A scene from the Leben der heiligen Altväter (1482)

William Burt Pope (1822-1903): Primary and Secondary Creation

Science and the Doctrine of Creation: The Approaches of Ten Modern Theologians, ed. Geoffrey H. Fulkerson and Joel Thomas Chopp (IVP Academic, 2021), 13-34.

I wrote the chapter on William Burt Pope in this collection of essays on modern theologians and how they handled the doctrine of creation in light of science. It was great to be included among a great group of writers, and it was great to have the often-neglected William Burt Pope included. The book was edited by two leaders from the Carl Henry Center for Theological Understanding at Trinity International University. I was a residential fellow at the center’s Creation Project, and got to present this paper in person at a conference there along with several of the other authors.

About the book: “Science and the Doctrine of Creation examines how influential modern theologians—from the turn of the nineteenth century through the present—have engaged the scientific developments of their times in light of the doctrine of creation. In each chapter a leading Christian thinker introduces readers to the unique contributions of a key theologian in responding to the assumptions, claims, and methods of science.”

Here is a brief excerpt from my chapter, proposing its main idea:

One of the characteristic features of Pope’s doctrine of creation is a programmatic distinction he offers between the divine act of primary creation (God calling all things into existence) and the divine work of secondary creation (the formation of an ordered universe). The former is the realm of metaphysical inquiry and apologetic argumentation; Scripture chooses to say little about it, and science can say nothing in principle. The latter, secondary creation, is the domain of both the biblical account and of scientific investigation, and it also stretches forward into the doctrine of providence. The distinction between primary and secondary creation had been broadly shared among the theologians of Protestant orthodoxy in the centuries before Pope and has roots in medieval and patristic thought. Characteristically, Pope was not attempting originality in his use of the distinction, but he did carry it through his entire account of creation with special consistency.

Early in his discussion, Pope says of the doctrine of creation that “the revelations of Scripture on this subject may be distributed under the two heads of the Creator in regard to the act of creation and the several orders of the creatures as the result of His creating act.” What Pope emphasizes even here is the singleness of God’s one creative act, on the one hand, and the multiplicity of ordered, layered, sequenced creatures that result, on the other. That is, he contrasts the unity of the creative act with the multiplicity of created entities. Both are true and posited by Scripture. But they demand distinct treatment, and it is this distinct treatment that orders Pope’s account of creation.

Science and the Doctrine of Creation is available from IVPAcademic and Amazon.