Eccentric Existence 5 (the creation narrative)
As I mentioned in the last post, Kelsey organizes this work around the three distinct narratives of creation, redemption, and consummation, and how the three persons of the Trinity are involved in each. Moving into the first main part of the book (yes, the first 156 pages were just the introduction), Kelsey begins discussing the first of those narratives: creation.
An important part of understanding the three narratives is that each has its own particular logic. You can subsume one of the narratives under another one, making the former part of the latter’s story, but you’ll subtly reshape the former’s logic in the process. The best example of this for Kelsey is the creation narrative. There’s nothing essential to a story about creation that there be any kind of redemption or consummation. It’s entirely possible to have a story about God creating something that does not suggest in any way that it will eventually fall or that it needs to be brought into some future consummation. The logic of creation is independent of these other two narratives. But, the story of creation is usually told as simply the beginning of a story that is really about redemption. Our creation narratives typically serve as the preamble to the real story. And, when we do this, we subtly shift the logic of the creation narrative.
That’s why Kesley spend surprisingly little time on Genesis 1-2 in his discussion of the creation narrative. He argues that these chapters really aren’t telling a creation narrative per se. Instead they really are serving as the preamble to a story about redemption. And, there’s nothing wrong with this as long as we realize that these chapters aren’t driven primarily by the logic of a creation story, but by the logic of a redemption story. If we want to find a more purely creation narrative, we’ll need to look somewhere else.
And, Kelsey finds what he’s looking for in the wisdom literature. Drawing heavily on Westermann, Kelsey argues that the wisdom literature is the one place in the Bible that you can find material not shaped primarily by the narratives of redemption and consummation. Instead, the wisdom literature is focused almost exclusively on the Quotidian, everyday life, especially Proverbs. So, the creation narratives found in the wisdom literature function with a logic of their own.
This provides an interesting shape to Kelsey’s work. Unlike most theological anthropologies – which spend considerable time unpacking Genesis 1-2 and addressing issues about the six days of creation, the imago Dei, Adam and Eve, and the Garden of Eden, among other things – Kelsey focuses almost exclusively on Proverbs, Job, and a few passages from the other wisdom books.
Although I found this approach refreshing and I appreciated the different insights that Kelsey drew from this approach, I have to say that I’m not entirely convinced by his argument here. And, that’s because I think he’s missed a fourth narrative – the narrative of the quotidian itself. Although stories about everyday life presuppose a story of creation (we had to get here somehow), they have a logic of their own that is distinct from stories of creation, redemption, or consummation. So, if a creation narrative is “bent” when it is placed within a story about redemption (i.e. Gen 1-2), I would say that it is equally “bent” when placed within a story about the quotidian. Indeed, in the next post we’ll discuss some of the conclusions that he draws about creation that I think are prime examples of how this Quotidian focus can bend a creation theology.
If I’m right about this, the consequence would be that we actually don’t have any creation stories in the Bible that are driven by their own logic. In other words, the Bible never talks about creation simply for the sake of talking about creation. Rather, creation stories are always embedded in other stories about redemption, consummation, or everyday life. This does not mean, of course, that the Bible does not have a theology of creation. But it does mean that we need to be aware of the ways in which each of these other narratives subtly shapes the creation stories that we do have.