From Nothing is an impressive work of constructive and systematic theology: Ian A. McFarland, Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University shows his creative craft and meticulous scholarship in this original work on the theology of creation. Prior to this, McFarland has made significant contributions to theological anthropology. Actually, the impetus for From Nothing came from his wrestling with how to ground, theologically, the worth and uniqueness of each person. He then rediscovered the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo — creation from nothing — as a fitting starting point. All persons — and all of creation — are equal in one significant quality: they are all created from nothing by God. The first half of the book is devoted to each of the bolded words above: God, create, and nothing. A common critique leveled against creatio ex nihilo is that it makes God (1) arbitrary and (2) deistic, and McFarland argues quite the opposite. One of his anchors is the immanent trinitarian dynamics of God: the Father eternally begetting the Son and eternally proceeding the Spirit. These eternal productions show that God is productive. It would be tempting to imagine the Son and Spirit as creative products of the Father — as if they are separate entities. But nothing could be further from the truth. Rather, the Son and Spirit are the Father’s full “self-givings”; whatever the Father has the Son and Spirit have with equal fullness. Creation, on the other hand, is ex nihilo (“from nothing”) and therefore is utterly unlike God. Thus the distance between God and creation is not of space-time but of kind of being. A favored analogy McFarland uses is the distance between an author and her fictional characters: they are not in the same space-time but fundamentally different ones. This then easily welcomes the deistic critique: God is too distant — to the point of absence. Surprisingly, though, McFarland argues against deism by stressing more of God’s transcendence: because God is infinitely distinct from us, he is infinitely near to us. Here’s another analogy to make sense of this critical point: No matter who or where one is on our planet, she will feel the force of gravity (near) equally. Gravity is not of the same “stuff” as matter and therefore interacts with humans differently than, say, wind (gaseous matter). For example, one can go indoors to escape chilly winds, but going indoors does not change the force of gravity she feels than staying outdoors. It could be said then that material walls do not obstruct gravity’s pull on us. Likewise, because God is not of the same “stuff” as us (he is God, and we are not-God; we are from nothing, and he is Life), nothing obstructs his nearness to us. (Where this analogy fails, however, is that a significant amount of matter could change the course and force of gravity, but this is not the case for God-world relation.) What’s more, God wants to be near us; he is Love, not deistic. And, yes, the triune God created the world ex nihilo, but also because of his love, not of arbitrariness.
Most of the argumentation above is in part one. Part two discusses evil, providence, and glory. Personally speaking, part one is better.