Creatio ex Creatione a Natura Amoris: A new doctrine of creation

January 21st, 2010 / 16 Comments

I previously identified some problems inherent in creatio ex nihilo. I believe a new doctrine of creation, God’s creating out of creation with a nature of love (creatio ex creation a natura amoris), is more adequate for Christians.

The alternative doctrine I propose says that God’s eternal nature includes love for creatures. Love for creation is God’s motive and motion when creating. And God has always been creating in love.

The revelation of God in Jesus Christ grounds the doctrine that God’s loving nature is the ground of both initial and ongoing creation. John’s gospel says of Jesus “all things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being” (1:3). The love of Jesus is the clearest lens through which we see God’s nature as creative love.

The revelation of God in Jesus Christ suggests that God’s love is noncoerciveeven at the initial creation of our universe. Admittedly, if there were nothing that existed prior to God’s acting, nothing would exist for God to control totally.  But part of what it means to coerce – in the metaphysical sense – is to be the sufficient cause of something else. Creatio ex nihilo suggests that God acted as a sufficient cause at the initial moment of creation.  And this is coercion.

The Bible does not support the classic doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. It does not support the idea that God acted as a sufficient cause – coerced – at the beginning of our universe. But a biblically oriented doctrine of creation should deny some alternative creation theories.

A strong doctrine of creation should

–        deny that an eternal dualism exists between good and evil beings or between good and evil matter.

–        reject theories that imply God initially created from pre-existing materials or chaos that God did not create but “found at hand.”

–        deny the pantheistic notion that God creates out of Godself.

–        deny that God depends on creatures in order for God to exist, yet affirm that creation depends for its existence upon God.

The doctrine I propose – creatio ex creatione a natura amoris – avoids all of these problems. At its heart, the new creation theory says that God initially created and continually creates in love from what God previously created.

God not only acts as original Creator of our universe, but God continues creating after the initial burst that brought our universe into existence. The Psalmist speaks of God continually creating (creatio continua) when he writes, “When you send forth your spirit, they are created” (Ps. 104:30).

When the Genesis writer first mentions God’s creative activity, he describes God creating from something rather than nothing. “The Spirit hovers over the face of the deep” (Gen. 1:2). From that initial creative moment and in other creative moments described in Genesis 1, says biblical scholar, Richard Middleton, God grants “non-coercive freedom” to creation.

Biblical scholar, Terrence Fretheim, confirms Middleton’s general interpretation of Genesis. “The creation accounts demonstrate that God chooses not to act alone in bringing the creation into being,” says Fretheim. “While God is certainly the initiator and primary actor in creation, God certainly involves both the human and the nonhuman in the continuing process of creation.”

Creatio ex creatione a natura amoris affirms at least the following ideas as part of its theory of creation:  

1.         God’s eternal and essential nature of love motivates God’s initial and ongoing creative activity.

2.         God’s creative activity in the past and present brings into being something genuinely new. God does not merely rearrange what existed previously.

3.         God creates something new out of what God created previously.

4.         God does not coerce when creating.  

5.         God has always been creating.

6.         To exist, creatures depend upon God’s creative activity. But as the everlasting Creator, God exists necessarily.

7.         Creatures play a role in the coming to be of all things. In love, Creator God invites contingent creatures to co-create.

I am arguing that in each moment of God’s everlasting life, God creates something new from what God created in the past. Nothing predates God.  But God’s prevenient and creative activity comes before any single creature exists. God’s creating has always been occurring in the past and will always occur in the future.

The idea that God everlastingly creates may be unsettling to some readers. It is unsettling chiefly because of its unfamiliarity. Nothing about the view is logically problematic. Besides, the vast majority of Christians affirm that God exists everlastingly. To believe also that God everlastingly creates from what God had previously created breaks no rules of logic.

Our habits of mind are the major obstacle to affirming that God creates out of creation through a nature of love. Although we normally think of the creating we see every day as bringing something new from something else, we habitually think of God’s creating as bringing something new from nothing at all. The Christian tradition, not the Bible, has formed our habit of mind in this regard.

The Bible sustains the theory that God everlastingly creates out of creation through love. While biblical authors do not explicitly endorse the details or label I propose, I believe the biblical data supports my theory better than alternatives.

By combining the Genesis 1 creation narrativein which God creates from somethingwith the chesed of God’s everlasting love for creation and insight of kenosis, creatio ex creatione a natura amoris enjoys solid biblical justification.           

To hear that God creates out of that which God previously created may worry some who fear that this idea reduces the Creator to a creature. But his worry is unfounded. We must overcome this worry, and we can do so by noting the differences between God and creation in my theory.

–        God is the only creative agent who necessarily and everlastingly exists. No single creature, species, world, or universe exists everlastingly.

–        God is the only creative agent whose nature is love and therefore necessarily creates in love. The creative activity of creatures is not necessarily loving, because love is not an essential aspect of their natures.

–        God exerts the most creative power on others, because God is the almighty Creator. Creatures are weaker than God is, and their creative power is limited to affecting only some others.

–        God’s creative vision for creation includes all possibilities whatsoever. The creature’s localized and constrained knowledge of what it thinks possible limits the creaturely vision.

–        As one creative actor, God created and continues to create the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1). No creaturely actor or the whole of existing creaturely actors have created or everlastingly create the heavens and the earth.

It’s important to acknowledge that the classic doctrine of creatio ex nihilo does not regard God’s creating as arising from God’s nature. It thinks of creaturely creating and divine creating as both arising from entirely free decisions.

Creatio ex nihilo regards divine and creaturely creating as of the same voluntary mode. Creatio ex creatione a natura amoris, however, thinks of God and creatures as different in this respect. After all, the God who everlastingly and necessarily creates is Creator in a much stronger sense, because creating is part of this God’s nature. In creatio ex creatione a natura amoris, creating in love is essential to what it means to be God. Creating is not an eternal aspect of the God who creates voluntarily from absolutely nothing.

I admit that I do not expect rapid acceptance of my theory that God creates out of creation through a nature of love. Old habits of mind die hard. Two thousand years of Christians affirming creatio ex nihilo means that changedespite good reasonswill likely be slow in coming.

But I hope my appeal to the primacy of love and its supporting ideas will begin to break ingrained habits of mind. If “all things were made” through Christ (Jn. 1:2) and Jesus’ kenosis reveals the nature of God’s self-giving love (Phil. 2:7), we rightly say God initially and continually creates through kenosis, not coercion.

In the name of love, Christians should adopt creatio ex creatione a natura amoris—or something very similarand reject creatio ex nihilo.

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I think this approach is a vast improvement on the classic process understanding of creation out of chaos. While I am not sure I agree with the notion of God eternally creating, I am not troubled by the idea and in fact, see it as quite logical. Creation may be like other aspects of God such as power, knowledge, being. It would be illogical to ask when God created power or knowledge for they have always been. Likewise we can logically say that God did not create the act of creating for God has always been creator.

My own theology of divine faith has led me to see creation as demarcational act, a point in history. That God acted in faith to create. It was a willful choice on God’s part and one that came with significant risk. I see the creation as a metaphysical shift from pantheism (monism) to monotheism (metaphysical dualism).

I also tend to lean towards Moltmann’s zimzum (as I understand it) and I think that in this “divine void” we have a place for creation out of chaos. This chaos is nothingness…and nothingness is chaos.

Lastly, I like your seven points very much. I obviously disagree with #5, but I think I disagree with #4. I am not sure coercion is always negative. In fact, it seems that coercion, at times, might be a demonstration of love. Or should I say it might be a means of love, but certainly never the ends. Many in my family have had substance abuse problems and at times coercion was necessary to get them into treatment. In the end, they had to finally choose treatment, but love forced us to act before they made the choice.

While I have shared my differences, there is much more in your post that I agree with. Again, well said.

Eric Vail

Tom, I thank you for posting this.  To date this is the most thorough explanation of your position I have seen and it gave me better insight on how the parts all fit together. 

There are a few points about which I still have questions.  The first is the question of being biblical in developing a theology of creation. 

You reject creatio ex nihilo because it is not biblical.  However, there are several biblical scholars who say that Genesis 1 is not making an explicit claim that God created out of something.  Rather, in the style of the day, the author(s) started with the opposite of what we understand creation to be and narrated the coming to be of creation. 

Westermann and Tsumura are two notable scholars who affirm this position and the anachronism of saying that the biblical writers had an abstract concept of either nothing or matter that is intended in Genesis 1:2. 

It is not entirely accurate to say that Genesis 1 does not affirm creatio ex nihilo and that it does make a claim for creation out of something.  What we can say is that it narrates creation in the method and style of the day.  Narrating creation is a different thing that making propositional statements about creation.

We should fault the biblical writers for speaking in ways appropriate to their age no more than we should fault the Christians of the late second century onward for speaking in the categories of their own age.  The thesis of Gerhard May’s book that you cited in your last post was that Christians used the concepts of their broader context to offer an account of the faith.  Until theologians were in that context they did not nor could not mean by the words creatio ex nihilo what those words came to signify.  The earlier presence of words does not mean the presence of later ideas expressed by those same words. 

The second question I have is the way in which you use the language of “God is love” and (divine) “nature.” The way in which it functions in your argument it sounds like classic statements about God—that God is pure Act or Being, or fully actual/Real. 

I pause when I run into these types of statements of what God is, always has been, and always will be in God’s essential nature, simply because they have the ring of classical theism.  In other words, are those the categories and conceptualities of Scripture anymore than creation out of nothing or creation out of an eternal material substrate? 

In Scripture do we ever get beyond God revealing what/who God is in relationship to this creation?  We hear a great deal about the economy of God’s activity, but do we hear enough about what God is in God’s essential nature to put the kind of weight on the statement “God is love” that your argument requires?  Do we not need to wait for classical notions to meet up with Christianity for the statement “God is love” to function as you need it to?

Thanks again for explaining your position here so that we can get a preview of what awaits around the corner.  I am interested to hear the full version.



What about the aliens,

Seriously would this eternal loop of prexistant creation include another creation like humanity that would have been created in the very image and likeness of God. or would this prexistant creation simply be primordial matter??

Ronald Hunter

Good topic Tom.  I would offer these observations:
1) It seems you are forcing the entire nature of God into the single concomitant of Love. I would offer that for God to be Creator, Holy, All Powerful neither precludes Love nor is limited to it.
2) If God created out of existing mater, then we have not dealt with the “first cause.” Perhaps we are not discussing The Creator, but only a “worker bee” in the creation process.  Thus the Theological problems your positions creates seem to be significantly greater than with the creation ex-nihilio.
3) If you postulate mater as preexisting God, then IT rather that HE becomes Eternal. 
4) My understanding of the Hebrew word “bara” translated “created” in Gen 1:1 implies not only that He created something that never existed before, but that He created out of nothing.

Paul DeBaufer

My biggest struggle was with God not creating out of nothing yet creates out of that which He created previously. I was led to ask questions of the first cause type. It would seem that if one were to go back far enough there must be creatio ex nihilo. Then after pondering a few hours I realized I was not making a fair assumption for I was asking a question akin to When did God begin? if God always was, always is, and always will be and He created always then there was never a time God did not create. This is counterintuitive and that may well be why we find this idea so uncomfortable.

I fully believe that God continues to create. I don’t know if this fits or not, but the transformation from who I had been to who i am now was nothing short of a recreation.

Michael Coldham-Fussell


I went to a University and studied all of nothing.
And slept on a mattress with very good stuffing.
With stress levels everywhere climbing by degrees,
My goal was to write a philosophical treatise.

While adroitly studying nothing in absolute bliss,
I began to believe there was something quite amiss.
To me it seemed impossible for nothing to exist,
Because then it would be something surely not to be missed.


“With God nothing shall be impossible”, Luke 1:37,
My find was confirmed in these words revealed from heaven.
This thesis on nothing I did hopefully present,
For a post graduate degree with which to be content.

Theologians, scholars, lawyers and doctors,
Distinguished professors, and even some proctors,
Perused my dialectic with huffs and startled puffing,
Then decided to award me my Doctorate in Nothing.

© 07-11-05

Nathan Dupper

Dr. Oord,

I am also curious about what existed prior to humanity. What type of creation was God doing during this time?

I am not entirely sure how this theory will work with the nature of time. In order for there to be a present there must have been a start to time. Aquinas used this as one of his premisses for the cosmological argument for god’s existence. Does this theory assume that for each creation there is a separate set of natural laws?

Andrew Knapp

Dr. Oord,

I’m having some difficulty dealing with the concept of “creation out of creation”.  Perhaps God creates in light of what is already the case, (as is affirmed) but it does seem like some evil is systemic and hence not something that will be overcome. 

Take for example the systemic nature of drug cultivation in Afghanistan and Latin America: people from the hinterlands lack means of adequately supporting their families outside of the enormous profitability of coca and heroin poppy, since those plants are durable, native, and produce easy to transport commodities.  Though in many cases these people could grow corn or potatoes, it is not economically feasible to take on the risk that those crops do – to do so would be to condemn their families to unnecessary risk (compared to a more stable and more liquid payoff from coca/poppy).  This doesn’t mean that their actions are morally right in the theological sense, but they are justified and sustainable in the personal sense.

At least from my experience in the field that I am studying, it seems that the theological claim that God “creates alongside” is justified in that we have experienced some progress in societal terms (economic, legal, civic, et al), but in the same stroke it is difficult to organize God’s relation to the world in terms of “creating out of creation”.  Perhaps my confusion is due to a linguistic misunderstanding, but the claim is difficult to understand in that it appears circular. 

Clearly there is a strong case for increasing harmony and complexity in human institutions; I think the jury is still out on the biological.  Regardless of the Evolution/ID debate, biology remains a very complex expression of physics and chemistry.  This claim inherently raises the question of origins; the question “If one creates out of creation, what created that creation (and on ad infinitum)?” seems to lead to another “unmoved mover” solution, or one where there is a hard, ontological part of the world (God) which organizes a “free” part of the world (i.e. the world as it is free to be organized or to organize itself). 

Perhaps I’ve misread you, but if either of these worlds are the case, the question still seems to remain why we observe unavoidable (or one might say “natural”) expressions of systemic evil (overpopulation and the division of rich and poor might be other natural examples, disease, though different, another).  If these evils are natural, doesn’t that imply something about the hard ontological world that created them in the same substance as “good” things?

Beau Stearns

You have proposed something truly beautiful. God’s love is one of the many wonders that has been present in my faith. But not only that, i have always regarded God as sort of an artist. So combining this with an idea that creation is something born out of love and beauty, it is easy to see how not only would God’s creativity abound but also his astounding grasp of what is beautiful. When we think of beauty we think of romantic things like sunsets and flowers. Only a being so in love with the creative process and the idea of true relationship would be able to so completely portray such a concept. The idea that God has always and will always create also seems to account for dinosaurs and early beings on the earth. Theistic Evolution would also hearken back to this constant act of creation.

Kylie May

I really like that your proposal’s emphasis is on the love of God and how that is His motivation for creation. I do have a question though. God creating out of creation implies that there was already matter existing with which he was able to create the world. Where did this matter originate? Did it precede God? Or did God create it? If it preceded Him, does that somehow imply that matter is more “powerful”?

Dave Telling

Hmmm… Your rejection of ex nihilo creation, and a substitute of, well, I’m not sure exactly is another example of what seems to be more and more common in openness theology. That common characteristic is the attempt to make God more “human”, especially in terms of relationships and limitations. Creation ex nihilo is not a problem for an omnipotent God. Einstein told us that matter can be turned to energy & we also believe that the opposite is true – energy can be converted to matter. So why should it be problem for God to create the physical universe from an infinite supply of energy (power)? It seems that your ideas are an attempt to take a very simple and (in a sense) understandable doctrine and replace it with a doctrine that is more complex and difficult to understand and accept. I don’t understand how God created the universe from nothing, but I have no problem accepting that He did, based upon my understanding of His nature. If, however, you posit God as just a more powerful man (isn’t that what the Mormons think?) then I suppose you have to come up with ideas to try and fit Him into that paradigm.

Arni Zachariassen

Really interesting stuff here, Dr. Oord! Are there any books and articles you’d recommend that explain this more deeply? As most people, I’m still trying to wrap my head around the concept of a world not created ex nihilo.

Oh, I blogged about creatio ex materia through music a couple of months ago. Maybe you’ll find it interesting!

Ryan W.

So far my biggest problem with this theory is the pre-existing creation that God is continually creating upon. I believe that God is working and creating, and has been for eternity. I also agree that, even though God has the omnipotence, God’s nature prevents him from coercing in continual creation. What I would like to understand is either the origins theory that would be biblical and still support this or why creatio ex nihilo is not acceptable, at least to provide for the creation that God then continues to work upon.  However, I do like how the all loving character of God definitely seems present in this theory. If God doesn’t coerce, what about biblical accounts of God controlling nature and striking people dead?

Debbie Holston

I do not find it too strange to say that God everlastingly creates. After all, new babies are born every day. Does not God create them? God did not create them before the beginning of the world. God continues to create even today.  On a different note, I have never before heard of kenosis as referring to God’s creating. It does make sense when applied to God’s creativity. If God’s essence is love, God can do nothing without love being part of it.


Not sure you can make the claim creation= coercion,  Simply being a sufficient cause isn’t a violation of love since, in Trinitarian terms, the Father is the source of the Son, i.e., the Son proceeds from the Father.  The Father, then, is the sufficient cause of the Son sine qua there would be no Son. Surely there isn’t coercion in the Godhead.  Further, coercion implies some sort of force of will as well overcoming another’s will.  Inert matter or the material world doesn’t have a will to be overcome; rearranging molecules to form elements or creating molecules from nothing isn’t overcoming/forcing/imposing a will.  A carpenter doesn’t coerce wood the same way he may try to coerce his kids. 
Also, I find it hard to reconcile this idea once one takes into consideration the concept from John 1:3 “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.”  And, in Colossians, Paul explicitly identifies Christ as the agent of creation.  If, according to your view, God is always creating, how then is that “always creating” any different than His eternal begatting of the Son, who in turn, is the One Who creates?  You seemingly avoid dualism, but wind right back into it, i.e., creation is coexistent with Christ.  This is also fraught with christological issues since you want to define Christ’s identity more in terms of His kenosis and its implications instead of His onto-relational status of Son and Agent of Creation.  Further, how do you separate a eternally begotten entity from an everlasting creation made from what previously was?  Or are you saying creation from previously creation is akin to begotten-ness?  Whereas we can only say there never was a time He was not for Jesus, are you suggesting the same for creation except Jesus is eternally begotten of the same hypostasis as the Father, but the creation is only made?  Of course, this begs the question: what is creation made out of?

John I.

Interesting. I’ll have to read more to understand how you deal with the problem of actual infinities and the issue of whether time itself is a creation of God.

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