A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Randy Hammer, October 13, 2013
Psalm 104:1-13 ESV
The idea for today’s sermon originated with a conversation with one of our members who made the observation that some of my comments following my sabbatical about “Creation Theology” could very easily be confused with “Creationism.” Honestly, that thought had not occurred to me. But I had to concede that the observation was right on target. So I felt that a sermon was in order explaining my thoughts about Creation theology and Creation spirituality and how they differ from creationism.
I adopted the term “Creation spirituality” from Matthew Fox and his book titled Original Blessing. Fox was a Catholic theologian who was silenced by the Church because of his progressive views. Fox eventually became an Episcopal priest and has become one of the most renowned Creation-centered theologians in the world. Original Blessing is one of those books that has had a profound impact upon my life and caused me to look at life, the world, and theology from a whole new perspective. I will try my best to distill and verbalize what I mean by Creation spirituality and Creation theology, and what I think Matthew Fox means as well, and how they contrast to creationism.
Creation theology is a theology that begins with the universe, rather than beginning with the idea of human sinfulness and the need for salvation, atonement, and reconciliation. Creation theology posits that one starts with the study of God or the Sacred within the created order. The universe was here billions of years before there was any thought of a god that would intervene in human affairs and impart directions about the need for sacrifices to atone for sin or anything remotely resembling “salvation history.” In the total scheme of things, the idea of God working in human affairs via what is called “salvation history” is no more than 3,000 years old, a tiny second in the total timeframe of the history of the universe.
And so, as both Matthew Fox and 14th century Christian mystic Meister Eckhart put it, it is more suitable to begin with Creation theology or Creation spirituality since Creation, or the universe, has been around so much longer than the idea of God in salvation history. Fox states, “The universe itself, blessed and graced, is the proper starting point for spirituality.”1 Meister Eckhart wrote, “This then is salvation: to marvel at the beauty of created things and praise the beautiful providence of their Creator.”2 Creation spirituality recognizes the presence of God or the Sacred within the natural world and the universe itself. As Fox puts it, “there is one flow, one divine energy, one divine word in the sense of one creative energy flowing through all things, all time, all space.”3 And so then, as a manifestation of the Sacred, Creation itself takes on an aura of sacredness.
As Fox points out, “The creation-centered tradition traces its roots in the Bible to the ninth century B.C. with . . . the Yahwist or J source [in the first five books of the Bible], to the psalms [such as Psalm 104 that I read to you], to the wisdom books of the Bible [such as Job], to much of the prophets, to Jesus. . . [and so on].”4 One of the most beautiful, and most representative, Creation-centered psalms is Psalm 104, part of which I read to you. This psalm has been described as a “marvelous creation hymn . . . one of the treasures of the Psalter. Unique in the entire hymnody of Israel . . .”5 This psalm not only joyfully recounts the action of God in creating the universe, but also celebrates God’s continued activity through the natural order, such as riding on the clouds of heaven, sending rain down the mountains, making grass grow for cattle, causing darkness, giving food to the creatures of the Earth, even giving breath and life to all that lives upon the Earth.
But what a lot of it boils down to is one’s perception of the Sacred or God, and to whether one defines God as that Energy, Life Force, or Vitality that lies at the heart of and within the vast universe; or whether one defines God as a Being Separate from the universe that fashioned the universe like a big watchmaker would fashion a watch. Marcus Borg, in his book, Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, discusses two models for thinking about the relationship between God and the universe. “The first is known as a ‘production’ model. Namely, like an artisan or artist, God makes the universe as something separate from God’s self. . . Known as ‘supernatural theism,’ this way of thinking about God conceptualizes God as ‘another being’ separate from the universe.”
“The second way of thinking about God-world relation,” Borg says, “has been called a ‘procreative’ or emanationist’ model: God brings forth the universe from God’s being. Because the universe comes out of God’s being, it is in some sense ‘God-stuff.’ This model . . . sees the universe as being ‘of God’ and ‘in God.’ (In other words, the model is panentheistic.) To quote a passage from the New Testament, God is ‘the one in whom we [and everything] live and move and have our being.’” “The procreative model affirms the presence of God within and beyond the universe and fits the notion that creation is an ongoing process, not simply a past event.”6 With that thought, let’s move toward and try to define the idea known as “Creationism.”
As I understand it, Creationism is the religious belief that life, the Earth, and the universe are the creation of a supernatural being. It is said that the word “creationist” was coined by Charles Darwin himself to describe a proponent of creationism. In the 1920s the term became particularly associated with the Christian fundamentalist movement that insisted on a literal interpretation of the Genesis account of creation and in opposition to the theory of evolution. “Biblical creationists believe the story told in Genesis of God’s six-day creation . . . of all things is literally correct.” Creationists do not believe in the evolution “of a lower or simpler species into a higher or more complex species. Thus, the theory of biological evolution is disputed by all creationists.”7 “Beginning in the late 20th century, many creationists advocated a view known as intelligent design.”7
Intelligent Design (as I understand it) is the theory that the universe and living things were designed and created by the purposeful action of an intelligent agent. It may be akin to the watchmaker analogy, proposing that a Divine Intelligence is responsible for moving Creation along toward a predetermined process, as opposed to Darwin’s idea of natural selection and so on.
So, to try to distill the two different views into their essence: Creationism is the belief in a supernatural Creator who was/is transcendent and outside of Creation, who created at one point a few thousand years ago all that exists, as the book of Genesis recounts it. In this view, the theory of evolution is just a theory and not accepted as fact or truth. A view held by Georgia Congressman Paul Broun may be representative of many Creationists. A couple of years ago, Representative Broun, who happens to also be a medical doctor, said he believes that “the Earth is about 9,000 years old and that it was made in six days.” He stated that evolution and the Big Bang theory are “lies straight from the pit of hell.” The scary thing is at the time he made the statement, Broun was sitting on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.
On the other hand, when I use the term Creation spirituality or Creation theology, what I mean to say is I have come to believe in that of God or the Sacred within the natural world; the Sacred Energy, Sacred Presence, Life Force at the heart of Creation. I see the Genesis account of Creation as being allegorical rather than literal truth, and believe that Creation has evolved over billions of years and continues to evolve. Creation was not a once-upon-a-time event (as Creationists believe), but Creation continues as new stars are born and new planets continue to come into being. As I stated in a sermon several months ago, when I stand in awe in the Great Smoky Mountains, or on the rim of the Grand Canyon, or at the base of Niagara Falls, I feel a sense of Sacredness there. Rather than visualize God as a Master artist outside of Creation (as the Creationists do), I prefer to visualize God as that Sacred Energy or Sacred Life Force within Creation. (As an aside, but perhaps related, is the recent discovery of the so-called “God particle” and an invisible, ghostlike field that pervades the universe.) And so for me, Creation theology has to do with the connection between the Sacred and the natural world, and Creation spirituality simply says that I find the natural world to be a primary source of spirituality, good for my soul.
All of this is complicated, to say the least. And each of us has to work out our own theology and our own idea of God and God’s relation to Creation or the natural world as suits us best. I can’t tell you how to believe about God and God’s relation to Creation, and you can’t tell me how to believe. But what I have found works for me is a theology that begins with Creation—the natural world—“in the beginning” when all things were pronounced “good,” as the book of Genesis puts it. And I call it “Creation spirituality.” Amen.
1Matthew Fox, Original Blessing. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 2000, p. 26.
2Fox, p. 121.
3Fox, p. 38.
4Fox, p. 11.
5The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, p. 846.
6Marcus Borg, Reading the Bible Again for the First Time. New York: HarperOne, 2001, p. 74.