Posts

Earth viewed from space

Is a young earth necessary?

Preemptive apology – Trump shall be mentioned.

In some of the circles I found myself in these days, I have found just as much contempt for newly elected Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence, than for the new President himself, Donald J. Trump. One American colleague went as far as to say that a Trump assassination wouldn’t do America any good because then “a pro-life, homophobic, evolution-denying evangelical” would ascend the throne.

To avoid contributing to the countless words already spent and spilt on this latest election, I am only going to focus on the last part of this blanket statement. Are evangelicals – those who trust and share the Good News of God saving sinners through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – fairly criticised as the science-haters that so many people seem to think they are? To put the question differently – are Christians required to read the first three chapters of Genesis in a literal sense?

Some readers may be shocked that I am not “taking the Bible seriously” in rejecting a literal interpretation of this passage. Others may be relieved that I have broken the chains of orthodoxy, freeing myself from absolute meaning altogether. These are those who declare “Ask not what this text means, but what this text means to you.” Sorry to disappoint both of you.

What does literal even mean?

Literally

The word literal and its derivatives are having a rough time at the moment. Modern English speakers use the word all the time, ridding it of all meaning in the process. The word means literally nothing right now. In fact, Justin Taylor has recently called for a moratorium on the use of this word in biblical interpretation, due to the varying meanings this word can take.

My experience with literal in a biblical interpretive setting is that of the ‘plain interpretation’ of any given text. In other words, interpreting something in a basic or common sense way, without metaphor or exaggeration. A plain sense reading of Genesis 1-3 seems to suggest a six 24 hour days view with the varying genealogies of Genesis adding up to a rather youthful 6,000 years old.

We could go at it for hours over exegesis and hermeneutics and be no closer to unlocking the meaning of Genesis’ beginning. While I personally think that the text itself does provide strong arguments for particular positions, a much simpler point of view provides some much needed clarity:

What is the purpose of the Bible?

Two Books

In a previous post, I mentioned the distinction between the two books that God has written – creation (God’s general revelation) and salvation (God’s special revelation). Theological concept becomes reality when we approach the creation account with this distinction in mind. God’s intent in Genesis, as with all other parts of the Bible, is to communicate his great plan of salvation for all of those who would trust in Christ. This means that he is not primarily (or even at all) concerned with teaching his people the age of the earth or the precise processes by which it came into existence.

Any serious student of Scripture knows that the plot of the biblical drama is the salvation of sinners by a gracious God, who has cast Jesus Christ in the leading role of Saviour. This story of salvation is only found in the pages of special revelation – nothing in nature contains words this sweet. If God’s book of salvation (the Bible) has the story of salvation as its content, then what does nature contain? A whole lot of juicy content for sure, but nothing salvific, nothing of utmost importance to beggars like us.

So what about the age of the earth? God may well have had a different intent in these chapters of Genesis 1-3, but can we still discern anything concrete via exegesis? I believe so. Study. Read. Discuss. THINK. But if you miss the forest for the trees, as so many “defenders of the faith” have done in advancing a young-earth-or-go-home ideology, you will end up doing an injustice not only to yourself, but to the world at large. 

A sin-sick world doesn’t need to hear the evils of evolution. It needs the gospel.

Auckland Conference: Science and Faith with Dr C. John Collins

Much of Western culture assumes that science and faith are foes, that faith and scientific naiveté go hand in hand, and that science has disproved the Bible and made faith irrelevant if not completely indefensible and undesirable.

Come and hear Dr. C. John Collins explain why faith and science are actually friends, how good faith fosters good science, and how good science should actually lead people to be more open to faith and the Bible.

WHEN: Friday 19 July 7pm-9.30pm and Saturday 20 July, 9:00am-4:30pm
WHERE: City Presbyterian Church, 283 Karangahape Road, Auckland
COST: $40 ($20 for Students).

Coffee and tea will be provided but please bring your own lunch. Payment can be made at the door or online (for online payments: City Presbyterian Church 12-3066-0402436-00. Please include your name and “SAF”)
[pk_divider]

Schedule:
Friday 19 July

[pk_table width=”690″ align=”left” hover=”true”]

7pm Registration
7.30am Welcome and Introduction
7.45am Session 1: How good faith fosters good science
8.30pm Break
8.45am Session 2: Genesis 1-11: Poetry, history, science, and truth
9.30am Evening Tea

[/pk_table]

Saturday 20 July

[pk_table width=”690″ align=”left” hover=”true”]

9.30am Session 3: The Image of God And Human Uniqueness
10.15am Morning Tea
10.30am Session 4: Miracles, Science, and God-of-the-Gaps
11.15am Break
11.30am Session 5: Biology, Evolution, Design
12.15pm Lunch (please bring your own)
1.15pm Q&A session
2pm Afternoon tea

[/pk_table]

[pk_empty_space height=”20″]

 

Dr C. John Collins is Professor and Chair of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary. With degrees from MIT, Faith Evangelical Lutheran Seminary, and the University of Liverpool (PhD), Collins is one of the few scholars uniquely placed to address critical issues that arise in our understanding of the Bible and the world.

While Collins’ early studies focused on linguistics and biblical languages, his latest work on miracles (The God of Miracles: An Exegetical Examination of God’s Action in the World), the historicity of Adam and Eve (Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care), and the book of Genesis (Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary) have established him as a leading evangelical voice on the relationship between science and faith.

Professor Collins has served as Old Testament chair on the translation committee for the English Standard Version of the Bible, and Old Testament Editor for the ESV Study Bible. He and his wife have been married since 1979 and have two children.

Auckland Conference: Ancient Truth for Modern Times with Dr C. John Collins

What is the Bible? What authority if any does the Bible have in the 21st Century? How should the Bible shape the life of the Church and individual believers?

Our approach to Scripture is fundamental to our ability to understand who God is and what he has to say to us. Come and hear Dr. C. John Collins explore the nature, authority, and purpose of the Bible in the 21st Century.

WHEN: Saturday, 13 July, 9:00am-4:30pm
WHERE: City Presbyterian Church, 283 Karangahape Road, Auckland
COST: $20 ($10 for Students).

Coffee and tea will be provided but please bring your own lunch. Payment can be made at the door or online (for online payments: City Presbyterian Church 12-3066-0402436-00. Please include your name and “ATMT”)
[pk_divider]

Schedule:

[pk_table width=”690″ align=”left” hover=”true”]

9am Registration
9.30am Welcome and Introduction
9.45am Session 1: What is the Bible?
10.30pm Morning Tea
10.45am Session 2: What Can We Say About the Bible? The Attributes of Scripture
11.30am Break
11.45am Session 3: What Do We Mean When We Say the Bible is “True”?
12.30pm Lunch (please bring your own)
1.30pm Session 4: How Should We Read and Interpret the Bible?
2.15pm Session 5: How Should We Preach and Teach the Bible?
3pm Afternoon tea
3.15pm Q&A Session
4.30pm Wrap up

[/pk_table]

[pk_empty_space height=”20″]

 

Dr C. John Collins is Professor and Chair of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary. With degrees from MIT, Faith Evangelical Lutheran Seminary, and the University of Liverpool (PhD), Collins is one of the few scholars uniquely placed to address critical issues that arise in our understanding of the Bible and the world.

While Collins’ early studies focused on linguistics and biblical languages, his latest work on miracles (The God of Miracles: An Exegetical Examination of God’s Action in the World), the historicity of Adam and Eve (Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care), and the book of Genesis (Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary) have established him as a leading evangelical voice on the relationship between science and faith.

Professor Collins has served as Old Testament chair on the translation committee for the English Standard Version of the Bible, and Old Testament Editor for the ESV Study Bible. He and his wife have been married since 1979 and have two children.

Seven Days That Divide the World: John Lennox on Creation, Science, and Scripture

John Lennox’s latest book, Seven Days That Divide The World, launches next month. In it, he sets out to answer one of the most fiercely debated questions of our day: can science and the Bible co-exist? Writing for a popular audience, Lennox examines the Genesis account of creation and addresses some of the issues that typically arise when trying to understand the Biblical narrative in light of contemporary science.

A Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford and a recent visitor to New Zealand, Lennox argues in Seven Days that science and faith can in fact peacefully co-exist and that Darwinian evolution and young-earth creationism are not the only two positions available to Christians.

Read more

Book Review: Who Made God?

Posted on behalf of Michael Drake.

Who Made God? is a witty, stimulating and very readable explanation of the discoveries of modern science, exhibiting the marvels of God’s creation and exposing the inconsistency of attempts to explain the universe in terms of atheism and evolution.

More than making important and obtuse concepts of modern science delightfully comprehensible in memorable imagery of daily life, Edgar Andrews silences on its own terms the challenge of atheistic scepticism and points readers to the truth and sufficiency of the Bible and faith in Christ as a framework – the only adequate framework – in which to think.

Here is a readable and informative response by an internationally respected scientist to claims that atheistic science can explain everything.  Emeritus Professor of Materials at the University of London, Andrews outlines with clarity and humour significant scientific constructs that describe how our universe functions.  As he does that, he shows their usefulness and consistency with observable data, while exposing their inconsistencies and inadequacies in explaining the totality of everything.  In particular Andrews renders in stark clarity the failure of the “New Atheists” (Dawkins, Dennett, et al) to explain the order and origins of the material and immaterial universe.

Against that he sets out what he calls the “hypothesis of God”.  One of new-atheism’s fallacies of debating the existence of God is its failure to define its terms.  Andrews shows that when the Bible’s definition of God as creator and sustainer of the universe is used, the observable data fits, and does so with a consistency and comprehensiveness that evolutionary atheism can never sustain.

Andrews’ last chapter highlights the inevitable and necessary conclusion to the data examined: God must exist, and does exist as the unmade maker and sustainer of everything.   But more than this, the moral argument for God exposes our inescapable need of God and his redemption in Christ.  So he closes with a personal affirmation of the grace he has found in the Saviour, and commendation of the Gospel of John as the next thing readers should turn to.

That last chapter aside, the first six chapters may be the most important contemporary writing anyone can be encouraged to read.  Neither those nor the latter chapters are always easy reading.  From the start Andrews warns that some of the science is challenging.  He encourages readers to persevere: it may be necessary to read some sections two or three times, but that is worth the effort.  Yet it is not so much how those first chapters induct readers into the theories of modern science, but how they introduce readers to a methodology of thinking about anything.  These chapters, taken on their own, are an accessible and engaging introduction to biblical epistemology.

The book is well printed, well presented and well bound: it can be given to others without apology and will keep its shape and appearance through many readings.  Each chapter is introduced with a short summary and vocabulary that, much like a road-map, helps navigate through the detail that might otherwise distract or discourage.  The summaries would make great starters for family, class or group discussion.  Who Made God? is possibly the most useful introduction to modern science a non-scientist could read, and because of the inter-disciplinary breadth of theory and experimental science canvassed, any well informed scientist will also likely profit from reading it.

My only criticism is that in making a passing comment to his reconciling the “big bang theory” with what he asserts is the Genesis 1 record of “genuine history” in an “epic poem”[1] with “clearly historical” intent (p106), Andrews unnecessarily introduces potential for doubt about Genesis.  He explains briefly that he considers Genesis 1:1 as describing the creation of the heavens and the earth in an unspecified period of time, with the following verses providing the subsequent geo-centric creative work of God.  This brief comment may cause more confusion than need be: it might have been better to have left it out or to have given it more explanation.  In both Who Made God? and his earlier From Nothing to Nature he stresses commitment to the historicity and accuracy of Genesis 1.  In From Nothing to Nature he commits to creation in six days each having a morning and an evening, while at the same time expressing belief in the very long periods of time the “big bang” presupposes.[2] Confused?  Unfortunately, that is where this brief discussion can leave the reader; yet in the context of so much excellence this should not discourage the reading of Who Made God?

I had to be persuaded to read Who Made God? I found neither the title nor the prospect of reading another pedantic, ill-informed point-scoring and petty discussion of the creation-evolution debate at all enticing.  I could not have been more mistaken.  Before I had finished the first chapter I found myself enjoying a book that informed, stimulated and challenged, and in which neither the science nor the theology is superficial or dull.  I have been passing out copies to friends and colleagues, commending to them what I believe will prove to be a lasting work in popular science, biblical theology, and devotional Christianity.

Feminist writer Fay Weldon describes it as “thoughtful, readable, witty, [and] wise.”  David Kim of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York says Andrews writes a “nuanced and compelling argument that maintains the integrity of both science and theology.”  Those comments are true but understated.  This is a great book.

Michael Drake is the principal of Carey College in Panmure and a pastor at Tamaki Reformed Baptist Church. He has been involved in advocacy for Christian schools throughout New Zealand and in raising issues about race, education, and Christianity before Parliament. He is also an Associate Chaplain at the Manukau Institute of Technology. Recently, Michael participated at our Thinking Matters Forum at Auckland University.


Notes

[1] But Genesis 1 is Hebrew narrative and bears none of the marks of Hebrew poetry (cf Robert Alter The Art of Biblical Poetry Basic Books 1985 p117).

[2] In From Nothing to Nature Andrews unequivocally asserts that “Genesis is a history book” and that “the Bible is true and can be trusted in all matters.” (p105f)   He reads Genesis 1:1 as describing a “first” day of creation (which “lasted much longer than the other six days of creation, because, unlike them, this day was not measured as the time between morning and evening).  In that first day God made the heavens and the earth before beginning the subsequent six days of creative work with regard to the already created earth.  For example, having made the moon and sun in the first day one, “He could still have put them in the sky on day four.” (p109) As to those days having morning and evening, and therefore being clearly days, he argues that possible natural explanations could include such things as the earth rotating at a much slower speed than at present.   Andrews acknowledges that this special pleading enables him to integrate the “big bang” with a literal (sort of) interpretation of Genesis.  He is however quick to point out that it is valid to interpret the Genesis days as 24 hour periods, albeit such an interpretation cannot accommodate the “big bang”.  In Who Made God? Andrews insists on a rigorous consistency in extrapolating scientific theory from observable data; a similar rigour in examining the literature of the biblical text would suggest that a) accommodation of the “big bang” to the Genesis text is neither necessary nor sufficient, and b) the inducement to such an accommodation arises not internally from the text but from external sources unrelated to the text.  In any case, the literary form of Genesis makes the most natural interpretation of verse 1 an introduction that is developed and explained in the following verses, meaning that the entire creation process took place within the six days Andrews agrees are truly days.   (cf Edward J Young Studies in Genesis One Baker, Grand Rapids 1973)

Genesis, Myth and History

Wright makes some good points here. The Genesis 1-3 debate is stalked by generalizations and false antitheses. There is always a real danger in distorting and domesticating the Bible via the preoccupations of our own modern situation. As much as possible, we should start with Scripture and the priorities and structures within the text itself, instead of those of our own context. We should always seek to faithfully and accurately embed the text in its own literary, historical, and canonical context.

Understanding the genre is crucial. Just as, today, different literary genres have different means of making rhetorical effects and of taking about reality, so do the varied Biblical genres. And this diversity of literary forms means we must sensitive to the fact that the Bible contains more (though not less) than propositional truth. This isn’t to say that all literary genres convey truth plus something else but that some genres shape their purposes and priorities differently. Wright is correct to point out that if we reduce a passage (say, a narrative passage) to a number of propositions or single notes we miss the way the (narrative) genre can speak through themes, character development, plot, etc.

Furthermore, the ancient literary categories do not neatly overlap with ours and that is why we must be careful when we talk about biblical genres (I think this cuts against the the current definition of “myth” invented by modern anthropologists as much as it does against a scientific reading). Whatever category we do use for the opening chapters, a fair amount of nuance is necessary.

Even if we do understand the purpose of Genesis 1-3 as primarily theological/mythical, we haven’t escaped the question of whether it belongs to a matrix of thought that implies or is undergirded by historical events and characters (the “primal pair” that Wright affirms). Just because the message is theological, this does not mean that it is not also historical (or that it can be disentangled from the historical). Take some examples in the New Testament (some borrowed from D. A. Carson), where, although the writer is making a theological point, in each case the argument is grounded in and inseparable from a historical claim:

– In Galatians 3, Paul’s theological argument is made via appeal to the order of events in redemptive history. He argues that the law is relativised by the fact that both the giving of the promises to Abraham and his justification by faith preceded the giving of the law.

– In Romans 4, Paul makes an argument about the relation between faith and circumcision that again depends on the historical sequence of which came first.

– In Hebrews 3:7-4:13, the author argues that entering God’s rest must mean something more than merely entering the Promised Land because of the fact that Psalm 95 (which is still calling for God’s people to enter into God’s rest) is written after they were already in the land.

– Again in Hebrews, the theological point of chapter 7 is that because Psalm 110 promises a further priesthood and is written after the establishment of the Levitical priesthood, the Levitical priesthood is therefore obsolete.

-Paul’s argument about the reality of the resurrection in 1 Cor 15:12-19.

Wright is correct to say that we must read Genesis for all its worth. And to do this, sooner or later we are going to need to ask what the ancient readers (and other Biblical writers) themselves thought about the correspondence between the Biblical account of creation and what actually happened. It won’t fly to say that the ancient Biblical writers weren’t concerned with history or couldn’t distinguish between fable and reality (observe how much Judges 9 stands out from the rest of that passage). The early chapters of Genesis are certainly not a scientific treatise, but even if we understand that the point of these chapters is explain that all of creation is God’s tabernacle and that creation itself is finite and not divine, are we completely off the hook? We need to ask if the writer is telling us true things about God, and about real people and events that took place in history.

Evolutionary Biologist Argues for the Scientific Accuracy of Genesis

GenesisZoologist and Royal Society University Research Fellow at Oxford University, Andrew Parker has written a new book arguing that there are significant parallels between the Genesis account of creation and discoveries in contemporary science. Parker specializes in the evolution of vision and is one of the eight “Scientists for a New Century” selected by the Royal Institution.  His previous book,  In the Blink Of An Eye: How Vision Sparked the Big Bang Of Evolution, defended the idea that the Cambrian explosion was triggered by the evolution of vision in simple organisms. Parker is no friend of either special creationism or intelligent design but has come to recognise the limits of science and even reject agnosticism. In his latest book, The Genesis Enigma, Parker grapples with the dilemma that the Genesis account has no right to be correct. Because the author or authors could not have known the sequence of evolutionary stages that science has come to recognize, Parker argues that Genesis must be the product of divine inspiration.

Here is what Ray Olson, reviewer at Booklist, says of The Genesis Enigma:

“Raised without religion, biologist Parker had his curiosity piqued by responses to his book, In the Blink of an Eye, about his major scientific contribution, the light-switch theory, which contends that the evolution of vision spurred the explosion of life-forms in the Cambrian period, 520 million years ago. His correspondents suggested that his theory put the final link in place between the account contemporary science gives of the world’s development and that related by the first chapter of Genesis. This book is considered his response to that suggestion. Chapter by chapter, he relates the stages of cosmological development and evolution to the seven stages of Creation in Genesis 1, from “Let there be light” – the concretion of the sun – to the debut of birds, which defied the rule (i.e., the reign) of vision over the cycle of predation on which all life depends (birds are uniquely able to flee predators). Read metaphorically, Genesis 1 is a scientifically sound outline. Each of Parker’s chapters, though sprung from a biblical statement, proceeds to chronicle two processes, that of how science thinks the earth and life developed and that of the scientists who forged the theories and obtained the facts that enable and confirm science’s account of creation and evolution. Parker, a popular science writer second to none in clarity and congeniality, has given us the single Darwinian bicentenary publication most liable to reconcile religion and science.”

The Genesis Enigma: Why the Bible Is Scientifically Accurate, Dutton Adult, 294 pages.