Here is a post on what you can expect from the blogs on this website.
Creation to Eschaton—And the Kitchen Sink?
You may be wondering about the title I’ve chosen for this website, “Creation to Eschaton.” Or, to put it in ordinary English, “Beginning to End.” What sort of topics will I cover with an expansive title like that?
Woody Allen commented ironically that the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once wrote a book about everything, called Being and Nothingness. You can’t get more comprehensive than that, he noted.
Well, I won’t be quite as comprehensive as Sartre, though my interests are pretty broad. The title I’ve given this website indicates that I’m interested particularly in theological matters of origins and endings. But I’m also interested in what comes in-between.
In the course of giving a heads-up about what sorts of topics you can expect in this blog in the weeks ahead (I expect to post about once a week), I thought I’d take the opportunity to first look back. What unites the diverse topics I’ve covered in my past research and writing? This is a question I’m often asked.
Unlike some biblical scholars who focus on one particular block of material (such as the Johannine literature, the Pauline epistles, the Pentatuch, or the Book of the Twelve), I seem to have dipped into Scripture at multiple points (and I’ve often gone beyond biblical studies per se, into theology and cultural analysis).
So I’ll try and clarify the rationale for what I’ve been doing.
Then I’ll look ahead.
Much of my previous work has explored biblical creation theology, including a book on humanity created as the image of God (The Liberating Image), which is dependent on an earlier article of the same title.
Creation theology is also central to essays I’ve written on:
- the sort of creative power God exercises in Genesis 1;
- how biblical creation accounts relate to the ancient Near Eastern combat myth;
- the diversity-in-unity of Psalms 8 and 104;
- and the treatment of creation themes in the work of Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann.
In all cases I’ve been interested in the ethics associated with creation theology. How might understanding God’s original intent for the world direct us to live in the present? This emphasis is found in pretty much everything I’ve written on the topic of creation, but it’s the explicit focus of a short entry on the “Image of God” that I wrote for the Baker Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics.
In theology, attention to endings is typically known as “eschatology” (eschaton is Greek for “end”). In contrast to creation, I’ve written only one article focused on this topic (“A New Heaven and a New Earth”), which has since become the basis of a book with the same title.
But like creation, my exploration of eschatology is driven by an ethical passion. How might understanding God’s telos or goal for the world shape our lives today?
In Scripture, the beginning corresponds to the end, a motif that German theologians have called Urzeit and Endzeit. Thus the eschaton is God’s new (redeemed) creation; it is the fruition of the Creator’s purposes from the beginning, after evil has been overcome.
Creation-to-Eschaton as a Normative Framework
I have found that the narrative arc from creation to eschaton (the biblical metanarrative or macro story) provides crucial orientation for approaching the manifold complexity of particular texts in Scripture (especially problematic texts). And by framing the meaning of human life in the present, the macro story of Scripture provides guidance for thinking about, and living in, the contemporary world.
This creation-to-eschaton framework (the biblical worldview) is central to the first book I coauthored with Brian Walsh—The Transforming Vision, though the narrative character of this worldview wasn’t fully clear to us at the time.
The narrative character of the biblical worldview became more explicit in the later book I wrote with Walsh—Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be (an attempt to contextualize biblical faith in postmodern culture)—and it is central to our stand-alone essay that articulates the core argument of that book.
The creation-to-eschaton framework is especially prominent in my book A New Heaven and a New Earth, which has a section explicitly entitled “From Creation to Eschaton.”
But, in one way or another, this framework grounds almost everything I’ve written. It would be tedious to list each case, but a recent example is the article I coauthored with Michael Gorman on “Salvation” for the New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible.
Evil and Suffering
My interest in the ethical implications of creation and eschaton (God’s purposes for the cosmos) has led me to reflect on the problem of evil and suffering—both in human life and in the Bible. Undoubtedly, my own life experience has lent an existential edge to these reflections.
Awareness of evil and suffering is most explicit in an essay in which I contrasted approaches to theodicy (the problem of evil) in the western theological tradition and in Scripture.
A focus on suffering is evident in an essay on Canadian singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn that Brian Walsh and I wrote, and it motivated my proposal for moving beyond a naive reading of Psalm 23 (through interaction with a Cockburn song).
The awareness of evil shaped my analysis of violence in the David and Goliath story and the abuse of power in the narrative of Samuel’s relationship to Saul; the second essay anticipates a short volume on 1 Samuel 1–15 I’m working on for Eerdmans, tentatively called Portrait of a Disgruntled Prophet: Samuel’s Resistance to God and the Undoing of Saul.
Concern with evil and suffering is also the basis of some shorter pieces I’ve written—on Herod in the Christmas story, on the lament psalms, and on “Violence” (for the New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible). And it guides my interest in working on a new book (which is now complete) on Abraham and Job.
One other area of interest that deserves mention is the Caribbean. I was born and grew up in Jamaica and did my undergraduate theological studies there. In the years since, I have continued to visit family and friends and kept professional connections with Jamaica Theological Seminary (my alma mater) and the Caribbean Graduate School of Theology.
My Jamaican heritage has motivated me to explore theology from and for the Caribbean. Thus I’ve written on a spirituality of cultural resistance in the music of Bob Marley and the Wailers, and I’ve advocated the need for creation theology in Caribbean life; the latter essay appears in an anthology of works by Caribbean scholars that I edited with Garnett Roper, on behalf of Jamaica Theological Seminary.
I plan on continuing to explore topics in creation theology and eschatology and much that is in-between.
Look for blog posts on the nature of the world as a cosmic temple, on creation themes in Isaiah, and new light on humans as the image of God—especially what I’ve learned since my 2005 book on the subject.
I plan to post on various topics associated with my new book on eschatology, including:
- why holistic eschatology (the renewal of the earth) is important for the church;
- the meaning of “heaven” in Scripture;
- New Testament texts that seem to contradict the renewal of the earth;
- what the Bible intends by its description of cosmic catastrophe (including stars falling from heaven);
- and the loss and recovery of the idea of the “new earth” in the history of Christian thinking about eschatology.
I hope to post my thoughts on various topics connected to the interpretation of Scripture, such as:
- why I love (and hate) theological interpretation of Scripture;
- my understanding of Abraham as morally deficient in Genesis 22;
- the possibility that the book of Job might be an answer to Abraham;
- the meaning of Sabbath beyond the sacred/secular split;
- and my assumptions for studying and teaching the Bible.
Other topics I may post on include:
- why I am neither conservative nor liberal (and loving it);
- the best way to read an academic book;
- and the most important questions I’ve learned to ask in my intellectual journey.
Also expect to see my responses to various articles and books I’m reading in biblical studies and theology, including works by Caribbean authors.
And one more thing—which might be just a little bit controversial (for some).
I recently joined a three-year interdisciplinary research project with nine other Christian scholars, focusing on the relationship of the evolutionary origins of humanity to the doctrine of the fall and original sin. We produced a conference, then a book, on the subject, called Evolution and the Fall (Eerdmans, 2017).
Given that the entire research team is a bunch of orthodox, Trinitatian, Nicean Christians who take both science and the Bible seriously, we approached the topic in humility, but without fear.
As an Old Testament scholar now delving into the science-theology discussion, I expect to move beyond just Genesis 3 (the topic of the fall) to other biblical texts and themes, exploring how they might relate to what science is telling us about the cosmos, about life on this planet, and about the evolution of Homo sapiens.
And the kitchen sink?
Thankfully, I’ll leave that out.