The Ancient Universe and the Cosmic Temple

My first BioLogos post, Why Christians Don’t Need to Be Threatened by Evolution, laid out my assumptions concerning Scripture and science. This has generated a lot of discussion, especially on Facebook pages where the post was shared (one page has generated well over a hundred comments or responses, including responses to responses).

As promised, I will now begin to explore various issues at the intersection of biblical faith and contemporary science. The first such issue is how we think about the relationship of Genesis 1 (in the context of other references to creation in the Bible) to a very old and very large universe.

This post, called The Ancient Universe and the Cosmic Temple,  is now available.

It addresses cosmic creation, though not yet biological evolution (which is more controversial for many Christians). I’ll get to the Bible and evolution explicitly in the posts that follow.

 

Why Christians Don’t Need to Be Threatened by Evolution

GENESIS RECAST Conference

For too long Christians in North America have thought the Bible was in conflict with biological evolution. Yet many orthodox Christian theologians of the nineteenth century (including Charles Hodge and B. B. Warfield) saw no conflict in principle.

The Manufactured “War” between Science and Religion

This famous “war” of science and religion (of which the creation-evolution battle is the most prominent example) is a relatively recent invention, manufactured from the atheist side by John William Draper (History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science, 1874) and by Andrew Dickson White (A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, 1896), and on the Christian side by fundamentalists who misread the Genesis creation accounts as scientific.

But this is a serious genre mistake. Many atheists treat “science” as a full-fledged worldview that claims to tell us that there is nothing to reality but the natural world and that the scientific method gives us all the valid knowledge there is. Likewise many Christians treat the Bible as a science textbook, when the point of creation accounts in the ancient world (of which Israel was a part) is to explain the meaning of life and how we are to live.

Of course, the issues are a bit more complex than that. But to find out more you will need to attend an important conference that is coming to the Buffalo, NY area on September 18-19, 2015.

Genesis Recast—The War with Science Is Over

This is the provocative name of the conference, which will headline John Walton, Old Testament professor from Wheaton College, on how the read the Genesis creation accounts. His orthodox Christian faith in connection with his expertise in the Bible and the ancient Near East admirably equips him to guide us in how the interpret the Genesis creation accounts in line with their original intent.

Of course, we need to go well beyond a declaration of “peace” between the Bible and science.

The Positive Role of a Biblical View of Creation

The biblical view of creation claims that the cosmos is “very good” (Gen 1:31) and is imbued with God’s wisdom and order (Prov 3:19-20). Indeed, the wisdom literature of the Bible encourages us to understand the world, in which God’s wisdom is embedded, that we might live better in it.

Furthermore, God’s creation of humanity in his own image, with the task to rule the earth (Gen 1:26-28) and tend the garden of creation (Gen 2:15), implies an exalted role for human beings, which includes the possibility of science. As stewards of earthly life, we are commissioned with a vocation that encompasses (but is not limited to) the scientific understanding of the world in which we live.

Not only can the world be studied scientifically, but a biblical view of God’s good creation suggests that human knowledge of the world (while not infallible) is possible and (when proper testing is in place) is reliable and trustworthy.

So far from being threatened by evolution, Christians who embrace a biblical understanding of creation may see the hand of God in the deep time of the cosmos and the complex processes of biological evolution. In fact, we may be in awe of the amazing creativity of this great God of ours.

Living with Unanswered Questions

Does this mean that we’ve solved all problems of how theology and the Bible relate to what we are learning about the cosmos and the evolution of life on this planet? By no means. I myself am working on these issues and have lots of questions. But whoever said that we would have all the answers, especially within our lifetime?

Expecting all the answers now is a decidedly modern form of hubris.

Instead, Christians need to learn the virtue of patience, and to take a long view of things. If we trust in the God of creation, revealed supremely in Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word, we can learn to live with the unanswered questions we have—indeed, to love the questions, as Rilke suggested, until that day when we live into the answers.

More Information on the Genesis Recast Conference

While John Walton is the keynote speaker for the Buffalo conference, there are other speakers, addressing issues relating to the New Testament, genetics, and implications for the church. You can find details about the other speakers on the conference website, as well as in my previous post on the subject.

Registration is so cheap as to be ridiculous. If you live within driving distance, there is no excuse not to go, since a conference of this caliber won’t come this way again in a long while.

I hope to see you there!

If you need flyers (4×6) or posters (13×19) for your church or organization, let the conference organizer know [iyouthguy@gmail.com], and he will send them to you.

My Next Book—On Abraham and Job

I just received my finalized contract from Baker Academic for my next book. I signed the contract and sent it in a couple of weeks ago, and the counter-signed contract arrived yesterday.

The book is tentatively entitled The Silence of Abraham, The Passion of Job: Explorations in the Theology of Lament.

A Comparison of Abraham and Job

The focus of the book would be a comparison of Abraham’s ominous and silent attempt to sacrifice his son in Genesis 22 (known in Jewish tradition as the Aqedah or “binding” of Isaac) with Job’s outspoken challenge to God in response to his sufferings (which God finally affirms as “right” speech, at the end of the book).

I’m planning to work on the book over my next sabbatical, which begins in the summer of 2016. During the sabbatical, I will be presenting my research as the Thiessen lectures at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and also as Visiting Theologian-in-Residence at St. Barnabas’ College and St. Mark’s National Theological Centre, both in Australia (where I’ll be for four weeks).

The book would be framed by the important question of how Christians, who believe and trust in the God of heaven and earth, may respond to suffering. Given that the lament or protest psalms provide model modes of prayer in situations of suffering, the book would challenge traditional Christian interpretations of Genesis 22 and the book of Job. Whereas Abraham’s blind obedience in Genesis 22 to God’s command to sacrifice his son is typically seen as virtuous, God’s response to Job is usually thought to be a divine put-down for his audacity in challenging God’s running of the cosmos.

Some Exegetical Questions

Among the exegetical questions to be addressed in the book are:

  • Why does Abraham shift from bold protest prayer on behalf of Sodom in Genesis 18 to ominous silence about the death of his own son in Genesis 22?
  • What is the significance of the phrase “dust and ashes,” which occurs in the Bible only on the lips of Abraham (in Genesis 18) and Job (in Job 30 and 42)?
  • In what sense is the term “God-fearer” applied both to Abraham (in Genesis 22) and to Job (in the first two chapters of the book)?
  • Could the book of Job be thought of as a commentary on the Abraham story?
  • If so, what are we to understand by this inner-biblical interpretation?
  • And what are the implications of the differing responses to suffering of these two “patriarchs” (one Jewish, one gentile) for our understanding of faithful prayer in the face of suffering in the church today?

A Spirituality of Suffering

The book will draw on relevant teaching I have done on Genesis and Job and on academic papers I have presented on Genesis 22 and YHWH’s speeches in the book of Job.

But my engagement with Abraham and Job would not be geared to a purely academic outcome. This engagement is in the service of developing an honest, yet trustful, spirituality of suffering that could empower God’s people with hope in their daily lives, as they face a world full of chaos and pain.

Videos of my three Thiessen lectures on the lament psalms, Abraham, and Job (along with summaries) are now available here.