Thinking Through Creation: A review

I am often asked to read and review books for this blog, and I rarely do so; not because I’m uninterested but time doesn’t often permit. In this instance, I haven’t been asked to offer a review, but this book is too important and useful to keep to myself. I want to encourage everyone to read Thinking Through Creation: Genesis 1 and 2 as Tools of Cultural Critique, Christians and non-Christians alike.

One of the great false dichotomies in Western culture today is the separation between secular and spiritual,  state and religion. It is readily assumed that these things are not only different, but that they are necessarily and irretrievably distinct and to be kept separate. This has meant that God-talk has been left on the side-line in many pursuits, whether it be in politics, science, or education. Scholars and social commentators hold tightly to the Nietzschean war cry, ‘God is dead’, and they do so with great passion and with little empirical proof.

There are of course many Bible believing Christians teaching in Australian universities, and across the full spectrum of academic study, contributing in the fields of science, law, medicine, and education, and economics. Their work does not, for the most part, require overt theological statements and Bible verses. There is however, significant pressure on many fine scholars to assume a God-free zone when contributing to their fields of expertise, as though the marketplace of ideas belongs to atheology and atheism.

Dr Chris Watkin is one Australian academic who is challenging the status quo. He is a Senior Lecturer at Monash University, Melbourne, teaching French Studies. He has authored several books, focusing his attention on philosophy, and French post-modern philosophy in particular.

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In his latest contribution, Thinking Through Creation, Chris is encouraging readers not to ignore the Bible, nor to stop at simply thinking about the Bible, but to think through the Bible.

“We read the Bible not only as a set of ideas and stories to think about, but also as a set of patterns and disputes through which we can think about everything and through which we live the whole of life.”

His thesis is that the Bible gives us a more comprehensive and more attractive grid for understanding the world than the alternatives. Using Genesis chs 1 and 2, he builds a philosophy for understanding the world around us. In particular, Chris grounds reality in the unique Christian doctrine of the Trinity.

Dr Watkin introduces into the world of ideas, the word, diagonalization. Where much contemporary philosophy leaves us having to choose sides between two seemingly opposing and yet important ideas, Chris argues through the Bible, showing how many of these in fact belong together. For example, the one and the many, impersonal structure and unstructured person, functionality and beauty, facts and values, and many more.

It is a short book, only 145 pages, and yet it contains ideas which have significant implications for understanding the world.  He has the rare ability to write about monumental concepts with great care and clarity. In an age where nuance often loses out to polarisation and false dichotomies go unchallenged, Chris offers a humble yet rigorous critique of culture through the lens of the Bible.

At a time when Australian culture assumes that doing away with the Bible is the moral course of action, in this book, we find one of the nation’s emerging philosophical minds calling us to revisit those ancient words of Genesis chapters 1 and 2, and to reconsider them in order that we may better understand the world and ourselves.

Professor John Frame has written the Forward for Thinking Through Creation. I smiled when I read this sentence, “Watkin is a surprise: a well-trained philosopher who is also a clear and helpful writer”.

He adds, “I hope that through the publication of this volume, his will become much better known in America and that he will become a major player in our discussions of Christian philosophy”.

That is no small commendation!

I trust that Chris’ work will become much better known in Australia, through our secular academic institutions as well as in our theological colleges. This is first rate theology written by a fine Australian philosopher.

Finally, I need to add that I have known Chris for several years, as his Pastor and as a friend. I have valued the way his thinking has developed and sharpened, and more so, that he is living a life congruent with the ideas he articulates. For what worth does great thinking have if one can’t use it in life?

I highly recommend this volume for all who are keen students of the world

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