The Areopagus Lectures

Inviting our neighbors in central Virginia to join MARS HILL AUDIO in a conversation about the Church’s role in a post-Christian society.

Listen to the Fall 2017 Areopagus Lecture:

Simon Oliver on “Creation, Modernity, & Public Theology”

Fall 2017 Areopagus Lecture

What: Simon Oliver on “Creation, Modernity, & Public Theology”

When: Friday, October 6 at 7:30 pm

Where: The Covenant Upper School 175 Hickory Street, Charlottesville VA 22902

This fall’s Areopagus Lecture will feature canon theologian Simon Oliver. Dr. Oliver will address questions raised in his new book Creation: A Guide for the Perplexed (Bloomsbury, 2017) and explore how the doctrine of creation bears relevance for many of today’s cultural concerns.

At its height, the polemic of the so-called “New Atheism” focused on the intelligibility of the notion of “creation.” Appeals were made to the natural sciences, particularly evolutionary biology, which allegedly rendered God redundant in understanding the natural world. These appeals formed a prominent strategy for the banishment of theology from the public domain to the realm of private superstition.

Yet the view of creation and God attacked by the “new atheists,” particularly Richard Dawkins, belongs to a peculiar aberration of Christian theology that arose in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries under the influence of the then burgeoning natural sciences. The result of these shifts is the conclusion that the notion of “creation” is unintelligible and that natural scientific explanation displaces theology as the rational and publicly available account of the natural world.

How exactly was the Christian doctrine of creation re-imagined in early modern thought? What were its social and political consequences? Does the recovery of the traditional Christian doctrine of creation in all its metaphysical subtlety — particularly the notion of purposiveness — reveal again the intelligibility of the Christian doctrine of creation?

Endorsements for Creation: A Guide for the Perplexed

“There are few scholars today who are sufficiently versed in the tradition of theological reflection on creation, fewer still who possess both the theological and philosophical acumen required to make sense of it, and even fewer who have the ability to distill that tradition and explain its relevance in highly accessible prose. Simon Oliver is one of those rare scholars, and this work is a correspondingly rare achievement. One could not ask for a better introduction to the doctrine of creation—not just in its historical origins and scope, but also in its dazzling metaphysical depth.”

—John Betz, University of Notre Dame

“Oliver offers more than a cutting edge introduction to a key topic of Christian doctrine. Since his book enables us to see through the pseudo-problems of half-educated philosophers, scientists and opinion leaders, it will also create space for the engagement with real challenges of our time: to face the spiritually, socially and ecologically devastating consequences of our techno-scientific world-view, which are anything but an inescapable adverse effect of the history of scientific progress.”

—Johannes Hoff, Heythrop College London, UK

“This book succeeds in making the traditional Christian doctrine of creation plausible. It shows that the idea of creation in which many moderns disbelieve is not the traditional Christian one at all, but an ersatz imitation, invented in the 17th and 18th century. Above all, Oliver’s book gives a fine grained, nuanced and immensely accessible account of the authentic Christian ‘Creator-God.’ By so doing it demonstrates that the rival versions, against which some moderns hull their complaints, have no place at all in an educated discussion of the origins of nature and the cosmos. I cannot praise this book too highly, and intend to put it in the hands of my students at the earliest opportunity.”

—Francesca Aran Murphy, University of Notre Dame

Simon Oliver

Simon Oliver is the Van Mildert Professor of Divinity at Durham University (UK) and resident Canon Theologian of Durham Cathedral (UK). Oliver was ordained as a priest in the Church of England in 1999. Prior to joining the faculty at Durham University, Professor Oliver was chair of the department of theology and religion at the University of Nottingham and Chaplain at Hertford College, Oxford. He is the author of Philosophy, God and Motion (Routledge, 2005) and co-editor with John Milbank of The Radical Orthodoxy Reader (Routledge, 2009). Oliver’s research focuses on Christian theology and metaphysics, particularly the doctrine of creation.


Since 1993, MARS HILL AUDIO has sought to encourage the pursuit of wisdom concerning the cultural consequences of the Gospel. Toward that end, the hundreds of interviews distributed by MARS HILL AUDIO have explored two principal questions: 1) What are the distinctive features of the culture of modernity? and 2) How are those features in conflict with Christian cultural faithfulness? 

One such feature is the assumption that a “religion” is an essentially private, subjective, and non-rational set of beliefs and practices. Thus public life (which is presumed to be a neutral space) must be cleansed of all religiously grounded contaminants. The past several decades have witnessed a more extensive commitment to the de-Christening of the West — the quest for a society freed of interference from Christian claims about human nature and social order. As a result, many Christians are more perplexed than ever about the public consequences of the Gospel.

We believe this is a time for the Church to recognize and remedy the mistake of assenting to the separation of theology from public life. Because the radical privatizing of the claims of Christ is contrary to the ends of human nature and the purposes of God in history, the modern project of radical secularization is inevitably destined to fail. As its failure becomes more obvious (either with a bang or a whimper) the institutions that sustain social, political, and economic life will be open to re-imagination and re-configuration in ways that acknowledge that in Christ, all things hold together. 

In launching the Areopagus Lectures, MARS HILL AUDIO hopes to stimulate conversation among our neighbors about how to navigate this time in the Church’s history with wisdom, courage, and hope. 

Previous Lectures

For our first lecture, pastor-theologian Peter J. Leithart joined us to discuss the topic of “The Cultural Consequences of Christian Division.” Dr. Leithart focused on the pivotal role that the 1529 Marburg Colloquy played in Christian division among Protestants, particularly in the debate between Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli over the Real Presence in the Eucharist. As a result of the impasse between Luther and Zwingli (and their subsequent refusal to commune at the Lord’s table), the Colloquy of Marburg shifted the Eucharist from something that Christians primarily do together to something about which Christians think or believe a certain way.

Follow the link below to read more about Peter Leithart and to access a recording of the lecture.

Spring 2017 Areopagus Lecture