NOTE: This review was written for the journal Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith and appears in its December 2002 issue (vol. 54, No. 4, p. 274). I thank the American Scientific Affiliation for permission to reproduce it here. It has been slightly reformatted for this webpage.

Creation and Last Things:
At the Intersection of Theology and Science

Author: Gregory S. Cootsona
Date: 2002
Publisher: Geneva Press, Louisville, KY
ISBN: 0664501605
Reviewed by: Allan H. Harvey, steamdoc@aol.com


Review

This erudite but accessible book is one of 12 planned titles in the series "Foundations of Christian Faith," sponsored by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The author, an associate pastor at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York, seems solidly Christ-centered but not as doctrinally conservative as some in the PCUSA (my own denomination). He emphasizes theology more than science, which I applaud since I believe most of our problems in this area spring from poor theology. Despite some small errors, like an endnote attributing Finding Darwinís God to "Keith" Miller, Cootsona does well (for a nonscientist) at presenting the relevant science.

After a brief introduction, the book discusses what it means for God (as Trinity) to be the creator, giving meaning to a universe that is wholly dependent on him. The nature and limitations of general revelation are stated; it can be a witness to God, but is "fleeting and vain" (quoting Calvin) without special revelation. After rejecting the warfare model of science and theology, Cootsona advocates Ian Barbourís "integration" approach.

The next chapter concerns what it means to be created in God's image. I especially liked the material connecting image-bearing to our relationships with others and to our stewardship responsibility for God's creation. When Darwin comes up, the author wisely makes the vital distinction between evolution as a scientific explanation and the philosophical baggage some attach to it. While rejecting the God-excluding metaphysics often associated with Darwinism, he sees no reason to reject the science itself and deny God the option of creating by evolutionary means.

The next chapter discusses how all is not right with creation. The problem of evil can't be covered in a few pages, but helpful things are said about the incarnate God suffering with us and about God providing himself as our answer when we want explanations. Evolution comes up again in the context of the Fall, and Cootsona suggests a "typological" Adam.

In the final chapter on "last things," the connection to science is weaker. Science has much less to say about how God will make all things new than about how he made things in the past. The author closes with the important reminder that our future hope in Christ should affect the way we live today.

I liked the book, but at times I felt like a teacher reading a B+ paper from a student who had the talent to earn an A. It sometimes seemed to lack focus, but I was most disappointed by some missed opportunities to clarify key issues.

Readers will bring questions like "Is evolution compatible with Christianity?", "How should I read Genesis 1?" and "Is 'Intelligent Design' good apologetics?" Cootsona does clearly answer the first question (in the affirmative). Concerning Genesis, the idea of God accommodating revelation to human limitations is introduced, and it is implied that we should not treat the Bible as a science text. The stage is set to advise readers that concordism is an unwise approach to these passages, but that statement is never made. As for the ID movement, several of its flaws are mentioned in other contexts, such as the need to distinguish between science and materialist philosophy, the mistake of looking for God primarily in the gaps of our knowledge, and the danger of "natural theology" divorced from special revelation. I was hoping for a clear statement that the ID movement is theologically deficient when it does not allow God to create via his sovereignty over nature and when it elevates a gap-based, Jesus-free apologetic. The author may have been unwilling to rebuke a movement that he felt had some worthwhile things to say, but he missed a prime opportunity to caution readers about its less healthy aspects.

As an introduction to science/faith issues, my first recommendation would still be Charles Hummel's The Galileo Connection or George Murphy's Toward a Christian View of a Scientific World. But Creation and Last Things is well worth reading. Perhaps it will find its way into the hands of a certain prominent anti-evolution crusader who attends a PCUSA church in Berkeley; it might help him see why many of us think his movement needs to think about its theology.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this review are the opinion of the author of this review alone and should not be taken to represent the views of any other person or organization.

Review originally written July 2002, published December 2002.
Page last modified January 13, 2003