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.
Norman Wirzba is a philosopher housed in Duke Divinity School. His interests lie at the intersections of theology, philosophy, and agrarian/environmental studies. His healthy publication record suggests that one of the intersections relates to understanding humans in relation to Jesus Christ and the earthiness, perhaps, grittiness of creation. The chapter currently under discussion is an addition to this theme.
The present chapter, “ Creation through Christ ,” argues for a radical reconceptualization of the way we view creatures (ourselves included) in relation to the cosmos around us. Wirzba argues that understanding the nature of Jesus Christ as fully human (human arché), intimately meshed with Jesus Christ as cosmic creator (ontological first principle), should upset the more common creation narrative of temporal origins. Creation includes beginnings, but is much more as well,
“it is about the character of the world and its proper orientation , alerting us to the meaning, value, and purpose of everything that is” (p. 40, emphasis in original).
His position is in response to a perceived commitment to reductionism entrenched within theology and science. The reductionism of the former relates to reducing Christ’s significance to human flourishing (e.g., salvation), while the latter is the more commonly discussed reductionism of methodological atheism (e.g., no need for God/Christ in material explanations of cosmos).
Wirzba’s solution is to refocus our attention on the relationship between a creature’s personal logos and the Logos of Christ. Creatures contain an internal logos that is an image of (enmeshed with?) the divine Logos. However, this logos is not only temporally created, but finds expression in the relationships we develop with other creatures and our environments.
“Though creatures possess their own unique integrity [logos],” Wirzba comments, “the purpose of creaturely life is being-with-others—in modes of touching, reproduction, growth, eating, play and so on—so that something like symphonic flourishing can occur” (p. 41).
These external, more practical relationships are called tropos . The ultimate tropos is that found in the life of Christ. He reveals the appropriate way to order such relationships that mark the developmental path for personal logoi to flourish. Creation, therefore, has much less to do with temporal beginnings and everything to do with establishing the pattern of relations for human development according to the arché of Jesus Christ’s temporal ministry.
This refocusing of creation on the ontological arché of Jesus, frees Wirzba to challenge the common metaphors of space used to think about creation. Creation is not a box or container, a vessel to be filled. Creation through Christ understands
“the world and its life as a meshwork ” (p. 47, emphasis in original).
All of creation is interlaced, a knot where individual strands (logoi) intimately connect (tropos) to form a meshwork of existence. Wirzba, following anthropologist Tim Ingold, argues
“things are their relations …Bodies have no existence, no life, and no meaning apart from the relations that entangle them in a bewildering array of lines of development” (p. 48, emphasis in original).
“In other words, there is no being that is not also a becoming-with-others” (p. 48).
I applaud Wirzba for grounding creation in the ontology of Christ and drawing attention to a more relational ontology between creatures. I agree that the more traditional individualistic conceptions of creatures alongside the container metaphors of creation have captured the imagination of much Anglophone philosophical and theological speculations regarding creation. However, I wonder if Wirzba’s desire to reorient our perspective doesn’t over-correct against individuality, leading to a dilemma.
While he allows for individuality in the nature of a creature’s logos, it is clear that Wirzba places greater emphasis in the relations (or meshing) between creatures. This emphasis on the ‘relation between’ at the expense of the ‘self’ raises a peculiar set of problems. On the one hand, if my being is non-existent apart from becoming with others as he suggests, then my entire being is founded in external relationships. This suggests the odd position that I am NOT in anyway responsible for the person I am. On the other hand, if I were responsible for my being, then it would primarily be checked against the tropos of Jesus. This, however, suggests that Wirzba is narrowly focusing on a particular set of relational attributes of Christ, which are the norms of human flourishing. This seems akin to those he accuses of reducing Christ to human salvation, the difference being that Wirzba is reducing Christ to a standard of human behavior. Thus, either I am determined by my external relationships, relinquishing a robust sense of agency/individuality (and perhaps responsibility), or, my agency/individuality only matters against the backdrop of Christ’s tropos. The former is too deterministic while the latter unravels Wirzba’s meshwork metaphor, offering a new reduction to those relationship(s) exhibited by Jesus.
Thoughts? What am I missing?
Further Discussion Questions:
- Wirzba, working under his meshwork metaphor, concludes that the work of the Church is to
“graft the whole material world within itself, not to control or exploit it but, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to be the hospitable presence that heals, nurtures, liberates, and celebrates all creatures into the life that God desires for them” (p. 53).
How might this help or hinder atheist/agnostic/Christian relationships within and without professional science?
- If my relationships define my being alá Wirzba, what does that mean for a person:
a) as a Christian practicing a science among atheists?
b) as an atheist practicing science amongst Christians?
c) as a Christian ambassador of science to the public?
d) as an atheist ambassador of science to the public?
- If Jesus Christ is the topos to be modeled, how does that relate to the actual practice of science? Are Christians and agnostics/atheists practicing different sciences due to different beliefs about/relationships with Jesus?