Fall 2017 Areopagus Lecture

“Creation, Modernity, & Public Theology”

Many contemporary discussions that make reference to creation are framed in light of assumed conflicts between science and religion and are frequently concerned with giving an account of the earth’s origins. But is talking about origins synonymous with what the church fathers meant by the act of creation? Does providing scientifically plausible accounts of how the earth began or pointing to staggering probabilities as evidence for intelligent design provide an adequate understanding of the relationship between God and creation? Do we as modern Christians truly understand what the church fathers meant by “nothing” in the phrase creation ex nihilo?

What if our understanding of creation “as origin” is inadequate? Can a misunderstanding of creation lead to unhealthy and harmful cultural institutions? 

Last fall’s 2017 Areopagus Lecture, entitled “Creation, Modernity, and Public Theology,” featured canon-theologian, Simon Oliver on the traditional understanding of the doctrine of creation and on how some of our modern divisions and disputes are products of an insufficient framework of creation that developed during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Listen to the entire lecture to hear more about what is at stake in the Christian doctrine of creation.

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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.

Creation: A Guide for the Perplexed

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