Sunday, 2 August 2015

My Review of Ian McFarland’s From Nothing

My full review of Ian McFarland’s From Nothing is now available in American Theological Inquiry 8:1. Here is a slightly edited version of my concluding paragraph:

McFarland’s study is well structured . . . , consistently insightful . . . , and incorporates a wealth of material in relatively few pages. Sometimes this requires the reader to attend particularly closely to what McFarland writes; his arguments are often nuanced, and he wastes few words. There are times when McFarland’s points are perhaps too subtle. In his introduction, for example, McFarland criticizes Justin Martyr for holding to a “belief in the ontological independence of matter,” which appears to entail God’s inability “to act directly on or be immediately present to creation: God is and remains outside of the phenomenal world” (11). However, it is not obvious to me that what McFarland refers to as matter’s “ontological independence” necessarily prevents God from entering the world and acting within it. (Indeed, in later sections of the passages from which McFarland quotes, Justin goes on to affirm that while the Father remains outside the world, the Son, who is God, does act within the world.) This suggests, perhaps, that McFarland’s own tracing of the logic of creation from nothing, which largely relies on a Thomistic reading of God’s relation to the world, cannot allow for an interpretation of that logic that might take others down alternative conceptual paths. Also, while I found McFarland’s accounts of the Trinity and incarnation in the “Exitus” section thoroughly compelling, I was a little disappointed that his thoughts on these did not seem greatly to influence the “Reditus” chapters, especially the chapters on evil and providence. The points McFarland makes are well considered, but I remain unsure as to how, for him, Christology affects the problem of evil, or how the Trinity might elucidate an account of divine providence. But even if there were times when I sought further clarity or detail from McFarland, there were other times when I found myself genuinely inspired by his depth of vision. Time invested in reading From Nothing will not be wasted.

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