Book Review: Creation and New Creation: Understanding God’s Creation Project

I would like to introduce you to Creation and New Creation: Understanding God’s Creation Project, by Sean M. McDonough. Since 2000, McDonough has been a professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary located in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. He holds a B.A. from Harvard College, a M.Div. and M.Th. from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. Prior to his tenure at Gordon-Conwell, McDonough was the Chair of Biblical Studies and lecturer in New Testament at Pacific Theological College in Suva, Fiji.

Dr. McDonough is also a Sunday School teacher and occasional preacher at First Congregational Church in Hamilton. He is also a speaker for Medair, a Christian relief organization based in Switzerland. His research interests include creation/cosmology in the Bible and the Ancient Near East, Hellenistic Judaism, Greek philosophy and religion and the Book of Revelation.

In keeping with the scriptural witness and the theological heritage, this remarkable book examines the doctrine of creation alongside new creation. The connection between the two creation and new creation has drawn renewed attention in the last several decades; but the burden of Sean McDonough’s argument is that this emphasis on creation and new creation has been a feature of the doctrine since the beginning, whether in the eschatological reading of Genesis 1 that predominated at least until early modern times, or the intertwining of the narratives of creation and redemption in thinkers from early church father Irenaeus to modern theologian Karl Barth. While covering the traditional elements of the doctrine, McDonough treats this important subject with a special emphasis on how these unfold in the story of what Colin Gunton has called ‘God’s creation project.’ -book description at Amazon.com

You may have trouble seeing the connection between a book on creation and new creation with a blog that focuses on faith and work. Don’t fear; I refer to you fellow Green Room author and  theologian, Will Messenger. Will wrote here about the four-chapter Gospel:

It usually makes sense to students that God created the world good and gave humanity a significant role in bringing its inherent goodness to completion. They can understand that the Fall severely marred God’s good creation, to the point that work is often difficult, unproductive, painful, and unfair, yet the original goodness is not extinguished. Likewise, they can take on board the idea that God’s response to the Fall is not to abandon the marred Creation, but to redeem it. This helps them see that the New Creation is not the annihilation of the original (and only) Creation, but the restoration and completion of it. The New Jerusalem is a physical city in this world (think of the 12 stones), not a metaphor in some spiritual cyberspace.

To quote my friend (and another Green Room author) Amy Sherman, our work in this world is designed to bring foretastes of the future Kingdom. McDonough begins:

In keeping with the scriptural witness and the theological heritage, we will examine the doctrine of creation alongside new creation. Thus, rather than restricting ourselves to what God did at creation in the beginning, we are concerned with the full sweep of God’s purposes for the cosmos….This will certainly begin with the work of primal creation, but it will also include his work of new creation: the providential and redemptive acts of renewal in history, and the consummation of all things in the new heavens and new earth.

McDonough’s purpose in this book is to review the doctrines of creation and new creation with an emphasis upon how these unfold throughout Scripture, as well as drawing on various theologians throughout church history.  Following creation and new creation, the author takes a topical approach to the subjects of God as Creator, time and space, the process of creation, and finally beauty and creation. He does not focus much on humanity’s role in creation, as this is well covered by other books in the ‘Christian Doctrine in Historical Perspective’ series.

McDonough’s book reminded me of an excerpt from N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope I read in another book I reviewed recently.

This brings us to 1 Corinthians 15:58: what you do in the Lord is not in vain. You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to fall over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are — strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself — accomplishing something which will become, in due course, part of God’s new world. Every act of love, gratitude and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings, and for that matter one’s fellow non-human creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed which spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world — all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation which God will one day make. – N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church

McDonough concludes his book in a curious way. He quotes John 21:25, “But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” McDonough notes that some have interpreted this verse to be a “sigh of resignation” at the end of the book demonstrating that John’s task is not really completed. In reality, John is summarizing what has taken place prior to his gospel:

The Word made all things in the beginning. God faced nothing but his own Image as he set about the task of creation: ‘all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made’ (John 1:3). Whatever things exist in the world exist because the Father has called them into being through the Son and Spirit.

Creation and New Creation has received some impressive endorsements:

“Sean McDonough blends profound biblical exposition with rich theological and philosophical reflection. This wide-ranging study not only addresses both classical concerns and contemporary questions, but stimulates worship and faithful participation in God s creation project.”
Michael O Neil, director of postgraduate research, Vose Seminary, Western Australia

“Few scholars bring more to the topic than New Testament theologian Sean McDonough. His book explores the Christian doctrine of creation by drawing upon a broad array of theologians, Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic from Irenaeus to Barth. The result is a book of astonishing breadth and impressive learning.”
Richard Clifford, professor emeritus of Old Testament, Boston College School of Theology and Ministry

I recommend Creation and New Creation for your thoughtful reading. In it you will learn more about the doctrines of creation and new creation and their enormous influence upon our daily integration of faith and work as we look forward to the Lord’s return and His restoration of all things.

You might also enjoy the Jesus and Your Job series of talks at the Theology of Work Project where McDonough speaks very practically about the integration of faith and work in specific occupations and conducts interview with workplace Christians.

Image Credit: amazon.com

  One thought on “Book Review: Creation and New Creation: Understanding God’s Creation Project

  1. byronborger
    December 9, 2017 at 6:09 pm

    It’s a great book — and available wherever fine books are sold. Skip that amazon link if you want to be faithful in anticipating the new creation where such faceless bullies and unjust businesses will be no more.

    Like

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