Ancient Christianity · church · class · creation · culture · theology

Holy, Holy, Holy and Craig Keen

Craig Keen, a professor at my own Azusa Pacific University, left this week to present his paper at Duke University on creation ex nihilo (creation out of nothing). Wes let me have a look at it, and I was amazed by the depth of insight in the paper, and would like to make portions of his paper available for the readers of my blog. His comments are timely as we approach the beginning of holy week tomorrow:

He begins the paper by discussing one of the “most persistent professions of the faith of the church…that there is ‘one God, the Father, the Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.'” Although the doctrine has been “carved into the stone of an institution, it is easy to forget that at one time it was warm and supple and alive…[but] has often been reduced to a proposition to be made.” He notes that Augustine, rather than accepting creation ex nihilo on philosophical grounds, accepted the doctrine because “the church that teaches it has proven to have authority to declare such truths…[Augustine knows] the church…is a people constituted by the grace of an elusive God who keeps them moving on a journey of hope.”

Dr. Keen argues that, “As metaphysically alluring as the doctrine of creation might seem, thinkers of universal truths must contend with the no doubt faithful reading that the Old Testament tells ‘a particular story about a particular people and their particular God’…we learn in Genesis 12 that God comes ‘to bless’ these nations by turning to one nation, to Abraham, Sarah, and their descendants.” Dr. Keen shows how this particularism is carried on throughout the Bible through both Isaiah and Paul. Isaiah is noted (45:14) saying that “God is with you [Israel] alone.” Keen goes on to note “though in their ignorant economic and military might they [the oppressive nations during the exile] presume otherwise, it is through Israel that the nations, too, will be saved.”

But why did God choose such a people? Did he, by an means, need to? Dr. Keen does not believe so. Rather, “God need not have come alongside Israel, but God is alongside them (cf. Deuteronomy 7:6-8). Thus it has come to pass that these people know the holy God. Their neighbors do not…[but it is] a word that may be withdrawn (cf. Psalm 28:1)…They are what they are, only because God has spoken. Even their learning into God’s word entails their holiness only secondarily, only as an obedience which refuses to take credit…The the holiness of Israel is a gift and a command…It is no mean task to be a holy people, step by step in everything to depend on the freely electing God, to live a life of purity, justice, wisdom, and hospitality. Not only might one fall prey to faithlessness; even under the best of circumstances encounters with the holy God may in fact be profoundly hazardous.”

Keen goes on reminding us that “in bondage to an overwhelming alien power, threatened by despair, the Hebrew children are tempted to run to the gods of Babylon who had so effectively swept them into its tight grip…It is the audacious hope, woven as it is upon an audacious memory, that the prophet cries out that Yahweh–the God who elected the slave forbears of these slaves–is creator…all others are sham Gods…Such a God has sovereignty against which no king, no military power, no empire, no chaos can prevail…It is in the face of obviously irresistible necessity that the political resistance literature of creation emerges among an oppressed people. Could there ever be a more excessively radical doctrine?”

Keen finishes his essay reminding us that “without explicit reference to the creation of the universe, Paul sternly counsels members of the Corinthian church engaging in factionalism, closed circles jockeying for positions of superiority over one another…[that] God chose what is low and despised in the world…to reduce the things that are…Jesus, the elect of the elect of God, was–the definiteness of the past tense must not lose force–was reduced to nothing…This is a dense and grave event. The living body that had healed the sick and raised the dead was annihilated on the cross, the dead weight of a lifeless corpse hung limply in its place. The entombed carcass of Jesus was not a latent potency waiting to be drawn into some proper entelechy. It was devoid of all ‘can” in relation to the living Jesus a pure nothing. What comes out of the tomb on Easter Sunday morning is not Jesus-revived, but a new creation, out of nothing.”

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