On Theology


Jurgen Moltmann and Colin Gunton have called the church to reclaim its distinct and historic Trinitarian theology. In his The Triune Creator, Gunton identified three models to explain the relationship between creation, the fall and redemption. He calls the first the restoration model because it views redemption as restoring nature back to its initial perfect conditions with a corresponding eschatology that promises a recovery of what was once lost. In this view, the prospects of the after life matches the heights reached at initial creation. Adam and Eve are presumed to be biologically identical to us – except perhaps for not having navels. 

Life after death must be similar to the biochemical life form we live today. This model must explain how the resurrected body can be free from pain and suffering unless the pre-fall bodies are substantially different from our bodies today. Proponents of this model include Origen and Augustine.

The second is the evolutionary model. It views the fall as either a brief impediment or “a step on the way, to the perfecting of that which was in the beginning.” Creation was not perfect in the beginning but has to become perfect. However, the fall at Eden was the means by which development can be achieved. Sin is therefore a necessary and expected consequence of nature expressing its contingence. This model minimizes the problem of evil and generate an eschatology of emergence, where we may expect a superior form of existence. It is influenced by Hegelian and Darwinian ideas.

Gunton prefers a third model he calls the transformative model. According to him, creation is a teleological project, “but by virtue of the fall, can reach that end only by a redemption that involves a radical redirection from the movement it takes backwards whenever sin and evil shape its direction.” Creation is thus the process that God enables to exist in and through chronological time. Gunton claims Irenaeus as a proponent because of his strong doctrine of both sin and redemption as well as his equally strong eschatological and transformative view of the process. The eschatological expectation here is one of completion, in which the final state of redeemed creation is superior to the conditions at initial creation. Redemption involves the defeat of evil and its removal, restoring the original direction of created order. In this view sin is real but perhaps not a necessity. The first model is not much in vogue among theologians of science or scientific theologians for being difficult to support in the face of critique from contemporary biblical scholars. 

The second and third models appear to differ, in Gunton’s view, by their position on the gravity and the consequential imperative of sin and the banishment of evil.

The issue at stake appears to be whether the moral fall was a necessary condition of biological evolution. Is the fall or evolution the causal agent of the other? Is the Old Testament account of the fall descriptive or is it prescriptive? Is the biblical story of fall a report of what happened or an account of what had to happen? 

Traditional interpretations tend to suggest that the fall need not have occurred – that Adam and Eve could have avoided but chose to exercise their freedom in a manner that led to their banishment. This interpretation was driven by the need to shield God from blame for their banishment and make the first couple responsible for their actions. Is this an Aristotelian category mistake? How can we offer a biological account of a cognitive event that we judge to be a moral failure to a metaphysical authority? Yet, this is indeed exactly what we shall offer in a later chapter, a biological explanation for the emergence of moral cognition that serves to respond to the divine authority of a universal moral order.

The postfoundational method invites a core theological understanding of the biblical texts as it converges with a broader understanding of these very issues in contemporary culture. Put simply, can the account of the first humans be reconciled with, among others, the discovery of fossils by paleoanthropology, our neurological understanding of the brain working as the mind, and our best geological guesses about the ancient earth?
Moltmann’s evolutionary model resists Gunton’s tripartite demarcation and any attempt to systematize theology. It falls somewhere between Gunton’s second and third models. Both theologians acknowledge the evolutionary process in cosmological chronology while preserving the finality of the eschaton. Both posit a transformative teleological future in which God triumphs over evil. Drawing from Gunton and Moltmann, I shall advocate a doctrine of creation that is at once, evolutionary and eschatological, borrowing Gunton’s use of the word transformative, but acknowledging the inescapable conclusion that nature as a part of creation, was made to evolve.

In summary, is the operative factor for the fall of humanity, volition to sin or neurological propensity for survival? If nature was created to evolve, can a doctrine of creation make sense of our human experiences?


If God is one and the Christian faith is the true understanding of God’s revelation, why are there so many other religions? They do not refer to the same idea of God. And they cannot all be correct because they are mutually exclusive. So why does God allow them to exist? Furthermore, if God is not without a witness in the entire world, then are non-Christian traditions not also God’s witnesses? If they are, then Jesus cannot be the only way. If they are not, then God cannot have witnesses among them. This is perhaps one of the most demanding issue facing theologians and no one has offered a fully satisfactory answer. So why am I trying to? Because the matter is so urgent. Hence, even my tentative attempt reflects a passion for the lost and a small step towards a theology of religions. Let us begin by defining what we mean by religion.
The Christian notion of religion refers to the binding belief of communities in their response to divine revelation. Non-Christian religions need not include a god, a community or revelation. Their diversity makes it impossible for us to make simplistic statements about what they are, so we shall limit ourselves to consider how Christians ought to relate to them. In brief, we should engage with other religions with respect, humility and awe – why awe? Because their universal persistence in every known human culture testifies to humanity’s restlessness that prompts them to seek security and significance beyond their biological needs. It reminds us that among creation, we alone, are the praying animal. We anticipate future joy with our imagination and suffer anguish of the past with our recollective memories. We invest huge amounts of resources in celebrating births and mourning deaths. We ritualize the passage of time with symbolic markers of our existence and use art, music and poetry to express the inexpressible as we monumentalize our presence. It is no surprise then that the study of religion as the oldest persistent preoccupation of human existence bears on every discipline of inquiry.
I grew up in Malaysia, a multiracial, multicultural and multi-religious nation once colonized by the Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms of the Indonesian archipelago and of India, the Chinese mariners of southern China, the Arabs, followed by the Portuguese, the Dutch, the British and then the Japanese. Each of them left their religious influence and today, we have no less than 20 different religious faiths actively practiced. How did I end up a Christian? Why do I remain one when so many options are present? Bertrand Russell had a point when he argued that where you grew up and how you were exposed strongly influences your religious inclinations. Living in New York today, I am reminded of the increasing options for religious beliefs around me and the appearance of new religious identities brought in by immigration from faraway countries. This led me to ask, what is the Christian view of other religions?
We typically assert that non-Christian religions are demonic, by which we assign them as works of the Devil, or we consider them man-made, false attributions of divinity. But why would demonic religions also teach many of the moral values that is shared by Christianity, and why would man-made religious continue to thrive alongside Christianity? Perhaps the answer is more nuanced than that. Could it be that many of these religions that share kernels of truth claims with the biblical teachings survive as corruptions of the original, syncretized with animism, legendary myths, and shamanism? Or perhaps other religious are local variants of the western idealized faith we call Christianity. When we ignorantly assume that non-Christians have no knowledge of God and that non-Christian religions, usually coupled to nationalistic cultures are demonic, we project a climate of hostility and condemnation, killing any opportunity for building trust and dialogue. Yet dialogues are not fusions of thought. It demands clarity and precision of thought regarding one’s convictional beliefs while respectfully learning about the others’. This discipline is a labor of love, one that requires a suspension of disbelief while engaging the opinions of another. In this essay, we shall consider what is called a Christian theology of religions.
The challenge before the Christian claim in a world of religious pluralism is Jesus himself, specifically, the finality and particularity of Christ. Why should the non-Christian accept the view that Jesus alone is the source of salvation? The quick answer is in fact, a retort – no other religion really avoids this question of particularity. Even the most amorphous notions of Hinduism and animism claim particularity and finality. Yet, asserting the finality of Christ does not relieve us from explaining the status of other religions. Do they also save? Do they offer truths? The evangelical world is largely silent on this matter because we have invested little to consider this question. However, with the emergence of ‘other’ religions in the United States, we no longer enjoy this luxury of ignorance.
The finality and particularity of Christ rest on two biblical claims: Jesus is the full and authoritative revelation of who God is and what God desires. He is the particular and unique individual whom God designates as our savior. No other revelation will surpass him (John 1:9) and God has not left himself without a witness among non-Christian traditions (Acts 14:17). The ‘scandal of particularity’ is the conviction that God has revealed himself in particular places and times, especially through the Jews and Jesus, and not to every human being in equal measure.
The Christian church in line with the witness of the scriptures holds that God has revealed himself in an authoritative manner. This first truth claim is the starting point for a theology of religion. The second truth is that God has made all humans in His image, whether or not they acknowledge this. God’s definitive but not exhaustive revelation is written in the Bible. God has, at various times, revealed himself directly to specific people outside the covenant community of Israel (and hence for us today, outside the Church). These include Abimelech of Gerar (Gen. 20:3-7), the Egyptian pharaoh (Gen. 41), Balaam (Num. 22), Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2, 4), Jethro, Job, the Queen of Sheba, and Cornelius (Acts 10:3-5). God’s creation has been corrupted by sin. But the atoning work of Jesus on the cross allows us to be reconciled to God.
Jesus is the unique incarnation of God and is the only Savior for all peoples. But it is not necessary for everybody to possess a conscious knowledge of Christ in order to benefit from redemption through him, since this would physically, geographically and historically limit the work of Christ and put the bottleneck of evangelism at the competence of missionaries and evangelists. Indeed, neither Adam, nor Noah, nor Abram, nor any of the Old Testament prophets know Christ as the Logos incarnate. The work of salvation was accomplished by the second person of the eternal Triunity who penetrated spacetime as Jesus. Scholars such as J. I. Packer, Millard Erickson, John Stott and Christopher Wright argue that in principle, God might indeed save some who have never explicitly heard the gospel but respond to what they know of God through general revelation and turn to him for forgiveness. We simply do not know. So our wisest approach is never to rule out this possibility. Should this mean that all other religions are the equal of Christianity? Not at all. Does this mean that we need not evangelize those of other religious belief? No. What it does mean is that while we urgently share the message of the gospel, we must remain agnostic about the exhaustive methods by which God draws his creation to himself. We must continue to confidently affirm the truth of the scriptures while not assuming to comprehend all the mysteries of God.
But what then did Muhammad receive as revelation and what knowledge awakened the Buddha? If we take seriously the claim that all humans are made in the image of God, i.e., made to be morally aware of right and wrong by God’s standards, then we ought not be surprised by elements of truth in the teachings of other religions. People are first and foremost, made in the image of God before they are Buddhists or Muslims or Hindus, observant Jews or pagans. We are all related to God whether or not we acknowledge this relationship. Our differences are secondary to what primarily unites us, our humanity as made in the image of God. From this starting point, we should expect to find nuggets of truth and echoes of Christian belief in any other religion. We may think of other religions as displaying varying degrees of understanding God. Their teachings may be partial and often distorted. One example of a universal teaching is the Golden Rule – we are not to do to others what we do not wish to be done to us. Even its positive variant, we are to do to others what we wish others to do to us, pales in comparison to the striking teaching of Christ – you shall love your neighbor as yourself!

So why did God allow so many other religions? I suspect that God’s way included the progressive revelation to different human groups through general revelation. This seems an unsatisfactory answer as it raises up the question of favoritism. The Bible is unashamedly open about how God chooses one over the other, Jacob over Esau, for example. However we try to parse at the text to soften this blow, the fact remains that each day, millions die without direct knowledge of Jesus. I for one, welcome at least their understanding of nuggets of truth through other religions than no knowledge of God at all. And we may pray that God will have mercy on them and judge them according to their level of understanding coupled with their response in worship.
A word of caution: A study of non-Christian religions, while a maturing process for our faith, holds certain temptations. One may be tempted to water down or compromise the truth claims of Christianity to make it more palatable to other religious claims. One may flirt with commitment to another faith out of admiration or disappointment with some aspects of Christian worship or in the mistaken impression that a suspension of one’s own commitments is necessary in order to study other religions. This was the route taken by the formerly conservative scholar John Hick, who turned from a Christian apologist to become the preeminent religious pluralist of our time. There is no such thing as a person with no commitments. However, commitment to Jesus does not rule out acceptance of the truths that other faiths may incidentally contain. Finally, danger lurks for those of us whose knowledge of Christianity is shallow. The answer is not to avoid learning about other religions but to hasten one’s understanding of the Christian faith.

Selected Bibliography

1. Anderson, J. N. D. Christianity and World Religions. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press. 1984.
2. Ayoub, Mahmoud. A Muslim View of Christianity. Edited by Irfan A. Omar. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis. 2007.
3. Braaten, Carl E. No Other Gospel: Christianity Among the World’s Religions. Minneapolis: Fortress. 1992.
4. Cox, Harvey. Many Mansions: A Christian’s Encounter with Other Faiths. Boston: Beacon Press. 2001.
5. D’Costa, Gavin. Christian Uniqueness Reconsidered: Myth of Pluralistic Theology of Religions (Faith Meets Faith Series in Interreligious Dialogue. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. 1990.
6. Edwards, James R. Is Jesus the Only Savior? Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. 2005.
7. Hick, John. A Christian Theology of Religions: The Rainbow of Faiths. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press. 1995.
8. McDermott. God’s Rivals: Why Has God Allowed Different Religions? Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic. 2007.
9. Nash, Ronald H. Is Jesus the Only Savior? Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1994.
10. Netland, Harold. Encountering Religious Pluralism: The Challenge to Christian Faith and Mission. Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity. 2001.
11. Pinnock, Clark H. A Wideness of God’s Mercy: The Finality of Jesus Christ in a World of Religions. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1992.
12. Sanders, John. Ed. Fackre, Gabriel, John Nash and John Sanders. What About Those Who Have Never Heard? Three Views on the Destiny of the Unevangelized. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press. 1995.
13. Sanneh, Lamin. Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. 1989.
14. Smith, Huston. The Soul of Christianity: Restoring the Great Tradition. New York: HarperSanFrancisco. 2006.
15. Walls, Andrew. The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission and Appropriation of Faith. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. 2002.


Gunton advised that we cannot understand the doctrine of creation without reckoning with the creation of the doctrine. Moltmann’s theological anthropology begins with our similarities with other living things rather than with humanity’s uniqueness. He recounts a brief history of the doctrine of creation by restating Teilhard de Chardin’s three challenges to the primacy of the human race from astronomy (the infinite universe questions the Ptolemaic primacy of humanity), biology (as one of various types of humanoids, some of which became extinct, we may not be special) and psychoanalysis (the unconscious drives and involuntary suppressions question our mastery of the self). They challenge the cosmological anthropic principle. Theology felt compelled to defend anthropocentrism against the cosmology of Galileo, the biology of Darwin and the psychoanalysis of Freud to rescue human dignity and morality. Moltmann says we should respond with consideration of the genesis of the cosmos, the evolution of life, and the history of consciousness.

The biblical account in Genesis 2:4 points to a history of creation in temporal sequence. We are a part of the biological world. This means that however, spiritual our understanding of ourselves, we must not ignore the biblical teaching that man is imago mundi before he is imago Dei. Man was created last because all other creation was made to prepare for his emergence. He is dependent on prior creation for his biological survival. Genesis 2:7 describes man, like animals, as a living soul, animated matter, rather than the Platonic soul that has taken on flesh. As God’s image, we are God’s proxy to creation. The position of humanity in the order of creation is reversed in the order of redemption. Although we were made last, we will be redeemed first. Any consideration of biblical creation then has to find convergence with what we know from the scientific investigation of the universe. Otherwise, either the biblical account is a strictly mythological Platonic likely story, or the scientific method is false. Since the very tools of biblical studies and theological reflection are scientific in character (archaeology, cartography, ethnography, chemistry, geography, historical and literary analyses, linguistics, philology, sociology, etc.), and the assumptions of science are based on metaphysical foundations (concerning the regularity of universal laws and the coincidence of the human cognitive intelligibility with the cosmological language of mathematics), it must be the case that science and theology are complementary resources of rationality.
An interdisciplinary dialogue is necessary if the doctrine of creation is to be made comprehensible to scientific reason. The biblical narratives show evidence of interdisciplinarity synthesis of belief and knowledge of nature. One may further point to Jesus’ use of parables in which the normative order of life in creation is used extensively as pedagogical tools.

For Moltmann, the biblical creation narratives originated in a specific historical era and represented a successful synthesis between a religious belief in creation and contemporary knowledge of nature. A Biblicist misunderstanding insists that the narratives “lay down once and for all particular findings about nature and render all further research superfluous”. Biblical testimonies to the history of God with the world direct readers to new experiences of the world. It is necessary to make the connection between the biblical testimonies about creation with new insights about nature and ways to interpret such insights. This allows us to reformulate the biblical testimonies in the light of new understanding of revelation. To neglect this task is to make the narratives increasingly irrelevant to listeners and readers who rely on and function alongside scientific reasoning. The end result will be narratives that are completely devoid of pedagogical power because they have lost their narrative function.

Christian theological resistance to even the bare concept of evolution (change) is due to the contraction of creation to creatio originalis (creatio continua and creatio nova were sidelined) and renamed creatio ex nihilo. Creation became a static concept and God’s relationship with creation became a historic one. Although the doctrine of providence points to a dynamic and evolving relationship, the inconsistency was lost on many Christians determined to protect God from Darwin. Is humanity the crown of creation or an animal at an advanced stage of development whose future existence is unknown since extinction is a possibility? This strikes at the root of what Moltmann calls our “ideological self-justification” in our conquest of the world, our exploitation of nature and our “self-deification”. Fearful that any erosion of humanity’s primacy in nature may signal a challenge to the authenticity and trustworthiness of the scriptures, the goalposts for the litmus test were moved to include a strictly literal rather than a literary interpretation of the biblical narratives.

It did not help that Social Darwinism arose when J. S. Huxley ideologized Darwin’s notion of ‘struggle for existence’. It was reshaped it into a Hobbesian ‘struggle of all against each other’, thereby removing symbiosis and cooperation as mechanisms to privilege survival from the hypothesis. Although Darwin himself observed social organization as a means for successful adaptation, social Darwinism misused his hypothesis and triumphed as the explanation to justify extreme capitalism and racial imperialism. This hijacking of a scientific theory that morphed into a sociological instrument took on a life of its own and has migrated to almost every field of human inquiry, from physics to pottery making. For Moltmann, biological evolution is an account of creatio continua, the ordering of creation, and not of creatio ex nihilo, creation per se.

If we interpret the Christian belief in creation in the context of the knowledge of nature disclosed through evolutionary theory, three points emerge (a) Evolution has nothing to do with creation itself. It is the ordering of nature. (b) Evolution describes the continued building up of matter and systems of life - creatio continua. We cannot presume that human beings will not evolve as other life forms did. (c) The biblical - messianic - doctrine of creation does not support an anthropocentric view of the cosmos. Cosmic history is not yet complete. In creating a synthetic theory of the evolution in the sciences and the humanities that Moltmann calls a hermeneutical theory of evolution, he seeks to explain the evolutions of the cosmos, of life, and of consciousness.

From the circular course of the stars, the universe was thought to be static. Modern science shows a different picture, in the life cycle of stars, with novae and black holes. Edwin Hubble’s observation of the red shift suggests that the entire universe is expanding. This led to the speculation of a big bang at the beginning. The history of nature is one of unique happenings in an irreversible direction of time. Natural events are therefore, also unique, irreversible and non-repeatable processes in a particular direction. No natural course of events is ever repeated. There can be no natural laws without the repeatability of events. What we call natural laws in our open universe in disequilibrium “relate to the unique and irreversible history of nature”. The term ‘natural laws’ is a misnomer since an irreversible history does not permit repetition but only of unique events. These laws are approximations. The future of any phenomena cannot be said to be predictable by laws and are open to contingencies unknown to us. The future is not fixed. The universe is an open system in disequilibrium and natural laws are approximations that apply to unique, unrepeatable events in irreversible history.

As for life, classical physics generate deterministic laws and operate under the assumption of a closed system in equilibrium. Causal connections are apparently analogous to historical connections of past and future. This presumes that the future is inherent in the present. It was further presumed that lack of information cripples our knowledge of the future and our reliance of statistical laws reflects the limitations of opportunity. However, quantum theory suggests that the limits of knowledge are due to the reality of nature itself, and not lack of opportunity. The laws of probability are not imperfect, but accord precisely with the partial indeterminacy of nature itself. The universe in its present is fixed by its past but with respect to its future is partially undetermined, existing between necessity and uncertainty. While declarations of the law of causality are not tensed, declarations of the laws of probability quantify possibilities and take into account the statistical difference between past and future. It is the future that becomes the past as indeterminacy becomes certainty. 

Evolutionary processes are not linear, with deterministic pathways, but are rather like a growing web of possibilities offered by the future. This indeterminacy of behavior entails capacities for adaptation to environmental changes. Such increasing complexity increases the range of possibilities as well as of vulnerabilities. The result is that highly complex systems experience a rapid rate of decay. Systems of matter and life are open systems, determined by the time structure of the qualitative difference between future and past so that present conditions cannot be neatly extrapolated to predict future conditions. The evolutionary cosmos is itself also an irreversible, communicating system open to the future, one that produces a “surplus of possibilities”. 

As an open system, the universe is: (a) a participatory system-aligned towards communication and symbiosis, (b) an anticipatory system-towards a self-transcendence in the realms of possibility, and (c) a self-transcending system-which exist into a transcendence and subsist out of that transcendence. If we call this transcendence of the cosmos God, we can tentatively say that the cosmos is a system open to God. The universe is participatory, anticipatory and self-transcendent. This transcendence subsists out of the transcendence we call God! With this, Moltmann claims God as the transcendent maker of all possible realities. As a ‘working sketch’, he offers this theological understanding of the evolution of life: the world is an open, participatory and anticipatory system and the history of creation is an interplay between God’s transcendence in relation to the world and his immanence in that world.

Moltmann’s evolution of consciousness is found in his tripartite concept of creation: (a) Creatio originalis/ex nihilo/mutabilis - creation of contingent existence of matter and of time. The goal of the history of creation is the revelation of the glory of God. (b) Creatio continua or the concursus Dei generalis and the providentia Dei. Through his Spirit, God is present in creation, in the very structures of matter. Creation contains informed matter - not spiritless matter and not immaterial spirit - with the different kinds of information called ‘spirit’. In humanity, the different kinds of information or spirit arrive at consciousness in a biological way. 

The evolution of the cosmos in its self-creative mode lends itself to what seems like dynamic pantheism but is in fact pneumatological activity. Here, it is not the spirit of God but rather God the Spirit that is present. (c) Creatio nova or creatio anticipativa, is the consummation of the process of creation. 

In the kingdom of glory, we shall experience eternal time and eternal history in which negative components of contingencies and our experience of transitoriness shall be banished. There shall be finitude without mortality, change without transience, time without the past, and life without death.

In summary Moltmann argues that the separation of science and theology is unnecessary and attempts to develop his hermeneutical theory of evolution to find convergence with his evolutionary doctrine of creation.