- Church Doctrine Volume 3: Creation by Paul C. McGlasson
The work of Paul McGlasson deserves to be better known. He studied under Brevard Childs at Yale and wrote his dissertation on Karl Barth. After a stint in academia, McGlasson has been a parish pastor in a Presbyterian church in Indiana for much of the last two decades. He is widely conversant with the breadth and depth of the Christian theological tradition and also shares the sensibility of one who must preach weekly. This book follows two previous works on canon and God. Upcoming volumes on reconciliation and redemption will round out his projected five-part series on doctrine.
Not surprisingly, as a student of Childs, McGlasson’s central goal is to honor the canonical shape of the Bible and hear it afresh. He evidences a deep affinity for both Martin Luther and John Calvin. While he is critical of both reformers, it becomes clear that he listens carefully to them. The same goes for the church fathers, both east and west. Augustine is prominent in McGlasson’s work and regular references to Gregory of Nyssa and Irenaeus are also included. [End Page 467] The author’s familiarity with Protestant orthodoxy is impressive. He is impatient with that period’s lapse into an arid scholasticism but he does lift up voices of genuine insight when the opportunity affords it. McGlasson is more cautious when it comes to the modern period, viewing theological options on the right and left with a skeptical eye. Indeed, he often points out how fundamentalism and theological liberalism are the mirror images of each other. Barth, Bonhoeffer, and few others come off well. But he seems to share the concern that modern philosophical presuppositions have muted the ability of many thinkers to truly hear the voice of God in Scripture.
McGlasson’s ability to listen carefully to the tradition should not be taken to mean that he gets stuck in the past. Far from it! His ultimate goal is to use the tradition as a means for the church to listen anew to the message of the Bible and its witness to Jesus Christ. This book is anything but dry, arid, and pedantic. His explication of creation gave me new insights on the meaning and importance of creatio ex nihilo, providence, and the beauty of God’s world as well as other topics. I discovered myself engaging McGlasson’s ideas by regularly going back to biblical passages and checking his interpretation against some of my own notions. I found the section on providence to be particularly moving. Here McGlasson is almost poetic in stressing the depths of God’s love in the midst of worldly chaos and disorder. This was not academic discourse but rather the words of a preacher seeking to comfort and assure the anxious hearts of the faithful. Finally, it should be noted that he does not shy away from tough issues. Packed into this book are comments on evolution, gay marriage, poverty and war.
Is there anything not to like in this volume? Well, McGlasson’s tone will probably put off some readers. There is not a lot of “academic reserve” in his writing. Sometimes he is more certain than a particular question would warrant. I suspect Barthian influence here with its conviction that a good theology should not compromise. Overall, this rhetoric serves McGlasson’s project well. Bold speech was not foreign to the Bible. Maybe more of it in our day will enliven the church’s proclamation. Also, Lutheran readers will recognize that this is the work of a Reformed theologian. As noted earlier, there is a deep appreciation for Luther. But Lutherans will ask whether the [End Page 468] emphasis on covenant does justice to the law/gospel dialectic. In a related concern, the section on the Ten Commandments at the end of the volume seems to reflect Calvin’s stress on the third use of the law, something that Lutherans have been historically reluctant to affirm.
But these points should not obscure a genuine sense of gratitude for McGlasson...