The Message of Creation by David Wilkinson is a light commentary with ample contemporary application on the biblical theme of creation. Wilkinson is a competent theologian with a scientific background making him well qualified to speak on the biblical theme of creation. Wilkinson’s pastoral experience shows through as he gives lengthy applications from the many biblical passages he discusses throughout the book. He also interacts with old and new well know atheists such as Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins in his defense of a Creator.
In The Message of Creation Wilkinson discusses five aspects of the doctrine of creation through 20 passages of Scripture. Wilkinson is quick to point out in the Preface that his book is not a systematic theology on the doctrine of creation that the theologian in him wants to write. Rather,
It is a kind of journey. Some will want to get to the destination quickly, but that is not what we shall do. We have twenty ‘villages’ to visit on the way in pursuing the doctrine of creation and opening up its biblical themes. Their large number of passages and their diversity is testimony to how important this doctrine is within the biblical literature (p. 11).
The doctrine of creation is one of my favorite themes in Scripture so I was excited to read the book. Upon reading the book I was both pleased and disappointed. I thought the book started and ended strong. However, the middle three sections were somewhat of a disappointment. I found a number of insightful comments in reference to the initial creation in Genesis and to recreation (or ‘creation regained’ depending on your theological commitments) before eternity. As such, this review will focus more on the first and last sections with some remarks on the middle three.
Starting with The Beginning of Creation, Wilkinson walks through the first three chapters of Genesis showing God as Creator of all things, provider of man’s necessities and the unfortunate rejection He receives from the crown jewel of His creation, man. Despite his scientific background, Wilkinson steers clear of the debate over the meaning “day” in Gen. 1. However, seems to imply he does not take the more conservative viewpoint as he gives three reasons why we need to be more respectful of and less judgmental towards those who hold to other views as well as a high view of Scripture (p. 17-18). He believes the ‘days’ of creation discussion is important but “is not central to the message of Genesis 1 (p. 18).” He writes,
This is not a passage about the ‘how’ of creation, nor even primarily about the ‘why’ of creation. Rather, it is a passage about the ‘who’ of creation, and is an overture that introduces us to the Creator God (p. 18).
While one may disagree with his view of the ‘days’ of creation, Wilkinson is correct in that it is not the main theological focus of God through Moses. Wilkinson points out the clear polemical nature of Gen. 1 over against the other ANE creation accounts (p. 21). While the differences are clear, regarding the comparative elements Wilkinson notes that,
God has set the revelation of the truth about Himself into the thought forms and culture of the ancient Near East. Far from corrupting its purity, this gives the revelation even more power. God’s revelation of himself is never in the abstract; it is in the reality of human history (p. 22).
Thankfully Wilkinson does not fall into the trap of emphasizing the comparisons to the point of ignoring the differences, as does John Walton in The Lost World of Genesis One.
After quickly dismissing a few interpretations of what it means to be made in the image of God”, Wilkinson stresses that the “Image” man possesses emphasizes the relational nature of God (p. 36). He aptly points out through Karl Barth that Christ is the quintessential example of man in the image of God as He is both God in the flesh and the perfect example of what we as humans should be. This in turn flows from His perfect relationship with the Father (p. 37). Regardless of one’s opinion of Barth, this is one of his better statements and theological insights.
In the section on The Songs of Creation, Wilkinson walks through four classic passages in Proverbs and Psalms that deal with the theme of creation: the wisdom of God in Prov. 8, the majesty of God in Ps. 8, the glory of God in Ps. 19 and the universal praise of God in Ps. 148. There was not much that stood out in these chapters, which is unfortunate given the depth of Psalm 8 & 19.
The third section dealt with God as Lord of Creation. In Luke 8 Jesus shows His power over the wind and the waves. Through this we see God’s presence within creation and His authority over the powerful creation He has made. Through the theologically rich passages of John 1, Colossians 1 and Hebrews 1, Wilkinson brings home the reality of God’s presence in Christ among His creation, His supremacy in His creation and that He is the rightful heir of all creation. These are some of my favorite passages of Scripture but I expected more than I found in this book.
Section four focuses on The Lessons of Creation. From Gen. 9 we see a renewed trust in God. From Job 38-42 we gain a new understanding of the Creator God through our suffering. In Isaiah 40 we are brought to see how the Creator God gives us strength and in Acts 17 we see the new life the Creator brings.
The fifth and final section focuses on The Fulfillment of Creation. In Isaiah 65 we are comforted in that God promises to restore creation’s disturbed relationship with God. The most interesting discussion is in the chapters on 2 Peter 3 and Revelation 21 and the meaning of “new” creation. In both of these passages Wilkinson makes the case, in light of recent scholarship, that “new” refers to transformation rather than destruction (p. 261). “The word kainos, “new”, usually indicates newness in terms of quality rather than something new that has never been in existence. Here we have a qualitative contrast between the new and first creation (p. 261).” Further support for this transformative view is found in Christ Himself and His resurrection. Wilkinson sees continuity as Jesus is the same before and after the resurrection as He is seen and touched physically. There is also discontinuity in that there is some confusion over recognizing Him and as He defies space in John 20. I found this discussion to be revealing and wish there were more space devoted to the interpretation. The summation of the newness of creation is clearly communicated as Wilkinson states,
The new creation is therefore not a return to Eden. The new creation is better than Eden, in terms of its security against evil and its freedom from sin. It ‘begins with the tale of a garden and ends with a city of gold’ is not a bad summary of the Bible’s view of creation and new creation (p. 263).
Despite some of my disappointment in three of the five sections and a clear environmentalist mindset in some areas of application (p. 155 & 172), this book helps to define some of the biblically communicated aspects of the creation theme. The first and last sections are worth reading alone. Those well-read on creation in Scripture may not find anything new in this book. For those new to the subject this book would be a good place to start.