One of the serious challenges facing many in our church today – in fact our church for the last couple centuries – is the interaction between reason and faith. How can we reconcile our increasingly sophisticated knowledge of history, of science, of anthropology, and even of the Bible itself, with the faith of our fathers? For far too many this fault line ruptures in a faith destroying quake leaving naught but rubble in its wake. Science and the interaction between science and faith is not the only issue – but for many it is pressing in one form or another. With post I begin a long series to explore the key issues of science and faith – faith with intellectual integrity.
This is a massive undertaking – touching on fields within and without my range of expertise. Fortunately there are many outstanding books by Christian, and occasionally non-christian scholars, to help to guide our path.
There are several issues we must consider as we walk this path together (perhaps you have others to add):
Science – a Christian realist point of view has to take the observation of creation seriously. We cannot disregard the data because it doesn’t fit into an expected story. Rather the story has to encompass and accommodate all of the data.
Genesis – We need a serious look at what Biblical scholars are saying about Genesis.
NT use of Genesis – the NT use of the image of creation and Adam and Eve, especially in Romans 5, but in other passages as well.
Scripture and Inspiration – the nature of scripture, the purpose of scripture, and the way scripture has been interpreted in the past.
Our cultural context – the history of the creation/evolution discussion and how we have reached the current position; the role of materialism and scientific naturalism in our society.
Theology – What is the story we find ourselves in? What is the gospel? How does the whole mix come together to inform thinking about Christology and doctrine?
We’ve covered a lot of ground on the current state of the science and the consensus opinion of scientists, including Christian scientists – and will come back to this in future posts as well. But the scientific deconstruction goes nowhere if we never begin to reconstruct – so today we begin with Genesis.
Bill T. Arnold, Director of Hebrew Studies and the Paul S. Amos Professor of Old Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary has a new commentary out, Genesis (New Cambridge Bible Commentary). This is an excellent place to start – a scholarly commentary written from a perspective of faith, accessible to educated Christians with or without background in Hebrew and the literature and culture of the ancient near east. I am currently working from a library copy – but may have to purchase it to markup and add to my library.
The book of Genesis has two major divisions – The Primeval History (1-11) of primary concern in the conflict between science and faith, and The Ancestral Narratives (12-50). Genesis 1-11 has no parallel in scripture – it sets the stage for the story of God’s interaction with his creation and with his people. In this context it is first and foremost a theological book, a powerful book with intentional structure and form. Arnold puts it like this: “The Primeval History in Gen 1-11 is, in fact, the result of deep, contemplative exploration of God’s relationship with the entire universe in light of God’s intervention in the life and history of national Israel.” (p, 19)
In the next post we will begin to work through Arnold’s commentary on The Primeval History, Genesis 1-11. Today, however, I would like to open one essay and quote from this commentary for discussion.
Bridging the Horizons – Genesis 1 and the Ideologies of the Ages
Genesis 1 has held fast against the ideological storms of human speculation for more than two and a half millennia: from polytheism to atheism (including dualism, deism, and agnosticism), and concepts such as nihilism, materialism, astrology, and a host of others and varieties of these. With raw simplicity, this text frames the biblical storyline and its assertions: God exists as a singular and personal entity; God alone created the world and did so effortlessly; the world is inherently good, including everything in it and especially humans; the humans hold a unique role in the world as God’s regents; and finally, the seventh day of the week is different from the others, and it an especially appropriate time to reflect on these truths. Whereever and whenever human ideologies have gone astray, they have often involved a rejection or neglect of these truths.
The importance of such concepts for reading and understanding the rest of the Bible is obvious, and will become clear in this commentary as we continue through the book of Genesis. Beyond this foundational role for Gen 1 for reading the Bible, and obviously for religion and theology, it is also constructive to consider the contributions of this text more generally for contemporary explanations of life in our universe. In an age of rapidly expanding knowledge and exponential advances in scientific research, especially as it relates to the birth of the universe as much as 20 billion years ago and the evolution of the first humans five million years ago, this text continues to offer an intellectual benchmark for readers of faith. The supposed dichotomy between religion and science is one of the most unfortunate developments of contemporary thought. As science continues to make advances in our understanding of cosmic and human origins, Gen 1 continues to offer answers to the “Who” and “Why” questions that all of us ask instinctively. Instead of assuming that Genesis and science offer rival perspectives or mutually exclusive explanations we should consider the potential for mutual instruction in future theories of origins, especially as this text speaks to issues of purpose and meaning in ways science is not equipped to address. (pp. 51-52)
Genesis 1-11 is a carefully crafted text, inspired and preserved for a reason. But neither science texts nor history texts were common literary forms in the ancient near east. Before we dig into the text and the commentary, what do you think is the genre and purpose of the primeval history in Genesis?
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