Genesis has almost always been fascinating to me. Part of it I’m sure is its mysterious nature, reaching back to the dawn of time like it does. I’ve just always found the early chapters of Genesis intriguing. Now that I’m up and running with Eerdmans, I noticed they released a collection of essays earlier this year featuring extended theological reflection on Genesis. Naturally then, I needed to request this book, and so here we are.
Genesis and Christian Theology is actually a collection of papers presented at the St. Andrews “Scripture and Theology” conference back in 2009 (earlier conferences focused on Hebrews and John, and just a tip, this year’s was on Galatians and featured N. T. Wright).
This particular collection is split into four parts:
- Genesis and Salvation History
- Genesis and Divine-Human Relations
- Genesis and The Natural World
- Genesis and The People of God
In the first section, we are treated to essays exploring the different kinds of theophanies in Genesis, the best context to read the early chapters of Genesis, an analysis of the Akedah, Joseph as an anti-type of Adam, the relationship of Genesis to Christological studies, and the relationship of Genesis 2 and 3. The latter was translated into English and even granting it that is probably one of the low points of the book (as in, it is very readable but also an example of documentary hypothesis excess). The essay on Joseph was exceptional and probably my favorite of the entire book.
In the next section, we explore Augustine’s understanding of the human person in Genesis 1-2, the theology of Milton’s Paradise Lost, Gregory of Nyssa’s thoughts on language and naming, and an analysis of the fall and original sin. The last of these I found odd since the author (Walter J. Houston) makes the admission early on he think the story of the fall is a myth, but then analyzes the abiding significance of a story that he thinks never happened.
The third section has a more practical focus, though it is somewhat restricted to environmental concerns. The opening chapter is the only one in the collection that explores the connection between theology and science as it relates to creation. The others cover topics ranging from the place of humans and animals together in the environment of Genesis 1-3, the nature of animals as companions, the connection between creation and covenant as it pertains to ecology, Augustine’s interpretation of Genesis 3:18, and how to view poverty in light of Genesis 1:26-28. I found the essays on animals particularly interesting and the one on science and theology disappointing. Mostly this was because I didn’t agree with his theological or scientific vantage point, but he did make the astute point that Richard Dawkins and Ken Ham are perhaps two sides of the same coin (p. 167). That might be worth exploring in a future post.
The final section turns towards broader themes and offers two chapters on election, The first on the general teaching of election in Genesis, and the second, Augustine’s take on Rebekah’s twins. After this, we have chapters on Genesis as the “Old Testament’s Old Testament,” Genesis and human society, and then a canonical study on Genesis teasing out the theme of “famine.” And with that the book comes to a swift close.
A strength of this book is clearly the scholarship. All of the essays are well written academic papers and because they were presented, they tend to flow a little better than say, a typical journal article might. Regardless of whether you agree with many of the conclusions drawn, if you want to think deeply about the interface of Genesis and Christian theology, these essays provide many talking points.
The flipside of this strength, is that the talking points provided are only going to appeal to a select few. Of the 21 essays, I only found a small handful to offer insights I want to incorporate into my teaching. Beyond that, I can only really see this book appealing to professors or doctoral students. In some ways then, this isn’t a weakness since that is the intended audience of the original papers when they were delivered. It is a weakness though if you pick this book up without realizing what you’re getting into.
Evangelicals in general may also be uncomfortable with the way several of the contributors talk about the early chapters of Genesis as myth (e.g. Knut Backhaus, Christoph Levin, Walter J. Houston). Not everyone talked about The Documentary Hypothesis, but I would assume most of the authors consider it valid to some degree. Presuppositionally, I didn’t agree with many of the assumptions the authors brought to their study, and I would imagine most evangelicals would have similar feelings. Depending on your own perspective the way the authors in general approach the text of Genesis can either be a strength or weakness.
A bigger issue I had than presuppositions, and this is probably just taste, but I didn’t find many of the essays that interesting. They weren’t hard to read or follow, but I’m very interested in Genesis and Christian theology, and the majority of the essays just weren’t stimulating to me personally. The aspects of Christian theology many of the contributors picked out to discuss just weren’t on my radar. Perhaps it is a weakness that their discussion of the subject did not arouse more interest than it did, but perhaps it is just my taste.
A genuine weakness in the print edition at least is that there is no page with information on the contributors. You can look it up online, but generally I expect to see a list of where the contributors were educated, where they currently teach, and what their notable publications and scholarly contributions are.
For the issues that I highlighted, this book is still a solid contribution to scholarly conversations about Genesis and Christian theology. Just because I didn’t personally find many of the essays interesting doesn’t mean the authors were not thinking deeply about their subjects and digging out new insights. The insights I did enjoy were valuable, and so on the whole, I’m glad I was able to read and review this book.
- Editors: Nathan MacDonald, Mark W. Elliott, Grant Macaskill
- Title: Genesis and Christian Theology
- Publisher: Eerdmans (April 3, 2012)
- Paperback: 365pgs
- Reading Level: Seminary/Doctoral
- Audience Appeal: Professors and students interested in exploring theological themes in the book of Genesis
- Gratis Review Copy: Yes (courtesy of Eerdmans)
Buy through Amazon to support Marturo!