Creation Ex Nihilo

Origins, Development, Contemporary Challenges

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Gary A. Anderson, Markus Bockmuehl
  • Notre Dame, IN: 
    University of Notre Dame Press
    , November
     430 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


For decades the doctrine of creation from nothing has languished. It has been beaten down, it seems, by detractors both exegetical and scientific. And it has rarely found itself the subject of detailed analysis, much less a defense. Yet very recent years have seen a slight uptick in interest in creation ex nihilo. Ian McFarland’s From Nothing (Westminster John Knox, 2014) represents a remarkable achievement in examining anew the topic of creation dogmatically. Essays on the subject by the late John Webster were building to a never-completed volume on creation and providence, though the published fruits are themselves already worthy of our attention. Janet Soskice pulled together a “Modern Theology” symposium just a few years ago that includes notable contributions, especially on the history of the topic (see Creation Ex Nihilo and Modern Theology [Wiley Blackwell, 2013]). These are significant stirrings. 

In this volume, Gary Anderson and Markus Bockmuehl have pulled together a notable list of contributors to attend to the roots, growth, and present status of this doctrine of creation from nothing. Contributors gathered at a seminar in Oxford in July 2014 and then for a larger conference at Notre Dame in July 2015. Endnotes manifest a stronger than usual awareness of cross-disciplinary work that no doubt is owed to those sets of conversations and that enhances the arguments of each chapter. The volume includes a wide range of arguments: exegetical studies on the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible and specifically on the Book of Revelation; patristic considerations of Athanasius and Augustine; studies of later works by Bonaventure, Aquinas, Maimonides, and Jewish rabbis; searching considerations of its modern fate, whether in Spinoza, Schleiermacher, or Dostoyevsky; and, finally, a number of discussions of scientific and/or physical cosmology. If one wants a guide to the state of the discussion today that runs the gamut from biblical to scientific analysis, informed also by history and by real theological contemplation, then this is surely the most significant volume available at present. 

Volumes of collected essays are hard to review inasmuch as the essays vary as greatly as the dishes in a buffet line. The design of a volume can be analyzed though, and this one serves as a sumptuous menu of relevant topics rather than a narrow niche for only one side of the palate. The ingredients might be considered:  the contributors include many senior figures (e.g., Janet Soskice, John Cavadini, Khaled Anatolios) as well as others working in various areas of discussion with obvious familiarity and command. No agenda is advanced; no party line is trumpeted. Students wishing to catch the most relevant questions, to plumb the most germane resources, and to observe a number of the most astute theological practitioners today will not be disappointed if they turn to this text. Other chapters might be desired: what of studies on Eastern Christian analyses of creation (beyond that of Dostoyevsky)? what of Protestantism in its earliest Reformation and post-Reformation versions (pre-Spinoza)? what about cosmological Christology in the New Testament (e.g., Ephesians and Colossians, and even Hebrews) and in later Christian dogmatics? Surely there is more to explore and much yet to be tasted, but this volume makes good sense as a significant appetizer and an entryway to a fuller feast. And there are moments (e.g. the description of creation from nothing as, strictly speaking, a doctrine about God and not mainly about the beginnings of matter on pp. 40-41; the discussion of “nothingness” on pp. 89-91; the analysis of how Bonaventure and Aquinas link creation and salvation on pp. 182-88; or the anatomy of how Spinoza provided a “metaphysical legitimation” for a “naturalistic view of the world” on pp. 262-64) that will likely entice one to keep eating.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Michael Allen is the John Dyer Trimble Professor of Systematic Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL.

Date of Review: 
November 2, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Gary A. Anderson is Hesburgh Professor of Catholic Theology at the University of Notre Dame.

Markus Bockmuehl is Dean Ireland’s Professor in the Exegesis of Holy Scripture at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Keble College.



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