a brief theology of nature (part 2)

As I continue to develop this outline of a brief theology of nature, I thought it would worth highlighting a common alternative to the misstep I identified in the previous post — ie. attempting to read off the natural teleology (purpose and design) of things from what seems natural and obvious.

The common alternative to this alternative — which is equally inadequate — has been dubbed the protological fallacy. It involves focusing on the beginning of the incomplete project of creation as the source of a pure, untainted natural teleology.

A number of factors confound this move. To begin with, I’ve often wondered why people who do this almost inevitably privilege the opening chapters of Genesis as the ‘literal’ creation narrative (not only relegating other narratives — e.g., in Job and some of the Psalms, to the status of ‘mere poetry’ — but also failing to reckon with the significant differences between Genesis 1 and 2).

What’s more, even the access Genesis 1-2 gives us to God’s original purposes for His world is unavoidably mediated to us by a document and in a language that doesn’t participate in this (imagined) original purity. That is, we only ever see it through the lens of the Fall.

Of course, we might try to correct this distortion with a kind of negative theology. Trouble is, all we end up with is a ‘negation of the negative’ not something positive and concrete. Further, any negative theology is implicitly anchored in a positive vision which tells us what we should (and should not) negate. And we always must ask what generates this positive anchor.

All of which is a long way of saying that we need to read the opening chapters of Genesis in the context of the entire Bible story — especially its centre: the kingdom of God inaugurated in Jesus. As Hill recognises, ‘it is only the final vision of the Kingdom of God revealed in Christ that enables us to see the picture that governs the whole of the moral life.’ (The How And Why Of Love, p 123)

Christ’s kingdom is the consummation of creation, and the definitive unveiling of its natural telos. It is thus to this kingdom that we must look to develop our theology of nature.

As a result, an adequate theology of nature will be thoroughly christological.

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9 comments

    1. Been mulling over your question, Jenny. And I think an example might be the way some of the things that sometimes get said about marriage (and singleness) seem to come exclusively — or almost exclusively — out of Genesis 1 & 2 and thus fail to let the new creation stuff (Jesus’ words, 1 Cor 7, Eph 5, Rev 21-22, etc) provide the theological ‘centre of gravity’. Make sense?

  1. cheers chris. i think you’ve hit on what i find troubling about the way we sometimes see gen1-3 handled.

    we’ve been running a 4 week welcome course for non-christians this year, starting again every month, and we’ve been doing gen1, gen3, mk2, acts17 as the outline.

    what’s hard is people always want more than we can give them from the first week. the christians who come along unhelpfully say heaps more than i would ever want to say about gen1, and i think what you’re saying is right, they are negating the negatives of gen3 in their reading of gen1.

    1. Thanks, Doug. In attempting to correct an unhelpful emphasis like this, I want to be careful not to excise Genesis 1. It is where the story begins after all! I guess it’s just a matter of resisting the urge to tie off the story’s loose ends somewhere other than where it indicates we should — ie. in Jesus crucified and risen.

  2. Got it! Thanks.

    This means that for example, we need to say more than ‘creation is vindicated as good’. As the good is more than the good we see in gen 1-2?

    1. I think that’s right, Jenny. I’m moving away from a simple Originally Good => Original Goodness Vindicated scheme to something that makes room for the perfection and enhancement of God’s world as it is (wrenchingly/apocalyptically) made new through Jesus crucified and risen.

  3. Noice!! Swannie!!

    I’ve been thinking about how god, even in gen1-2 gives creation a ‘potentiality’ to be something other than what it started as.

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