Reclaiming Genesis

At the risk of offending half of Christendom, it seems to me that there are three issues in Christendom which can become gospel issues when they should not: baptism, our view of the end times, and creation vs evolution.  Of course the gospel itself should be first and foremost in our minds: the death and resurrection of Jesus.  And I’m not suggesting that some issues cannot become gospel issues.  Nonetheless it seems to me that many Christians make some topics into gospel issues when they are not.  Here I wish to speak about creation vs evolution as I review Melvin Tinker’s book “Reclaiming Genesis” (Oxford: Monarch books, 2010).

In every church I have been in there are exponents of ‘creation science’ (the view that Genesis 1-11 stands opposed to the theory of evolution).  I have usually respected these brothers and sisters in Christ greatly.  Their desire is to read the Bible literally against a world, which rejects the literal truth of the Bible and infects the church with liberalizing tendencies.  And, frankly, I always have respect for those who are more “fundy” than I am!  And perhaps I am wrong and they are right.

But I do not hold to a ‘creation science’ position.  I’m not particularly enamoured with the theory of evolution either.  My concern is also for a right reading of God’s word.  I believe that I am reading Genesis 1-11 literally, and that those who hold to creation science are not in fact reading it literally.  And I particularly object when they say that Genesis 1-11 is the foundation of the Bible.  The gospel is the foundation of the Bible.  It is true that Genesis 1-11 is the foundation of the Torah and the Old Testament.  But we must start with the gospel, not with Genesis 1-11.

Melvin Tinker has written a brilliant little book on Genesis 1-11.  Sometimes as Christians we can baulk at reading key parts of the Bible because they have become such a contentious battle ground between Christians.  This is unfortunate.  However Tinker’s book walks us through Genesis 1-12, explaining it clearly and simply.  His writing is entertaining – there are lots of good stories and illustrations.  The book is not technical and is an easy read.  However there is clearly great scholarship and learning behind this writing.

In his introduction Tinker writes: “The impression is sometimes given by young earth creationists that it is nigh impossible to be an evangelical and hold to the theory of evolution.” (p21)  Elsewhere he says that there is “a tendency to polarize in terms of “creation” or “evolution”, with the former being described as the biblical world-view and the latter being not only the result of atheism but a sure slippery slope down towards atheism.” (p17)  So is he suggesting we believe in evolution?  And more importantly, how are we to read Genesis 1-11?

Tinker has a wise view of the place of science in God’s world.  He does not argue whether or not we should believe in evolution.  He also helpfully makes the distinction between the anti-God philosophy of “evolutionism” and the science of evolution.  The latter is not necessarily anti-God.  But his concern is much more for how we read our Bible.

Tinker treats Genesis as a theological text without downgrading its historicity.  His book shows us what Genesis 1-12 is actually saying without reading into it a modern debate of which it was blissfully unaware.  If I want a medical opinion I do not consult a street map.  Likewise if I want a scientific opinion on evolution I will not consult Genesis.  Evolution is not incompatible with divine creation and is not contradicted by the text of Genesis (though it may be wrong as a theory).  Tinker writes: “the process of evolution is distinct from the act of creation: they belong to different categories”. (pp22-23)  The text of Genesis is speaking about something other than evolution and is saying something far greater.

Tinker has done us a great service by lifting our eyes from a myopic debate to see the glory of God as revealed in the text of Scripture.  Seeing what Genesis 1-11 is actually saying is liberating and encouraging.  Tinker also has excellent Biblical Theology: that is, he reads Genesis 1-11 in the light of the whole of Scripture, showing how the text points to Jesus.

As a past lecturer in Old Testament I believe I have found here a book on Genesis 1-11 that “nails it”.  On this part of Scripture I cannot recommend this book highly enough (and I know I’m not the only one!).  Whatever your view of ‘creation science’, this book will be a very profitable read as we engage with a very important part of God’s word to us today.

Advertisements

6 responses to “Reclaiming Genesis

  1. Thanks Martin. I think Tinker (and you) rightly make the important distinction between Genesis and science. One is essentially a theology book, the other is, well, science. The medicine/road map analogy is a good one.

    Have you read The Lost World of Gensis One by John H. Walton? That lays out similar distinctions to Tinker, it seems, while advocating a reading of Genesis from within the Hebrew worldview. We Enlightenment-influenced Westerners want to know “How?”, which is why we get obsessed with the science of creation. Walton argues (quite convincingly) that the people of God were interested in the “Why?” and “What” of creation – they were interested in function, not in science. He goes on to build a rich biblical theology of creation, which alone makes it worth reading.

    • Hi Simon
      Walton sounds good, but I haven’t read it. Will have to have a look out for it. Building a rich Biblical theology of creation is exactly what Tinker (and I) want to see. There’s so much good stuff there in Genesis 1 that we don’t want to miss in the midst of a modern debate.

  2. I don’t want to miss the point of your article which tries to get away from the modern creation vs evolution debate which rages on and on, I should read the book, but………….could you clarify a couple of things? Do you think that God created the world in 6 literal days or that we evolved? Isn’t it true that the gospel is seen as early as Genesis? I do not think evolution is compatible at all with Genesis. I like creation science, not because Genesis is a scientific book, but because I think the science points to creation, not evolution. Sorry if I missed the whole point.

  3. Hi there. Thanks for your comments and questions. Personally, I am not sure whether we evolved or not. I am not convinced, so tend not to believe in evolution, but I don’t see a need to rule it out either. Some aspects of evolution I find ludicrous, others may be true. I’m not particularly fussed about it. I think that Genesis 1 clearly says that God made the world in 6 literal days. The word “day” means a 24 hour period in that text (not so elsewhere).

    I do also think that the gospel is hinted at in Genesis and foreshadowed (particularly Gen 3:15). That’s different to saying that Genesis IS the gospel though.

    In the 19th century it seems that many Christians could believe in evolution and in Genesis. I see no problem with this at all myself. They are talking about two quite different things. It was only in the 1960s onwards that Creation Science arose from the ashes of Seventh Day Adventist teaching. The debate is quite recent in that sense. Of course Christians have always refuted the anti-God philosophy that goes with some aspects of evolutionary theory.

    I, too, think science points to creation. On evolution I will remain agnostic.

  4. Hello Ps. Martin,

    Can you please clarify what you mean by, “On evolution I will remain agnostic.” and “Personally, I am not sure whether we evolved or not. I am not convinced, so tend not to believe in evolution, but I don’t see a need to rule it out either.”

    I am just a little confused.

    Thank you for your time and I hope replying does not take you away from more pertinent stuff…..

    Matthew

  5. Hi Matthew
    Not much to clarify really. I think some aspects of evolution could be true (theoretically), and I don’t see this as in any way clashing with the Bible. However personally I find it difficult to believe. I certainly don’t believe we came from apes. I certainly don’t believe in the PHILOSOPHY of evolution – evolutionism – which Melvin Tinker rightly distinguishes from the science of evolution. On the science part of evolution there may be some truth. Again, personally, I don’t care very much about it!
    God bless, Martin

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s