- Engaging the Doctrine of Creation: Cosmos, Creatures, and the Wise and Good Creator by Matthew Levering
In his third contribution in the Engaging the Doctrine series, Matthew Levering tackles the doctrine of creation, which he rightly recognizes to be a neglected and "atrophied" area of Christian theology (20). Levering opens his book with reference to several challenges that modernity has posed to the traditional Christian view of creation, and throughout his book, he displays a keen sensitivity to skeptical challenges that arise, particularly from the natural sciences. At the same time, Levering's work is not driven by a scientific or apologetic concern. Noting Colin Gunton's warning that treatment of the doctrine of creation is often reduced to a discussion of the relation of science and religion (13), Levering instead aims to treat creation theologically, in a way that is ultimately [End Page 596] rooted in Scripture and tradition. As a result, Engaging the Doctrine of Creation is both conversant with modern concerns as well as rich in the heritage of classical Christian theology. In what follows I articulate three particular strengths of this insightful, engaging, and impressive book.
First, Engaging the Doctrine of Creation has a remarkable breadth of scope, ranging from topics like divine ideas (chapter 1) and divine simplicity (chapter 2) to the atonement (chapter 7). Few books about creation treat topics like these, and their inclusion runs the risk of seeming forced or inauthentic; but Levering manages to draw them together into an overall vision of the Christian Gospel as involving, in John Webster's terms, the God who has life in himself and the creatures who have life in him (4; see his summary as well on 315–17). Along the way, Levering displays a curiosity in topics that most books on creation pass over, such as the question of chapter 3, namely, "why a wise and good God willed to create dinosaurs to rule the earth for more than 150 million years and then disappear, to create the sun as merely one among many octillion stars, and to create countless species of which 99.99 percent are now extinct" (110). At the same time, Levering has not attempted to be exhaustive—he acknowledges that his book lacks treatment of, for instance, divine providence, angels, creation ex nihilo (though he does engage this topic in relation to divine ideas), and new creation (5–6).
This breadth of vision is not merely an incidental feature of style or thoroughness, but has a material foundation in the doctrine of creation itself. Levering's approach to creation shows the profound interconnection that this doctrine has with the whole range of Christian theology—for instance, in its implication for the Creator–creation distinction (requiring a God who is ontologically unique and yet not aloof from creatures), or in its entailments in the doctrine of redemption (requiring a created order imbued with a relational order of justice). This is a vast improvement from common approaches to the doctrine of creation that seem to draw their energy only from the controversial issues, whether within the church or between the church and the culture.
A second strength of Engaging the Doctrine of Creation lies in its impressive command, and judicious employment, of classic theological resources on the doctrine of creation. In treating the nature of the days of Genesis 1, Levering draws from Basil's Hexaemeron (128–34); his approach to the imago Dei is informed by the perspective of Athanasius (153); the insights of Thomas Aquinas are deployed throughout (most conspicuously in chapters 2, 4, 6, and 7). Along the way, Levering engages respectfully, but not uncritically, with the best contemporary theological work. The footnotes of this book are a tour de force of navigating the world of Christian theology [End Page 597] Even readers who do not share Levering's views or are uninterested in his selected topics may benefit from reading this book as a model of doing theology studiously and eloquently.
Like his breadth of vision, Levering...