Christology and Creation: A Concluding Thought from Osborn

Well, gentle readers, here we are. I’ve enjoyed sharing with you some of the bits of Osborn’s book that most interested me and sparked my mind while I read it. I hope that you’ll take the time to read through it for yourself. But all good things must come to an end. So now I want to let you all in on what I think is perhaps the most damning criticism that Osborn makes of “literalist” ways of thinking about creation. That criticism is this: there is “nothing intrinsically christological” in such a doctrine of creation.

Ready to hear more? I hope so. As always, bold is mine and italics are in the original.

Ronald E. Osborn, Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014).
One striking implication of biblical literalism is that Genesis tells us everything we need to know about God’s way of creating without any reference whatsoever to the Christ of the New Testament. God’s stupendous might, God’s total control, God’s complete domination of the creation by sheer fiat – such are the divine attributes that most impress the literalist and fundamentalist religious imagination when they open the book of Genesis. Yet there is in fact nothing intrinsically christological in these “plain” reading approaches to Genesis 1 or in the sorts of “scientific” and lexical arguments most often used to advance them. One can be a strict literalist on Genesis without possessing a trinitarian understanding of the divine nature and without any reference to the God who walked among us, whose power and glory are paradoxically revealed in his weakness and agony. (159-160)
Now, it may be that you – gentle reader – reacted upon reading this in the same way that I do, namely, by thinking to yourself: “That’s all well and good, but say something about what a christological doctrine of creation would look like!” Alas, Osborn does not elaborate such a thing at length. He does, however, expand upon his criticisms here in a more particular way vis-à-vis the standard Adam / Christ typology, especially through engagement with the work of Conor Cunningham.
We must learn to read Genesis in radically christocentric theological terms rather than as mere historical chronicle. For orthodox Christianity, Cunningham points out, it is not Adam but Christ who is the first true human, the axis mundi by whom we must now reenvision all that came before as well as all that comes after. Some have insisted that without a historical Adam the life, death and resurrection of the historical Jesus would be devoid of meaning. But this claim amounts to a denial . . . of the centrality of Christ; for it gives the fallen Adam of Genesis an interpretive primacy over the Jesus of history that Paul and the Gospel writers do not allow. For disciples of Christ, it is only in Christ that the ancient story of human origins and destiny can be rightly understood – not the other way around. We do not read the story of Christ “Adamically.” We reread the story of Adam christologically in the light of the second Adam who is also the first Adam, the first fully human being . . . The New Testament proclamation is not that the Adam of Hebrew Scripture must now be greatly elevated as the father of humankind les Christ have died a pointless death. It is that He who comes last is first. The Christian euangelion is not an accentuation or amplification but, in a real sense, a subversion of the first Adam’s theological and historical significance (whether or not historical Adam existed). It is only through the kenosis of Christ . . . that our eyes have at last been opened to the real nature of good and evil for the first time. The cross is at once the two trees in the Garden of Eden, the tree of knowledge and the tree of life. When Christ cries, “It is finished” on Easter Friday, the creation of the world is at last completed. . . . Genesis is not science or journalism but prophecy. And it is by entering into Christ’s way of self-emptying love . . . that we bear witness to this hope: that one day we will also share in our Lord’s resurrection and glorification. Only then will Christ be all in all. (164-65)

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Comments

One of these days, I need to read this book. Arguments surrounding the interpretation of Genesis and creation has been and will continue to be controversial for years.

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