By Emily Hunter McGowin
The authors of Righting America observe that, “given the Creation Museum’s stated commitment to biblical inerrancy and the very words of the Bible as ‘God-breathed,’” it is striking that the museum is “oddly loose” in its presentation of the Bible (136-137). But as Dr. McGowin discusses below, it is even more striking how much of the Bible the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter leave out.
In a previous post, the authors of Righting America noted the fact that Jesus Christ gets very little attention at the Ark Encounter and at the Creation Museum. He appears as a savior to be sacrificed rather than a teacher to be followed. It is perhaps understandable that the man who overturned cultural boundaries, embraced the poor and outcast, and called his followers to love their enemies doesn’t get much play in an institution devoted to waging a culture war.
But Jesus isn’t the only curious thing largely absent in the Creation Museum. Also missing, as Righting America points out, are the people of Israel. You see this clearly in the Answer in Genesis (AiG) “Seven Cs in God’s Eternal Plan,” which is supposed to encompass the whole history of the world:
Creation – Creation by God’s Word
Corruption (the Fall) – Rejection of God’s Word Led to Corruption
Catastrophe (the Flood) – Rejection of God’s Word Led to the Catastrophe
Confusion (Babel) – Rejection of God’s Word Led to Confusion
Christ – The Promise of God’s Word
Cross – The Answer of God’s Word
Consummation -The Fulfillment of God’s Word
AiG’s version of the biblical story goes straight from Genesis 10 (the Tower of Babel story) to Matthew 1 (Christ). In terms of the Christian canon, they skip from the first book of the Bible to the fortieth. What’s happening in-between? From Genesis to Malachi is the long, eventful story of God’s people, Israel, and their relationship to God. For an organization dedicated to the Bible’s veracity and trustworthiness, it is strange that the story of God’s relationship with Israel, to which the majority of the Bible is devoted, is largely ignored. As Righting America says,
“In the museum … Jews have been consigned to playing the minor roles in a drama scripted by Christians” (46).
But the Jewish people aren’t the only community given little play in the Creation Museum. In addition to ignoring the Old Testament people of God, AiG is also not much interested in the church, the New Testament people of God. This is puzzling because it seems like “Church” would have been a natural “C” for their “Seven Cs.” But instead of Church, they go straight from “Christ” to “Cross” to “Consummation.”
Still, the reconciliation of all peoples—especially the previously antagonistic Jews and Gentiles—within the newly formed church is a central preoccupation of the New Testament. The body of Christ, the bride of Christ, the community of disciples, the temple of God—all these phrases in the New Testament describe the new people of God created by the reconciling work of Christ. In the words of the letter to the Ephesians:
“[T]hrough the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.”
The Jewish people and the church are the two communities from whom the Christian scriptures emerged and in which the Bible has been interpreted for thousands of years. To deal with the Jewish people or the church is to deal with history, tradition, and the ongoing work of both communities to interpret the scriptures. For Christians in particular, to reckon with the church is to reckon with the fact that the Bible doesn’t belong exclusively to individual Christians but to the whole church across space and time. If AiG were to acknowledge this truth, however, they’d have to acknowledge that their interpretations of the Bible are very much rooted in our modern American cultural moment. Put simply, it is easy to turn the Bible into a modern scientific textbook when it is extracted from the particulars of the worshipping communities that produced it.
The absence of the Jewish people and the church also exposes the individualistic heart of the AiG narrative. For AiG, Jesus is primarily a tool for individual atonement and sin forgiveness and his return is anticipated as the rescue of saved souls from a wicked world. There is no community to which a believer in Christ belongs and is accountable.
On display in the Creation Museum is the American evangelical tendency to focus on the individual, personal, and private to the exclusion of the communal, social, and public. And because AiG presumes to interpret the Bible above the millennia of worshipping communities and their traditions, they are able to idealize their individualistic reading as the only universal, orthodox way of interpreting the Bible.
Rather than the Creation Museum, it would be more accurate to call it the Museum of a Modern American Fundamentalist Interpretation of the Bible.
Emily Hunter McGowin has a Ph.D. in theology from the University of Dayton. Her current research focuses on the Quiverfull movement within American evangelicalism. Her articles have appeared in New Blackfriars and Baptist History and Heritage, and she has a chapter in Angels on Earth: Mothering in Religious and Spiritual Contexts (Demeter Press, forthcoming 2016).