A Theology of Creation (RJS)

A Theology of Creation (RJS) December 17, 2015

Faithful CreatorI recently picked up a new book by Ron Highfield The Faithful Creator: Affirming Creation and Providence in an Age of Anxiety. This book explores the concepts of creation, providence and evil and looks like it should lead to some interesting conversation and insight. Ron Highfield is a professor of religion at Pepperdine University (a place I’d love to visit some day), where he teaches courses like Systematic Theology I and Systematic Theology II, among others. Highfield’s approach is that of a theologian, not that of a biblical scholar. His book is described as “both accessible and scholarly” and “an ideal text for classroom use.” This may scare a few off (who really wants to read a textbook?) but shouldn’t. The concepts he addresses are important.  Terry Tiessen (Providence Theological Seminary) notes in his blurb on the back of the book:

[Highfield] cogently reaffirms classical theism, and he applies it very helpfully in our present context. Whether or not readers agree with Highfield’s criticism of recent departures from the classical tradition, they will benefit, as I have done, from interacting with his superb restatement of the tradition and his own constructive appropriation of it.

Classical theism, as Highfield describes it, explicitly includes perfect providence and rejects such options as open theism that deny God’s perfect foreknowledge. Part Two of The Faithful Creator deals with the issue of Divine Providence; Part Three turns to The Challenge of Evil.  But before tackling these topics Highfield first considers the theology of Creation, looking at the Old and New Testaments, the centrality of Christ, the mechanism of creation and the relationship between divine creation and modern science.  There is much here we can chew on.

The Theology of Creation in the Old Testament. Highfield begins by surveying the major creation texts in the Old Testament: Genesis 1-2, Job 38-41, Proverbs 8, a bunch of Psalms, Isaiah 40-45, and Jeremiah 10:12-16; 27:5. We’ve dealt with most of these more than once in the past and I will now be content to summarize Highfield’s conclusions concerning the Old Testament theology of creation.

First an explanation:

For a biblical assertion about creation to qualify as theological it must speak about God as Creator or God’s relationship to the creature. Statements in which the Bible speaks of creatures in ways subject to empirical observation or introspection must be excluded from the theological category.  (p. 35)

For example, the statement concerning the ostrich in Job 39 concluding “God did not endow her with wisdom” is observational and provides a moral lesson, but it is not theological because it draws a moral lesson from observation. It doesn’t focus on God and isn’t intended to teach us about God or even about Ostriches.

Highfield puts forth five theses concerning the theology of creation (pp. 36-39).  Because these are theological statements they all concern the nature of God or the relationship between God and his creation.

  • The one God is the absolute origin and sovereign ruler over all that is not God.God is there at the beginning and every other thing in existence originated in God’s creative will.”
  • The one God freely established the Creator-creature relation, which is characterized by generosity, freedom, and power on the Creator’s side and dependence and debt on the creature’s side. In his explanation of this thesis Highfield explicitly rejects any concept that limits the asymmetry of this relationship.  He sees this as a major problem in many recent theologies of creation.  God doesn’t reduce himself to make room for creaturely autonomy.
  • The creation really exists before God and stands before him as good; that is, as the result of God’s act of creation, the creature is really what God intended it to be and can be used for the purpose God intended. God treats creation as a genuine other, giving it space and a role to play and making it responsible to God.”
  • The Creator-creature relation established at the beginning, with its characteristic qualities, endures for all time.  There is no image of a distant deistic creator in the Old Testament. God is Creator in the present just as he was in the past and he will continue to be the Creator in the future.  Creation is past action, present action and future action.
  • Human beings possess a unique relationship to the Creator characterized by their image and likeness to God and responsibility to him.  The Old Testament view of creation is anthropocentric with humans the “crown of creation.”  This is in contrast to ancient Near Eastern views where humans were created to serve the gods, doing the menial tasks that the gods did not want to do themselves.  According to Highfield, humans have been given power over themselves and  thereby also power to rule creation.  “The nature that enables human beings to exercise these powers is called the “image and likeness” of God. Herein resides the dignity and the vocation of God’s human creatures.”  Highfield’s view of the “image and likeness” of God is somewhat different from that given by Richard Middleton in The Liberating Image, and by other contemporary Old Testament scholars.  Middleton argues that the image of God is a vocation, not the nature that enables the vocation.  Or put differently – humans as a species are created in the image and likeness of God, it isn’t dependent on the capacity of an individual. This doesn’t doesn’t change the thesis, however.  Humans are still unique and characterized by their relationship with and responsibility to God.

Do these theses capture the Old Testament theology of Creation?

Is there anything you would modify or add? If so, why?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net.

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