Zondervan, Andrew B. Torrance, Thomas H. McCall
ISBN: 978-0310536086, Zondervan, May 8, 2018, $25.88
The authors of Christ and the Created Order have noted the fact that, although Jesus Christ is in every way central to the Christian faith, christology is usually poorly represented in the science-faith discussion. The New Testament describes a cosmic Christ, who is not only the key to the unfolding new creation through his death, resurrection and glorification, but is also the source and purpose of the old creation - the world that science studies.*
The reviewers here (Daniel Deen and Jon Garvey) endorse this need for a more christological approach. As ever though, the devil is in the detail, and we seek in these chapter reviews to bring our own insights to bear on the views offered in the book.
This chapter, written by the reader in moral and practical theology at St Andrews University, is subtitled “The Human Distinctive Reconsidered,” and that encourages me to précis the main message from the outset. Brock suggests we should not rankle at the suggestion of evolutionary biologists, from Darwin on, that no particular traits are unique to humans, but instead should see the story of Adam and his offspring as primarily about a calling, in history, by God, to a particular role in his creation. Thus he departs from the long tradition of seeking “the image” in particular human attributes:
I will suggest that to be human is ultimately not a biological but a vocational designation. The real history of humanity is the story of God’s attempts to open and reopen communicative relations with human creatures, first in Eden, then in the temple, and supremely in Jesus’s invitation into the kingdom of God.
This has clear resonances with Genealogical Adam (of which the author understandably shows no awareness) for it seems to allow for the possibility of “pre-adamites” outside the garden showing evidence of any level one likes of biological and cultural development. Note also the threefold division of human history, which matches my own “three testament” proposal.
Brock actually says much more, and I found the chapter dense with thought-provoking ideas - for example that of Mary’s womb as an Edenic sacred space apart from the world in which Jesus, as the second Adam, experienced original innocence, as Adam did in the garden. I also found I had to read the chapter several times, partly because his theological vocabulary is different from mine, but I note also that he cites Emmanuel Levinas and Jacques Derrida on the last page - it’s hard to spend much time with French postmodernists without tending to become incomprehensible oneself!
Let me now seek to comment on some of the detail surrounding his thesis. On the question of evolution, he seems on the one hand accepting of whatever scientists might conclude from the biological theory. On the other, he is very cognizant that, in reality, it is the mythic power of Darwinism that needs to be challenged, as Genesis itself challenged the worldviews of its age. Quoting Mary Midgley, he says:
Whilst scientists may often decry the blending of science and religion in popular discourse, Midgley insists that it was psychologically and logically inevitable that evolution began to play the role of a powerful folktale about human origins.
Accordingly, it seems that (broadly) Brock is happy to accept the truth of the scientific continuum between man and the animals, but eager to confront the cultural conclusion that man therefore is merely an animal. And the Eden narrative forms the basis for that confrontation.
Whilst still on the science, I sensed an equivocation in his dealings with evolution. In citing Augustine’s famous passage about the need for Christians not to make themselves foolish by denying scientific findings, he also notes that Augustine does not so much adopt those findings, as engage with them as prevailing cultural views. In other words, it’s as if he’s saying, “I don’t need to dispute evolutionary science - though I’m untroubled should it be overturned in future - but the evolutionary mythology is false, and needs to be challenged.”
In this perhaps ambiguous context he sees the vocation of mankind as a calling out from evolution’s “patterns… that are configured by depredation and conflict,” with creatures engaging constantly in “self-preservation at all costs.” I have a problem with this as a statement of fact, rather than as interaction with a prevalent worldview, because (as I have argued in my forthcoming book) evolution is not characterised by selfishness and cruelty - or at least no more so than the natural world which was known, and considered “good”, both by Bible authors and early theologians. To be fair, Brock concedes that such conflict may be seen by Christians as "nonmoral and religiously innocent." “Before the law,” he points out from Rom 4:15, “there could be no sin,” another point of resonance with Genealogical Adam thinking. However, if we re-calibrate his “conflict” model of evolution in terms of a call from an old, perishable creation to a better, spiritual, new creation, then I am fully on board.
So let’s turn to how he deals with the biblical message. He takes the Eden narrative to be an account of (possibly unrecoverable) historical events, as opposed to an historical account of events, which, he plausibly suggests, is the only way it could have been written:
Given the peculiarity of the real events, it is clear that Genesis should not be understood to offer a newspaper account… since the conventions of modern positivist historiography assume the stability of the universal causal laws of our contemporary experience as the framing condition of what could conceivably be counted as a true story about the past.
Thereby, Genesis departs from, and subverts, “Darwin’s positivist account of history.” Nevertheless, just a page earlier he has called out the error of much modern theology in divorcing empirical study from exegesis, which I take to imply that investigations attempting to place Adam in space and time need not necessarily be dismissed as concordist, whereas crude literalism serves nobody’s interests.
Another significant point is that Brock doesn’t regard God’s calling of mankind as exceptional in kind. In fact, he considers each creature to be the recipient of its own special vocation:
The events that give creation its narrative, and so its history, are fundamentally those discreet divine engagements by which God opens communion with creatures.
Even the lower creatures, then, are not “just” the outcomes of evolution, but “have been put lovingly into places made for them.” Brock suggests, as an instance of such an “opening of communion with creatures,” “lightning strikes on the primeval soup.” This appears an admirably providential model of evolution.
It is associated with his insistence that creation - even, presumably, creation through evolution - is always a sovereign act of God on a passive recipient. In this he alludes once more to a threefold division of history: the original creation was achieved ex nihilo, so also is individual salvation through the effectual grace of God, and so also the final resurrection of the dead. In this way he absolutely rejects the concept of creaturely “co-creation”:
In no sense is the preceding formlessness a cause or limiting factor in God’s work, any more than a sinner can manufacture their own redemption or a dead body can be understood to condition God’s resurrecting activity.
Here again, I wholeheartedly agree with him. Thus, the faithfulness of God is apparent both in creation, and in the whole history of humanity in Adam. And so in the call of Adam, God’s initiative both in Eden, and in the subsequent provision for sin, remains paramount, and of a piece with his work throughout creation history:
What is original about original sin is that Adam and Eve are woken up - declared innocent - in the sphere of eschatological peace by the divine word. They alone could experience the terrible shock of falling from this state because before them nobody was in it… The difference between us and the first coiple is that they are the start of a new bifurctaed history. Any change in their physical nature due to the fall was not the cause, but the effect of their becoming beings who, coming from having no history to having one history with God, fall into a divided history, a new socialld characterized by inner division between “God’s view” and “the human view.”
Brock closes his piece by asking if, perhaps, he has given too much weight to Darwinian science. If he has, in my view it is only in making too much concession to the mythical element of evolution (as “red in tooth and claw”), which may, however, be an apologetic strength. He points out that, positively, Darwinism prompts us to look beyond any of our animal attributes - all of which have some counterpart in animals - to a more theological account based, as many scholars are now exploring, on our role and vocation amongst creatures and before God.
And in this, the chapter is a very valuable contribution both to the subject of the book - christology in creation - and the desire shared by many of us here at Peaceful Science to place a truly historical and theologically significant Adam in the material world explored by science and history.