The Bible and Science and Evangelism: A Boat Too Far and the Literality of the Biblical Stories?

I continue to do the work of an Evangelist; it is a challenge and gift of being a Christian that I thoroughly enjoy, and from which I draw personal telos or purpose in my ongoing adventure as a Christian person soli Deo gloria! One of my most recent contacts has an interesting brew (if I can say it like that) of beliefs about reality and his own personal purpose in this amazing complexity known as life. An aspect that seems to bother, this my interlocutor, is what appears to him to be an over-literal reading of, for one thing in the Bible, the Genesis account of human origins and the related stories therein—namely, and particularly troubling for my friend, the story of Noah and the Ark. He cannot even begin to fathom how any rational (vs. rationalist) person could suppose to believe that any modernly informed person could take this literal—he seems to think that this is not physically possible (see how Ken Ham seeks to answer this apparent conundrum here, this seems to be a very reasonable explanation—proviso, I am not generally a fan of Ken Ham). I would like to expand this conversation out a bit, for my friend, myself, and anyone else who is reading; and I will do this by drawing our attention to a recently released book by Brazos Press entitled: Evolution of Adam, The: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins by Peter EnnsHere is how Enns describes some of his gist in this book:

And here is how Sandra Collins of Library Journal synopsizes the general themes of the book:

“[Enns’s] basic argument is this: modern creation arguments that focus on either the literal historical truth of the Bible or evolutionary perspectives are wrong. The Bible, including its creation accounts, represents a comprehensive theological worldview. It’s neither a literal accounting nor is it science. And it was never intended to be either of these two things. . . . Academically minded Christians looking to bridge this intellectual divide will appreciate the tone and bibliographic references here.”

I have once written on this topic here; and my thesis, taken from former seminary professor Al Bayliss, sound very similar to the way that Collins describes Enns’ primary theses in his book. Yet, my sense is that my conclusions will probably end up differently than Enns; my conclusion would be informed by the idea that a ‘theological worldview’ and ‘literal reality’ correlate with each other. That there is a ratio that  inheres between the rational (and literal) uncreated reality of God, and that which has been given expression in the contingent, and ordered reality of creation itself; so created order and rationality is given its rationality by definition of its contingence upon God’s rationality that he built into creation through Divine fiat. My point, I can’t follow this dualism, that is often posited, between theological reality and created reality; if for no other reason, but because we have these two realities in the conjoined hypostatic union of the Non-contingent/contingent reality of the Divine/human in the person of Jesus Christ—or that I see all of reality conditioned by the primacy of this kind of ‘unioned’ life. I am digressing a wee bit.

So this issue of origins, and the literal nature of the Genesis account, in particular, and for my friend; the literal nature of Biblical accounting in general continues to be an ongoing issue. Enns’ latest book and the work of the foundation of which he is an integral part, Biologos, illustrates the ongoingness of this continued struggle (or not) between modern science and modern biblical and theological studies—in fact Brian LePort, a blogger here in Portland, Oregon has just recently posted on a very related question here.

I write all of the foregoing to come up against the question that prompted me to write this in the first place; do you think that evolution, one way or the other, should be an issue that hinders or in fact fosters the ‘intellectual’ space for someone to have the room to entertain a belief in Jesus Christ as the historic orthodox person of Christian proclamation? In other words, if evolution (neo-Darwinian) stands in the way, intellectually (whatever that means, theologically), of someone being able to give a hearing to Jesus, do you think we should be softer on this issue and allow for the fact that it is possible to both affirm modern scientific theories and claims, and the claims of Jesus Christ? I know of plenty of believing Christians (like Peter Enns, or even my beloved T.F. Torrance) who believe in macro-evolution, and also are thoroughgoing Christians—I shared this, briefly with my friend, I think he was encouraged by this.

Anyway, what do you think?


Reading Genesis 1–11 as Scripture and not Science

**I am just starting to re-read the bible (starting my 24th time) again, and so I am in Genesis; I thought I would repost this article since it coincides with where I am in my scripture reading. Plus I just read a good probing post by Chris Donato on “Destiny of the Evangelical Species” , and I think this post dovetails nicely with some of his points. Here in Genesis we have original creation, tomorrow, in Christ, we celebrate recreation — amen!!!

Genesis 1–11 is often the hot topic of discussion amongst Creationists, Naturalists, and Biblicists; the dialogue, or “yelling match”, is usually framed around the premiss of Genesis’ historicity relative to its accounting of the divine fiat in the creation of the world. The creationist argues that Genesis 1 should be seen as a scientific narrative describing how God created the world. The naturalist (Neo-Darwinian) similarly assumes the same ground as the “creationist” and disputes the claims of the creationist on the faulty assumption that Genesis’ primary intention was to describe how God created; they are both wrong!

The primary intention of Genesis 1–11 was and is to introduce us to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob contra or opposed to the pagan deities of the ancient past. Dr. Al Baylis says (one of my profs from seminary):

. . . These thoughts [he just described the pagan deities which Israel was surrounded by, and all of their “creation myths”] bring us face-to-face with a sobering fact. People become like the gods they worship. Their gods are their models. It would be disastrous if Israel thought Yahweh her God was like other gods. In fact, God warns his people that if they become as depraved as the people of Canaan, he will eject them from Palestine as well (Lev. 18:24-30). The Bible, then, begins with the most essential element of Torah—the real story about the true God—so the people of God may live a free and wholesome life.

But if we’re trying to learn about God, why tell the story of creation? Doesn’t that center on learning about the world? About origins? Geology? Not really. The Bible begins at the beginning not because Moses is a history buff obsessed with ancient chronology but because understanding God’s creation of the world gives us a clear picture of what God is like. (Al Baylis, “From Creation to the Cross,” 26-7 [brackets mine])

As Baylis highlights the frame surrounding any discussion of Genesis 1–11 is not a scientific debate, but an introduction to a Holy God who is separate and above the pagan deities of the world. In other words, when we approach this narrative unit, we should see it as an fundamental essential part to the intended intratextual whole of the Torah. There is literary genius at work here (what else this is an inspired document of Yahweh), and intended meaning belongs to the author usus loquendi, not the audience (i.e. reader response), which is what the whole creationist/evolutionist debate reflects (i.e. reader response).

Conversely, Baylis continues discussing some of the concepts this introduction of God implies for its intended audience, and how this unit (1–11) functions within the trajectory of the Torah (first five books of the Bible) as a whole; he says:

Concept #1: God is the transcendent, sovereign ruler of the creation. He is in complete control. He is not a part of it. Nor does it control him. It came into existence at his command. The earth is not a dead, defeated god. There is no god of the sea. For the pagan, the world was a fearsome place. The large sea creatures were feared as semigods. “Baal’s adversaries were gods like himself, or demons to be propiated.” But for Israel there is only one God. The productive earth, the seasons, and the light were all good gifts from the hand of God; provided in his original creation. These gifts are not dependent on cultic magic or the whim of gods, but are gracious provisions from the very first. This is why praise to the Creator is in order. This is Moses’ very warning to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 8. They are ready to enter the land. They have seen God’s direct, supernatural provision of food in the wilderness. But when they settle in the land and harvest abundant crops, they might say, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me” (Deut. 8:17). Such a viewpoint is rank heresy. They are to recognize God’s hand in his provision for them even through these oridinary channels. (Al Baylis, “From Creation to the Cross,” 30)

He goes on further, and elaborates other implications of why Genesis 1–11 is included in the Bible; but this should suffice in illustrating the import and intention of this highly volatile section of scripture.

To reduce Genesis 1–11 to a science text-book (i.e. Creationists) is to rape the text of scripture with our own selfish desires. To assume a naturalistic (evolutionist) worldview is to imbibe the metaphysic that Genesis 1 originally argued against (i.e. the physical world as god). While Genesis 1 and following was not primarily intended to talk science, it does in effect confront contemporary science; insofar as science today is undergirded by a metaphysic at odds with the one presented by Genesis 1–2 (i.e. the presupposition of my comment here is that science is not simply shaped by dealing with the emperical brute cold facts of observation—rather, science is just as “religious” and metaphysically oriented as religion is purported to be).

In closing, if we are going to talk about Genesis and the Torah we are bound, as good exegetes, to engage this area of scripture on its own contextual terms; and not our own. This discussion needs to be re-framed, both the Creationist and Evolutionist can have their rantings—but they should leave Genesis 1–11 out of it, since as Baylis has rightly underscored, this part of scripture has nothing to do with the typical framing it has generally received by these two parties. There definitely is competition taking place within the context of Genesis 1–11, but this “game” involves the true God (Yahweh) versus the false gods (the pagan deities of the surrounding nations of Israel); and the false god’s lose as they are used as the foil to introduce the true God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

"Bible Break"

Now and then I will be doing posts specifically on Biblical Theology; my Master’s degree is actually in ‘Biblical Studies,’ which you might never know by the content of much of my posting (usually revolving around Dogmatics). I have just picked up a book written by one of my former seminary profs — Dr. Al Baylis —– I am just starting to re-read this book (for the third time); it is an excellent ‘biblical theology’ of the Old Testament; I look forward to sharing insights and snippets from it with you all. The book is entitled: From Creation To The Cross: Understanding the First Half of the Bible. The back jacket says:

Most Christians don’t quite know what to do with the first half of the Bible. Some are fascinated by the historical sweep of the Old Testament. Others are blessed by its poetry. Still others focus on its prophecies. But what are the heart and soul of the Old Testament?

In From Creation to the Cross, Al Baylis is a guide who shares with us his love for, and profound understanding of, the Old Testament. He walks us through the Old Testament, pointing out along the way perspectives and insights that leave us with a new, personal understanding of these thirty-nine books — and more importantly, of the God of the Old Testament, who lovingly prepared the way before sending his Son.

So maybe you get a sense for where this book is coming from. I would recommend it for anyone interested in studying the Old Testament in a fresh way (it was written for a wide audience, it is an ideal book even for home Bible studies — it even has questions at the end of each chapter). Baylis is a great Bible teacher, he taught one of my favorite classes in seminary — New Testament Usage of the Old Testament, a seminar class where we exhaustively worked through New Testament books, looked at all that book’s quotations and allusions of the Old Testament; and learned how to study the Bible in that way. I hope all of the ensuing posts engender you to pick your Bibles in an excited way; and maybe you might be encouraged even to go and get this book (“From Creation to the Cross”).

Anyway, anytime you see “Bible Break” in the title of the post; you’ll know, for the foreseeable future that I will be referencing this book, and of course some section of Old Testament scripture.