Today I begin a series on William P. Brown‘s new book: The Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science, and the Ecology of Wonder.This book was brought to my attention by David Vinson (who by the way also wrote a nice post at BioLogos a few weeks ago, and is mentioned in Brown’s acknowledgments).
Dr. Brown is a Professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur GA. In his book he looks at the creation narratives – seven of them – found within the pages of the Old Testament. The question that drives the study: “What is it like to read the Bible in one hand and the journal Science in the other? … What is it like to be both a sage and a psalmist, a steward of creation’s mysteries and a servant of Christ?” (p. 8-9) According to Brown we need both an empirical appreciation for the world God created, a sense of wonder, and an appreciation for the revelation of God’s story in scripture.
To talk comprehensively about the story of God’s creative and redemptive work is to overturn the woefully narrow view that treats the world as merely a stage for humanities salvation. The world that God so loved in John 3:16 is nothing less than cosmic. The extent of God’s provident love reaches the whole of creation (Rom 8:19-23). If Earth’s story is deemed at all important for our time, then it must find a place within or at least alongside God’s story for all time, whose very bookends are, in fact, creation and new creation. And at either end of the either story – whether the Bible’s or the Earth’s – the scope of life, and thus God’s purposes extend far beyond humanity. (p. 9)
Seven Pillars of Creation
Brown is a biblical theologian and this book is a discussion of the creation narratives found in scripture – it is first and foremost a book rooted in scripture. There are seven narratives identified and discussed (p. 6):
- Genesis 1:1-2:3
- Genesis 2:4-3:24
- Job 38-41
- Psalm 104
- Proverbs 8:22-31
- Ecclesiastes 1:2-11; 12:1-7
- Isaiah 40-55 (excerpts)
Anything short of full consideration of the whole of the Biblical creation narrative is inadequate.
Biblical Authority and Interpretation
Before advancing too far into the subject Brown lays out a view of the authority of scripture.
The Bible’s “authority,” thus, points to its regenerative power to evoke reflection and shape conduct, indeed the very identity, of the reader and the reading community. Biblical authority is as formative as it is normative, and is manifest in Scripture;s creative authorial power for its readers. As the attractive, binding force of gravity has helped to shape the universe in all its complexity, so the authority of Scripture forms the community of faith in all its variety. (p. 12)
Brown then discusses his hermeneutical approach – a feedback loop that examines both what the text meant and what it means. “Discerning the text’s meaning involves interpreting the text in the light of one’s experience and within one’s community. One cannot interpret the biblical text without interpreting oneself within the one’s context (cultural, religious, and personal).” (p. 13)
The feedback loop Brown will employ has three steps. (p. 14)
1. Elucidate the text’s perspective on creation within the text’s contexts.
2. Associate the text’s perspective on creation with the perspective of science.
3. Appropriate the text in relation to science and science in relation to the text.
One feature of Brown’s approach, a feature that may challenge some, is the suggestion that the seven creation narratives are thought experiments. They address specific questions – although they are not the scientific questions that concern us today. They flesh out understanding of these specific questions. But more than this, “these traditions were, and continue to be, theological “life experiments” that not only evoke wonder but also cultivate wisdom.” (p. 19)
More to come. We will consider this book slowly over the next several weeks. If you are interested, get the book and read along.
What do you think of Brown’s interpretative approach – a feedback loop using both our empirical knowledge of God’s creation and the narrative of scripture to look for the wisdom in the creation story?
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