Creator and Creation according to Calvin on Genesis

In her work Rebekah Earnshaw provides an analysis of Creator and creation according to Calvin on Genesis. This offers a new theological reading of Calvin’s Genesis commentary and sermons, with an eye to systematic interests.

This analysis is presented in four chapters: The Creator, The Agent and Act of Creation, Creatures, and Providence. Calvin on Genesis gives unique insights into each of these. First, the Creator has priority in Calvin’s thought. The Creator is l’Eternal, who is infinitely distinct and abundantly for creatures in his virtues. Second, the agent of creation is triune and the act of creation is “from nothing” as well as in and with time. This is a purposeful beginning. Third, Calvin affirms creaturely goodness and order. The relation of humans and animals illustrates Calvin’s holistic view of creation as well as the impact of corruption and disorder. Providential sustenance and concursus are closely tied to the nature of creatures and the initial word. Fourth, fatherly governance for the church is presented separately and demonstrated by Calvin’s treatment of Abraham and Joseph.

Earlier presentations of Calvin on Creator and creation are incomplete, because of the lack of sustained attention to Calvin on Genesis. This analysis supplements works that concentrated on the Institutes and Calvin on Job, by bringing new material to bear. Further, throughout this analysis lies the implicit example of a biblical theologian, who pursues what is useful from scripture for the sake of piety in the church.

Insights from Calvin’s thought on Genesis provide a foundation for systematic work that reflects on this locus and the integrated practice of theology.

Rebekkah’s little book (just over 200 pages) aims to

… provide …  a theological analysis of Creator and creation according to Calvin on Genesis. This brings together three elements: a doctrinal locus, a man, and his exposition of a biblical book in commentary and sermon. Until now, this combination has not been thoroughly scrutinised. Therefore, the question at hand is what contribution do these texts make to our understanding of Calvin’s theology in this area and, hence, in what areas might contemporary theological research be furthered by heeding this new insight.

A simple enough thesis, right?  But filled with perilous paths and dangerous potential pitfalls.  For instance, which of Calvin’s materials to examine?  In what languages?  How extensively?  With what focus?  All of these dangers are seen in advance:

This investigation is prompted and shaped by four factors of increasing specificity: theological interest in Creation, the inclusion of exegesis of Genesis in previous theological work on Creation, publication and translation of Calvin’s Genesis sermons, and limited attention to Genesis in earlier treatments of Calvin on Creation. Each of these makes the present question significant and can be considered in turn.

As part of her survey of the material, E. remarks

This sweeping survey of treatments of Calvin on Creation cannot do justice to their scholarship. However, the purpose here is more modestly to identify that within these earlier works there has been some reference to Calvin’s treatment of Genesis, but there has been no study of its contribution as a whole in this area. The brief comments from the end of Book One of the Institutes remain the authoritative account despite more recent broadening of the horizons within Calvin studies to focus on other texts or diachronic analysis.

This volume remedies that.  Quite nicely and thoroughly.  As she notes later on

Throughout his work on Genesis Calvin promotes faith in the Creator that issues in piety; that is, his exegesis develops doctrine with pastoral outworking. This is not accidental, as Calvin happens to be a theologian who enters a pulpit. Rather, Calvin continually concerns himself with the use of Creation in accordance with scripture in the life of God’s church. His conclusion to his first Genesis sermon is typical in this regard.

That, then, is what we need to remember about these words of Moses, and we must, in short, apply ourselves to this endeavour and become acquainted with God our Creator in such a way that we pay him homage with our lives, acknowledging him also as our Redeemer and confessing that we are doubly obligated to him, so that we may dedicate ourselves completely to his service in all holiness, righteousness, and integrity.

Calvin may be outdated in terms of his scientific understanding of the ‘how’ of creation.  But he remains incredibly relevant when it comes to the theological ‘why’ of creation.  And this book, well written and well executed, helps we 21st century folk hear that ‘why’ with a certain clarity and forcefulness.