Several people have asked about my book on Augustine’s doctrine of creation, and what kinds of readers might be interested in it, so I thought I’d provide a little bit of context for what the book is about, who it’s for, why I wrote it, etc.
This is a book that came out of our year in Chicago. We spent the 2017-2018 school year living on campus at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where I worked at the Henry Center as a research fellow in connection with the Creation Project. Basically that meant that my job was to write. It was awesome. It’s amazing what you can accomplish without any administrative work, particularly in an intellectually stimulating environment.
So, why creation, and why Augustine?
First, I’m passionately interested in the doctrine of creation. I think it is simultaneously one of the most controversial and yet most neglected doctrines in all of theology (seems odd that that could be possible, right?). And besides that, it has enormous practical relevance. There are hardly any aspects of life that are not enriched by thinking about createdness, and it’s especially useful for talking about areas that evangelicals have often neglected like the arts, vocation, culture, even things like exercise and diet and sleep. Too often, we think in terms of being a sinner, or being a Christian, but forget to think in terms of being a human being.
For me personally, engaging a significant pre-modern theologian like Augustine has been an enormously helpful way to engage the doctrine of creation, both with a view to shoring up the neglected areas as well as with a view to calming and directing the contested areas. For example, here are some of the facts that are so interesting to me about Augustine on creation:
- Augustine’s perception that Genesis 1 was unsophisticated was a critical factor in his conversion to Manichaeism, and his awareness of alternative, less “literalistic” interpretations of Genesis 1 was a critical factor in his return back to orthodoxy. Had he not heard Ambrose’s allegorical preaching on Gen. 1, who know if he would have made it back at all?
- Augustine continued to struggle with the early chapters of Genesis all throughout his theological career, writing five distinct commentaries on them and also engaging them widely in his other works and sermons. Creation became central to his thought. As I put it in the book, risking overstatement, “creation was to Augustine what justification was to Luther, or divine transcendence was to Barth.” In all this, Augustine engaged creation at the deepest existential level. For him, for instance, it was the key to understanding the deepest longings of the human heart.
- Augustine engaged creation in relation to “apologetics” concerns, so in his doctrine of creation you gather a sense of how Christianity as a whole made sense to him.
- Augustine adopted a kind of framework interpretation of Genesis 1, vigorously rejecting the idea that the days there are 24-hour periods of time. This view was enormously influential on the medieval church.
- Augustine vociferously affirmed the goodness of animal death prior to the fall, in opposition to the Manichaean criticism that animal death is evil.
- Augustine did consider the question of whether Adam and Eve were symbolical, and he developed a nuanced and literarily sensitive approach to this question that defended their historicity but acknowledged stylization and symbolization in Genesis 2-3. There are striking parallels between his approach on the current discussion.
There is much more, but hopefully that gives you a sense of his incredible relevance.
So: if you are interested in creation debates today, or if you are interested in Augustine, I hope you might find the book useful. I should warn: this is an academic book. I sought to make it as accessible as possible, with a view to pastors, seminarians, and lay Christians interested in creation debate and/or Augustine, or in patristics, retrieval, etc. But it’s still an academic book. Still, I think that any reader could get the big ideas from reading the introduction and conclusion, and skimming around in the chapters, particularly chapters 3-5.
To give a little flavor, here are the first three paragraphs of the book:
Imagine a young man in his late teen years. He has recently moved to the city to go to school. In the course of his study, he becomes convinced that the Genesis creation account is inconsistent with the most sophisticated intellectual trends of the day. He rejects the Christian faith in which he was raised, giving his twenties to youthful sins and worldly ambition.
Eventually, he encounters Christians who hold to a different interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis, and his intellectual critique of Christianity is undermined. He enters into a time of indecision and deep angst. His mother continues to pray for him. Finally, after much personal struggle, he has a dramatic conversion experience.
This is the testimony of St. Augustine (354–430), who is arguably the greatest of the church fathers and the most influential Christian theologian in the history of the church. But, in its broad outline, it is a story that seems to replay itself again and again today. The details are different, of course. For instance, our threat today comes from naturalism, while Augustine’s came from Manichaeism. But the overall scenario is only too familiar to us—particularly because today, stories likes this often lack a happy ending.
If you’re interested, you can order the book here, prior to its July 14 release date.