After January, I had a head start. Completing two books in the first month of the year, I had started a few others but I slacked in February. Definitely should have completed more than two books. Maybe in March…
Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither Three Views on the Bible’s Earliest Chapters Edited by Charles Halton/ Contributors: James K Hoffmeier, Gordon J. Wenham and Kenton L. Sparks
Having read parts of this book for research for my Genesis sermon, I figured I should just finish the book and I’m glad I did. The parts I read prior to my message didn’t connect with me but I think that has more to do with the information not being quite what I was after in compiling notes for my message. The scope of this book has to do with Genesis 1-11 (i.e. pre-Abraham) and my sermon was addressing Genesis 1 exclusively. Once I was able just to read the book (with no assignment attached), I got a lot more out of the work.
As I mentioned, three scholars dive into the Bible’s earliest accounts: creation, Cain and Abel, the Nephilim mixing it up with earth women, Noah’s flood, the Tower of Babel and the table of nations. All three scholars consider themselves evangelical(ish) and hold the Bible to be the Word of God. The takes and interpretations on these early Biblical chapters certainly differ among them.
Hoffmeier definitely weights the first 11 chapters of Genesis to be actual history. With the existence multiple genealogies in those chapters, he rationalizes that this is an accurate family history of Israel that communicates theology (specifically Israel’s relationship to the true God).
Wenham’s view of Genesis 1-11 is more complicated. He argues that the text is “proto-history”. The genealogies represent an expanded history of Israel and it is less important, in his view, that events “may not be datable and fixable chronologically, but they were viewed as real events”. Emphasis on “viewed” or one could say believed to be real events. Wenham moves a little bit away from an importance that every story in these opening Biblical chapters actually happened in history or perhaps if an event did happen, it has been recorded with hyperbole and certainly is not impartial. He would uphold the theological teachings and messaging to be truth.
Sparks would be considered the most “liberal” of the three scholars. His belief is that the opening chapters of Genesis are ancient historiography. From his perspective, while Biblical writers probably intended to record historical events, the opening chapters of Genesis “do not narrate closely what actually happened. . . . There was no Edenic garden, nor trees of life and knowledge, nor a serpent that spoke, nor a worldwide flood in which all living things, save those on a giant boat, were killed by God”. Sparks, like Wenham, would uphold the theological teaching of these chapters as the Word of God and maintains their value in communicating humanity’s relationship to God but would argue against their literal history and general scientific assumptions. He would ask: does something have to happen literally in history for it to be considered theologically (or philosophically) true?
Of the three perspectives, Sparks seemed the most reasoned and persuasive of the arguments…and I don’t agree with him on some of his points. Attempting to weave a theological truth with modern scientific consensus and an understanding of anthropological history is not an easy task and Sparks comes the closest to actually pulling this off.
A few excerpts. Hoffmeier wrote the following in response to Sparks:
“Human evolution and the biological sciences are by nature descriptive. They cannot tell us what caused or who made it happen, and what or who made matter and transformed inanimate material living to organisms. Even if one recognizes that biological evolution occurred, the Bible demands that we view this as how God created. God is the who behind the processes and He sovereignly controls them creating according to His will. Scripture answers the real questions the humans long to have answered.” (page 144)
“Augustine was very explicit that one should be open to changing one’s mind when it comes to the book of Genesis: “(I)n matters that are obscure and far beyond our vision…we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search of truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it. That would be to battle not for the teaching of Holy Scripture but for our own, wishing its teaching to conform to ours, whereas we ought to wish ours to conform to that of Sacred Scripture.’ The Bible, like every other text, is not self-interpreting. Augustine, along with those mentioned above, realized that humans construct interpretations from Scripture and these can be, and often are, in error. In his view, we should attempt to conform ourselves every closer to Scripture, not to human constructions derived from Scripture. Readers have an active role in forming the meanings and understandings that they embrace. The questions they ask of a writing, the ways in which they formulate synthetic conclusions, the methods they employ, the interpretive frameworks they bring, and even their emotional states and personal histories affect how they construct interpretations. The emotional needs of readers may be the most overlooked shaper of interpretive outcomes because they often work on a subconscious level. And as Roger Scruton observed, in many cases emotional needs precede rational arguments and shape theological conclusions in advance. Often times the conclusions we draw from the Bible have more to do with our emotional disposition- our fears and wants- than they do about the data that is in front of us. this is true when we read Gen 1-11 and this is one of the reasons why Christians often disagree over matters of Bible and theology. We bring different emotional needs to these debates.” (Page 158)
If anyone is interested in scholarly debate on the first eleven chapters of Genesis, this is a highly recommended read. The book is assessable (only 163 pages in the paperback) and introduces the audience to the interpretative challenges of Genesis in our modern era.
Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel by Russell Moore
“The shaking of American culture is no sign that God has given up on American Christianity. In fact, it may be a sign that God is rescuing American Christianity from itself.”
Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, spawned some waves during the 2016 presidential election when he took a fairly hardline stance against republican candidate Donald Trump. In a Washington Post editorial, he eviscerated the Donald’s worldview and moral actions as he claimed that Trump had snuffed out the religious right. Before these series of editorials from Moore, he wrote a book called “Onward” in 2015 about how Christianity should engage a “post-Christian” America. Obviously, a lot of politics are discussed.
Welcoming a growing secular age in America, Moore seems to say “bring it on” in the sense that a Christianity with conviction will make a roaring comeback up against what was, in large part, a national civic religion. He writes: “The problem was that . . . Christian values were always more popular in American culture than the Christian gospel. That’s why one could speak of ‘God and country’ with great reception in almost any era of the nation’s history but would create cultural distance as soon as one mentioned ‘Christ and him crucified.’ God was always welcome in American culture. He was, after all, the Deity whose job it was to bless America. The God who must be approached through the mediation of the blood of Christ, however, was much more difficult to set to patriotic music or to ‘Amen’ in a prayer at the Rotary Club.”
Moore is still fiercely conservative. He is unapologetically pro-life, believes same-sex marriage to be sinful (but has numerous quotes about loving and being good neighbors to LGBTQ people) but seems less convinced that the best way for the church to go about politics is trying to legislate or elect the correct leaders. “We receive celebrities simply because they are ‘conservative,’ without asking what they are conserving. If you are angry with the same people we are, you must be one of us. But it would be a tragedy to get the right president, the right Congress, and the wrong Christ.” The book was published in August 2015 and this specific quote seems haunting now. He continues: “Our vote for President is less important than our vote to receive new members for baptism into our churches. . . . The reception of members into the church marks out the future kings and queens of the universe. Our church membership rolls say to the people on them, and to the outside world, ‘These are those we believe will inherit the universe, as joint-heirs with Christ.’”
A big theme of the book is the Kingdom of God. That this Kingdom is transcendent and is made up of people all over the world. Moore condemns racism and recognizes oppression that certain minorities face which must be made right.
If anyone is a Christian and interested either in cultural or political issues, this is a vastly important book to contemplate. Moore is onboard with emphasizing less of a power religion (in the political sense) and more of churches living out the meaning and calling of the gospel.
Some other quotes:
“Our story is that of a little flock and of an army, awesome with banners. Our legacy is a Christianity of persecution and proliferation, of catacombs and cathedrals. If we see ourselves as only a minority, we will be tempted to isolation. If we see ourselves only as a kingdom, we will be tempted toward triumphalism. We are, instead, a church. We are a minority with a message and a mission.”
“Our life planning ought to be about the next trillion years, and beyond. If we assume that what’s waiting for us beyond the grave is a postlude rather than a mission and an adventure, we will cling tenaciously to the status quo, or at least the parts of it we like. . . . Our lives now are shaping us and preparing us for a future rule. Our lives now are an internship for the eschaton.”
“The kingdom of God turns the Darwinist narrative of the survival of the fittest upside down (Acts 17:6-7). When the church honors and cares for the vulnerable among us, we are not showing charity. We are simply recognizing the way the world really works, at least in the long run. The child with Down syndrome on the fifth row from the back in your church, he’s not a ‘ministry project.’ He’s a future king of the universe. The immigrant woman who scrubs toilets every day on hands and knees, and can barely speak enough English to sing along with your praise choruses, she’s not a problem to be solved. She’s a future queen of the cosmos, a joint-heir with Christ. . . . The first step to cultural influence is not to contextualize to the present, but to contextualize to the future, and the future is awfully strange, even to us.”
“Let’s model what happens to a culture when the kingdom interrupts us on our way to where we would go, if we were mapping this out on our own. Let’s not merely advocate for causes; let’s embody a kingdom. Let’s not aspire to be a moral majority but a gospel community, one that doesn’t exist for itself but for the larger mission of reaching the whole world with the whole gospel. That sort of kingdom-first cultural engagement drives us not inward, but onward.”
“It may be that America is not ‘post-Christian’ at all. It may be that America is instead pre-Christian, a land that though often Christ-haunted has never known the power of the gospel, yet.”