by Frederick Schmidt
Frederick W. Schmidt is the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL and blogs at Patheos.com
From the vantage point of exegetical scholarship, one of the most troubling phrases in the debate with creationists is the phrase, “biblical creation.” It appears over and over again in the literature on the subject, as the articles here at “Righting America” attest, and if you Google “biblical creation” in just .57 seconds the internet coughs up 20,900,000 results.
The phrase, of course, is shorthand for an approach to Genesis 1 that reads the poetry of the book as a “creation account” and offers up a schema for the way in which that creative act was accomplished. More subtly, but powerfully, the phrase also ties the schema to the authority of Scripture, making an implicit appeal to that authority, thereby pitting Scripture against science. The power of the appeal to “biblical creation” is such that it has drawn the parties in the debate over creationism into debates about the inspiration of Scripture. Worse yet, it has forced younger churchgoers into an implied choice between fidelity to the Bible (if not God) and ostensibly God-less alternatives.
The power of such appeals is difficult to over-estimate, particularly in Protestant circles where Luther’s doctrine of sola scriptura (or “Scripture alone”) holds sway. Having chipped away at this issue some years ago in working with undergraduates, the world-ending weight of such choices is nothing short of an existential and spiritual crisis of the first order for young adults who have been raised in homes where this approach to both the Bible and the Christian faith hold sway. On the face of it, conversations about the subject appear to be all about interpreting Scripture, but for adolescents and young adults such conversations end up being about the very possibility of believing in God.
The frustrating thing about all this is that there is no such thing as “biblical creation,” not if one wants to argue that the writer of Genesis is offering a description of the way in which God brought creation into existence. While Christians and even Jews have interpreted it as such, it is far more likely that Genesis 1 is an affirmation of the exclusive claims made by the God of Judaism in the context of a polytheistic environment. Read as such, what the writer of Genesis is saying is, “On the first day, my God created your god and your god” and on the second day, “My God created your god and your god,” etc.…i.e., “your gods are not God.”
In other words, the writer of Genesis is offering what we might call a “confession of faith” in the primacy of the God of Israel. He is not writing a history of creation, never mind anything that might qualify as a scientific account of how God created the universe. This reading of Genesis also accords with the rest of the first three chapters, which is really the writer’s way of saying, “Here is how the world and our lives are,” not “Here is how the world and our lives came into being.”
Convincing creationists of this is, of course, nearly impossible. The religious authorization for their views is circular and creates the world-ending conundrum that the undergraduates in my classroom faced and others still do. If you don’t believe in the historical-scientific-literalist reading of Scripture you are, by definition, lost to both God and the church. But getting clear about the meaning of Genesis is the key to setting aside a range of topics associated with biblical interpretation with creationists is a non-starter and can lead to nowhere good for those who want to engage both the scientific and exegetical questions.
Helpful and thought-provoking. Thanks! Can you provide some information on the approach(es) most helpful in dialog with the earnest students you mention–who have been raised and nurtured in ‘biblical creation’ milieux and now are encountering seminary-level exegesis and authority leading to different conclusions? I’d very much appreciate some further comments on those matters.
William, that’s a good question. I eventually developed a module in the courses that I taught that talked about faith development. Long-story, short, I explained to them that typically we think of faith as faith in God, but — in truth — most of us depend not on ultimate authority (i.e., God), but on proximate authorities (i.e., other convictions that we believe are verifiable that justify our faith in God). That, it seems to me, is where Scripture enters the picture in fundamentalist forms of Christianity. So, for example, my students sometimes argued that their faith in God (ultimate authority) was justified by a faith in other proximate authorities (i.e., the facticity of the Genesis account and the correspondence between “biblical creation” and scientific accounts of the creative process). There other proximate authorities, of course, and all of us can be lured into relying upon them, but that was the presenting issue with my students. Having helped them think through that, I then tried to help them see that what I was attempting to do was not “take their faith in God away from them,” but help them develop a faith that could endure fair, even-handed, critical approaches to the text of the Bible. It didn’t always take, of course, their success in turning that corner depended on their own maturity, the socialization that they experienced in their churches and their homes, and (to some extent) the cooperation of my colleagues. Some of which were on the same page with me and some of which were fundamentalists themselves. The one thing that I think is paramount in all of this is trying to understand the unspoken values at stake in it all for them, rather than subjecting them to raw criticism. It is also important to know that they bring their own “triage theology” to the classroom with them. Something I discuss at greater length here: https://www.amazon.com/What-God-Wants-Your-Life-ebook/dp/B004V54AME/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1477423390&sr=1-1&keywords=what+god+wants+for+your+life
Thanks for the follow-on!
Very grateful–again, thanks and blessings!
There are some strange things about the Genesis story which need to be looked at. How is it that light is created before there was any sun or moon or stars? Today scientists tell u of a type of light wave pervading the whole universe. We should read Job as ell as Genesis. There is a lot to learn yet.
Nick, there is not doubt that the Genesis stories are extraordinarily evocative, which accounts for the power that they have exercised over subsequent generations of readers and loom large, even for people who have no particular faith-commitment. But I think that reading them for hints of the ways in which they might connect with scientific discovery is the wrong way in which to read them. The harmonizing approach that suggests we will discover connections with scientific insights only applies if you read the truth of Genesis as a process-driven description in reporting on the divine and creative process, where the facticity of that accounts is all important. I think that the “truth” of the Genesis account — which is imaginative, poetic, and mythic (in the classical sense of that term — i.e., a story the truth of which is larger than the details of the story) — lies in its claim that “Our God is God. Yours is not.” If that is what is at issue then reconciling Genesis with science is as unnecessary as arguing that figurative expressions like “you are the salt of the earth” can be reconciled with the chemistry of sodium chloride. There is a lot to learn from these accounts in theological and spiritual terms, but it is living into that larger claim that is at stake and not the science.
|It amazes me how folk can read the account of Genesis 1 and NOT see it as a detailed account (in brief) of the order in which God created the universe and the method and the time scale.
The order is set out in simple but clear detail, the time scale very simply 6 days, and the method God spoke the universe into existence by his word of power.
It is astonishing the way people go to great lengths to pretend that this is poetry and that, of course, God did not actually mean what he said
Derek, with all due respect, if the account is all about “method” and “time scale,” Genesis is woefully short on detail and contradicts itself with a second account in Genesis 2:4ff. If, however, the point of the account is “theological” and not “scientific” (poetry or not), then the presence of the two theological statements alongside one another are not at all problematic. Far from failing to take Scripture seriously, what I am suggesting here is that if Scripture is taken on its own terms and not on terms shaped narrowly by 21st century and western categories, we are more likely to appreciate the truth-claims Genesis does make.
Everyone assumes that Science knows better than some 1000’s of years old writings. Scientist generally are very intelligent people and have no doubt discovered many things, yet they have only lived a very short time on this planet.
Even with all the knowledge gleaned over the past 100 odd years, they still cannot explain how the Pyramids were built, they cannot explain how huge human like skeletons have been dug up in many lands.
They do not know for sure that the speed of light has always remained constant. I believe that a far superiour intelligence to our race, can change whatever he likes. The Bible in fact gives clues to this.
Just something to think about….I believe what the Bible says is truth. Not blindly as I have looked at the alternatives.
David, thanks for the observation. Just to be clear (not to start an argument!), the observations I have made here are not about privileging science over other kinds of knowledge, nor it it about arguing that scientific forms of knowledge are superior to other kinds of knowing. This is about reading Genesis and taking it seriously on its own terms, rather than reading our interests and orientation back into the text and thereby insisting that it answer questions it was not intended to answer. i.e., the text of Genesis 1 is “a confession of faith” in the primacy of the God of Israel and God’s primacy, even as the one who created other people’s gods, but it is not report on how that creation unfolded.
It almost seems that your article, without saying it outright, assumes that the present body of evolutionary science is so concrete and unquestionable that we create an existential dilemma for the student in the choice between biblical faith and what science presents as a conclusive theory of origins.
There are many more holes and gaps in the scientific community’s assumptions and conclusions in the theory of origins, and I believe that we do far greater harm to a person’s biblical faith when much of the account is not presented as a guide to understanding how God did things. God, as you stated, is presented in the biblical account as the source of all substance and being, but you also imply that it is not possible to take literally the timeline or time-period. Your method thereby teaches them to question the scriptures veracity, whether intentionally or not, as an actual document that is intended to teach about God.
Do not give way to the temptation to make God fit what we think is possible. Doing so can literally undermine a person’s belief in the Gospel. If God is who he says he is, then why is it impossible for us to believe that he could create light without a sun or moon, and do it in a literal seven days. If it is impossible for God to create the universe in a literal seven days, is he able to save us from our sins? Is the righteous-ness of Jesus sufficient to qualify Him as our propitiation? Would it not be better to teach our students to take things of the Bible as literal and miraculous given the greatness of who God is than to teach them to question the Genesis account of who God is because it does not align with current scientific theory? I am not arguing for blind faith in the face of scientific evidence. I am arguing for a highly skeptical reading of current scientific evidence since most of it is driven by a theory that has as its philosophical roots the idea that the natural world’s existence can be explained without God.
Matthew, I don’t come right out and say that I think that the science on creation is settled or without gaps because I don’t believe it is settled, nor do I believe that the science on creation can account (in a final sense) for the origin of creation. i.e., God’s creative act includes what we consider a “natural” process.
That said, I disagree with your observation that “we do far greater harm to a person’s biblical faith when much of the account is not presented as a guide to understanding how God did things.” The problem here is the premise: The Bible is not “a guide to understanding how God did things.” There is nothing about the themes of the individual books that found their way into the Bible that suggests they were written with an eye to that goal. Books written with an eye to that purpose would hardly lend itself to the redemptive benefits that we associate with reading Scripture. And — to be direct — I think that reading it as a guide to how God does things is bound to alienate its readers.
Dear Mr Frederick Schmidt,
If I may make so bold, and to use your own title, what you write here is…. Bunkum!
First, You stand upon the position of, “exegetical scholarship,” as if all those whose views differ from those you express here are…. unscholarly or are not based upon exegesis. Yet a very great many who hold to a six literal day position on Genesis one would have just as much right to describe themselves a scholars and exegetes.
For myself I just take the place of a man under God seeking to understand His written communication with us.
Secondly, you make a claim of fact that Genesis one is, and must be read as poetry. I think you will find that this is very far from a universal accepted fact, and in many ways goes very much against the style of the Hebrew. Were Genesis 1 about something less important, and if it did not lay a foundation for God’s claim to ownership and authority over everything and everyone in the universe, no one would interpret Hebrew of the style as being poetry.
You pit yourself against both Moses, (Exodus 20:11), and for that matter God the Father, whose words Moses is here recording, and Jesus, (Mark 10:6–7), Who certainly do not appear to be thinking of the “Science” that you latter speak of, assuming that you are talking of the theory of Evolution.
Thirdly, you set up a battle over the “authority of Scripture,” so that it appears that the person who actually has authority over scripture and can make it mean what he wants is you. God says, “in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day” say, It seems that what God meant to say, presuming that you believe that the Bible is the Inspired word of God is …. “On the first day, my God created your god and your god” and on the second day, “My God created your god and your god,” etc.…i.e., “your gods are not God.” You actually attribute these ideas to the “writer of Genesis,” but if it was written under the inspiration of God, then it is ultimately God’s words/thoughts that you presume to change.
While I am quoting from Exodus chapter 20 let us remember that it starts of by saying, “And God spake all these words…” We are dealing with the very word of God. not just a vague idea that Moses was given and recorded in an unclear way.
Fourthly, You say that the use of the phrase “biblical creation,” pits Scripture against science. This is very far from true, or far from being fully true.
Science supports the truth therefore biblical creationist have no argument with science. What “biblical creation,” is pitted against is the unscientific interpretation of the data based purely on the idea of naturalism. If you start understanding of the world, by your view of science, by ruling out the one or other possibility before you start to interpret the facts or the data, then you are no longer dealing with science.
For instance, If you say, “there is no god, therefore…” then if there is a god your conclusions will by necessity be wrong.
Fifthly, You speak of, “younger churchgoers,” as if they are a homogeneous group, which they are not, and as though they are all incapable of reasoning, which is not true.
Sixthly, When you say, “Worse yet, it has forced younger churchgoers into an implied choice between fidelity to the Bible (if not God) and ostensibly God-less alternatives.” you appear not to have taken into consideration the fact that there is an even worse position. That is, that God really did create the universe in six days, but people like yourself are undermining the message of the Gospel and leading people who are young in the faith to take a liberal view to the understanding of the Bible, believing that it is ok to re-interpret bits that we do not like, in a way that we find more acceptable. And that you may also give the impression that you believe in God who created through millions of years of death violence and destruction, (the popular scientific position of the origin of life on earth). Just maybe it would be better, not worse if younger churchgoers did not believe in a god like that.
Seventh, you speak as though it were a bad thing that people face an, “existential and spiritual crisis of the first order.” Is not that the very essence of the Gospel call?
Is not the the whole of the Bible’s message that today we must chose between blessing and curses, life and death, heaven and hell, and eternity of bliss with God or of judgment without him. Unless we take a universalist very of eternity, then every man woman and child will have to make an, existential and spiritual decision of the first order. What we should be doing is not watering down the choice, but supporting young people as they make the hard choice of submitting to God and of giving him the position of Lord in their lives.
Eighthly, You boldly state that there is, “no such thing as biblical creation!” You base this on the premise that it is, “far more likely that Genesis 1 is an affirmation of the exclusive claims made by the God of Judaism in the context of a polytheistic environment.” Hello! if it is more likely, or even “far more likely,” there must be a possibility that the other view is correct.
Ninthly, even if what you are saying about Genesis one merely being, “an affirmation of the exclusive claims made by the God of Judaism in the context of a polytheistic environment” and that all if really means is, “On the first day, my God created your god and your god, etc.” we are still left with the claim that a “god” created other, gods. Hummm, I do not remember my school science books talking about all these gods. “Science” as you are speaking of it has no place for a god at all, let alone one that made other gods. We still have science v the bible, only now we cannot trust that the bible writer meant what they said. HELP!
Tenthly, you speak of Genesis one as a “confession of faith” rather than a, “scientific account of how God created the universe.” With no textual evidence for this. This is interpretation not exegesis. But even if we let all of that go, we must still ask that is it a, “confession of faith” about. One who appears to be the God who supernatural created all things by his spoken word. We are back to supposed science v this new “confession of faith.”
Furthermore, you state that Genesis one is saying, “Here is how the world and our lives are,” not “Here is how the world and our lives came into being,” but you are now taking a position diametrically opposed to the text you are claiming to be interpreting. The text says this is how things came into being and you say that the writer means to say this is how ting are now!!! You should either put you analyst on danger money, or you have a god who is totally incapable of clear communication and we might as well throw the bible away.
“Convincing creationists of this” may not be so, “nearly impossible,” if you had a coherent argument.
I do not even understand what you mean by, “The religious authorization for their views is circular.”
but let me have a go…
“Religion” is something like, “relating to or believing in a religion.”
“Authorization” is “the action of authorizing.”
“Circular” – “having the form of a circle” or “already containing an assumption of what is to be proved, and therefore fallacious.”
No… still no idea, unless you are stating that you do not have a religion as the foundation of your ideas.
From this point on your ideas become more unclear so I will stop trying to understand them and leave by saying that, I think I will stick with believing that both God and the author of Genesis were good communicators and knew that they intended to day… and then said it.
Well said Andrew Drapper! Young church goers, whoever thet are, are sometimes confused by the illogical reasoning of liberal elitists like Mr Schmidt. No doubt that human wisdom will vanish when he departs the earth. As for me, I will stick with God’s Word being exactly what it claims to be- God’s Word! Mr Schmidt, no disrespect intended Sir, but I received this ungodly view from liberal elitist seminary professors 35 years ago. It was bunk then, it is bunk now. The choice is most serious and cannot be safely overlooked. Can you be a true Christian and at the same time reject the clear teaching of Christ? I cannot answer that question for you but I believe it is one you should serously consider. Blessings.
Somewhere God’s Word and God’s Creation will confirm each other. That is what I am looking for. The science of men may or may not, since it refuses to even acknowledge the existence of God.
I am with you Allen, though time and time again we are seeing even “science” confirming the truths of God’s word. Many atheistic scientist try hard to prove a naturalistic world view, but as the Bible and God’s world, (our physical world), agree, as they examine the physical world the more they confirm the Bible… Praise God.
I’m going to leave aside the ad hominem arguments and the questions about whether or not I am a “real” Christian. My experience has been that God is the judge of those matters, and I have little interest in implied or explicit judgments made by other human beings or in defending myself against them.
Cutting through the long list of minor issues you’ve raised, the central consideration is this: Assuming Scripture communicates truth, the question is — then — what is the truth it communicates.
As I understand it, the truth you believe Genesis offers here is a “literal” truth, capable of being misunderstood without reference to context or cultural setting. That approach falters as one moves more deeply into the world of the Old Testament. It’s values, its orientation, and perspective are largely foreign to our context; and those who ignore that fact typically respond — episodically — to the historical and cultural context without acknowledging that they are being fundamentally inconsistent in their approach to reading Scripture.
By contrast, I choose a different approach: I believe the truth of Genesis One can be found in the assertion that God is God, that God is the creator, and that anyone who assumes that some dimension of creation is God is mistaken. (Hence, the interpretation I offer above.) That interpretation is consistent with the challenges that Israel faced to its faith in the Ancient Near East. It is consistent with a reading of the text that had no interest in the scientific questions that interest us.
In the Eastern Orthodox tradition that reading and science find harmony in the conviction that the triune God of the Christian faith created the world through processes that we mistakenly attribute to material forces alone. And it gives up the vain search for harmony between science and an errant approach to the interpretation of Scripture (not the claims of Scripture itself).
Dr Schmidt, you sir, are a saint. I was not a student of yours but people like you who are willing to endure all this to help others develop a more mature faith were irreplaceable to my faith journey. Keep up your good work even as it leads to attacks and criticism I’m sure you’ve heard now a million times before. There are many of who wouldn’t be where we are without you.
Stephen, thanks for the kind and welcome words of encouragement. It is always heartening to hear from someone who has done the hard work of finding a place to be thoughtfully faithful; and it’s good to be reminded that conversations of this kind are helpful. God’s keeping.
Dear Mr Schmidt,
I am sorry if you think that I have been using ad hominem arguments, against you. Or questioned whether or not you are a “real” Christian. I thought I addressed your article and it’s arguments, not who you are personally. I have never met you and only know you from this one article, and make no judgements on you personally. I apologise if it appears that I have any personal argument against you.
But again commenting on your writing, you say, “My experience has been that God is the judge of those matters, [whether or not you are a “real” Christian].” I do not think that either of us have any “experience” in this matter, but only have understanding derived from our reading of scripture.
I think I agree with your statement, “Assuming Scripture communicates truth, the question is — then — what is the truth it communicates?”
Yes – I believe that the truth Genesis offers here is a “literal” truth.” I am not sure what other kind of truth there is?
Have you mistyped this, “capable of being misunderstood without reference to context or cultural setting?”
I actually believe that much of the Bible, a great deal of the fundamentals of the Christian faith can be understood simply and with little reference to the context and culture of its original writers. Yes there is much rich depth that we may miss, but I believe that God is a superb communicator and capable of communicating in such a way that the everyday man or woman will be able to understand the simple truths of the Bible. When God says that he created in six days… he probably meant six days. Especially in the light of the number of times that idea id communicated outside of Genesis.
I also believe that, “God is God, and that, “God is the creator.” I think both of those are literal truths too. but what is, “that anyone who assumes that some dimension of creation is God is mistaken?” I suspect that you have something mistyped.
Leaving the second part aside, as I think it is not understandable as it is written. How is your statement, “I believe the truth of Genesis One can be found in the assertion that God is God, that God is the creator,” any different from what a biblical creationist would believe? I too believe that God is God, and that God is creator.
You challenge my way of understanding the Bible as, faltering as I move more deeply into the world of the Old Testament. I however believe that within the scriptures, God has given us sufficient for our understanding of his gospel and sufficient to a godly life and to salvation. It appears to me to be far from the New Testament understanding of the qualifications of a follower of Jesus Christ that you need to be a doctor of philosophy or Old Testament history and culture to be able to come to an understanding of biblical truth. It is almost a harkening back to the times when the Roman Catholic church suggested that only the priests could understand the scriptures and the the Bible should be kept from the everyday man.
I fail to see how believing that there is a, “literal” truth,” means that I will of necessity approach the Bible episodically, (made up of separate especially loosely connected episodes)? How are the two connected?
Nor how I must be fundamentally inconsistent in my approach to reading Scripture. When I read that 2 + 2 = 4. I believe that this is true and that I can rely on 2 + 2 always adding up to 4. This is not subject to episodical problems, not fundamentally inconsistent to my approach to…. say mathematics. Yet I believe it to be literally true.
If God created the world in 6 days. And I understand the text of Genesis one to communicate this. How does this undermine my fundamental approach to Abraham and Isaac on mount Moriah, and my understanding of substitutionary sacrifice?
I too believe that, interpretation should be consistent with the challenges that Israel faced to its faith in the Ancient Near East. But I don’t to believe that that means that we have to abandon the clear reading of scripture. Suppose God did make the world in six days, how does the fact that the Israelites lived among this people or alongside that culture mean that God through Moses could not have recorded that God made the world in six days.
I do not believe that your challenge with biblical creationism is with the cultural challenges that Israel faced, but with your desire for the bible to fit in with a Darwinian view of the past. The Bible vs Science, (naturalistic science).
You also suggest that the text, “had no interest in the scientific questions that interest us.” Just how do we know that the text had no interest in this, or that? How do we know what God had interest in communicating except by reading the text? The text, far from suggesting that God had no interest in the scientific questions that interest us, gives every indication that it is interested in the “how” and “how long” of the creation process. If God did create the world in 6 days, and he wanted to communicate that fact… how would he have communicated this? He might have just told us that he did it in six days… ho! He did in Genesis one.
One might also look at the fact that this record, or rather the events that it records, have affected the whole of history. The whole world runs on a 7 day week. Why, if not because of the creation seek?
Your last paragraph gives me a number of problems.
What the Eastern Orthodox tradition does or does not do, is not really relevant to this debate. It may give us some thought about how we might approach a matter. However, they do not have the authority of scripture, and they do not bring weight to the argument.
Seeking harmony, is also an interesting concept. The Bible talks about the truth setting us free, not harmony. If you have a piano and a tuning fork, you can bring them into harmony either by tuning the piano until it reaches harmony with the truth of the tuning fork, or by filing away at the tuning fork until it sounds like the piano. The one way you will be truly in tune, the other way you have corrupted the true pitch that you should be seeking to reach. We do not tune the Bible until it sounds like the world of human wisdom and naturalistic, god denying science. We work at our understanding of science until it reflects what God has given us as truth.
By the way, atheistic science, naturalism, evolutionary thought, does not, “mistakenly attribute,” the existence of this universe to, “material forces alone.” This is a deliberate act, not a mistake.
No one has yet sufficiently shown me from scripture that my, as you call it, “biblical creation,” approach, my what the Bible says is what God meant approach, is wrong, is an “errant approach to the interpretation of Genesis one.”
Just suppose God wanted to tell us that he actually did make the world in six days, something like 6 x 24 hour type days. How would he do it? I suppose he could tell us that that was what he did. He could even conclude this with a , “This is how it was done.” Ho.. He has done that and we still do not believe it… so just what should God have done to make it clear that this is what he meant? Are we looking for a New Testament, “Truly, truly?”
Mr Schmidt, what is there in Genesis one that necessitates you saying that it is only metaphorical or illustrative? What is the argument from scripture for this view, or are you putting the bible under the authority of man, your and others peoples view that it just could not have happened that way?
I doubt that either one of us will move the other. So, I’ll make this my last effort, not out of any pique, but because there is only so much that can be said in a forum of this kind. With that in mind, let me highlight a few places where we fundamentally differ with one another and out of which the rest emerges:
(1) There are all kinds of truths that are not literal, i.e., truths that are expressed without “taking words in their usual or most basic sense without metaphor or allegory.”
“You are the salt of the earth” is one of countless examples in the teaching of Jesus, including the parables and much to be found in the Sermon on the Mount. The use of numerals in the Old and New Testament is another. The language of the psalms is rich in metaphor and figurative language that expresses truth that can’t be comprehended by reading the Bible literally. Truth, in other words, is not exhausted in prosaic facticity.
(2) I am not trying to “accommodate Darwinism.” I am trying to read the biblical accounts with an eye to their authorship, the settings in which they were written and originally read, and then I and only then do I try to navigate the theological concerns that arise out of our own 21st century setting. I don’t agree that this effort simply yields a “richer” understanding of the Bible, as if such were work marginal. I consider it basic to the task of exegesis. I also believe that Scripture and science deal in different kinds of truth and that the greatest mistakes are made when science attempts to function as an arbiter of religious concerns or metaphysical concerns and when Christians attempt to read Scripture as if it is thread-through with hidden insights into scientific findings. All of that is even more complicated and even nonsensical when both scientists and theologians acknowledge that they don’t “know” in minute detail how the world was created.
(3) The last observation is based upon an more basic conviction: i.e., that Scripture, like the rest of God’s work and — preeminently — the work of Christ is done “incarnationally” — is done in and through history, circumstances, communities, individuals, as well as cultural social realities. That is true of Scripture. It is also true of the ways in which you and I read Scripture — which is not neutral, which is shaped by our experiences, training, and social location. One of the important ways in which we can test the probable accuracy of our interpretation and one of the ways in which we can allow Scripture to read us is to test our understanding of Scripture against what we know of its probable meaning in the time and place in which it was written.
I suspect, however, that our most basic difference lies in the way that we do theology which you hint at in your rejection of the Eastern Orthodox tradition and — one wonders — a rejection that might include Roman Catholics, Copts, the Ethiopian Church, and some Protestants.
That difference is on the place of Scripture. I value Scripture, (like other Christians) I depend upon it, and I have devoted my professional life to its study. But I do not believe that theology can be done sola Scriptura. As an Anglo-Catholic, I am convinced that theology can only be done in conversation with Scripture, the church’s tradition, the experience of the church as guided by the Holy Spirit, and reasoning with the mind of Christ.
It strikes me that this difference means that you want or need for Scripture to say more (in this case about the process of creation as process) and that I am content for it to say something more elemental, that is nonetheless true, about God’s identity as creator.
Thanks for the conversation, Andrew.
I think you are probably right, that we will not agree, nor move the others opinion.
As you can probably feel, I am very passionate for the word of the Lord, and that we should not water down it’s teaching. The fact that God created all things is more important than how he did it. But weather or not he did it though millions of years of death violence and struggle or an amazing week of perfection without death or violence, and weather death is the fruit or sin or God’s means of creation, is very important to me.
I trust that the Lord will honour you passion for him and that we will meet in full agreement, at his return.