Don’t call this a New Year’s resolution because I do not make those. However, one of my goals for 2017 is to read at least 24 books (not including children’s books I read to Naomi and Reuben though that would be nice). I’m planning on keeping a running list month-to-month and doing small (or larger) reviews. Join in on the 2017 reading train if you would like. Feel free to make comments below on what you are reading or publish your own blogs and link to your site.
January was overtaken by sermon preparation for my message on Genesis 1 so a lot of books I read were related to that (I only counted books I read all the way through). Here is what has been rattling around in my mind:
“The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins” by Peter Enns
What is tragic related to contemporary study of Genesis 1 is how most messages on this passage of Scripture are often framed as a creation versus evolution debate. Science versus Faith. A lot of people are led to believe they have to choose between two disciplines of knowledge. Enter Peter Enns who is a very good Old Testament scholar. His work in “The Evolution of Adam” is to completely free Genesis 1-2 from the creationism and evolutionism debate by exploring what should be a very obvious question: how did ancient Israelites read Genesis?
This book is very approachable for a lay person. The paperback is only 148 pages. Enns summarizes the discussion very well by laying out scholarly consensus with the ability to revolutionize how people read the very beginning of the Bible. Enns’ argument is that the opening chapter of the Word of God has nothing to do with a scientific play-by-play of creation or even a step-by-step on how God created. Rather, he argues that Genesis 1 is a polemic against other Ancient Near Eastern religions and their creation accounts. Where most of those accounts involved many gods (polytheism) and those gods at war, Enns contrasts the Genesis account as being monotheistic and filled with an orderly harmony and joy (God declared things good).
He also delves into the debate about Adam in the second half of the book. The primary questions he addresses are whether Adam and Eve are actual historical people (DNA evidence suggests that there were not a first two human beings but thousands) or archetypes representing theological truth. Enns also floats an interesting idea that Adam and Eve may not have been the first two human beings but rather were the first two proto-Israelites. The notes from this perspective entertain easy explanations for those age-old Sunday School questions like “Where did Cain get his wife?” or “Why would God put a mark on Cain when he cast him out to spare him if there was no one else on the earth yet?” To be sure, both of these ideas have problems and Enns freely admits that in the book as he hashes them out.
Some conservative readers may be uncomfortable with a few of Enns theses and theology. That being the case, I feel like this is a very important book to read as an introduction into views on Genesis that haven’t been presented as much as “science versus faith” motifs even though scholars have been at this for quite some time.
A quote: “For many, it is important for the future viability of faith, let alone the evolution-Christianity discussion, that we recognize and embrace the fact that the Bible is a thoroughly enculturated product. But it is not enough merely to say so and press on, with a quaint nod or an embarrassed shuffling of the feet. It is important for future generations of Christians to have a view of the Bible where its rootedness in ancient ways of thinking is embraced as a theological positive, not a problem to be overcome. At present there is a lot of fear about the implications bringing evolution and Christianity together, and this fear needs to be addressed head-on. Many fear that we are on a slippery slope, to use the hackneyed expression. Perhaps the way forward is not to resist the slide so much as to stop struggling, look around, and realize that we may have been on the wrong hill altogether.”
Finding God in the Waves: How I Lost My Faith and Found It Again Through Science by Mike McHargue
Deconstruction is all the rave these days and this very raw, honest book tells the story of how Mike McHargue (“Science Mike” for those who have listened to the “The Liturgists” Podcast”) was a Southern Baptist Christian for most of his life, was challenged by an atheist friend to read Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” and eventually found his faith in Jesus being chipped away. He gruelingly describes in this book reading Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot” one evening when he stopped believing in God and felt a tremendous sense of grief. What would he tell his wife, Jenny? How would he be viewed at his church where he was heavily involved? Quickly, he decided to be a closet atheist for 2 years and try to carry on with his life (his wife eventually noticed something really wrong).
The central aspect of Science Mike’s book is a mystical experience he had at the ocean in California. Attending a Christian retreat via a friend’s recommendation, he was strangely moved to go forward for communion and heard an audible voice stating that God was with him. He ran from the room and later that evening found himself on the shores of the Pacific Ocean when he had his encounter with what he believed is Jesus.
The second half of the book focuses on Science Mike philosophically working through how to lay a foundation for his faith to be built upon. He came up with some axioms such as:
-“Faith is at least a way to contextualize the human need for spirituality and to find meaning in the face of mortality. Even if this is all faith is, spiritual practices can be beneficial to human cognition, emotions and culture.”
-“God is at least the natural forces that created and sustain the universe as experienced via a psychosocial model in human brains that naturally emerges from innate biases. Even if that is a comprehensive definition of God, the pursuit of this personal, subjective experience can provide meaning, peace, and empathy for others.”
-“Jesus is at least a man so connected to God that He was called the Son of God, and the largest religious movement in human history is centered around His teachings. Even if this is all Jesus is, following His teachings can promote peace, empathy, and genuine morality.”
There are more axioms for sin, salvation, the afterlife, etc. Christian orthodox peoples (such as myself) may be taken aback by some of the language in these axioms but remember, Science Mike’s approach here is coming out of atheism and finding very basic, foundational blocks to rebuild a faith upon. He is not necessarily saying that faith, God and Jesus are totally surmised in his axiom.
A quote to close out the review: “God. I keep finding God in the waves- the waves of the Pacific, the waves of gravity, the waves of electromagnetic energy, and the waves that move through our brains. I find God in the sound waves of ancient hymns, of children laughing, and in the quiet sobbing of those who say under impossible assault, ‘I can’t breathe.'”
Feel free to comment about the books you have read or write your own blog about your literary adventures.