Retrieving Augustine's Doctrine of Creation
How might premodern exegesis of Genesis inform Christian debates about creation today?
Imagine a table with three people in dialogue: a young-earth creationist, an old-earth creationist, and an evolutionary creationist. Into the room walks Augustine of Hippo, one of the most significant theologians in the history of the church. In what ways will his reading of Scripture and his doctrine of creation inform, deepen, and shape the conversation?
Pastor and theologian Gavin Ortlund explores just such a scenario by retrieving Augustine's reading of Genesis 1-3 and considering how his premodern understanding of creation can help Christians today. Ortlund contends that while Augustine's hermeneutical approach and theological questions might differ from those of today, this church father's humility before Scripture and his theological conclusions can shed light on matters such as evolution, animal death, and the historical Adam and Eve.
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"Like almost all the church fathers, Augustine was fixated on Genesis 1–3, which he rightly saw as the key to the Christian worldview. Dr. Ortlund takes us back to the man and his beliefs, at once so distant from and yet so near to our own concerns. Modern readers will be challenged by Augustine's insights, and by entering into dialogue with him, they may find answers to the dilemmas they confront. An exciting book on a key topic for our times."
"We need pastors like Gavin Ortlund, and we need books written by pastors like Gavin Ortlund! His opening chapter on humility sets the stage for a book that is contextually responsible, academically sound, and pastorally motivated. I highly recommend this book as a rewarding and promising retrieval of Augustine's doctrine of creation for the good of the church."
"As debates about creation, evolution, and the historical Adam come to a crucial new juncture among evangelicals today, I can hardly imagine a better discussion partner from the church's tradition than Augustine, with his unwavering commitment to the truth of Scripture, his fearless willingness to pursue difficult questions, and his humble refusal to give rash and hasty answers. Gavin Ortlund gives us a well-rounded account of what Augustine's exegesis of Genesis brings to the table."
"This remarkable book offers a finely textured yet accessible interpretation of Augustine's views on creation, at the same time relating his thought to contemporary issues in a way that is creative, responsible, and compelling. I commend this book with enthusiasm to any Christian in search of insight into debates about creation and science, to both scholars and students interested in Augustine's thinking on creation, and to all those who seek a first-rate model of humble, rigorous, and faithful theological scholarship for the sake of the church."
"What can the ancient bishop Augustine of Hippo contribute to contemporary debates regarding creation, the age of the earth, and evolution? A lot, as it turns out. Readers will find Gavin Ortlund's masterful study of Augustine's doctrine of creation to be a smart, humble, and immensely helpful exercise of theological reflection on a most vexing question."
"What do we who live in the post–industrial revolution twenty-first century have to learn about creation from a fifth-century North African bishop? As it turns out, quite a lot. First and foremost, Augustine helps us learn how to think, not only what to think. In Retrieving Augustine's Doctrine of Creation, Gavin Ortlund invites us into a conversation with one of the greatest minds of late antiquity to explore together the fundamental distinction between 'nature' and 'creation'; the former being the idolatrous attempt to perceive our reality as independent, while the latter restoring what Ortlund terms 'a holistic framework for how to live as God's creatures in God's world.' This is a book that needs to be read slowly, for neither the topic nor the transformative effect can be rushed. And there is no better interlocutor than Augustine to help us move from our autonomous, self-referential idolatry to the Creator of all, whose image we bear. Ortlund has done us a great favor. Tolle, lege!"
"People from all sides of the church's discussion on origins have cherry-picked quotations from Augustine to bolster their views, without digging in to his actual doctrine of creation. In so doing, we attempt to cast Augustine in our own image. Ortlund has done us all a service by presenting a much more comprehensive understanding of Augustine's thought on creation and retrieving his voice from across the centuries. I predict that Ortlund's treatment of Augustine will also be disappointing to different kinds of people—those looking to him merely to prop up their own theories. He gives us a more complex, sophisticated, and surprising Augustine—one that makes me want to read more Augustine . . . and more from Ortlund."
"Gavin Ortlund's careful interpretive and critical reading of Augustine concerning Genesis and in particular human origins is a remarkably relevant contribution to the current, heated debate concerning the historical Adam. Contemporary investigators will find illuminating and thought-provoking insights in this important study."
Note on Citations
Introduction: Can Creation Debates Find Their Rest in Augustine?
1. What We Forget About Creation: How Augustine Can Broaden our Horizon of Concerns
2. The Missing Virtue in Science-Faith Dialogue: Augustine on the Importance of Humility
3. Settling an Age-Old Debate: Augustine on the Literal Meaning of Genesis 1
4. “In Praise of Ashes and Dung”: Augustine on Animal Death
5. Can We Evolve on Evolution Without Falling from the Fall? Augustine on Adam and Eve
Conclusion: Recapping Augustine’s Influence on the Creation Debate