Vick, Edward W. H., Creation: The Christian Doctrine (Gonzalez: Energion Publications, 2012). (Amazon.com)
This book is a companion volume to Herold Weiss’ Creation in Scripture (read my review here). Whereas Weiss provides readers with a view of the doctrine of creation from the Protestant canon Vick attempts to show how Christian theologians discuss the same topic from a systematic perspective. The aim of this book is as follows:
“Our task and interest is to provide a Christian doctrine of creation. The obvious question will be: Since the world exists and there are various explanations of the beginning and continuing existence of the world in which we ‘live and move and have our being’ what is it that makes the Christian account different from others (p. 1).”
Vick gives the next one hundred and twenty-seven pages to this study. The book divides into three sections: Part I which is a traditional book with chapters. Part II which is a short chapter itself that focuses on what makes the task of the theologian different form that of the scientist. Part III is a conversation between three characters named Edward, William, Harry, and Susan wherein Vick attempts to unpack the previous content through a narrative of sorts.
The book begins with an Introduction. Vick explains his terminology, words like cosmology, creed, exegesis, and worldview. This should give you an idea of what kind of audience this book aims to address. Like Weiss’ work it is not an academic work. Rather, it is more like a book of essays that are designed to function as conversation starters. I could see it as a solid book for a small group where the leader aims to introduce everyone to theological language without overwhelming them.
There is some discussion on the role of the Bible in relation to Christian theology, classic views of Creation, and alternative views. As Vick moves toward Chapter One he explains that, “The Christian doctrine of creation is not simply an explanation of the origin of the universe (p. 11).” The doctrine of creation is far broader than the origins wars fought between fundamentalist and modernist. Vick bases his study less in origins and more in eschatology. He explains that the Christian doctrine of creation is neither cosmology or science. It is something different. He argues that the Christian understanding of creation begins in the New Testament with an emphasis on Jesus Christ through which passages like Genesis 1-3 are interpreted in order to fully understand the context of the Hebrew and Christian narrative(s) (pp. 13-14).
Part I has six chapters. In Chapter One: Faith and Science Vick argues that support for the doctrine of creation cannot be found in scientific study (p. 15). What follows is essential Wittgensteinian ‘language games.’ Science addresses one realm of knowledge and theology addresses another. Science and theology do not collide because they explore reality from different angles. Of course, this can be overly simplistic at times (e.g., if someone believes that theology needs a “first man” and science says there was no such individual can we appeal to language games and if so, what are we saying about theology’s ability to find meaning in reality?).
Vick juxtaposes theological claims with historical claims as well. Again, this can be dangerously simplistic, though I think Vick does a descent job of presenting how theology may say something different than scientific and historical studies. I think there remain some problems, so this may be one of those useful discussion starters when reading this book. Does scientific and historical language have a contact point with theological language?
In Chapter Two: Two Different Questions and Alternative Understandings Vick asks (p. 21):
(1) What constitues a Christian doctrine of creation?
(2) What is the explanation of the origin of the physical world?
In this chapter we find discussion on topics related to how the universe came to exist, how revelation relates to cosmology, how ancients like Plato and Aristotle discussed matters of forms and unmoved movers, and so forth.
Chapter Three: Analogy was the most interesting chapter in my view. Vick discusses how we use anthropological language to describe the world around us, e.g., “cruel storms” and “stupid machines.” This is “analogy (p. 31).” We do the same when talking about God “creating,” “making,” and “forming” the world. Apologist use the complexity of the world’s design to argue for God’s existence (the watchmaker argument), but Vick says this is problematic because the watchmaker is part of the system where Christian theology suggest that God is outside the system. When a doctor cures human illness we can do studies to see “how,” but when we propose something like a miracle we cannot do this. If we believe God acts on and in creation we must use analogous language to explain this. Vick discusses literalism, narrative, and other aspects of literature where this concept can be discussed in relation to the doctrine of creation. Also in this chapter Vick talks a bit about ideas like creatio ex nihlo and creation and time.
Chapter Four: Two Words: ‘Begininng’ and ‘Word’ gives a lot of attention to the Book of Genesis and the Gospel of John. Vick explores what we mean when we say something happened “in the beginning” and how Christians should explore the logos as it relates to Greek thought, Hebrew thought, and Christology.
Chapter Five: Creation and Province and Chapter Six: Creation and Evil are both useful chapters. Vick forces the reader to think about whether or not God’s creative activity has ceased. If it has ceased how is Christian theology different from deism? If God is actively sustaining and involved in creation’s movement what does this say about things like tsunamis and earthquakes? I think these chapters will stretch the reader like no other. As I said, Vick aims to talk about far more than origins.
At the end of Part I there is a short bibliography (pp. 85-86). This may be useful for guiding someone who wants to do a little more study on their own. It is nothing exhaustive, but it is useful. Then there is a series of questions that can be asked of each chapter (pp. 87-89)
Part II is Chapter Seven: Creation: The Theologian and the Scientist. Vick unpacks a lot more of his ideas on what I describe as ‘language games.’ Vick writes,
“If the theologian does not realize that this hidden scientist is becoming manifest, or if he thinks that scientific statements are necessary to buttress theological statements, he may not be clear what constitute distinctively theological statements. And mutatis mutandis the same goes for the scientist (p. 94).
In other words, scientist do science and theologians theologize. The problems arise when scientist theologize and theologians think they are doing science.
Vick uses a few statements to show what he means. He talks a lot about Christian theological language as being “confessional,” and therefore not provable or disprovable. For Vick,
“The essential Christian conviction is that God moved toward man and made his decisive revelation in Jesus Christ, that what is known of God is know in Jesus Christ, that in Jesus Christ we have the clue of the meaning of reality, not this or that part of reality only (although this as well), but to reality as such. This means that the Christian must attempt to see every aspect of reality in the light of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ. We emphasize: the starting point, the sine qua non of Christian theology is belief in Jesus Christ. Belief in Jesus Christ is evoked by God’s revelation in Jesus Christ (p. 104).”
In summary, this book is good for small groups. It is helpful for introducing the broadness of the Christian doctrine of Scripture. It helps people think about the implications of their views of Creation and not just their understanding of origins. It attempts to avoid conflict between science/history and theology.