Review: Healing All Creation: Genesis, The Gospel of Mark, and the Story of the Universe by Joan Connell and Adam Bartholomew

[1] This book breaks no new ground and has little to offer cognoscenti.  But this is an observation, not a criticism.  The authors, a biblical scholar and a religious journalist, aim for a general audience made up of millennials and others who are comfortable with evolution and distance from Christian faith because of its perceived prejudice against science.  It is an apologetic appeal written in clear, jargon-free prose – although an alert copy editor should have caught the grating overuse of “default.”  Adult and youth study groups will find their exploration of this slim volume amply rewarded.  Indeed, the publisher missed an opportunity to add value to the book by adding discussion questions at the end of each chapter.

[2] “One of the key purposes of this book,” the authors write, “is to show how, in the course of Mark’s narrative, Jesus’s mission initiates a quantum leap in Israel’s mission of restoring humankind and all creation to its initial state of harmony.”  This focus on Christ as the avant garde of a universal trajectory is important and necessary, an eschatology or “cosmic theology” especially helpful for Plato-influenced dualists for whom Christ is largely a ticket to another world.  This spiritualizing gospel misses the Markan Jesus’s aim to create, by his loving acts, “fields of compassion” whereby tikkun olam is effected and the prelapsarian status quo ante between heaven and earth is restored.

[3] This new creation motif is nicely shown in the evangelist’s treatment of the Messiah’s post-baptism wilderness experience.  In Eden, there was initially no antagonism between the animals, human and not.  Just so, the divine Restorer, after the routing of his satanic rival, “was among the wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.”

[4] Ecological themes, including keeping wilderness wild, bulk large in the book.  The authors lament the intrusion of dispensationalism and other dualisms into Christian views of creation, which is the object of God’s redemptive activity.  They helpfully cite Thomas Berry, Pierre Teilhard and Pope Francis, a list that would have been enriched by contributions from Bill McKibben.  Highlighting creation care as a sacred duty fits well with the larger theme of the divine project of the healing of the entire cosmos in the kingdom of Jesus’s Father.  Unfortunately, this capacious hope is put forward without reference to the Son’s resurrection, the good news of new creation.  Indeed, the authors’ presentation is innocent of any robust trinitarian theology and their picture of Jesus veers away from the creed toward a one-dimensional, 19th century “Great Teacher.”  I find this odd, given the Roman Catholic background of both authors.

[5] Connell and Bartholomew demonstrate skill in using Genesis and Mark to show heaven’s salvific and revolutionary intent in areas such as the status of women, violence and death, and racial justice.  Readers will be enriched by getting to know prophets of God’ vision like Abraham Joshua Heschel and Dorothy Day.  I commend the authors for their inclusion of Jewish perspectives and offer for further inquiry Christianity in Jewish Terms, ed. Tikva Frymer-Kensky et al.  The Qur’an is also included in the list of primary sources.  And there is also plenty to chew on in secondary sources, to which I would add Stanley Hauerwas, Ron Sider and John Howard Yoder.  Add, too, John Dominic Crossan’s The Historical Jesus.

[6] A quibble?  The era markers BCE/CE, while not universally accepted, should have been explained to a lay audience.  But don’t let any of my grouchy grousings deter you from reading this clearly-argued book, or from using it in study groups.

Bruce Wollenberg

Rev. Bruce Wollenberg, PhD. is a retired pastor living in Santa Barbara.