NOTE: This review was written for the journal Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith and appears in its June 2004 issue (vol. 56, No. 2, pp. 145-146). I thank the American Scientific Affiliation for permission to reproduce it here. It has been slightly reformatted for this webpage.

The Cosmos in the Light of the Cross

Author: George L. Murphy
Date: 2003
Publisher: Trinity Press International, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
ISBN: 1-563-38417-5
Reviewed by: Allan H. Harvey, steamdoc@aol.com


Review

I have come to believe that theological issues are more important than scientific ones in today's science/faith controversies. Discussions tend to focus on scientific questions (or on Biblical interpretation, which at least gets closer to the root problems) while underlying theological issues are ignored. George Murphy's The Cosmos in the Light of the Cross is therefore a welcome contribution.

Murphy, a physicist and Lutheran pastor, offers a theological understanding of God's work in the world that science describes. His framework is the "theology of the cross" that was advocated by Luther (and, one could argue, by the Apostle Paul). Rather than starting with human ideas of how we think God should be (which results in idolatry), the theology of the cross looks to God's self-revelation in Jesus Christ, especially the humiliation in which God, in Bonhoeffer's words, "lets himself be pushed out of the world on to the cross." As Paul pointed out, this is scandalous to human preconceptions about God, but it is consistent with the humble, self-sacrificing love revealed in Christ.

With a theology of the cross, we could expect God's action in nature to be masked, so that we need not invoke God to plug explanatory gaps in natural science. This contrasts with a "theology of glory" that expects God to leave "fingerprints all over the evidence." Natural theology is a false theology of glory if it tries to find God by studying nature independently of his self-revelation, but a dependent view, in which what Christ reveals about God provides the context for reading the "book of nature," may be fruitful.

In addition to applying the theology of the cross to understanding God's hiddenness in his creation, Murphy offers insight on the suffering and death that some object to in evolution (and that most of us find objectionable in our own lives). While he does not claim to offer a solution to the "problem of evil," the cross is where theodicy must start, and it is a helpful insight that God confounds human expectations by working his will and ultimately triumphing through suffering and death, both in Christ and in creation.

Later chapters insightfully apply the theology of the cross to ethics and environmental stewardship, particularly as they relate to science and technology. I was less moved by final chapters on eschatology and worship.

The book is well written, with thoughtful, Biblically based theology and scientific insight. Sometimes these are cleverly combined, as when Lamarckian evolution is described as "a kind of biological works righteousness." While the book does not require advanced scientific or theological expertise of the reader, it does require a willingness to give mature and careful thought to the issues and arguments. Those looking for a more introductory book (perhaps for a college student first considering science/faith issues) could turn to Murphy's earlier Toward a Christian View of a Scientific World.

A possible deficiency is that the book doesn't fully address issues of Adam and the Fall, which for some are big obstacles to accepting evolution as God's means of creation. This omission may leave more conservative Protestant readers dissatisfied. Such readers may also be turned off by citations of Old Testament apocrypha and Lutheran and Roman Catholic liturgies. I would encourage my conservative friends to read the book anyway, and not let these items distract them from the Biblically sound insights about how Christ and his cross reveal God's nature. This moderate Presbyterian found it very worthwhile.

While some participants in modern science/faith discussions are especially notorious for dodging theological issues, all of us could benefit from deeper theological grounding. The Cosmos in the Light of the Cross offers a promising framework for viewing God's work in nature. Its arguments deserve consideration even by those who disagree with Murphy, and I highly recommend the book to anyone who desires to think more deeply and clearly about these issues.

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 January 2004, published June 2004.
Page last modified June 5, 2004