Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Shadow Lamp - Day Two of the October 2012 CSFF Blog Tour

Those who were troubled by the hazy theology of The Spirit Well (Book 3 of the Bright Empires saga), are undoubtedly seriously  alarmed by The Shadow Lamp. My own concerns were expressed in Day 3 of the October 2012 tour. They were tentative giving the author and the series the benefit of the doubt. I was holding out for the hope that the questionable theological trail the book was heading down might make a turn and settle on something that we can truly call Christian.

The problem centers on the philosophy/theology that underlies the thinkers of the Zetetic society, and especially one of its newest members, Giambattista Becarria, or Gianni. Gianni is a close confidant of Cassandra Clark, a paleontologist whose father Tony Clark has newly arrived in 1930’s Damascus where the headquarters of the society resides. Gianni is also a priest and a scientist. That combination wrapped up in one character represents a solution to a perceived incompatibility between science and theology. That solution for Lawhead, I think, is the quintessential motif that lies at the bottom of the story. The essay at the end of the novel gives weight to that idea, for there he draws on the example of Galileo who infuriated both the scientific and religious elite of his day by the heliocentric cosmos theory he was proffering. An appeal to the Galileo issue undergirds, perhaps covertly, the idea that entrenched old and ultimately false tenets tend to inhibit clear rational thinking – which for the most part is probably true. As we all know, Galileo was right, the church was wrong (on the geocentric/heliocentric controversy only). Today, the continuing effect of that episode marks one who holds to a creationist or intelligent design position as obscurantist, anti-intellectual, and utterly unscientific. Gianni represents what is supposedly a reasonable resolution of the tension. The problem is that the theology of Gianni is outright horrible. It is theology ex nihilo.

The Alpha Point
Gianni’s address to the Zetetic members includes this explanation: “We are the beneficiaries of complex processes that began before the Big Bang—the Alpha Point, yes?—processes that were put in place to produce active and independent conscious agents able to respond to their Creator in love. Thus, it follows that we are the reason for the Creation’s very existence. Consequently, the destiny of the cosmos and human destiny are bound closely together from before the beginning—the Alpha Point.” (p 324)

I personally do not have a problem with a Big Bang beginning so long as the Big Bang came out of (or perhaps into) nothing and was the result of God speaking it into being. By nothing, I mean truly nothing, a nothing that is inconceivable. The moment we conceive nothing we have conceived something, which attains physical attributes, even if such attributes include zero dimensions. The Alpha Point is before the Big Bang and therefore in terms of an ex nihilo Big Bang, the processes of the Alpha Point were concurrent with nothing – and that makes it a logical contradiction.

Logic aside, it is bad theology. It is deistic at its best. We get the feel that the processes are put in motion and allowed to run their own course with the full hope that they produce ‘active and independent conscious agents.’

The Omega Point
Gianni continues, “As there was a beginning, so there will be an end. In this, we believe that the Creator desires for time to run its course and not merely end at some arbitrary point short of the final completion He desires—a  destination known as the Omega Point—which is the perfected, harmonious, and joyful unity of all Creation in Him for the purpose of engaging in the ongoing creative activity of a redeemed and transformed universe—forever.”  (p 324-5)

I like this, but I suspect that my picture of this Omega Point (which I think is an accurately Biblical picture) may not be the same as Gianni’s. I’m very suspect of Gianni to be a universalist. Now, it is true, the final end of the universe is a recreation in which there will be perfect harmony and joy. The problem is that the Alpha and Omega Points are not rightly identified as the Son of God who is ‘the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last’ (Rev 22:13). The implication of that appellation is that the cosmos exists for Him and not for us, and that is precisely what the Scriptures tell us (Col 1:16).

But this is not what Gianni holds to; rather, we are the reason for the Creation’s existence. Granted, this is true in a formal way. The creation must exist so that we, the conscious, independent agents have a venue in which to respond to the Creator in love. But its ultimate purpose is not that there be a harmonious, joyful unity of a redeemed creation for its own sake. That unity is likewise secondary. The ultimate purpose of everything is to glorify Christ and to make him the focal point of praise and honor of every sentient and insentient thing (Ps 98:4-9; Is 55:12-13; Rom 14:11; Phil 2:9-11).

A more blatant flaw in the physicist priest’s theology regards the question as to whether or not the Creator controls the “illimitable interactions of conscious human beings with their individual environments, circumstances, and conditions, and in concert with their fellow humans.” (p 326) His answer is, “No....It is my belief that the future is not controlled in any way. To control the future would impose a deterministic outcome on the created order, thereby destroying both the freedom and independence of the freely interacting creatures it is meant to produce and, likewise, negating the very purpose for which the future and even time itself was created!” (p 327)

In Gianni’s eyes, creation is absolutely free from any control whatsoever by God. God made the creation, but has no say in its future. Imagine if that were true. It would mean the moment God brought the world into being, he had no clue what was going to happen from that very moment on. The best that he could do, he had already done, and that was to build into the creation potential for moving in the direction he would like it to go. At that point he could only sit back and hope that all would turn out well.

But it went south from the beginning. First Lucifer, then man. And it happened as a surprise to God, because he had no clue that it was coming. After all, having created a world so complex even at the quantum level and working so beautifully, how could all those ‘complex processes’ that were to enable the conscious agents to respond in love to their Creator fail? It was unthinkable! And yet, it was not good enough. Man could not keep one teeny requirement, and failed. God had failed. The world became a real mess, and mankind, all of it, was on its way to hell. What a pickle. God must have spent most of his time since the beginning of creation wringing his hands hoping things would get better.

But we see that God has intervened from the beginning at the point of man’s failure to live up to that potential. And the first action was not grace, but justice. God cursed man and the whole creation, which is still groaning under that curse. But no sooner had he pronounced the curse, he pronounced hope, the protoevangelium of Genesis 3:15. And God could not make such a pronouncement in faith unless he were going to do something that meddled in the affairs of men.

Gianni’s God is not truly sovereign. He is befuddled by the work of his own hands. One might object and say that God voluntarily took his hands off the wheel, and he did so because he was sovereign. Such a suggestion ignores the overwhelming evidence of Scripture, and a true Christian whose faith is based solely on the Scriptures must reject it. So should have Gianni. Sovereignty is not true sovereignty unless it controls in every detail from the smallest subatomic particle to the remotest galaxy. As such, it would be impossible for God to relinquish any control, it would be counter to who and what he is. To do so, would cease to be God.

But then one would say, If God controls absolutely everything then it was his purpose that Lucifer and man would fall;  if God does everything that is good, how can he be responsible for evil? Evil in itself, by definition, is not good. But the existence of it is good, because through it God brings the most glory to himself. His holiness, justice, and wrath are revealed as well as his grace, mercy, and love in a way that could not otherwise be known, and the expression of all of these attributes redounds to his glory.

Gianni may be an intelligent priest, but he is a theological fool.

Stephen R. Lawhead's Web Page
List of CSFF Blog Tour Participants
The Spirit Well on Amazon - Hardcover   Kindle

Thanks to Thomas Nelson for kindly providing a copy of The Shadow Lamp for review on the November, 2013 Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour.


  1. As a reader, I'm still at the point where I don't have to believe that everything Gianni says is necessarily true in the world of the book (obviously it has no bearing on the real world). But when Lawhead has what is basically a long essay written as Gianni's dialogue and then another essay of his own at the end on the topic of science versus faith, I do think it's right to be concerned about the theology. I appreciate your well-articulated points!

  2. Julie,
    I agree with you that within the story-world of the book, Gianni is speaking the truth, but as we know it is not true truth. Neither do I have a problem of a make believe world that does not have its roots in the Biblical cosmology. For that matter, all fantasy falls within that category. The problem is that in this case it is written by a Christian who is supposed to be writing Christian fiction/fantasy, and I think in that case, the story must have its roots in a cosmology that correctly views God, and The Shadow Lamp (the whole series for that matter) does not. See my Day 3 post that touches on the question, Should a Christian write what he intends to be ‘Christian’ fiction but also portray an unbiblical world-view? Another way to state the question: Ought a Christian writer write a story whose god is not the God of the Bible. Stated that way, using the word ought, brings the issue within the realm of ethics.

    1. And I agree with those concerns for sure! I'm just not CERTAIN that Gianni is even speaking the truth for the story-world, but just the truth as he sees it. He probably is speaking for the book's "reality", but we won't know for certain until Book 5. (Those of us who get through it anyway. :) )

    2. Well, that is my hope, too, that Gianni is wrong in the story-world itself. But seeing that that that worldview has gone from hint (See Lord Henry Fayth's concluding remarks in his lecture at the Royal Society, The Skin Map, pp 55-56) to an articulate exposition by Gianni to the members of the Zetetic Society, and the book ends with what appears to be a pending crisis of unimaginable proportions in terms of that world-view, it would be extremely difficult for the story to make a sharp turn in Book 5 and land on solid theological ground. But, who knows what Lawhead has up his sleeve.