Tony Jones quote bombed Moltmann at me about Process theology’s doctrine of Creation. To point out how Moltmann misunderstands Whitehead or give a detailed explanation of a Process theology of nature could be a boring blog…so I figured I would just respond by telling you all exactly how overrated Creation out of Nothing is as a doctrine. Questioning the doctrine may be taboo in theology nerd circles but I think it’s time to let that taboo die. Why?
- Creation Out of Nothing isn’t Biblical, as in it isn’t in the Bible. If you read through the Bible you will not find the affirmation that God created the world out of nothing. It’s just not in there. In fact, even Biblical scholars who in the end want to affirm the doctrine for theological reasons will not point to the idea being present in the Bible. Just re-read Genesis 1 and ask yourself ‘where did the darkness and waters come from?’ They weren’t created but were there when God began to create.
- Creation Out of Nothing isn’t a part of the Biblical Imagination. Not only is the doctrine absent in scripture but in the quite robust doctrine of Creation in both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures you don’t even see an interest in the question itself. There is plenty of interest in the goodness of Creation, God’s on-going relationship with Creation, Creation’s role in God’s on-going mission, the Cosmic Christ’s relationship to Creation, Creation’s groaning and it’s worship of God but not an affirmation that it came from nothing. It seems odd to me to insist on a doctrinal nuance that isn’t in scripture or even asked. Sure you can hold it but if no author of scripture thought about asking, relax with the dogmatism.
- Early Church Fathers didn’t sweat Creation out of ‘something.’ Both the Hellenistic tradition via Platonism and Judaism assumed that God created out of some unoriginate matter. Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, and Clement of Alexandria all explicitly affirm the doctrine. In one of his apologies to Greek philosophers Justin martyr insists that Plato stole the idea from Genesis! If Creation out of Nothing was necessary to preserve Monotheism or the Biblical doctrine of Creation then someone needs to call Justin.
- Creation out of Nothing was a Theological Over Reaction to Gnostic Dualism. Creation out of Nothing developed as a response to Marcion’s insistence that the material world and its Creator were evil. Clearly insisting that everything came from a Good God eliminates Marcion’s dualism but it isn’t necessary to go that far. Both Plato and Genesis have no problem envisioning pre-existent matter as lacking qualities that God’s creativity comes to give shape. This idea wasn’t seen as a threat to God’s goodness at all. In fact one wonders that if the insistence of Creation out of Nothing doesn’t itself bring more problems than it solves – namely the problem of evil. If God’s creative activity isn’t a relational one all the way down then is God not in some way the author of evil?
Since the middle of the second century those theologians who came to be seen in retrospect as ‘orthodox’ unquestionably adhered to Creation out of Nothing as if it were a necessary doctrine from scripture and for the Christian faith. There are of course a bunch of theological ways around the problems created by the doctrine, like Augustine’s insistence that evil doesn’t actually exist or that 2 Maccabees 7:28 is the (inter-testimental) affirmation of the doctrine. My concern is that fear of Marcion has led the church to overrate the importance of the doctrine and continuing to do so isn’t necessary…or Biblical!
If anyone is interested in pursuing the Biblical doctrine of Creation check out Jon Levenson’s Creation and the Persistence of Evil. For the early church development of the doctrine see Gerhard May’s Creatio ex Nihilo: The Doctrine of ‘Creation out of Nothing’ in Early Christian Thought. May actually affirms the doctrine but affirms the development I sketched briefly above. A brief summary of the theological side of the argument can be found by David Ray Griffin’s article “Creation out of Nothing, Creation out of Chaos, and the Problem of Evil” in Encountering Evil. All good Homebrewed Deacons will be familiar with John Caputo’s The Weakness of God and Catherine Keller’s The Face of the Deep.