Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Problem of Creation

  According to Dr. Brunner, we fall easily into error when we try to start talking about Creation from the Old Testament. This happens because we do not know how to read the Creation account of Genesis 1-2. When the modern reader looks at this text, we become confused. Why does it start out with a puzzling narrative about a 6 day creation culminating in a Sabbath? Why does it not speak of the origin of the Creator? Why is not compatible with our enlightened (through Science) view of the origins of the world?

  Brunner suggest that instead of reading "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1) we  should instead start by reading "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God." (John 1:1) When we start with Genesis, we start with an unknown God. this God could be "the Theos of Plato or Epictetus, the Rama of the Sikhs, or the Ahura Mazda of Zoroastrianism." (pg. 6) Yet, if we start with John 1, we start with a Revealed God, a God that is uniquely Christian.

    "Unfortunately", according to Brunner, "the uniqueness of this Christian doctrine of Creation and the Creator is continually being obscured by the fact that theologians (and us non-theologians) are so reluctant to begin their work with the New Testament; when they want to deal with the Creation they tend to begin with the Old Testament." (pg. 6) When we start with the Old Testament, we start with The Hidden God, but when we start with the New Testament, we start with the Revealed and Veiled God.

  By starting with the Revealed God, we no longer can turn Creation into Science. We are forced to admit that Creation is not about Cosmology, not about the origin of the World, but the beginning of the Revealed Word. "The magnificent presentation of the creatio ex nihilo, or -and it is the same thing - Creation by the Word" shows us that "The Creation is because God wills it; it has no other foundation...the Creation is the work of...His Holy Love." (pg. 13)

  Instead of a "polytheistic-mythical origin" found in Genesis, we find an origin that starts with the Revelation of the Word of God. Instead of a narrative about the origins of the Cosmos found in Genesis, we find a narrative about the origin of the relationship between God and His Creation in John.


  1. However right Brunner is in warning us to not read the narrative of Creation as a scientific explanation of the origins of the Cosmos or as a mythopoetic rendering of the beginning, we need to be careful. I believe that Brunner has too much of Christocentric view of Creation that undercuts the Judaic understanding of the text. Instead of reading the Old Testament through the New Testament, I believe that it is healthier to read both accounts of Creation side-by-side in a harmony where both of their melodies and nuances come into play.

  2. You make a good point in your comment above, Dan. It's tempting (and common) to read the NT back into the OT. I've also heard it said that the OT is the hermeneutic key to understanding the NT (a perspective I'm more inclined to agree with).

    But I like your music metaphor -- the two are harmonious, and if we read them together we can hear that harmony. The struggle for many churchgoers, I think, is plain unfamiliarity with the OT. We tend to read it selectively, dropping in on it to pull out a few verses, as if the NT is the "real" book and the OT is a footnote.

    We can't take scripture as a whole if we're unfamiliar with 3/4 of it.

  3. Dan,

    Pam, I respect and agree with your comment. Let me clarity the problems and difficulties with rejecting Brunner, and the overall problem with the whole discussion.

    I think your second post took away from the "stab of newness" that was your first post. In light of the Protestant and Catholic traditions, Brunner is not Christocentric enough (Since he does not place Christ also at creation, more about this later)! Remember the Father's are unanimous about the Jews rejection of the gospel and God's offer to all peoples, which of course includes the Jews, not as a socio-political people, but a religious people under the banner of Christ. And of course they hold no special position in the estate of salvation, since all people are now equals in and with Christ. Even Paul was clear on this in Romans. The "Judaic understanding" is a moot point pretty much only pushed by the politically correct academia.

    Brunner's position is very interesting, and almost compelling to me. However the canon does have a beginning and an ending. Brunner's idea that the God of Genesis/Creation is an unknowing God seems foreign to the ears of both the textual and theological tradition. I also agree with you that we need to “read both accounts of Creation side-by-side in a harmony where both of their melodies and nuances come into play.” We also need to allow the exegetical methods of the biblical writers to sing the voices of typology, allegory, and other long forgotten but Biblically valid ways. Maybe it’s a copout, but I also told my students that they may interpret like the New Testament writers do, only when they have learned the ways of current interpretation. You learn the rules to break them (so to speak).

  4. Eric-
    I understand that the Church Fathers introduced something radical in their Christological reading of the Old Testament, and I think that their hermeneutic is valid. However, I feel that it is too one-sided to work.

    Yes, we need to read the Old Testament as the Revealing of Christ and His relationship with us. Brunner does sound compelling when he speaks of the God of the Old Testament as Hidden, or the Unknown God, but I agree, it goes against the text and the larger tradition. Such a reading under-emphasizes the Revelation of God to His Chosen People. These ideas are not contrary, and I think that they need to be, like I said, read in harmony.

  5. Pam-
    You also raise a good point. we, to our shame, are unfamiliar with 3\4ths or even more of our heritage. Not only are we unfamiliar with the Old Testament, we are unfamiliar with the Church Fathers and the Tradition that springs from the Scriptures. Brunner is not advocating ignorance, but advocating seeing how God reveals Himself in the whole Tradition, in the Wholeness of Scripture. It is truly a shame, and it is due to this that I have undertaken this project. Not just to educate others, though. That is a secondary goal. Why I am doing this is to educate myself, both through reading Brunner and through reading the comments.

  6. I appreciate your effort toward that goal, Dan. And thanks for bringing your friends along for the ride... even though it means running to catch up for some of us (ahem, ME).

    And I agree wholeheartedly about the church fathers (and the whole of church history). This is a rant I go on regularly. If we picture biblical revelation and church history on a timeline, how can we select only a 100-year chunk of it from 2000 years ago and ignore the rest, and expect to understand it?

  7. Pam,
    I'm running to keep up with it also. This isn't something that comes naturally to me. I'm a philosopher, not a theologian.

    Though, I want to disagree with the timeline idea. It's not that we need to understand the revelation as separate parts of history, but I think we need to stick to the music metaphor. It's more like listening to only the violins in Beethoven's Fifth. Sure, it's beautiful and nice, but without the rest, it's lacking. We need the full orchestra (the whole tradition and testaments) instead of just one part (our favorite theologians or passages).

  8. Beautiful metaphor. Much fuller and more lively than the timeline. Thanks!

  9. Dan and Pam,

    I love the music metaphor, but I still feel like your reading of the Father's is one-sided. Most of the church Fathers had a well rounded view of scripture, complete with textual studies, narrative readings, and forms of historical-critical comments (although different then the Historical-Criticial movement which begun in the 19th century). Their "Christological" readings came only after all of the things we would consider ground level work (textual analysis, grammar studies, commentary analysis which included Jewish and Christian commentators). One of the differences between us and them is secularization. We put "Christological" readings in the "application" section, whereas they would place it into the actual study, the meat of the work since their hermeneutical guide was what Paul called a Spiritual reading. This is something we almost reject outright today, or categorize it as "fluff".

    Of course the tradition of theological studies is not a timeline, or maybe not even music (metaphorically speaking), but a series of voices in need of sorting out, a multilayered and textual tapestry of conflicting and agreeing voices. Of course the only thing they all agree on is the supremacy and centrality of Christ.

  10. Of course my music metaphor breaks down, but I think the same thing about your tapestry can apply to my symphony.

    Also, maybe I should have stated that the tradition that the church fathers started has gotten away from such a multi-layered reading. I also agree that we categorize the fathers as writing fluff, as I fall into that trap occasionally, but I am ashamed this label.

  11. Dan,

    I finally get to post and I can't because I have to do grading.

    Perhaps later.