Reflections on Leithart's A House for My Name
The other day I asked on Facebook if people could recommend good books on the theology of creation. I had been looking around on google and Amazon for "creation theology," and frankly I was a bit distraught at the absolute dominance of apologetics in that category. On Amazon, I even found nonsense like God Delusion when searching for creation theology books. Computers can be so helpful and so terrible all at once.
Anyway, my friends came through and recommended a rather large stack of books, and I decided to start with this Peter Leithart's A House for My Name. I'd heard really good things about this book for several years, and I thought it was about time I checked it out. Now that I've finished reading it, I'm ready to share my thoughts. They are succinct:
In my line of work, it's pretty rare that I read a book that I mostly agree with. It was kind of weird and refreshing. I admit that were some points where I disagreed with Leithart's specific reading of particular passages, but on the whole, on the deepest level, he reads the Bible the way I do.
And how is that? Put most succinctly, he stands in the great tradition of theology in reading the Bible typologically. The Reformers famously rebelled against the excessive typology of medieval theologians and left Protestants with an excessive dependence on the literal or plain meaning of the text. In doing so, I believe we're left with an impoverished view of scripture that is ill-equipped to respond to the pressures of higher criticism. The peculiarities of the scripture that so vex the higher critics often have their meaning in the higher patterns and motifs and symbols of the typology of Scripture.
What does any of that mean? Leithart draws our attention to many patterns of scripture that recur and tell the same story so we can understand God's communication to us. To me the most exciting idea I took from this book is the recurrence of the creation-fall-redemption motif. In the past I've strongly endorsed the creation-fall-redemption arc of the Christian story as a pretty essential ingredient of our theology and therefore supportive of the young-age creationist reading of Scripture. But it's even better than that.
The creation-fall-redemption story happens over and over throughout the Bible. You can see it in
- The Exodus (creation), Kadesh-Barnea (fall), and Conquest (redemption)
- The Conquest (creation), the judges (fall), and David's kingdom (redemption)
- Solomon (creation), Ahab and Athaliah (fall), and Joash (redemption)
And that's just a sample. God tells the story of redemption not just in the grand history of everything but also in regular dealings with Israel. It runs all through the Bible, not just as Paul describes the first and last Adam in Romans 5.
Good books have a way of sparking creativity, and A House for My Name is no exception. I thought I would share some of my own thoughts on Genesis 1 and 2 that are very much in the Leithart spirit. If you know anything about these passages, you know that these are the poster boys of the higher critics. Genesis 1 tells one version of creation that supposedly contradicts the account of Genesis 2. Obviously, I've never thought these contradictions exist, and in the past I've argued against contradictions from a very literal reading of the text. But there's more.
To me one of the most striking things about the creation of Adam in Genesis 2 is God's declaration "It is not good for man to be alone." We usually see in this a prelude to the creation of the woman because we're struck by the teaching on one flesh and marriage that concludes the passage (and because preachers insist on quoting this passage at weddings). But what strikes me is the contrast of God's declarations. "It is not good" is the first time in the text we've ever read of God declaring something not good. He created the cosmos and saw that everything was good. In Genesis 1, God created things in a stepwise fashion. In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth, and then spends six days forming and filling them. As the forming and filling are completed, only then does God declare that creation is good. So the declaration in chapter two that "It is not good" draws our attention.
What follows is even odder. God brings to Adam the birds and beasts he made, and we have this weird question of why? If the point is to create Eve and make humanity "good" and explain marriage, then why waste time with these animals? That question then drew me to another: Why bother telling this story at all? Why not go from the creation of man and woman in 1:26-30 to the planting of the Garden to the fall narrative in Genesis 3? (Maybe you can see why fanciful speculation about stitching together contradictory stories might be appealing to some.)
Before I can answer any of those questions, I have one other question that I think begins to draw them together to a possible answer. That question is right there in Genesis 1: What is the image of God, and what does that have to do with having dominion? On one level it's obvious that God puts humanity in charge here on earth, as an image (picture) of God ruling over all creation (See? Typology right there in chapter 1). But on another level the wording is a bit strange: "Dominion" is a word of conquest and slavery. It's a violent word, but this creation is very good. Did God really expect us to be violent to creation? Is that what it means to be his image?
Let's see if I can draw all these thoughts together. The creation of the man and woman in chapter 2 shows us an illustration of the image of God. In Genesis 1, God creates an unformed and unfilled creation and only declares that it is good as it is formed and filled through the actions of the six days. In Genesis 2, God creates the man and then shows him that creation is unfinished: It is not good for him to be alone. Just as God does in Genesis 1, Adam names the creations, including the woman. And just as God declares creation good in Genesis 1, Adam recognizes the goodness of creation through his own completion in Eve. In Genesis 2, God shares creation with Adam, the image of God.
If that's the case, if Genesis 2 really explains the man's role in creation as God's image, then we see in Genesis 2 what "dominion" must be. Adam was placed in the Garden to work and keep it. These words suggest serving and protecting and caring. If you want to be in charge and have dominion, if you want to be greatest, you must become the servant of all. Lynn White Jr. was deeply mistaken.
As I examine the symbols and patterns of Genesis, I see rich connections that go beyond the plain, literal wording. This is reading the Bible for all its worth. I think Dr. Leithart and I would get along splendidly. Perhaps someday we might sit down and have a chat.
Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.
Have you read my book? You should check that out too!