What’s at Stake in the Doctrine of Creation

(photo by Courtney Perry)

A week from now, I’ll be canoeing through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness with ten Fuller DMin students, Brian McLaren, Courtney, and a couple guides from Boundary Waters Experience. Our conversations will center on Christian Spirituality and the Doctrine of Creation.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading and thinking about the doctrine of creation in preparation, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the doctrine of creation is like an onion: you peel away one layer, and you find an equally significant layer underneath. Another metaphor is dominoes: knock the first one down, and lots more begin to fall.

I’m so intrigued by this that I think my next book after Why Pray? will be on creation. And I see my thoughts falling under these major categories:

God: What is the nature of God as “creator”? Does God sustain the cosmos, or did God set it up to be self-sustaining? What do the processes of evolution tell us about the nature of God?

Matter: Is matter co-eternal with God, or did God create matter ex nihilo?

Time: Was time created with matter, or has time existed eternally with God? What is God’s relationship to time — is God bound by time (whether voluntarily or by nature)?

Human Beings: What, exactly, does it mean to be in imago dei? Are human beings cooperating in creatio continua?

The Cosmos: What role do human beings play in all the cosmos? Are we, as we long thought, the crown of God’s creation, or are merely one carbon-based life form among many?

Of course, I’d love your thoughts on any of these topics.

  • http://www.homebrewedchristianity.com Bo Sanders

    That is a wonderful list! Such a great topic.
    Enjoy the woods ;). I’m officially jealous -Bo

  • http://www.winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

    I would love to be a sherpa on that trip

  • http://late-emerger.blogspot.com Andrew Martin

    That’s a nice list of topics. But on the subjects of matter and time, in particular (and, indeed, their tight interrelationship), I’d want to suggest reading up on current thinking in physics and get a physicist to read anything you write before publishing it. There’s a big potential to shoot yourself in the foot otherwise.

    • http://www.winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

      Very diplomatic Andrew and very true.

      What’s at stake is our relationship to that creation. Physicists will tell you how they think it all works and where it might have come from, but will be out of their field when discussing human being’s role in it. Although some of them are very good at that discussion too.

      Genesis is a story that, after the fall and the flood, results in a world that is exactly like the one you’d expect to result from millions of years of evolution. To me, this makes the modern theological question, “How do we live in the real world?” By “real” I mean the one we are currently experiencing while in these bodies. Do we treat it like something temporary? Like something that somebody will take care of when we’re done with it? Or like a precious gift that we are responsible for and are expected to pass on? And I don’t mean like “re-gifting” something you don’t like or get to trade at a white elephant gift party.

      • Evelyn

        I think Lausten’s statement that “What’s at stake is our relationship to that creation” is very similar to my view of the creation story. This post brought to mind a church discussion group I was in where we compared a native american creation myth to the judeo-christian creation myth. It became apparent to me that the way the two myths described the relationship between humanity, nature and God set the stage for the way that the two different cultures lived in the world. For example, the native american creation myth places man as a part of nature such that he should live in harmony with it whereas the judeo-christian myth gives man dominance over other creatures and a central place in God’s creation. The native americans were nomadic and took only what they needed as they moved from place to place whereas the judeo-christians settled down and established ownership of different lands and thought they were entitled to a special relationship with God.

        So, I think the creation story is more about our relationship to nature, other creatures, matter, each other, and God than it is a literal rendering of how things came to be.

    • Blake

      Let me add another vote to this one. The relationship between ‘time’ and ‘matter’ falls in a different category than those other excellent topics, one that physicists understand a great deal more about than theologians. How God relates to spacetime? That, on the other hand, surely belongs on the list.

  • Kevin Williams

    I like these questions. The doctrine of creation offers much more than my community of faith has discussed. These questions allow for a robust dialogue instead of a few talking points on a flannel graph. I too am jealous.

  • http://davehuth.com/blog Dave H.

    This stuff is what really lights me up. On the water without a shower is exactly the place to have serious conversations about this. Have a great trip!

  • EricG

    It seems difficult to address “Why Pray?” without first addressing some of the topics above.

  • Jeremy

    Totally digging those questions! Just pull a couple all-nighters and release an ebook. I’d love a good weekend read!

    • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

      Dude, that is soooo tempting…

  • Scott Gay

    There’s a guy in your neighborhood who wrote
    “Creation Untamed….”. Ironically it ends with why pray.

  • http://GraceEmerges.blogspot.com Brad Duncan

    Good list of questions. The questions are right, and themselves imply the nature of God as being the willful and innovative creator. The answers could all go “either way” and still mean that God in charge, and loves us, the created. Nevertheless I feel like chiming in on these:
    God: What is the nature of God as “creator”?
    — God is creative, like God is love
    Does God sustain the cosmos, or did God set it up to be self-sustaining? What do the processes of evolution tell us about the nature of God?
    — that’s kind of the same thing. With God in charge the answer could be complex but still mean that s/he is sustaining it all
    Matter: Is matter co-eternal with God, or did God create matter ex nihilo?
    — Good question. With E=mc^2, maybe energy was all that existed before matter
    Time: Was time created with matter, or has time existed eternally with God? What is God’s relationship to time — is God bound by time (whether voluntarily or by nature)?
    — God exists. So there’s some kind of meaning to his/her existence without creation. Maybe its like the universe within a universe concept, or parallel universes. I feel like our cosmos has its own timeline with a beginning and an end — or possibly a repeating cycle. That doesn’t fit God to me.
    Human Beings: What, exactly, does it mean to be in imago dei? Are human beings cooperating in creatio continua?
    — definitely. As models of God we are creative tend to build complex systems out of raw materials. God didn’t make the iPhone :). We have a complex decision engine (brain) that is capable of creating complex societies, which (on a good day) are capable of doing tremendously good and powerful things (example: Mass General Hospital). I think we are like God for a reason we often don’t realize — we are like God so we can see what God is like.
    The Cosmos: What role do human beings play in all the cosmos? Are we, as we long thought, the crown of God’s creation, or are merely one carbon-based life form among many?
    — with space/time differences being so vast, and Star Trek warp speed being so unrealistic, it’s a moot point!

  • Buck Eschaton

    I go with the idea that the Genesis narrative is anthropological, it’s not really dealing with biological origins or the origins of matter or whatever. It’s dealing with the origin of culture and society. The Genesis account is quite intertwined with the Atonement ritual.

  • Steve Florman

    Get yourself an open-minded but active and faithful Latter-day Saint, preferably one who’s good with a canoe. :) He’ll have some insight on the questions you ask, he’ll know the Scriptures, he’ll be good to have around camp, and he won’t drink all your beer. Your group would profit immensely, as would your guest.

  • David Miller

    The Priestly creation myth in Genesis 1 is cosmological, while the J source of Genesis 2 is anthropological. Genesis 1 is concerned with ordering both matter and time, and God seems to be bound to time, whether voluntarily or inherently I cannot say, in the Sabbath origin story in which God rests on the 7th day.

    Regarding God’s relationship to time, though, I’m thinking of the dangers of ontotheology. If God is bound to time inherently, that puts God squarely in the metaphysical matrix and turns God into something that humans can control and manipulate.

    I’m also thinking about Ricouer and his developmental stages of religious symbol, myth, and philosophical and theological speculation. The creations myths are part of the overarching Judeo-Christian myth structure, including aspects of the end of creation, both end as in “means and ends” and end as in termination.

    Random thoughts.


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