Artistic creation or artistic stewardship?

In a lecture yesterday, Prof. Gordon Graham spoke of artistic creation and the unique characteristics of art: the fashioning (through various media) of narratives, characters, objects, etc. that have never in fact existed -- but which do exist, in their own special way, through the artistic act. He then went on to say that this is an example of creatio ex nihilo not unlike the original creatio ex nihilo in which the triune God created the cosmos. When I asked him if he meant to emphasize the analogy (both similarity and difference) between these two acts of creation, he seemed very hesitant. Graham wants to posit some kind of intrinsic identity between God's creation and our creation, though I assume he means to affirm an analogy between them since an outright equality would be rather ridiculous.

I pressed the issue with him, making the point that the artist cannot actually create something wholly new. Instead, the artist only takes what she has experienced or can comprehend and brings these elements together to form something new, though only relatively new and not absolutely new. Artistic creation takes place within creation. The artistic does not work in a void but in the midst of life. And the artist herself is a created being, not an uncreated Being like God. While I did not use the term in our conversation after lecture, I would rather call the artistic process an act of artistic stewardship. Creation, properly understood, is something only God can do. We are God's stewards.

These issues were raised for me as a student of English literature at Wheaton College. I read Dorothy L. Sayers' The Mind of the Maker, in which she states that an analogy exists between the Trinity and the human person in terms of creation. She speaks of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as Idea, Energy, and Power, all three of which are present in the human person created in the image of God. Sayers' book is theologically misguided on many levels. It is really an engagement in theological anthropology employing a crude trinitarianism; in a way, it is like Augustine in reverse, and infinitely less sophistocated. It seems to me that Graham is way too close to Sayers, and this concerns me. It looks like I will have to have another conversation with him.


m@ said…
extremely interesting post. at first glance, it seems to me that the materials (media) used in creation cannot be new, but couldn't the relationships between the material objects (the composition) be something entirely new? or is it naive to consider an ontological difference between the media and the composition?
Amy said…
I wholeheartedly agree with my husband. The beauty of our acts of creation is not that we too become artists "like God" and therefore are little "gods" ourselves, but that He invites us to take part in creating through the original act of creation. We are, therefore, not all-powerful masters of our creations, but humble servants to the work.
The Miner said…
Well... since creation ex-nihilo is an unbiblical doctrine it might be relevant to make the analogy between God's way of creating and our own (ordering out of chaos).

Also, the phrase artistic stewardship is a bit forced. Though I appreciate the theological concept you're trying to get across, it's just not how people understand the creative process... see "creative"... it's just the way we use the word.
Anonymous said…
Nice post DW. Amy, just a quick thought. I'm not necessarily wanting to defend Gordon Graham (mainly because I don't know anything about the guy or what he's on about), but why do you want to insist that human making must be seen in the context of God's 'original act of creation' and not in some sense of God's ongoing creative activity to perfect all things? Does one cancel out the other? Could not an affirmation of the latter help to give proper context and dignity to art's 'newness'? In a recent paper, I suggested that the widespread distrust and suspicion of art is not driven by a pious desire to 'keep ourselves from idols' but is, it seems to me, directly related to widespread distrust of Nature itself, and of Nature’s God; a distrust that causes human blindness to creation’s true goodness and raison d'etre. Anyway, I'd welcome your thoughts?
Patrik said…
I think the understanding of creation you are working with is a bit limited. As I wrote in my post about creation ex nihilo, creation is not about bringing atoms into being but about revelation.

In other words I agree with your professor.
D.W. Congdon said…
Patrik: Your post and comment prove my point, in my opinion. We do reveal God; only God can reveal God. If creation is revelation, then once again, only God creates.

The phrase from your post which I find theological repugnant is the following: "Just like God reveals himself in creation, humans reveal their deeper nature when they are creative: be it in the form of art, theology or any other human activity."

This is just nonsense. If theology simply reveals who we are, then let's just pack our bags and go home. Moreover, theology cannot reveal anything! Theology is not revelation; it is our human witness to the self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ. We don't reveal God; we reflect upon the God who alone reveals Godself. This is the highest we can possibly say of art, and even then, I would really hesitate to say that art is intended to reveal something about ourselves or about God. Not about ourselves, because that presumes a rather antiquated notion of art (a la Tolstoy) that art is simply the communication of some subjective human feeling. Not about God for the reasons already mentioned. Moreover, the reduction of art to revelation (1) reduces the category of revelation by divorcing from divine activity and (2) reduces art by making art a means toward some other end rather than a wholly valuable end in itself.

At best, any human activity can merely point away from itself and toward God the Creator, Reconciler, and Redeemer. To say anything more about art or any other activity than this is to say too much and too little -- too much about ourselves and too little about God.

Now the theological naivete expressed in your post is heightened when we realize that it is not creation abstracted from the rest of the divine economy which reveals, but it is rather God the Reconciler who reveals. That is, revelation is reconciliation and vice versa. Creation can only reveal if we ground creation in the covenant, i.e., in the reconciliation accomplished in Jesus Christ. Cf. Jüngel's more natural theology.

There are still more problems. You never actually explain how revelation has anything to do with "creation out of nothing." You end up reducing creatio ex nihilo to creation, and this is impermissible. The point of creation out of nothing is that creation occurs out of nothingness, out of the chaos, out of the abyss. This only occurs in two moments: the creation of the cosmos and the re-creation of the human person who has fallen into nothingness. Revelation cannot simply be creation nor can creation simply be revelation. We can say revelation is creation out of nothing only when we connection revelation to reconciliation -- but this is not what you do. So the force of my original post remains: how can human persons possibly create out of nothing? How can human beings bring into being that which did not exist and could not exist apart from our activity of creation?

Finally, you write, Patrik: creation "is to live in the likeness of the Father, that is theosis." I won't even get into the problems with theosis. It should be enough to point out that we do not image the Father. We image the Son. The imago dei is the imago Christi, not the imago Patris. Why? Because Christ alone is the Mediator, not the Father or the Holy Spirit. This is a mistake that many, many contemporary theologians make.

I'm sorry to be so critical, but your post makes so many mistakes that I have to say something about it.
D.W. Congdon said…
Miner: Care to explain how creatio ex nihilo is actually "unbiblical"? You have virtually the entire theological tradition against you. If you mean, you cannot find that phrase in the Bible, then you might as well toss out theology altogether and just join some Anabaptist commune. But if you mean that it actually contradicts Scripture, you will have a hard time arguing for such a position. But I'd like to hear why you think it is unbiblical. It's definitely not a self-evident position, and I'd rather hear you make an argument than simply put forward a wild assertion.
Halden said…
Aww, don't be so mean to the anabaptists! They were fine with saying "Trinity". :)

And, as a point of curiousity, do you actually think that the re-creation of fallen human beings in Christ is a second instance of creatio ex nihilo? That seems pretty problematic to me.
D.W. Congdon said…
Sorry, Halden, that was a bit of a low blow! :)

I don't think it's really all that problematic. Of course, I'm just taking this from Jüngel, and he from others before him. It might be a worthwhile project to trace the connection of creatio ex nihilo to redemption throughout the history of doctrine.

What are your concerns?
The Miner said…

I don't disagree that the tradition is in favor of creation ex nihilo, but the roots of that doctrine are in neo-platonism not scripture. Is it possible that it has been argued for, from scripture? Of course. But this proves nothing.

When speaking of creation there are always two things most theologians have in mind - the second is an outgrowth of the first. First of all, people think of the original act of creation some kind of beginning point for the universe. Scripturally we turn to Genesis 1 for that and Genesis 1 is not describing creation ex nihilo, it describes order from chaos. We have the same images in Job, and the Psalms when God is described as "shutting the sea behind doors" or defeating Leviathan. The Old Testament takes almost wholesale the standard near eastern mythology of God establishing the world out of chaos. So it is certainly more than just that the phrase Ex-Nihilo doesn't appear in scripture. There is a pretty clear alternative view that is everywhere present.

The second kind of creation people usually refer to is the ongoing kind. Some theologians have attempted to avoid the issues presented by talking about the first kind of creation and just skip to this one, but any conception of time seems to depend on there being both kinds of creation. Now the ongoing kind of creation is patently NOT ex-nihilo because there is object permanence. The me of 5 minutes from now is in continuity with the me of now. God is the creator of both, but not out of nothing.

Now, to a platonist, the idea of chaos is repugnant because it fails to answer the question "who created the chaos?" but this was not a question in the mind of the writers of the OT. Indeed, in semitic thought creation is virtually ALWAYS imaged as "out of chaos" - read the Mishnah or the Talmud for confirmation. So, in other words, the problem which creation ex-nihilo is designed to resolve is a philosophical problem, not a biblical one.

Mind you, I don't hold the same reverence for scripture that you do and I see no problem with allowing some elements into our tradition that, strictly speaking, are not biblical. But in the case of discussing art I think the biblical view of creation is very relevant to describing the artist's creative process.
The Miner said…
On a side note, and I try to say this with as much compassion as I can muster:

I find your response to Patrik ungracious. You demean him as a person and as a theologian unnecessarily for the sake of argument. This seems to be a trend with you and though I fully comprehend the desire for vigorous debate and even admire your passion for theology it seems to frequently override any christian charity.

Now this is your blog and you can decide who you wish to participate and how you wish to respond to them as the host. I am even prepared to believe that the medium is partly to blame for making you seem more strident than you intend, but I genuinely wonder what you accomplish by being so harsh.
WTM said…
Creatio ex nihilo only has to do with Platonism / Neo-platonism in that it seeks to reject them. It guards the notion that there is a sharp distinction between God and the creation. Typologically speaking, one either supports creatio ex nihilo, pantheism, or panentheism. There are no further options.

And lest someone be tempted to claim the 'biblical' option, let me be perfectly clear that while I honor Scripture and seek to be a 'biblical theologian' in my own way, what ultimately matters are the insights given to us in God's self-revelation in Christ, and not what the rather mytho-poetic early chapters of Genesis seem to imply.

At a much deeper level, this whole creation / recreation thing (and much of the rest of this) can be very quickly sorted out if one question is answered: Who is right, the Infralapsarians or the Supralapsarians?
D.W. Congdon said…
Miner: If I have offended Patrik in any way, then he has my apology. But his explanation of creation runs counter to what I believe to be central to the Christian faith. Perhaps I misunderstood him. Perhaps (as you suggest) this medium inhibits Christian charity. Perhaps I simply let my emotions get the best of me. Perhaps his "theology" needs to be refuted as clearly and unequivocally as possible. Perhaps (and likely) all of the above.

As to your own comment, I think you have failed to respond to the classical argument against your apparent position. The counter-argument runs thusly: if God only orders chaos (chaos apparently = material substance in your account, unless I am mistaken), then chaos as created matter is co-eternal with God. Therefore, God is not the only uncreated being. Are you willing to sign your name on to panentheism or pantheism? If so, let's start a new post and discuss this topic. If not, then you must accept creatio ex nihilo.

Now, to answer Halden's question and perhaps to address another concern of yours, regarding God's redemptive re-creation: here I think we need to existentialize the notion of chaos/nothingness and the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. Obviously, we do not return in some material-physical sense back to the void, but existentially, in terms of our relation to God, our sinfulness (read: our being incurvatus in se) is falling-into-nothingness which only a divine act can rescue us from.
The Miner said…
David: It's interesting to me that you seem to take a very philosophical, propositional approach to creatio ex nihilo.

"if God only orders chaos (chaos apparently = material substance in your account, unless I am mistaken), then chaos as created matter is co-eternal with God. Therefore, God is not the only uncreated being."

That is definitely a valid "if-then" argument and would draw us into the discussion you intimated by taking us toward panentheism or pantheism, but I don't hear how you've dealt with the scriptural witness or with the issue of the near-eastern world view. It was not a conflict in the minds of the OT writers to say both "God is the only eternal uncreated being" AND "God created the world out of chaos". The task of the theologian seems to me to try and fathom how these two things can both be true without trying to short circuit the conversation using philosophical categories that aren't attested to in scripture.

Show me how you draw creatio ex nihilo from the BIBLE not just from reason. I AGREE that it is a very reasonable doctrine.
D.W. Congdon said…
The OT writers were not theologians; these issues were not important for them. We really do not know what kinds of propositions they held about God. Is God outside of time? Can God change? Does God suffer? These questions do not bother the OT writers, but they should concern us, even if we cannot reason directly from biblical texts.

(I find it interesting that you seem to depend that we solve these problems on the basis of Scripture alone, even though you admit having a lower view of Scripture than I have. This is both ironic and revealing.)

It's important for us, as theologians, to think through the faith rather than simply repeat what the Bible says. I don't much care about the ambiguities in the text. What I care about is preserving the freedom, sovereignty, and grace of God -- and we undermine these when we depart from creatio ex nihilo.
D.W. Congdon said…
Correction: ... seem to demand that we solve ...
Halden said…
David, I guess my concern with applying creatio ex nihilo to redemption is that it seems to imply that sin has absolutely negated creation in such a way that it ceases to be creation in any meaningful sense. To be sure sin is pervasive and impacts every sphere and fiber of creaturely being, but to say that redemption is a new creation "out of nothing" implies that the original creation has utterly ceased to exist.

If that is the case, I wonder how we can preserve any sense of continuity between who we were in sin and who we now are as redeemed. To be sure, the sinner must "die", having one's identity reconstituted as a new creation, through Christ and the Spirit, but does that mean that there is no continuity whatsoever between who I was as created and who I am as redeemed?

It seems that on your view, if I were talking about my redemption I would have to say that once there was a sinful person named Halden and now there is an entirely new Halden who is not in any way the same person as that sinner who bore the same name. That's not how I see the biblical language of salvation functioning. Is it not better to say, once I was dead in my sins, but now I have been made alive through Christ? The 'I' is the same, but that 'what' of that 'I' is completely new. However, is the 'who' completely new? I don't see how it can be unless you hold that creation actually cease to exist ontologically under the state of sin.
D.W. Congdon said…

I fully understand your concern. But do this thought experiment for me (which I steal from McCormack): Think about your own identity. How do you know that the person you were yesterday is the same person you are today or will be tomorrow? What holds your disparate states of mind together? What is the thread that keeps the beads on the same string?

Of course, it seems self-evident that you are the same person. But trying to answer the question about how you know that is a very difficult task.

Barth's theology can be seen as an attempt to answer this question. And he answers it by saying that our human identity is constituted by Christ; our continuity of personhood rests in him alone. When we have that in mind, then to speak of a radically new creation is to speak of a radically new creation in Jesus Christ. When I say creatio ex nihilo occurs in reconciliation, I do not mean in nobis but extra nos, because our identity is outside of ourselves in Christ.

That said, we need to be able to say that the "I" before recognizing the source of our identity in Christ and the "I" after such recognition are, in some very real sense, two different egos. Without making this affirmation, we have a hard time making sense of the following passages:

“you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3);

“I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:19-20);

“if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17).

I think we need to take Paul at his word here and (1) affirm that the locus of our identity is in Jesus Christ alone, and (2) affirm that there is indeed a radically, ontologically new creation.
The Miner said…
David: Of course the OT writers were theologians - they had something to say about God, that makes them theologians. No they weren't theologians after the dogmatic mould, but there is nothing divinely sanctioned about the dogmatic theologian. Indeed, the dogmatic theologian owes his/her entire enterprise to the scriptural witness so we ought not to dismiss questions of ambiguity in the text so easily. I'm surprised to hear you take the position you do given your affection for Barth.

It is indeed ironic for us to be at this impasse given our theological proclivities. For myself, I say I have a lower view of scripture than you based on some of your past writings (though I could be wrong in my estimation).

And it is overstating the case to say that it is merely "repeating what the bible says" to attempt and discern what the scriptural witness about creation is before proceeding on propositional grounds. It's not that we merely repeat the bible (as if that were a bad thing) but that we take its witness seriously and don't dismiss it because it conflicts with our view of God. IF there is a prevalent voice in the OT that says that creation is ordering chaos rather than ex nihilo, we should ask what that means and what its implications are rather than just say we don't like it because it doesn't preserve God's sovereignty and freedom.

And the fact that the questions that are important to us weren't important to OT writers should perhaps give us pause as to whether we're asking the right questions.
Halden said…
David, I don't see how those pauline texts imply quite what you're saying. In saying that I die, and yet live again through baptism into Christ's death and resurrection does not negate a narrative continuity between who I was and who I now am any more than Christ crucified is another ego than the Risen One. The Risen Christ is not created ex nihilo without continuity with the Crucified, and that is the the shape of our salvation, is it not? Indeed, does not our salvation depend on saying that the Risen One is preciesly the Crucified? In the same way I think we must say that I am indeed the sinner who was saved through Christ, not simply a new ego that was created out of nothing. If that realy is the case then I have not been redeemed at all, I was simply created in communion with God, out of nothing. That whole way of thinking about redemption seems absurd to me.

In fact "it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me" seems very much to be talking about something that happens in nobis. To be sure it comes from outside ourselves, but it comes in from the outside, so I don't think that construction really gets you off the hook there.

Now, to be sure, the 'I' is mutable and is constantly a being-in-becoming. But, I still think we must have a narrative continuity of personhood in any viable theological anthropology. So, no I am no longer the person I once was, but Iwas indeed that person. Without that narrative continuity, I don't think we really have creation and redemption at all. We just have creation, fall and then creation again. This is not restoration, but simply starting over from nothing. Creation does not find itself redeemed, it finds itself replaced. That I think is a theological disaster.

(And, as an aside, if redemption means that a completely new and discontinuitous creation is the end of all things, why should I give a damn about global warming? Ironically, it seems like you're sliding closer to your fundamentalist roots than I think you would like with the logic of this understanding of redemption!)
WTM said…
The Miner: “Show me how you draw creatio ex nihilo from the BIBLE not just from reason. I AGREE that it is a very reasonable doctrine.”

This is the kind of biblicism that is harmful for Christian confession. Show me how you draw Trinitarian doctrine from the Bible and not just from reason. We’re talking about the same kind of procedure, namely, trying to get at the depth grammar of the biblical witness and bringing various trends in that depth grammar into conversation with one another. This is how theology works, when its not tied to a crude biblicism.

Halden: “David, I guess my concern with applying creatio ex nihilo to redemption is that it seems to imply that sin has absolutely negated creation in such a way that it ceases to be creation in any meaningful sense. To be sure sin is pervasive and impacts every sphere and fiber of creaturely being, but to say that redemption is a new creation "out of nothing" implies that the original creation has utterly ceased to exist.”

One word: Aufhebung. Sin is so pervasive, not only in human being and life but also in the creation because of human being and life, that sin cannot be removed without the destruction of humanity and the creation. As to the latter, Scripture often suggests that the earth will be destroyed and remade. As to the former, this is what happens in Christ, but what also happens in our physical deaths where the entirety of our being and life is negated. The only reason that this negation is not permanent is because of the work of God in Christ. In order for creation (including humanity) to be saved, it has to first be destroyed.

This is precisely what happens in Christ for the benefit of all, but, it is not immediate present in our lived experience. Our destruction and reconstitution has happened definitively, actually, really in Christ, but it will not be until our resurrection that we enter into the lived experience of that reconstitution. Until then, we live under the threat of judgment and destruction (which is what we deserve), clinging to the hope of salvation in Christ (which is God’s grace). Sin has so pervaded creaturely existence that it can only be removed by removing creaturely existence. The wage of sin is death.

But, at the same time, we cannot say that this recreation will not possess a certain continuity with the current. We retain our identity after resurrection. The reconstructed earth is still called the ‘earth’. There is both similarity and difference here, the difference being the complete absence of sin. It is, ultimately, a move to a higher plane.

The Miner: “David: Of course the OT writers were theologians - they had something to say about God, that makes them theologians.”

The OT writers were theologians, but they were not Christian theologians. This is for the quite obvious reason that there was no historical person of Jesus Christ yet in the picture. But, even beyond this, are we required by the biblical text to accept all of that text’s cosmological assumptions? If so, we’re back to a flat earth with the Sun revolving around it, not to mention a number of other interesting things. But, this is utter nonsense. Much the same can be said of the creation saga.

Does this mean that we have to throw out God’s ‘ordering chaos’? No. There are certainly ways to talk about God’s ordering work in creation without merely stopping there and pushing the question no further back.

I mean no personal offense to anyone involved in this conversation, but I have found a certain lack of imagination here.
D.W. Congdon said…

You missed my point. I am not denying what you call a "narrative continuity," only I am insisting (1) that this narrative continuity is given to us, not possessed, (2) that our narrative is in fact the narrative of Christ's death and resurrection, and (3) when the extra nos becomes in nobis, God replaces our narrative of self-determination with the narrative of Christ.

Now I also want to insist that Christ's narrative as well as our own narrative of taking on Christ's narrative both include a kind of creatio ex nihilo, and you have to remember to think of this doctrine in existentialist rather than in crudely materialist terms. The point of creatio ex nihilo is simply to affirm that something radically new happens which the passive recipient cannot effect on his or her resources alone. So, in terms of Jesus Christ, he cannot effect his own resurrection. In the crucifixion, Jesus dies the second death in God-abandonment, and it is only a purely creative act of the Father which absorbs this death (this cadaver obedience) and brings about a qualitatively new life. Resurrection is new creation. Resurrection cannot happen based on the forces operative in history; it is a qualitatively new event of divine revelation (here is where Patrik is right).

Similarly, for us, when Christ's narrative becomes our own in the present tense, we undergo an existential event of new creation. We cannot grasp this new narrative; we cannot possess it on our own power. We must be given a new identity, one that is qualitatively, ontologically new by virtue of our participation in Christ.

The Pauline texts affirm, as I said, that our identity is found in Christ alone -- and this identity is one in which Christ's being-dead is a being-in-the-abyss, a being-in-chaos, and on the other hand, by the creative act of God, Christ's resurrected being is the event of new being which is in fact our being by virtue of our election and incorporation into Christ.

All that is to say, creation and new creation are two divine events, and we need to see them as events in which something qualitatively new comes into existence.

To help with this, it is well worth reading Barth on "nothingness" (CD III/3, §50). I also highly recommend Wolf Krötke's monograph, Sin and Nothingness in the Theology of Karl Barth, which also deals with human sinfulness and the overcoming of nothingness in Jesus Christ.

Finally, take a look at Jüngel's work, Justification, pp. 111-12.
D.W. Congdon said…
By the way, re: global warming and care for the earth, a few things merit mentioning. Obviously, our own care for the earth cannot and will not bring about the kingdom of God. Thus, our care for the earth is not because we have to do something which God cannot do, but rather is important for the following reasons:

(1) We care for the world because God's creative activity is not a singular moment in the past but an ongoing activity in the present. God gives the cosmos its being on a moment-by-moment basis, and thus God continually affirms the worth and value of this creation. God sustains it, even when it existentially has fallen into evil and nothingness. God is the one who preserves and accompanies, and someday God will also transform and redeem.

(2) Our care for the world is an act of witness. We witness to the God who creates and re-creates by caring for creation here and now. We must remember that we are not doing something out of necessity, as if God depends upon us, but rather we do this as an act of faithful witness. We testify to our Creator-God in our love for creation.
Shane said…

"One word: Aufhebung."

goddammit Travis. What have I told you about saying words like that around me.


Yeah I think your prof has made a big swing-and-a-miss here. I'm surprised nobody else has trotted out that old etymological distinction between the various hebrew words for "create", i.e. that only God can br' something. Usually those kind of philological arguments are unpersuasive (e.g. phileo/agapao) but as far as I know this one is actually quite strong.

Besides, this seems to be a view of artistic genius from Goethe or Schiller or somebody. I wonder if more modern artists would take the same view of creative genius? I know that a philosopher like Heidegger not, for instance.

@Miner, et. al.

1. It is not a sufficient refutation of an idea merely to claim that it is neoplatonism.

2. It is stupid to claim that an idea is 'neoplatonic' when it is quite clear that you have no idea what neoplatonism is.

I say that it is clear you have no idea what neoplatonism is because creation ex nihilo ISN'T a neo-platonic doctrine at all. I'll give you the quick and dirty version: Plato's cosmos is eternal. The demiurge is looking at eternal forms and creating copies of them out of this yucky stuff "matter". And it so happens that this matter is imperfect and prone to dissolving and so forth. The demiurge does his best, but the materials are bad and so therefore we have destruction and degeneration and so forth here in the world. This was why sects like the manicheans looked at matter as the principle of evil, since it is only when the spiritual immaterial forms become enmattered that they become subject to death, decay and corruption.

If anything, I would guess that it is the Christian rejection of neo-platonic and aristotelian cosmology that leads them to develop the idea of creation ex nihilo. the root affirmation here is that matter is not some 'chaotic' evil second principle just as primordial as God himself. No, even matter is God's good (though sin-marred) creation.

I'll agree, as far as it goes, that the book of genesis doesn't teach that God created matter. There is a similarity to the ancient near eastern ideas you see represented in genesis and the platonic demiurge. However, I do not think genesis teaches that matter is evil in the way that the manichees did AND I think that genesis is open to the theological interpretation which sees the necessity of affirming creation ex nihilo. we must read the scriptures canonically and progressively.

Anonymous said…
Isn't it interesting how this post started out as a good piece on art and artistic stewardship and has just been hijacked by the theologians who are fundamentally more anxious than joyous about creation and its goodness? If we're going to have a decent discussion about creation, then let's at least start with the resurrection of Jesus.
D.W. Congdon said…
Jason: The issue of creatio ex nihilo is relevant in my opinion, so I see no reason not to address it. In fact, the distinction between God's act of creation (creation ex nihilo) and our acts of "creation" (if we call it that) is precisely the point of my post, so it's worth discussing, at least in my book.
Anonymous said…
I entirely agree. It's relevancy is not the issue. I was just offering an observation on how little of the ensuing discussion arising from your post has directly addressed the question of human artistry. Is this because theologians have thought too little about the relationship between the two, or is because of some deeper hesitancy about affirming creation itself? These two are not, of course, mutually exclusive. BTW: why hasn't your professor bought in on this discussion? He started it :-)
Halden said…

I guess I'm not not Barthian enough for you and David's liking. It seems to me that the preponderance of the tradition would reject the idea that creation must be completely anihilated to remove sin. I guess I stand more with the whole "grace does not destroy, but perfects nature" emphasis within the tradition. And I think Irenaeus' theology of recapitulation offers a corrective to Barth here, because Irenaeus has a more developed doctrine of Creation, while still maintaining a Christocentricity.


I think I agree with your three points, certainly. I'd only add that God, in constituting our identites in Christ, does not need to destroy our past stories, broken and sin-ridden though they are. Rather, those stories, meaningless without God are woven into the narrative of Christ in such a way that they are given a completely new meaning.

Now of course, we do not posess anything, all is gift. But that applies equally to creation as to redemption. All of God's acts are completely gratuitous, and as creatures we are always contingent upon God's gift-giving for our life and being. It would never occur to me to deny that.

Now, I'm not sure that we should think about redememption in existentialist rather than "crudely materialist" terms. I think that crude matrerial is absolutely the subject of redemption and we must not let go of the embodied nature of the Christian understanding of redemption. We cannot drift into gnosticism by collapsing the work of salvation into an inner, existential reality. It is preceisely our crude material bodies that are the objects of redemption, which why they must become incorporated in to the body of Christ, the community of salvation.

Now certainly, redemption is completely a de novo reality. So, I suppose I would have no problem saying that it is analgous to creatio ex nihilo, in the sense that it is a completely gratuitous divine act that can in no way be reduced to historical antededents. But I don't think there could be more than an anology with God's initial act of creation. To be sure, God realizes a totally new creation in Christ, but that new creation stands in continuity with the old, precisely because God set out to redeem what was created, not to simply create another world.

One thing that may be creating confusion here, is that I don't equate death with the absolute cessation of being. To be sure humanity must die and be raised again to new life, but I don't think that death and resurrection means that I must cease to exist and then a new person will be created that has no connection to the old person. Rather, death and resurrection means to lose one's old identity and to receive it back from God in a new way. This is precisely what happens in Jesus' death and resurrection. The One who was raised is preceisely the One who was born in Bethlehem. His "creaturely being" is not eradicated, but restored and enlivened in a new way.
WTM said…

There are certainly a number of alternatives for understanding re-creation that fall within the loving embrace of the Christian theological tradition, and the one that you have articulated is well attested (as you well know). I can simply reply that I want to take the judgment that is grace's form a bit more radically.
Halden said…
Fair enough. I think my reading of de Lubac has made me question a bit of that Reformed-Barthian edge.
D.W. Congdon said…

I understand your point about "crude material," and while I don't think the two are mutually exclusive, I personally would privilege the existential motif.

I think most of the confusion is over what we mean by words like chaos, nothingness, the void, which are connected of course with what we mean by death itself -- and, lest we forget, what we mean by the second death, the death in God-abandonment. Stuff for a future discussion.

Any true Barthian would say that Barth has made them suspicious of de Lubac. I myself am not a fan of de Lubac for all the reasons that Webster articulates.
Patrik said…
Thank you for you understanding and amiable response.

1. Yes you misunderstand me.
2. You seem to have no idea how the creatio ex nihilo came about, nor what it means.
3. Unlike you, I don't steal theology I attempt to create which of course will make it less stringent, but more coherent. And more fun.

1. My point is obviously not that theology is creatio ex nihilo, that would be absurd. My point is that human creativity - the process of creation - is related to the creativity of the father. Of course, unlike God, not all we create is good.

2. The creatio ex nihilo did not enter the theological vocabulary as a notion about creation primarily but via Christology into the Fathers' wrestling with the anthropology and especially with the notion of how humans can be saved. To simplify, the question was where the limit between creator and creation lies, that is, is the human soul divine or not. The creation ex nihilo stated that it is not and that salvation is more than merely the return of the soul to its origin. In other words it means that God is present in creation, not in the form of divine souls, but in the createdness of all being.

Further, you answer to my post, besides being scholastic and dull, shows clear hints of modalism and a lack of understanding for the perichoresis of the divine persons.

I'm not offended by you tone (more like amused) but a bit sorry that you believe that I would actually write something as insipid as you seem to have thought my post was, and that you didn't bother to read it again to see if you could have misunderstood my point.
Anonymous said…

Good on all counts. Regarding your point 1, I'm not sure what Congdon was thinking. I thought he was willfully misunderstanding you. He doesn't seem to like correction.

On your #3 and stealing theology, perfect. The imitating and parroting of McCormack and Jungel around here gets a bit stifling.