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  • Christianity and Creation: The Essence of the Christian Faith and Its Future among Religions, A Systematic Theology
  • Gavin D'Costa, Professor
James P. Mackey . 2006. Christianity and Creation: The Essence of the Christian Faith and Its Future among Religions, A Systematic Theology. London: Continuum, pp. 403, Pb, £28.50. DOI: 10.3366/E1354990108010071

This is a remarkable book written for a wide audience, thus dispensing of notes and bibliography (but foregoing an index is a shame), something that can only be done by a master in their field. Mackey is certainly this – and the book is accessible and challenging. Mackey's thesis is simple. The last hundred years has been characterised by theologies that split asunder nature and grace and reason and faith, thus secreting God into an a-social and immaterial realm. Even those like Rahner, who challenged this two-tiered neo-Scholasticism (and equally, Reformed theology's equivalent) do not go far enough for Mackey, as Rahner still had to tow the Roman line that we required special revelation to see that our innermost existential being was God-driven and God-given and not merely 'natural'. Mackey pushes Rahner further so that the natural becomes a template for the divine, thereby entirely collapsing the supernatural into the natural. This is the heart of his systematic theology of creation which takes up 360 pages of the book.

What does this 'divine natural' tell us? Mackey uses the bible and creeds to read nature, God's 'palm' as it were, as continuous creation, the rich generation of endless possibilities, some of which are destructive, but even these generate new forms of life. God's Spirit that moves the deeps is at work at every level of creation. At the human level, Jesus is a further reading of this basic Spirit-sophia-wisdom, translated into the social creation of communities of regenerating love and creativity, not an institutionalising of exclusivist religion. Two important points here: this creativity is embedded in nature and thus the divine drives all 'religions' in so much as they reflect this process; and second, this truth can be read off from many religions, including pre-Christian Celtic religion (Mackey's consistent example). [End Page 93]

What does this mean for world Christianity? At least two things. Inculturation is vital in a two-way transactional manner – and Celtic Christianity provides the examples. The indigenous religion has something to teach Christianity, for from it the truthfulness of Christianity is tested, while Irish Christianity also reflects the way in which this pre-Christian indigenous religion was assimilated within Christianity through its own divine trinities such as Brigid and Lug. Nothing should be lost. Second, it means that the dominant forms of exclusivist and inclusivist orthodoxy that are prevalent cannot last.

Mackey has always provoked controversy and for this we should be grateful. Two questions. 'Christianity and other religions' is only treated in the last forty-two pages of the book – despite the subtitle. Buddhism and Hinduism are unexamined and Judaism and Islam barely explored. Mackey takes no time to consider how this general divine-human creativity is to be applied to the religions. Caste, for example, can be read as sustaining community, given its own internal schema. How would Mackey respond? Would he simply privilege his Christian reading when he has allowed that it is just one reading amongst many? Further, how can the value of nature be translated if creation has no proper status as in some forms of Buddhism? Despite Mackey's criticisms of exclusivist religions, I wonder if he is self-critical enough about the possible imperialist readings engendered by his own position, reinforced by the lack of detailed engagement with the specifics of any world religion. My other question is this. Rahner was rightly criticised (in my view) for naturalising the supernatural and Mackey's project indicates the end result of that trajectory: the irrelevance of any particular revelation and the prioritising of general revelation (to use terms unacceptable to Mackey). It is not a creedo in tempo with world Christianity right now. [End Page 94]

Gavin D'Costa, Professor
University of Bristol


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pp. 93-94
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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Archived 2009
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