Retrieving Augustine’s Doctrine of Creation by Gavin Ortlund


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Besides enjoying in-depth discussion with my friends Paul Pavlik and JP Chavez while we all three listened through it together, this book made me curious to read Augustine’s fuller commentary directly.

I can’t seem to find a copy online, except from where a translation in two volumes published by Paulist Press in 1982, and translated by John Hammond Taylor. It's part of a series called Ancient Christian Writers, which sounds terribly interesting.

Volume I and II, Books 1-6 and 7-12, is going for $79.16 plus $22.54 to ship to the U.S. from the Netherlands. So perhaps I will hold off for now.

I tell you this to help you realize how strongly I feel about Gavin Ortlund writing his treatment of Augustine's commentaries on Genesis from a certain bias against Young Earth Creationists. Being a Young Earth Creationist myself, taking some umbrage is obligatory.

Where Ortlund cautions general humility in debates about the meaning of Genesis 1-3, for instance, he seems to come back often to Young Earth adherents especially, like Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research. But why do Young Earth Creationists especially need humility? And is humility quite the right word with them particularly compared with Old Earth or Evolutionary Creationists?

Hazarding a guess, Ortlund is referring less to humility before the text, or humility before God - though that is what Augustine would have meant - and more to humility before the claims of positivist scientists.

The unbelieving world in academia holds in derision Young Earth Creationists especially. And anytime Christians generally talk back to or question the godless men and women in white lab coats, we are sneered at, and called "anti-Science."

In facing these types especially, then, I can see how a prescription for greater "humility" might reduce friction. But then it is worth noting the whole tone, tenor, and paradigm of Augustine's City of God, which I read last year. And familiarity with that work does indeed make me wonder whether Augustine would be more circumspect about where we find ourselves today were he actually to walk into a room where a Young Earth, Old Earth, and Evolutionary Creationist were debating Genesis 1-3.

We all are tempted by virtue of our humanity to think more highly of ourselves than we ought, and to be haughty rather than associating with the lowly. We all, as we gain knowledge and understanding, must actively resist the temptation to be wise in our own eyes.

But then my point of view is that mainstream academics are further from the kingdom. And where their de facto scorn for those who take the Bible as being literally true could be interpreted as not associating with the lowly, perhaps there are other kinds of humility needed here besides just humility before the world.

These two are related, of course. That we would be humble before God and His Word must translate into genuine humility when relating to other saints and the outside world, to be sure. But so also, confidence in God's Word should not be taken for a lack of humility, even where it leads to more vehement criticisms from the naturalists and materialists.

We should admit to a mysterious quality to Genesis 1-3, as Augustine did. And just as he spent decades toiling at trying to explore its many combinations of possible meanings and implications - believing it was true, yet not always being certain what that means - we should not be overhasty to compromise with the claims of mainstream science as if the conversation between us is a one way street, with the men in white lab coats telling us what of our Bibles we can believe or not as they see fit.

By all means, let's create two categories. Those who deny the Bible is true on the one hand, and those who debate what that means on the other. But let's recognize it may not always be easy to tell the difference.

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