Thursday, 22 January 2015

Book Review: David Fergusson, Creation

David Fergusson, Creation. Guides to Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014)

The Eerdmans Guides to Theology are aimed primarily at students, but CreationDavid Fergusson’s contribution to the series – is likely to appeal even to the experienced scholar. Most of the themes discussed in the book are familiar and have been treated elsewhere by others, often at length. But Fergusson condenses a wealth of research on various aspects of the doctrine of creation into seven focussed chapters that satisfy the reader’s initial curiosity and whet the appetite for more.

Fergusson’s opening chapter looks at how ideas of creation pervades Scripture. The doctrine of creation is concerned with far more than human origins or cosmogony, and Fergusson explores how Scripture incorporates a range of issues from animal welfare to social and political order into the motif. Also important to the doctrine is New Testament Christology: protology and eschatology are held together in God’s Word incarnate, the man Christ Jesus. This confidence in the priority of Christology should help shape responses to literalistic interpretations of Genesis 1–3, substantialist definitions of the imago Dei, and corrupted notions of ‘dominion’ (Gen 1:26) that privilege humanity.

In many respects, the following six chapters expand on the topics initially raised in the first chapter. Thus in chapter two, Fergusson explores the concept of creatio ex nihilo, noting how this teaching serves to maintain the distinction between God and the world by emphasising the act of creation as a free decision of God; chapter three examines creation and fall, and includes discussions of original sin, the nature of evil, and Pelagianism; and chapter four suggests pneumatology as the important factor to unite accounts of God’s immanence and transcendence in connection with the doctrine of providence. Fergusson continues his treatment of creation and providence by attending first to deism and natural theology in the early modern period (chapter five), and then to Darwinian evolution and modern cosmology (chapter six); nothing in any of these theories need pose a threat to orthodox Christian faith, Fergusson avows. The final chapter moves logically from evolution and cosmology to the investigation of the place of animals and the environment in God’s creation, and – intriguingly! – the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligence.

Throughout the volume, Fergusson is overwhelmingly positive about the goodness of creation and of God’s unceasing relation to that which God created. Any problems arising from within the related doctrines of creation and providence are due, Fergusson implies, to poorly constructed theologies based largely on anthropocentric presuppositions about the superiority of human beings. But God is not solely concerned with humanity, even though man and woman together are made in the imago Dei and have an important role to play within God’s providential design. Though neither matter is entirely absent, I would have welcomed further engagement with sociology and politics, and with the eschatological transformation of creation in the age to come. Such discussion would likely have expanded the book beyond tolerable limits for the Guides to Theology series, and so the inclusion of an annotated bibliography, which gives suggestions for further reading, is of immense value. To summarise, Creation is a useful and stimulating contribution to introductory, even intermediate, literature on the subject.

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