable, the dialogue between the various scholars is a step towards a fuller understanding of who Yahweh is and how he loves.

Click here to purchase Theologies of Creation: Creatio Ex Nihilo and its New Rivals

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