Books, Covers, and Genesis

On the back of The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth, one the latest books coming out of Kregel publications about the age of the earth, boasts a Paul Copan quote recommendation on that back that goes like this: “Irenic in spirit, scientifically informed, and biblically sound.” Dr. Copan is one of my favorite apologists out there at present, and a genuinely nice guy. So when he states that a book is aimed at peace and the reconciliation of denominational differences, I do not hesitate to pick it up.9780825444210

On the surface, The Grand Canyon looks like a work of great care and consideration. As scientific textbooks go, it is by far the most readable I have encountered in some years, interspersing the scientific lingo with beautiful pictures and engaging diagrams. The eleven authors mentioned on the first page demonstrate a breadth of knowledge that is impressive. They present the case that the Grand Canyon serves as irrefutable proof that the Earth cannot be young, and that Noah’s Flood cannot possibly have created something like the gorge surrounding the Colorado River. The book showcases remarkable lucidity with a topic that is often tedious or difficult to understand. Having read several books on the topic, including Alvin Plantinga’s Where the Conflict Really Lies and Francis Collins’s The Language of God (to name a couple), and find there is a fine line between scientific tedium and understandable theorizing. But the authors work hard to make the subject even enjoyable.

All of that being said, I think to call this book irenic is a bit misleading. While there are authors out there genuinely working to bridge the gap between Christians who disagree (like Kenneth Wheately and Alvin Plantinga), the bulk of this book is dedicated to converting Young Earth Creationists to a different view. Now, I understand that books are frequently written to make an argument. This can be done in a tasteful way, however, and much of the shots taken at YEC proponents through the book detract from what would otherwise be an insightful contribution to the larger discussion. Such a dismissive attitude limits the book’s potential.

While the book is one I recommend, I do so with caution. Coming to this book for a genteel and fair-minded discussion will not go far. But if you are already in, or leaning towards, an Old Earth view which congeals with Christianity, then this book is definitely for you.

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Putting Marduk in the Right Perspective

517I9RrDE7L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Admitting I am a geek about certain things is a necessity up front. When given the opportunity, I thoroughly enjoy pouring over varying ancient religions, looking for comparisons with Christianity and deviations as well. So while the title may be off putting, excitement bubbled up in me like the waters of the deep when Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology arrived on my doorstep. The chance to expand my understanding of the Ancient Near East, particularly in light of religious texts and concepts? What is not to love?

I wasn’t overly familiar with Jeffrey Niehaus before this book, doing most of my exploring under the guides John Walton and Alexander Heidel. But I had encountered his name in a few articles and looked forward to his two cents on the matter. His book is laid out in a particular fashion, that I sometimes found distracting, unfortunately. His premise, however, I think is sound. Niehaus essentially asserts that most ANE religious texts follow a particular outline, as seen below (30):

NiehausSchemaHis primary argument is that this process occurs in numerous ANE texts, including the Bible. In fact, he suggests that this is inherent in the entire Biblical narrative, and that the ANE texts illustrate a fallen example of how this concept played out in the pagan world (32, 177-181). With this in mind, Niehaus structures each chapter around a single concept (Chapter 2, “God and the Royal Shepherd”), and then unpacks how each of the major cultures explored this idea. Throughout, he maintains his thesis, and constantly reminds the reader how God was the real fulfillment of each part of the ANE process.

Undoubtedly, the material he covers is vast and informative, and I would recommend this book at every college student or pastor who is likely to encounter this material. Universities are filled with people who choose to focus on the similarities of the Bible with its ANE parallels, and consequently ignore the drastic ways in which the texts differ. Niehaus brings this concept to the forefront in an expert way. I do wonder if the text would be better suited to be broken out by culture, with a concluding chapter drawing everything together. Boyd Seevers’s Warfare in the Old Testament is put in such a format, and I found it easier to follow.

Despite this complaint, this book is worth the time. It is a short introduction to some of the major themes that scholars debate, and is handled in a gracious way. The book has earned a permanent spot on my shelf, and I suggest any interested readers do the same.

 

Questions Regarding Creation

429415_1_ftcI have read a number of book about science, faith, and the beginning of all things. I’ve read everything from Stephen Hawking’s A Briefer History of Time to Alvin Plantinga’s Where The Conflict Really Lies: Science, Faith, and Naturalism. One of the things I have to recognize is that every one of these books hinges upon a position of faith held by the author, whether they acknowledge it or not. Of course, when an author does recognize their faith position, and works out of it, the books tend to be more engaging (and convincing in my mind).

When it comes to Christians and science, this is a tough position to be in. For many Christians, the theory of where “it all began” is essential to the faith, with Theistic Evolutionists feeling slighted by Young Earth Creationists and those in the YEC camp feeling abandoned by the TE scientists. But every once in a while, a book comes along that speaks kindly of everyone involved and wrestles with the questions that such a subject touches upon. 40 Questions About Creation and Evolution is just such a work.

The book lays out the standard questions that a Christian (or skeptic) will have to wrestle with when it comes to the topic of Creation. Although there are divisions in the book, it is hard to say what can be found where. The authors do a great job of dealing with different theories in context, so OEC, YEC and TE all find treatment in each portion of the book. This necessitates that writers provide lots of secondary sources, which they do (including a great index of Ancient Sources on the topic starting on page 429). Overall, the book doesn’t push any new ideas in terms of Creation Science of Evolutionary Theory, but does an excellent job of summarizing the debate in a manner that any Christian could pick up and engage with.

While I don’t hold to the YEC or OEC (Old Earth Creationist) positions of the authors, I found their efforts enlightening and edifying. Keathley and Rooker approach the topic in a simple Q&A method, offering good insight and resources about the discussions in the book. While they don’t shy away from their own stance, both of the authors write charitably of Christians who hold to other positions. Perhaps the most valuable chapter in the whole book is Chapter 38, “Can a Christian Hold to Theistic Evolution?” Keathley and Rooker don’t acquiesce to the TE position, but they do acknowledge the adherents aren’t villains. They “[affirm] the Bible’s inspiration, inerrancy, and authority,” (384). In a book that might provide fodder for bashing those of different stripes, instead they exhorted those who hold to TE, “to formulate a model that fits well with the biblical text,” (385).

Christians need more books like this, which seek to amiably explore issues that are often divisive. Keathley and Rooker are to be commended for their candor and their caritas.

Risky Business: Re-Telling Genesis by Recasting the Discussion

yhst-38174537758215_2228_40572942What would Genesis look like if it was a story told in the 21st century? Would the sky still be called “firm,” or would the light exist before the Sun? Professor Karl Giberson tries to answer those questions by, as he puts it, re-telling the Genesis creation story using the most up-to-date scientific understanding at his disposal. Giberson does an excellent job of relating current science and the direction it is going in, while maintaining a constant anchor in the Christian perspective by continually returning to God’s purposes throughout his relaxed study. If Hawking’s A Briefer History of Time were to become amalgamated with C.S. Lewis’s Miracles, this book is how I would imagine it.

Giberson’s writing style is gracious from a layman’s perspective, and his analogies offer deep insight into the void that is often scientific explanations. In light of the many praises I have for the book though, there are two rather substantial items which plagued my reading throughout every page of the book. I’m somewhat reticent to criticize the good doctor, as I greatly admire the open dialogue going on over at BioLogos (who were the primary supporters of this book) and of the work going on at Paraclete Press (who published the book). But, I would be remiss to be anything less than honest. And perhaps a reader more enlightened than I can help put my mind at ease regarding these matters.

The first is Giberson’s area of expertise. While I appreciate his early days in interdisciplinary studies (he majored in Philosophy and Physics as an undergrad), he is first and foremost a scientist. This certainly doesn’t disqualify him from studying the word of God or speculating about it either, but it does raise questions as I read: how much Hebrew was researched in this analysis? Was there comparative work done with other Ancient Near Eastern creation stories to see if the premise of approaching Genesis from a scientific lens was plausible? Perhaps such questions shouldn’t have nagged at me, but they did nonetheless.

And I’m glad they did, because they exposed what I think to be the ultimate issue I had: what if Genesis isn’t a scientific story? This has been discussed at length in books and blogs alike, which makes me wonder how this topic seemed illusive in Giberson’s retelling. In the end, I simply can’t align with the professor’s basic premise. I don’t think Genesis is a scientific story, which means I don’t think retelling it in “modern terms” will help the origins discussion.

In my opinion, the only way to really bridge the divide between those who love Jesus while favoring evolution and those who love Jesus while favoring creation science is by recasting the debate entirely. Folks like John Walton are already engaged in that process, so I don’t feel the need to elaborate further here in a book review. But I had to make my positions clear. Until I can see Genesis 1-11 as a scientific narrative, I can’t get behind Giberson’s efforts. I get what he’s trying to do; he’s trying to redirect the discussion by pointing out that Genesis is about more than science. Which is a point on which I am in full agreement. But you can’t make such a case by building the foundation of your argument on evidence from science! That undermines the position from the very beginning, and effectively caused Seven Glorious Days to fall flat in my mind.

I certainly commend him for trying a different approach, but in the end it just felt all wrong both inside and out.

Creation Science

As always, I encourage you to download the handout and fill it out as you watch the video above.

This past week’s lesson was a good one. The PowerPoint didn’t work. We ran out of time. And multiple people expressed disappointment that we didn’t get to have more of a discussion.

What made it good had nothing to with the decent lecture I had prepared. And it wasn’t because we had a pretty amazing time of praise before we got started. Our lesson this past Wednesday was awesome because fellowship happened.

People volunteered to help bring food and drinks for next week. People hung around and chatted afterwards about life and all the in-between stuff. People were open, even if it made them a little but uncomfortable.

This is really what I love about teaching. Take all the fancy lectures and intelligent words and just throw into the ocean for all I care. Church gets real when people fellowship with one another.

So while I had some thoughts I wanted to post about Creation and Evolution, I’m not going to. Instead, I’m just going to say, man we had a good time this week.

The Sacred Pathway

Intellectuals draw near to God through their minds. – Gary L. Thomas, The Sacred Pathway 2000

A friend sent me a link recently to a very interesting assessment (you can go hereto take it yourself). The concept is a simple one: examine some of the personality traits that God has created you with, and use those to determine if certain forms of personal worship might be more conducive than others.

The form that I received the highest score on was intellectual. While that doesn’t surprise me (I’ve often been accused of over-thinking), I noticed something peculiar. I scored evenly in almost all other categories (18 being my lowest and 24 being my highest).

This is a sunset that I have grown to treasure over that last year. It reminds of the many that I have overlooked.This doesn’t mean I’m holier than anyone, but it leads me to a certain thought: my personal philosophy is encompassing much more than I would have ever anticipated. 10 years ago, mysticism was something I saw as silly. Now, its something that fascinates and convicts me. Charismatic worship used to frustrate me. Now, it touches me and reminds me how glorious it is to praise God. I spent most of life fighting traditions and rituals, only to now crave them in my own day to day existence.

All this means, what exactly? I will probably never be the master of anything. I won’t be a religious crusader, nor a social activist. But hopefully, regardless of my lack of specializing skills, I will have a robust and overflowing relationship with the Lord that will pour into every aspect of my life.

I like the sound of that.

Heavenly Father, I know I have squandered my time fighting and arguing about things I did not understand. And now, You have seen fit to illuminate my soul to those very things in order to rebuke, and change me. I thank you that I am so often wrong, and I praise Your perfecting work that is happening in me everyday. Teach me Your ways, oh Lord. In Jesus’ Precious Name, Amen.