The Triune Creator: A Historical and Systematic Study / the Foundations of Dialogue in Science and Religion / Truth and the Reality of God: An Essay in Natural Theology

By DeHart, Paul | Anglican Theological Review, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

The Triune Creator: A Historical and Systematic Study / the Foundations of Dialogue in Science and Religion / Truth and the Reality of God: An Essay in Natural Theology


DeHart, Paul, Anglican Theological Review


The Triune Creator: A Historical and Systematic Study. By Colin E. Gunton. Edinburgh Studies in Constructive Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998. x + 246 pp. $25.00 (paper).

The Foundations of Dialogue in Science and Religion. By Alister E. McGrath. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1998. 256 pp. $27.95 (paper).

Truth and the Reality of God: An Essay in Natural Theology. By Ian Markham. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, Ltd., 1998. x + 145 pp. $37.95 (cloth).

Theology in the British Isles has been of considerable interest to American theologians lately, and rightfully so. In response to this interest, a series of articles by David Ford introducing the varieties of British theology recently appeared in the Christian Century (April 5, 12, and 19-26, 2000). Ford suggests that British theology still shows the effects of the "trauma" it faced in the middle decades of the twentieth century, its bruising encounters with dominant currents of analytic and positivist philosophy which were deeply hostile to it.

Whether one subscribes to the "trauma" thesis or not, Ford has rightly put his finger on a matter that always repays careful study: the way theologians relate (explicitly or implicitly) Christian teaching on the one hand, and scientific or philosophical culture on the other. The three recent books from Britain reviewed here provide a tempting opportunity for such study, especially because they come from very different theologians. Gunton is a wellknown dogmatician of a distinctly Barthian cast, McGrath a moderate evangelical who leans toward historical theology, and Markham represents the kind of "liberalism" oriented toward religious studies characteristic of the Liverpool Statement (on the latter, see Gareth Jones, "After Kant: The Liverpool Statement," Reviews in Religion and Theology, No. 3 [1998]). I begin with some remarks about each book in turn, then conclude with a few reflections on all three with this particular question in mind.

Colin Gunton's The Triune Creator is subtitled "A Historical and Systematic Study," but the historical aspect is, in a way, dominated by the systematic. The historical development of various theological positions on creation is dealt with critically; Gunton's primary concern is not interpretive so much as evaluative. In the course of the historical survey a great deal of the tradition comes in for some pretty rough handling. Indeed, "development" is perhaps not the right word to use in light of Gunton's schema of doctrinal history. The reader quickly learns that Gunton views this terrain as a struggle between the true or "orthodox" doctrine of creation, codified in the Bible and first adequately theorized by Irenaeus, and a series of misunderstandings and distortions of the doctrine which largely characterizes theological history from the Fathers on.

In the initial chapter Gunton emphasizes his treatment of creation as distinctively Christian, not a generic religious or philosophical problem. Any truly Christian concept of creation must be seen as "creedal" in nature (i.e., a response in faith to divine revelation), it must encompass the notion of creation "from nothing," and most importantly it must be integrated with the triune nature of the Christian God (pp. 8-9). The centrality of these emphases to Gunton's treatment is encapsulated in his continual stress on the irreducibly "personal" nature of God's relation to the created world. And the primary fault of so much theological thinking as viewed from this perspective is its failure to recognize this, and its concomitant tendency to fall back into what Gunton refers to as a "Greek" ontology.

The opposition between a "biblical" and a "hellenic" ontology is set up in the second chapter; the remaining chapters criticize doctrinal positions on creation in light of their adherence to the former (the model of a personal creator standing in free relationship to an ontologically distinct creation) and avoidance of the latter (the model of a "self-creating world," a monistic cosmos whose principles of order and change are purely internal). …

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