Book Plunge: In The Beginning God

What do I think of Dr. Winfried Corduan’s book published by B&H Academic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

“In The Beginning God”. Most of us upon hearing that think “Created the Heavens and the Earth. Yeah. We know. Can we move on?” Dr. Corduan’s book doesn’t want to move on. It wants to stay right there in the beginning, but what beginning? This time not the beginning of the universe, but the beginning of religion. Today, much of the world is monotheistic, but how did we get to that point? Did religion just evolve from a primitive state of animism all the way up to the point where eventually one God came out to be supreme and now many of us today are monotheistic? Or, did religion start out as monotheistic and men moved away from that until later on, we returned to it?

Of course, when we say that religious systems have evolved, it must be clear that this is not saying anything about the scientific theory. For the sake of argument, it could be that scientific evolution of non-life to life in a sort of theistic evolutionary sense could be true and Dr. Corduan’s argument in this book is entirely correct as well. The truth of Corduan’s argument does not rely on that. However, he does want us to realize that evolution being true in one field does not mean that it will necessarily apply in every other field. (In fact, it would seem a whole plethora of gods would be much more complex than one major deity.)

For the research of this book, it will involve looking at the traditions of tribal peoples around the world and seeing what they believed. We will also look at those who have been impacted by Christian missionaries to see if missionaries might have changed any of the beliefs of these people on these major areas. We will also see if the evidence is being allowed to change the ideas, or if the ideas are changing how the evidence is viewed. Corduan will contend that too often the latter is happening. For this, Corduan will rely especially on the work of two in the field, one a Christian and one not. The Christian is Wilhelm Schmidt and the non-Christian is Andrew Lang, though Lang was open to something that would be called “supernatural.” (Regular readers of my writings know that I do not like to use that term.)

Corduan contends in fact that when Lang and Schmidt did the work to show an original monotheism, that their work was for the most part ignored. Of course, it could be for Schmidt that since he wrote around 11,000 pages that few people took the time to read. Corduan also shows that it would be wrong to think that missionaries showed up and changed a central core belief of the people and that the people then left everything else intact. What happens more often is that sometimes other gods can get added later on or other spirits in an animistic sense (Monotheistic religions do believe in other spiritual beings after all like angels and demons), that when you start talking about the one supreme God, that they know who you’re talking about.

Corduan’s book is highly accessible and entertaining. I do wish to thank him also for sending a personal review copy. I had read a recently re-released work of Schmidt’s, but I must say it’s easy to get lost in the jargon of Schmidt and Schmidt wrote as if everyone was familiar with the people in the field. That’s understandable, but it makes it difficult for those of us who do not know the names in the field. Corduan’s work gives you a history of the field and introduces you to the major names. It also ends with the importance that this can have for Christian apologetics with some cautions as well on what we can and cannot say.

I found the work to be highly interesting. If anything, I would have liked to have seen more on what other cultures believed that we don’t hear about regularly, but I know that wasn’t the purpose of the book and probably would have expanded it greatly to an unnecessary degree. For those curious about this kind of area, this is a work that you can enjoy. It’s got good information in it, but you won’t likely get lost in technicalities save for perhaps a few areas.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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