Monday, 27 November 2017

Book Review: Simon Oliver, Creation: A Guide for the Perplexed

Simon Oliver, Creation: A Guide for the Perplexed (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2017)

The Christian doctrine of creation is not simply concerned with the universe’s origin, but also, as Simon Oliver notes, with its nature and purpose. Moreover, the current focus on scientific endeavour and the natural order is in many respects a detour from the paths established by earlier scholars whose faith in God allowed them to interpret all things as inherently meaningful and belonging to a system of signs in which they moved towards their final completion in God. This change of direction occurred during the Reformation period, when theologians began to champion the literal sense of Scripture over the moral, allegorical, and anagogical; and this particular approach to Scripture in turn contributed to an intellectual climate which allowed for the objectification of creatures previously saturated with the sacred. Thus theology’s present task is to recover this lost sense of significance, something best done, Oliver implies, by working through the implications of the traditional doctrine of creation from nothing: that everything, including creation itself, is a gift of God.

Oliver builds his case first by exploring the biblical portrayal of creation in Genesis (Chapter 1) and then by discussing how the doctrine of creation from nothing affects our understanding of God, the world, and the providential relation between the two (Chapters 2–3). Chapter 4, on creation and science, is arguably the most important: here, Oliver notes that science–religion dialogue needs to do more than simply find areas of agreement, as the scientific enterprise has so shaped our understanding of the universe that it is practically impossible to treat the world as anything other than an object. This is why an account of the universe as God’s gift (Chapter 5), a gift to be received with gratitude, is so important for today.

Occasionally, Creation: A Guide for the Perplexed presents more as a case for Thomistic metaphysics than as an introduction to the topic of creation as such, but it is an illuminating and immensely satisfying read, and one that should enjoy a wide readership.

This review is due for publication in Theological Book Review.

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