A Reflective Christian

All for God’s Kingdom

“The marginalization of creation”

Fretheim in his introduction to God and World in the Old Testament begins with:

The importance of creation has often been underestimated by church and academcy. Indeed, we can speak of the “marginalization of creation” in biblical and theological student over the course of muich of the twentieth century (and before). [p. ix]

This indicates part of Fretheim’s purpose in this book, to articulate a creation theology that can serve as the foundation for understanding the rest of hte Old Testament (and, implicitly, a creation theology that is not rife with fundamentalist attitudes toward the Creation narratives, as there have been creation theologies provided, though more focused upon battles with science than actual theology). Salvation history has gotten the bulk of the attention and focus in theology. Later, Fretheim goes on to give a list of historical trajectories for the marginalization of creation theology, such as the focus on salvation history, the focus of the creation narratives with Canaanite mythology, etc, all of which I think are valid to some degree. However, I think there are causes that reach to the root of the situation that explain many of the reasons Fretheim gives for creations lack of respect in the church and academy.

There are few things that contribute heavily to the way we have concieved of theology at the cost of creational thinking. First is the structure of our Biblical canons as Christians. Words such as salvation, redemption has a much more central role in the New Testament texts than words that relate to creation. Given the normative nature of religious texts and of the New Testament for Christians, greater exposure to certain words naturally lead to greater emhpasis on the ideas and theologies related to those words. Furthermore, the association of Christ with redemption, with relative little direct associaton to creation, serves to only create a further disparity as “Jesus texts” will naturally play a great theological role for Christians. Creation, just by looking at the number of direct references, can be said to be on the margins of thought in the Bible, especially in the New Testament (though, by margins, I am refering to human cognitions, not the framework for Biblical theology “behind the text.”). So while creation may be the first thing in the Biblical canon, and by doing so provides a framework to understand what follows, creation thought works in the background. In other words, it might be essential for Biblical understand, but it is not easy to get from reading the Bible.

Furthermore, there is also a sociological trend that biases us away from aspects of creation and nature. In an agricultural world where many people directly work the land, ideas about the world itself plays a more central role in individual thought. But as there are fewer individuals needed to work the land and more needed to organize people and things, or to developed a general understanding of all the experiences in this world, we move away from more earthly and concrete thought, towards the more abstract and “heavenly.” Hence, Gnosticism rooted in the Hellenistic philosophical world, which was a major influence in cities and not rural, agricultural areas, disparged the natural world and moved towards the heavenly and abstract. In the present day world, having excised itself of pagan thought that was somewhat latent in Gnosticism (though perhaps less so than the polytheistic culture it resided in), still retains the same principle. Salvation for many Christians is abut getting into heaven, concieved of a spiritual paradise. Science focuses upon natural laws that are not experienced or seen. While I am not saying that abstract thinking is bad (if I did, I would be speaking against myself!), it does create a bias towards broad, unexperienced principles or ideas (notice the Platonic influence with the word “idea”) and away from tangible experiences that would be majorly agricultural to a society that has to focus more time upon that. Early civilization (including Isreal) was more agricultural, whereas later civilization became more urban. With Christianity becomingas a urban movement with Paul’s mission to the Gentiles, it itself would think in the same way, and thus affect language and reason. This is not to say that the New Testament is in error with its emphasis, only that it would speak less of tangible creation and Gods’ relation to it, and more of futuristic and spiritual salvation and redemption and God’s role in that.

Our bias is more systematic from the Scriptures we considered as normative and our own societal life. For a more agricultural society, they could perhaps more naturally see the creation aspects of Biblical theology and taken Genesis 1-2 as a framework for what follows in the narrative, whereas a more urbanized society will be more apt to pass over it. Thus us Biblical interpreters have to be more cognizant of this “bias” (though not to say this bias must lead to error) in the Biblical canon as a whole and our own life experiences, which we use to interpret the Bible.


August 29, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. I agree that we need a strong theology of creation. Good post. Makes me want to read that Terrance Frethiem book.

    Comment by Brian | September 12, 2010

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