Thursday, May 28, 2015

What I Teach About Creation

So I have a confession to make: I used to totally be into the Creation vs. evolution debate. Growing up, that was my jam. In my mind, if I could prove that creation was made by an intelligent being, I had essentially proven Christianity true (which, I recognize now, was a HUGE leap in logic).

Over time my zeal for that particular theological topic wore off. I went into Bible college bored and, maybe even worse, with an aversion to the entire topic of creation. I thought it was too scientific and I was just interested in the theology of creation. In my mind, I wanted to let the scientist wrestle over Genesis 1. I was content with looking at the theology of the rest of the Bible.

This aversion stayed with me a long time. Even after I graduated from seminary, I was largely disinterested in the entire conversation. It isn't that I didn't read in the area of creation--it was just that I didn't care.

That has changed over the past three to four years, however. I think when I started putting together the biblical narrative, I realized that the discussion over Genesis 1 was not primarily a scientific conversation as much as it was a theological conversation. Over the past several years I have refined my thinking (and am still refining) on creation. However, as it stands now, if you were to walk into my 9th grade biblical redemption class or my apologetics class, I teach the following three points concerning Genesis 1.

1) The creation account in Genesis (as well as the other accounts in Psalms) are polemical.

What I mean by this point is that Genesis 1 and 2 clearly use language and ideas drawn from other creation narratives in the Ancient Near East (like the Enuma Elish and some Egyptian creation myths), but the Genesis account draws radically different conclusions. Where gods battle it out and make mankind by mistake (or in vengeance), Genesis shows that Yahweh creates by the divine word. There is no cosmic battle where God struggles to maintain order. Rather, God is shown as totally and completely sovereign. In other words, Genesis functions as a polemic against the false gods of the Ancient Near East. Further, I would say that any parallels that do exist (specifically I am thinking of Gilgamesh and Genesis) are superficial at best. Thus, I don't think the author of Genesis was borrowing these pagan thoughts and simply making them more palatable to Jewish monotheism.

I would also argue here something that (I think) is fairly radical and probably rejected by most mainline scholars: it is not altogether clear that the pagan mythologies are actually incorrect in some of the more general details of creation. Here is my point: it is altogether possible (and in my mind likely) that the reason we find any sort of parallel language at all in Genesis and pagan myths is because they all flow from historical fact. We can disregard some of the more fantastical elements of the pagan myths and what I think you find is that there is historical legitimacy to the creation account.

2) The creation account in Genesis is primarily theological.
My point here isn't really radical (or new) and is essentially in agreement with what most Old Testament scholars know: Creation is pictured as a cosmic, ever-expanding, temple to God. This can be see in the numerous parallels in language between the temple construction and the Garden of Eden. In other words, the creation of the cosmos is framed as a temple for God. For more on this you can consult The Temple and the Church's Mission by G.K. Beale, The Lost World of Genesis One by John Walton and The King in His Beauty by Thomas Schreiner, The Biblical Cosmos by Robin Parry (and basically every major OT theology written in the past twenty years).

This should remind us that before we start trying to dig for scientific evidence to support our particular view of creation, we need to look for what the original author was trying to convey. His point was that all of creation was in some way sacred and devoted to God prior to the fall. Mankind's vocation was to serve as holy priests to the Lord within this cosmic temple. 

3) The creation account in Genesis is historical.

WHOOP! There it is. This is the point that basically isolates me from liberal scholarship. Up to this point many mainline protestants would be saying "Right on, Pandolph!" Here is where we part ways. I believe that, regardless of  your view of the age of the earth, the Genesis account provides a factually accurate account of creation. This means I hold to a literal Adam and Eve and a literal fall as well. I think God created the world in 6 days (regardless of how you translate "days") and that there was definite beginning and ending in creation. This is not poetic symbolism. It is not just polemical or theological--it is actual.

Fundamentalists often push and ask "Well, do you believe in a young-earth or old earth? Do you believe in theistic evolution?" This is where you start to lose me in the conversation because (and this is important), it ultimately doesn't impact much. While I personally reject theistic evolution, it is possible to maintain a literal Adam and Eve and fall (despite what Ken Ham says) and hold to evolution (provided that God maintains total sovereignty in it). As far as the young-earth vs. old earth debate...I'll be is boring to me. I don't care. I've read enough about it and we are now traversing into the field of biology and that isn't my specialty so I'll refrain from commenting.

For the record, I am a (tentative) "young-earther". The reason for this flows out of the lexical argument for the Hebrew word for yom (which is translated "day" in our English Bible). Yom when it possesses a numerical adjective means a literal 24-hour day. That is what you see in Genesis 1. Also, I think the argument that God patterns Israel's work week off of creation should carry a bit of weight.

Of course, there are middle ground positions as well. If you disagree with me, I'll probably just slap you on the back and say "Cool deal, bro" and go out to get Mexican food with you. The big three issues I listed above, to me, are the most essential points to grasp when talking about creation. I think those three points also bring out the richness of the biblical text. It helps us to not read the Bible just as a scientific account of creation. Rather, it pushes us to see the God behind creation. God was going to war against the false gods, giving us a theological paradigm for understanding the Christian mission, and yes, even giving us a historical picture of what actually happened.

That is beautiful. That gets me excited to talk about creation.

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