Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Reflections on Creation


Given what I have read, talked about, and thought about, here are some conclusions which I have reached regarding the topic of the creation of this world. For the most part, these are things about which I have a very definite position and which I firmly believe are critical to a correct understanding of the Bible’s view of creation. This is not a comprehensive list, but it is things to which I am deeply committed as based in the truth of Scripture

1. God made everything. It seems simple but I state it anyways. Genesis may not explicitly say that God created everything from nothing, but the fact that God made heaven and earth is an indication that God made one end of things and the other, and so everything in between. Plus, Scripture clearly states that “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:3) And so, the great truth of Genesis for then is the same as for now: creation isn’t self-created or accidental. It was created with a specific purpose by a Creator who is separate from his creation.

2. Adam was as a single, actual human being who had the specific job of being the moral and physical representative of all human beings who would come. Completely apart from the fact that Genesis understands Adam as a real, historically-placed figure, the amount of New Testament theology that is built upon Adam and the role of Jesus as the Second Adam requires that Adam, like Jesus, would be a real human figure who was just like all the humans that he represents. If Jesus had to be a real human being who was the same as all the humans he represented in order to save them, so Adam had to be a real human being who was the same as all the humans he represented and doomed. I’ve heard DNA-based arguments about the number of different original humans; there are possible explanations and they’re probably not provable. On this one, I simply cannot budge: there must have been a man who God called ‘Adam’ and entrusted with being the representative of all humanity, just like the Second Adam who represented all humanity in his life, death, and resurrection.

3. Creation was different before Adam and Eve fell. While evolutionary theory holds that death and violence were always present as part of the cycle of life, somehow things changed when Adam sinned. There was a time when the earth was not “groaning in the pains of childbirth” (Rom. 8:22) and it obviously now is. What that looked like, I cannot even guess at and speculation would be silly; but it is clear that Adam’s sin (and our sin) harms creation at large, harm that will be repaired in Christ’s second coming

4. Humans were created special and different, not simply the continuation of an evolutionary trend. Why? 2 Main reasons:
1) We were made in the image of God. That truth resonates all throughout Scripture and it sets us apart from the rest of creation, making us viceregents (‘little kings’) who rule the earth under the Great Regent (King), God. We were made in the image of God, not in the perfected image of a long line of ever-developing creatures. Animals may or may not have come about through this chain, but humans absolutely did not.
2) Death is our enemy, not a natural part of us. 1 Cor. 15:26 calls death the last enemy to be defeated. The Tree of Life in the Garden, the curse of death upon humans, the death of death at the hands of Christ—all of these tell me that the greatest enemy of humans is death; and Genesis doesn’t talk about death as spiritual, but as real, physical, end of life death. The story of Genesis says, unlike any culture that has existed or will, that the true nature of humanity was not death but life—eternal life with God. Jesus, as the representative of humanity, redeemed humanity to be what they were meant to be, and he redeemed them to immortality—physical immortality in a physical resurrection. We were never meant to die, that was a function of the curse. We were meant to live forever in the presence of God. And if humans were meant to live forever, they cannot simply be the most recent link in a chain of evolution in which all previous creatures were mortal and had to live and die to continue the cycle. Humans had to be part of something different, in this case, the image of God.

5. Evolution as a system of understanding how the world works comes with serious issues which can be damaging to our faith. (See my previous post, “Everything Evolves”.) If someone is willing to spend a certain amount of time in evolutionary theory, or is willing to subscribe to any number of conclusions derived from it, they must be careful not to be caught up in some of the more dangerous elements of philosophical evolution, as some of the most foundational elements of evolutionary theory stand directly opposed to the truth about creation, the world, and God as Genesis and the rest of Scripture reveal.

6. The current ruling understanding of how the universe was made (atheistic evolution) is no more innocuous than the ruling understanding at the time Genesis was written (polytheism). Both understandings lead to the belief that humans are partially or entirely accidental and are therefore allowed to do as they please; the reigning perspective today says that humans are the pinnacle of all things, the very best that exists, and entitled to the best the world has, so long as they can get their hands on it safely. Atheistic evolution, like polytheism, is a potentially devastating cocktail of truth and lies which stands now as the most popular replacement for belief in the One True God. Those who would seek its truths must be doubly wary of its lies. This is not to say that everything there must be untrue, but that in seeking the truth in a system which replaces God, one must be very careful of the lies that are certainly present.

I stand as part of a generation that is at the cutting-edge of the sword that has to think through how the Word of God can fit with what is being discovered by modern science; how that works out will deeply affect my ministry to my peers and to those younger than me for the rest of my life. What things will ultimately work out to, I cannot say—I am no prophet. But at this early stage in the development of our understanding, it’s important for us to lay out the most basic principles, the guns that we stand by, the things that we proclaim as true regardless of what the scientific community may propose. Some of the things I have posited as solid principles may see change or development at various levels. But I am claiming at this point that these are some of the things which I think will stand, the ones where I can and at times will draw the line.

(Please feel free to comment, discuss, add, or disagree. I’ve got a thick skin. Type away if you’ve got something on your mind.)

Monday, February 18, 2013

Everything Evolves


Around 150 years ago, a scientist by the name of Charles Darwin proposed the idea of evolution of animals both within a species and from species to species. 150 years later, everything evolves. The philosophical notion of evolution totally permeates society. There is no discipline of academia, no model for business, no psychological methodology, no theological position, and no philosophy of life, which is not defined in some way by the idea of evolution. Whether something is totally for evolution, entirely against evolution, or at some middle point, everything has interacted with the notion of evolution.

It may be clear that what I am talking about is not the theory of evolution—the idea that all life evolved from some original source. I’m talking about the general philosophical notion that things evolve—that things constantly move from one state to another in an upward trend by a given process, and if we can figure out how that process works, we can replicate it to our own benefit. (There may be more to this idea in the educated world and particularly in science, but in the general populace, this is the idea.)

For a moment with me, rewind 2000 years to the Greco-Roman world. This is a world that is characterized by dualism, an idea coming from Platonic philosophy. Most simply, this is the idea that spirit is good and matter is evil. For most people’s purposes, the ‘matter is evil’ part was the important part. They treated everything physical and tangible as evil. This idea permeated the entire culture, affecting every system of belief, every political structure, every social setting, every aspect of trade—its effect was holistic. Some accepted it whole-heartedly, denying all comforts of the world: the Cynics. Others took it another direction: if matter is evil, then what happens to our bodies is irrelevant, so eat, drink, party, be merry—live a wild life! Some took it in a religious direction when Christianity came on the scene: the Gnostics. (They were condemned as heretics for a number of reasons I won’t get into here). In short, dualism was a philosophical mindset which ruled the day for centuries.

A professor of mine, one Sinclair Buchanan Ferguson—a respected theologian and author, a great Christian, and a great man with a great Scottish accent—spoke once of how evolution is in many ways to our world today as Platonic dualism was to the Greco-Roman world of 2000 years ago, and I, as you may guess, believe that he is right. The idea of evolution as a philosophical notion pervades our society. Everything evolves: animals evolve. Thinking evolves. Businesses evolve. Politics evolve. Relationships evolve. Science evolves. Buildings evolve. Cars evolve. Products evolve. Coffee evolves. If you can consider it, you can consider a way in which it can be or is thought to evolve or have evolved.

Now this may not seem like much of an impact. After all, evolution is just a fancy way of saying that things change, right? And of course things change—why wouldn’t they? Or maybe you simply see it as development; of course things develop—nothing stays static. But the philosophical notion of evolution does have some things which should be regarded with caution by Christians, to say the least.

1. Change as for the better
The theory of evolution necessarily implies that in the evolutionary process, despite some—or many—downs, things are generally on an upward swing. If something exists, it is evolving and it will get better. And the processes in it, even if there is some up-down swing, will take it ultimately to a better place. This is beautiful optimism. It’s also sadly wrong. Scripture is abundantly clear that things are going to get much worse before they get better, and that things are, from a moral standpoint, heading constantly downwards until all things are fulfilled (read Matthew 24 to see this clearly, also all of Revelation and the last chapters of Daniel). So while the inherent ultimate optimism of philosophical evolution is nice—it’s wrong. And it’s dangerous. If we as Christians start to think that things will constantly get better and better until we get to heaven, we will be sorely disappointed. And we may be na├»ve and inactive about the state of the world. True Christian maturity will see past the optimism of philosophical evolution and realize that things will get worse and worse. But then at the end of times things will rapidly get better.

2. Change as we can effect it
There is a distinct interest in our world figuring out the way in which things evolve—the way in which thought, businesses, animals, or cars evolve. The idea is that if we can simply figure out how things evolve, we can use that knowledge to create and guide evolution as we see fit, using it to our own ends to better the world. This is classic Enlightenment humanism. It is the very basic idea that we as human beings possess the knowledge, capabilities, etc. to make the world a better place. That is a lie. No matter how much of the evolution of something you can figure out, no matter how much you can use that for good, you cannot, under your own power, make the world a better place. Even if all humans work at it all together, it won’t work. Making the world a better place is always, only, ever, done by the power of God in the world. Period. We are not the ones who effect an ultimate bettering of the world—God is. God chooses to work through us, but it is not within our own human power to make the world perfect.

3. Change as the randomness of the world
Generally speaking, although science seeks to determine how it is that everything works, even down to the very smallest parts, there is still a randomness present in the system. For instance, the phrase “it happened” sums things up fairly well. Evolution just “happened.” Christians do not believe that. We believe in a God who has planned out the world, who made it, and who controls it. And it IS NOT random. Evolution as a mindset leads us to believe that things simply “happen.” Things do not simply happen. Everything, good or bad, happens as part of God’s plan, and if we think that things just happen then we’ll miss how God is guiding our lives and shaping us for his glory and our benefit.

4. Change as the salvation of the human race
Although in secular circles there is no real sense of an ‘end’ to all things, there is still a general belief that evolution in its varied forms is the ultimate hope of humanity. This belief is not new to philosophical evolution, but has been the characteristic of many ruling philosophies in history. Many philosophies have been understood as the means of the ‘salvation’ for humans. This, not surprisingly, is the biggest danger of philosophical evolution. Anything that takes the place of Christ as the ultimate hope of humanity is an idol, and violates the first and greatest commandment: “I am YHWH your God…you must have no others Gods before me. You must not bow down to them or worship them.” Evolution, if not properly understood, can lead us to place our hope there, rather than where it belongs—in God.

This is not to say that philosophical evolution is wholly evil. Nor is it to say that evolutionary theory is necessarily wrong. Like many other philosophies which ruled a certain day or days and still have sway, there is truth present in philosophical evolution which will never leave (and some untruth which will never leave). However, we as Christians must be very cautious that we do not accept wholesale the principles of philosophical evolution and that we do not give quarter to the most dangerous aspects. But most of all, we must be certain that we do not seek our ultimate hope in the optimistic, humanist ideals of philosophical evolution but rather in the person and work of Christ.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Blinders We Wear


Isaiah 55:8-9
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

We as Christians live much of our lives wearing a set of blinders, one which we have mostly because we are finite and mortal—human. For those who don’t know what blinders are, they are the pieces of leather which were put on horses on the sides of their eyes to limit their vision to just in front of them, so that they wouldn’t be spooked by peripheral movement. Blinders are vision-limiters. And we wear them. Sometimes they’re so big that we’re lucky that we’re able to see anything out of them at all. We have them because we are humans and we are finite, limited—unable to see things outside of our limited perspective. But sometimes, we can see more than we give ourselves credit for.

It’s kind of like looking at the sun through a pinhole in an index card. Sure it allows you to see the actual shape of the sun, but you’re doing so at the expense of the blinding glory and power of the sun. (I know that’s the point with the pinhole card, but bear with me in this.)

There are various ways that we as Christians are affected by the blinders we wear. And some of these effects are devastating. Rather than explain in-depth what I mean in some seminary-esque lecture, I shall simply give some examples.

1) I had the opportunity to explain to a friend of Katie’s the background of the name Jehovah. Her friend was a Jehovah’s Witness who was investigating some of what she believed. (In brief, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jehovah was a name given specially to them as part of a new and recent revelation; it is actually a medieval misreading of the name Yahweh in the Hebrew text.) I spoke the truth honestly and clearly. And I did not convert her (so far as I know). Neither did Katie. I may never have any interaction with her again. And if I look with blinders on, seeing only what I see, then I have failed to fulfill the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20.
The point here is that what I did is not the end of things. It’s the end of the part of the picture that I can clearly see, but it is not the whole of the picture. It is one pixel in the multi-million pixel picture that is the life of that woman. I had the chance to make that pixel a point of light, and I did so. Maybe God plans to put a whole bunch of pixels of light together and make a picture of light, and she will one day be saved. And maybe not. I don’t know. But if I’m willing to see things without my blinders on—willing to see the big picture, then I will realize that her salvation is not in my hands: it is in the hands of God, and he uses a lot of different people to fill a lot of different roles—more than I am ever able to see or understand. If I can realize that the picture is larger than my pixel—even if I can’t see it clearly—I will realize that I have done what God wanted and fulfilled my role.

2) My father’s church is struggling to ‘survive’ in the sense of both finances and numbers. It was that way almost 8 years ago, and it’s still that way. Will it persist? Will it have to close its doors? I don’t know. God knows, but I don’t know. But if that church has been faithful to do what God has required of it, then it has done what it was supposed to do. Staying alive, being full, having the resources to do a lot of programs, having lots of young children, having great outreach programs, supporting lots of missionaries—none of these things is necessarily (or solely) the calling of my father’s church, or of any church for that matter. The church is not called to be ‘successful’ by human estimation. It is called to do what God calls it to. For some churches, that may look like what we call success. For others it may not.
But the church has done its duty and been faithful if it has done its best by the power of God working in it. If we wear our blinders then the struggle or closing of a church is a sign of failure. That is not necessarily true. The work of the individuals within the church goes on even if the church closes. The work of the denomination goes on even if the church closes. The work of the Church universal goes on even if the church closes. And God’s work in the whole world goes on even if the church closes. Sure, a church might be a number of pixels in the picture—more than the few pixels that I personally can see and affect. But it’s still not the whole picture. And if we can try to see the whole picture, we’ll realize that it goes beyond the church of which we are a part. Besides which, the closing of the church does not imply that everything good in that church is gone—the people, the effect the church had on them, and the work they do for God will go on.

3) I grew up in a denomination which at times I reflect upon and am unimpressed by. Sometimes I reflect upon the CRC and unimpressed is an understatement of my feelings about the character of the denomination. And if we wear our human blinders, then watching things go down the drain—one by one—is the end of the world as we know it. But once again, if I can remove the blinders of human limitation and see things more as God would see them, I would realize that the work of the CRC is more than the work of the CRC. It is the work of individuals in the CRC. It is the work of programs made up of individuals. It is the work of churches made up of individuals. It is the work of programs made up of multiple churches. It is the work of the Church universal, beyond the CRC.

In short, once again, the picture is bigger than any part which we can look at. This is not an excuse to do nothing. God calls individuals to be faithful to his call on their lives. He calls programs to be faithful to their calling. He calls churches to be faithful to their calling. He calls denominations to be faithful to their place and calling. And he calls the Church universal to be faithful to its calling.

But if we live with our human blinders on all the time, we will limit our view to seeing only one part of the picture, and when that part of the picture seems to remain dark (or go dark), then we drop into despair, seeing only what we perceive as a sign of failure. But if the Bible is clear on anything (it’s actually clear on a lot of things, but that’s neither here nor there) it is clear on the fact that standards of success and failure should be defined by God and have been especially redefined by the coming of Christ and his sacrificial work. We do not measure success and failure by human standards but by God’s standards.

So don’t lose hope. Be faithful to your calling and trust that God does plan to work all things out, and you are just one part of that plan. If you ensure that the pixels which you are given to light up in this world are lit up as God wanted them to be, then you have succeeded in your given mission (by the power of God) and responded faithfully to your calling. One day we will see the whole picture, and we will see the pixels which we lit alongside of the millions and millions of pixels which others lit, and we will realize that we were just one part of a massive picture of light. And God will say to us: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:23)

Friday, July 20, 2012

Genesis 1: Post #4: God’s Great Plan in Genesis 1


Proposition #11
“Functional Cosmic Temple Offers Face-Value Exegesis”
This proposition itself is fairly self-explanatory, but it carries a good deal of weight: being able to read the text at face-value, hearing it in much the same manner as the original audience would have heard (and the original author would have intended it be heard) allows us to read the text a new and unique light that takes into account various factors. People have tried to read Genesis 1 as a number of things: myth (but it’s told as factual, not mythical), poetry (but the text simply is not near Eastern poetry at all), polemic (but the author’s intent is not notable polemic), theology (but it makes far more than theological points), literary (it belongs in a certain time and place—and must stay there) or other variations on such themes as these. What all of these lack is the fact that the author wrote the text as an Israelite and for Israelites, so it had a unique purpose for the Israelites
Being able to read the text at face value:
1) recognizes Genesis 1 for the ancient document that it is;
2) finds no reason to impose a material ontology onto the text;
3) finds no reason to require the finding of scientific information between the lines;
4) avoids reducing Genesis 1 to merely literary or theological expressions;
5) poses no conflict with scientific thinking to the extent that it recognizes that the text does not offer scientific explanations.

Propsition #12
“Other Theories of Genesis 1 Either Go Too Far or Not Far Enough”
Here Walton treats a few of the most popular positions on reading Genesis 1 in light of his findings:
Young Earth Creationism (YEC):
This is the view that the earth was created in all its form in consecutive 24-hour days as recorded in Genesis 1. This view, says Walton, holds the distinction of being willing to take the text at (perceived) face-value and stick by that straightforward interpretation, no matter how much ridicule you may face for doing so, and he has deep respect for those who are able to stick by their Christian guns. His critique is that, while they have a correct reading for yom, which is a 24-hour day, their reading of bara has been to narrow and as a result, they still subscribe to a material understanding, thereby having the wrong face-value reading.
Old Earth Creationism (OEC):
OEC often reads into the text of Genesis 1 scientific theory fitting behind the scenes and between the lines, and so they understand the 6 days of creation to be 6 undetermined periods of time. As previously mentioned, this view does not at all understand the true meaning of the word yom and it is still wholly a material understanding. It also has a tendency to attempt to read modern science (which as noted is a changing filed with mutable ‘conclusions’) into an ancient text, which is not out of the realm of God’s ability but doesn’t seem to be the point of Genesis 1.
Framework Hypothesis:
This view sees the literary and theological truths expounded in Genesis 1 and concludes that those findings are the purpose, a reading of the text that Walton claims is too narrow, not taking into account the fullness of the text.

Proposition #13
“The Difference Between Origin Accounts in Science and Scripture is Metaphysical in Nature”
Before anyone gets scared off by the word ‘metaphysical,’ let me explain this simply: many people in their understanding of creation have relegated anything knowledgeable to natural causes of the God-designed universe and anything unexplainable to the supernatural work of God. But as we get to know more and more of the way the world works, more and more is attributed to God, until we (theoretically) just need God to set off some Big Bang and then things go merrily on from there. However, this distinction between the natural and supernatural parts is a modern, not a Biblical distinction. In Scripture, we see that the natural and supernatural run together in different layers, even interacting in ways at times, running simultaneously. We can see this in 1 Chronicles 14:15, where David is told by God that when he goes to battle and hears marching in the treetops (of the supernatural forces of God’s army) then he can go to battle for God is with him.
A more correct understanding is that the natural and supernatural form two layers, with the lower layer being the realm of the material, the realm in which we see and understand how the world works—the realm where science operates and can only operate, given its current design. The upper layer is the supernatural layer of the work of God, which covers the whole lower layer, since God is the ultimate cause and the material outworking as we see and understand it is the second cause. Our knowledge of the lower layer in no way decreases God’s work but simply gives us glimpses into how God made it happen.
The really important stuff in this proposition and chapter is the claim that science is unable to study the top layer: science has taken it upon itself to concern itself with the matter of the functions of the material world and the understanding thereof. In their intent to study sequences of causes and what causes what, they are missing something—purpose. Science can tell you what something is made of, how the parts interact, the laws the govern the interaction and making of parts, and even how something can be used, but it cannot tell you what the purpose of something is. The reason for this is that the purpose is not provable. Science demands that something be provable in repeatable, controlled, tests, and the purpose of something, at least the ultimate purpose in the greatest scheme, is not provable. For instance, science can determine the purpose of a part within a cell, a cell with an organ, an organ within an animal, an animal with an ecosystem, an ecosystem within a planet, and can determine the causes which that planet has within its solar system, etc. But it cannot answer why it all exists. It simply is not set up to do that. The why of everything existing—the grand purpose which everything feeds into, no matter where it falls in the sequence of causes and effects, is called teleology, a word meaning the study of the telos, a Greek word for end or goal which has come to mean final and ultimate purpose.
Science cannot prove that there is no telos to the cosmos. It also cannot prove that there is a telos to the cosmos. In this way, science is telos-neutral. However, science has in the past tended to emphasize the one and not the other—they have tended to emphasize that it cannot be proved that there is a telos, so there must not be telos. What science has failed to recognize is that they are unable to prove that there is not a telos to the cosmos.
Why this is important to Genesis 1 is this: Genesis 1 cannot be a viable scientific account of creation because it affirms, without a doubt, that there is a telos to the cosmos. In fact, Walton would contend that, because of the functional nature of the account of Genesis 1, the text is concerned only with the upper level—the level of the telos and how all things fit together into God’s grand plan, and it is not at all concerned with the material mechanisms. In fact, it is the extreme teleology of the Biblical understanding of all created things (that all things were created with a very specific purpose in God’s plan) that bolsters the idea that the account of creation would be far more concerned with how things serve to further that great plan, rather than with how they were made.

(All quotes, unless otherwise noted, and all creative material work unless I specify it as my opinion, comes from John H. Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate.)

Friday, July 13, 2012

Genesis 1: Post #3: Genesis 1 as Temple Liturgy


Proposition #7
“Divine Rest Is in a Temple”
If we read Genesis 1 as an account of the material creation of the cosmos, then day seven seems odd, a kind of a theological postscript to the real narrative of creation. But Walton contends than an ancient reader would have immediately understood two things: 1) Genesis 1 is a temple text and 2) day seven is the most important of the seven days and therefore the more important part of the temple text. In a functional account of creation, day seven would be the climax and the pinnacle of the narrative. Why? Because in an ancient mindset it would have been readily understood that “Deity rests in a temple, and only in a temple.” A temple is a place for divine rest (rest not meaning divine sleep, but divine sitting back, looking on the functional system, and letting it do what it was designed to do).  In fact, the Hebrew word shabat (from which is derived the word Sabbath) is an action which leads into a state of menuha, a position of safety and stability. The temple in which deity takes up rest is his headquarters (not primarily a place of communal worship as in churches today) from which he executes all the business of his realm, in this case the business of the entire cosmos.

Proposition #8
“The Cosmos Is a Temple”
Walton shows, through various avenues, that in ancient Near-Eastern mythology, the conceptualization, formation, and purpose of the cosmos and the temple were practically synonymous acts, showcasing the authority of the deity and serving as a place from which to execute that authority. And this is equally true in the case of the tabernacle/temple of the Israelites, which has often been seen as a microcosm of the entire cosmos and seen to be containing many images of both creation in general and the Garden of Eden in particular. In short, the Garden of Eden, the temple/tabernacle, and the entire cosmos are all similarly conceived sanctuaries in which God resides and in which humans can come and interact with and worship God. This is especially clear simply from Scripture in Isaiah 66:1-2c:
“Thus says the Lord: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord.”
So while the ancient Israelites were certainly paying attention to the functional, not material aspects of God’s creation of the cosmos, the function which they were most interested in was the function of creation as the temple of God, the place of God’s authoritative rule where humans could meet with him and worship him.
Here is what Walton has to say:
“The most central truth to the creation account is that this world is a place for God’s presence. Though all of the functions are anthropocentric, meeting the needs of humanity, the cosmic temple is theocentric, with God’s presence serving as the defining element of existence. … The establishment of the functional cosmic temple is effectuated by God taking up his residence on day seven.”

Proposition #9
“The Seven Days of Genesis 1 Relate to the Cosmic Temple Inauguration”
When a temple is made, there are two stages prior to use—creation and inauguration. The creation deals with the material building of the temple, the wood, stone, and gold that goes into it. Then comes the inauguration, and it is not until the inauguration was complete that a temple would have truly been considered a temple. In much the same way, the earth, in whatever form it took prior to the account of Genesis 1, was a collection of well-organized materials. But then came Genesis 1, and the seven days of creation are a seven-day inauguration ceremony for the greatest temple ever made—the cosmos.
We can see this happening in Exodus n the portrayal of the making of the tabernacle: in Ex. 39:32 it is reported that all the work on the tabernacle was complete. But the tabernacle-making wasn’t finished yet—the inauguration had yet to be completed; so then we have the blessing of Moses over the tabernacle in 39:43 and the description of the organizing of the things in the temple and the entrance of the glory of the Lord in Ex. 40, so that by Ex. 40:34, the temple is actually complete.
Walton even suggests, perhaps accurately and in conjunction with others, “that Genesis 1 could have effectively served as the liturgy” of a festival which celebrated the inauguration of the tabernacle/temple, such as the festival spoken of in 1 Kings 8:65 with the temple of Solomon.
This would allow us to more accurately handle the present discussion regarding the term ‘day’ in Genesis 1 (Hebrew yom). Many have tried to see ‎yom as referring to a period of time, rather than to a 24-hour period, but the language simply does not accommodate such a reading, given the usage of yom elsewhere in Scripture. But if the seven days of Genesis 1 are in fact the ‘inauguration ceremony’ of the cosmos, then they could very well have been seven, literal, 24-hour days in which God set up, not the material origins of the universe, but the functional origins of the universe as the temple of God.

Proposition #10
“The Seven Days of Genesis 1 Do Not Concern Material Origins”
This may seem fairly obvious from previous discussions, but here Walton makes a point of coming out and saying a few things which he has previously implied. First off, he states that, unless it can be proven alongside of his theory that Genesis 1 does contain an account of the material origins of the cosmos, it should not be retained simply because that is what we are accustomed to. That being said, he makes it abundantly clear that he is not saying that God did not meticulously and powerfully make every material thing, but simply saying that Genesis 1 does not tell that story. (And given that the rest of Scripture is far more concerned with what the purpose of the earth is for a good life for humans and for the glory of God, rather than how it works, this seems to me to be very consistent with the witness of Scripture as a whole.)
Walton addresses systematically the possible places where material origins could be discussed ad this is what he comes out with:
= Days one, three, and seven speak of no material creation at all.
= Day two, the firmament, is potentially material, but it is clear that the Israelites had more concern with what it did and little concern with how it was made.
= Days four and six have material components but they are discussed on a functional level.
= Day five speaks of the function of the created beings and uses the verb bara, previously established to be a verb concerned with the functional, not material creation.
Then Walton takes his vehicle to a place where the rubber hits the road with a screeching that many might find uncomfortable and others will love the sound of: if all of this is true, then Genesis 1 does not support a young earth position. It also does not support an old earth position. It simply doesn’t rule out, or confirm either one—it just doesn’t speak to the age of the earth. And I quote:
“If there is no biblical information concerning the age of the material cosmos, then, as people who take the Bible seriously, we have nothing to defend on that count and can consider the options that science has to offer. Some scientific theories may end up being correct and others may be replaced by new thinking. We need not defend the reigning paradigm in science about the age of the earth if we have scientific reservations, but we are under no compulsion to stand against a scientific view of an old earth because of what the Bible teaches.”
God still made the earth—functional and material. Colossians 1:16-17 and Hebrews 1:2 affirm that God is the source of all that exists, material, functional, or anything else you can think of.
But then what do the seven days do? The seven days add two things to the material world: 1) humanity in God’s image and 2) God’s presence in his cosmic temple. “Without those two ingredients, the cosmos would be considered nonfunctional and therefore nonexistent” and this is consistent with Scripture’s understanding that the cosmos exists for humans second and God first. Once Genesis 1 has passed on, the material temple has been granted the presence of the Deity and the presence of the priests (human beings, ministering before God in his temple) and is therefore complete.
One major objection which many hold and which I held to this view is the question of death. A material world implies death, unless it is without animal life or even plant life, since both require death. But Walton contends, perhaps rightly, perhaps not, that Paul is not speaking about death in general, but about death for humanity as it came into the world through sin. Death came to humanity through sin in the fall, but that does not mean that it didn’t exist in the rest of the world prior to the Fall. Once humans sinned, the mortality with which they had been created as a part of the earth (‘from the dust’) their one antidote to mortality, the Tree of Life, was denied to them and so death came to humanity through the Fall.

(All quotes, unless otherwise noted, and all creative material work unless I specify it as my opinion, comes from John H. Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate.)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Genesis 1. Post #2: What God Really Did in Creation


Proposition #3
““Create” (Hebrew bara) Concerns Functions”
One word that I have found interesting to examine in my study of biblical Hebrew is the verb bara, a verb that appears about 50 times in the Old Testament (and a few instances of note in Genesis 1) and is typically translated ‘create.’ The interest in it comes from the fact that this verb concerns an action which is only ever an action performed by God—if a human being makes something, a different verb is used. So in the Old Testament, if bara is used, the activity is inherently divine and humans cannot participate. Walton, with extensive discussion, contends, I believe rightfully so, that bara is a verb that is not only inherently divine, but also concerns creation within the aforementioned functional ontology.

Proposition #4
“The Beginning State in Genesis 1 Is Nonfunctional”
If it is true that the creation account in Genesis 1 speaks not to material creation but to functional creation, then it is also true that the chaos that is spoken of in 1:2 is most certainly a chaos that is nonfunctional, or even anti-functional. The two Hebrew words that are typically translated “formless and void” (tohu and bohu) are another source of proof which Walton employs for support of his position. The word bohu is rare, and it is difficult to pinpoint a meaning for it, although its semantic range deals with ‘nothingness.’ Tohu appears more often in the Old Testament, and its semantic range deals not so much with nothingness but with a state of nothing useful—unproductivity. So the phrase of what the world was pre-Genesis 1 was not so much that there was nothing (although I fully believe in creation ex nihilo) but that whatever was there was simply unproductive—not carrying out its intended function.

Propositions #5
“Days One to Three in Genesis 1 Establish Functions”
= Day One: In Genesis 1:5, God “called the light day and the darkness he called night.” Why? Why not just call light ‘light’? The simple, perhaps guessable, answer is that God was talking about making a period of light for human beings, not the ‘material’ creation of light. In 1:4, it says that God “separated the light from the darkness,” a nonsensical statement unless the text is speaking about God’s designation of a period of light. This standard can be extended to 1:3, where it reads “let there be light.” If this is referring to a period of light then God’s creation of the light is an act of creating a function intended to support human existence and it is also the creation of some measure of time.
= Day Two: For hundreds of years, we have known full well that the earth is not covered by a protective dome which shields us from masses of water above (the firmament of day two). Typically, it has simply been said that this was God speaking to the Israelites at their level. But then what do we think of creative activity on day two? Do we ignore it? This is far less of an issue if we understand that what God did on day two was to create something functional; the functions of the firmament were twofold: 1) make a safe space for humans to live and 2) control the weather, esp. precipitation. So day two was not so much about creating the ‘sky’ as we like to say, but about God’s creation of “the functions that serve as the basis for weather.”
= Day Three: people have been put into a quandary because they think that God didn’t ‘make’ anything on day three. Well that’s true, if you still work from a material standpoint. From a functional standpoint, on day three, God made a functional differentiation of terrestrial space. Others have noted that God’s creative act involved two things on day three (water and dry land, and vegetation). But in fact, if you think functionally, this is not two acts but one: it is the creation of the production of food by placing soil, water, and the principle of seed-bearing all together.
All in all, we see then that this is the functional creation of the first three days of creation: time, weather, and food—the three foundations of life.

Proposition #6
“Days Four to Six in Genesis 1 Install Functionaries”
= Day Four: the creation of the sources of light is difficult to make sense of from a material standpoint, but from a functional standpoint it is very simple. The light-sources serve to act as the functionaries of the functions of day one’s creation: they provide light upon the earth and they divide time into measurable segments.
= Day Five: rather than carrying out the function of their space as do the functionaries in day four, the functionaries of day five are put into the function established in day two and are meant to carry out their own functions. Animals of the water and sky are created and ordered to carry out their lives with their place in the functional system: “be fruitful and multiply and fill…”
= Day Six: these functionaries were also put into their space as it was designed on day three, wild animals placed on the land and told to be functional in their own way: “be fruitful and multiply and fill…”
= Humanity: (due to their special nature, they get their own category, despite being created on day six.) Three other things are of note in the creation of humans in Genesis 1:
1) Humans, like the other animals of day six, get placed on the earth and instructed in their functions, but unlike the other animals, they have an extra function: “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over…”
2)  While all creation is made to function underneath human beings (earth for the animals, animals for the humans, etc.) human beings are made in the image of God (a statement that in the Hebrew is repeated to a degree that is somewhat ridiculous) and as the bearers of the image of God, they are his vice regents, his agents in the world.
3) There is little concern over the material from which humans are made; the reference to dust in Genesis 2 is not a statement of material composition, but rather a statement of origin—a reference to the earth-bound and mortal nature of the created man. So the concern is not with material origin, but with archetypal origin, a concern with the interconnectedness of all human beings and their connectedness to the earth and its mortality.
So the creation (very simplified) might look like this: the creative acts of the first three days have the function of creating appropriate space for the created beings of the following three days, the pinnacle of which are human beings, whose function is to rule over the created beings and the space designed for them, and all of this serves to give glory to God.

(All quotes, unless otherwise noted, and all creative material work unless I specify it as my opinion, comes from John H. Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate.)

Monday, July 9, 2012

Genesis 1. Post #1: The Foundations of Functional Ontology

“For the Israelites, Genesis 1 offered explanations of their view of origins and operations, in the same way that mythologies served in the rest of the ancient world and that science serves our Western culture.”

Walton begins his examination of Genesis 1 by trying to make clear that our reading and understanding of Genesis 1 hinges on our ability to enter into the culture in which the text was written and understand the solid principles that are there, applying them to our current setting. Working from that starting point, Walton moves on to offer a series of 18 propositions about Genesis 1 and the truths which it contains, some of which I will treat separately and others of which I will treat in groups.

Proposition #1
“Genesis 1 Is Ancient Cosmology”
This may seem fairly obvious, but it is a nail that needs hammering nonetheless: “it [Genesis 1] does not attempt to describe cosmology in modern terms or address modern questions.” As the saying goes, ‘the Bible is not a science textbook.’ A viewpoint that seeks to find modern science in Genesis 1 or to allow Genesis 1 to dictate modern science is labeled ‘concordism,’ and such an activity is not simply an adding of new information to the reading of the text, but a changing of the meaning of the text, something that flies against a proper understanding of the supreme authority of Scripture. And anyone with their head in the scientific world knows that reading the Bible especially to fit current scientific consensus is dangerous; like terms and conditions, scientific consensus is subject to change.

In short, God did not design to communicate the truths in Genesis 1 in any way other than the way that its audience would have understood. So if God did not intend to reveal details about cosmic geography as it ‘truly’ took place, then he intended to make some kind of different point by what he did say in Genesis 1, and what we find there is, like many other things in Scripture, culturally-conditioned; for instance, Bible translations often translate ‘mind’ when the Hebrew word means ‘guts,’ because everything that Westerners associated with the mind was associated with the internal organs in the ancient world. So God doesn’t need to revise peoples’ thinking along such lines, but is pleased to speak to humans on their own level, as he did throughout Scripture.

Proposition #2
“Ancient Cosmology is Function Oriented”
This is the proposition which I was referring to when I spoke of a complete paradigm shift in the viewing of Genesis 1; as such, it is this proposition, above all else, that must be understood and internalized to make sense of the matter, despite how difficult it may be.

In our Western world, we believe that existence is tied intrinsically to the material. A chair exists because it is material, a ghost does not exist because it is immaterial, etc. If our senses (esp. sight and touch) can interact with it, it exists. But this is not the only way to think of existence. Does a company exist when it is official? Or when it has a building? More likely we would say that it exists when it is doing business. In short, some things we say exist only when they are performing the function which they are supposed to be performing. The question of existence is a philosophical topic known as ontology, and is simply the study of something’s ‘being’—its existence. In our Western mindset, we hold to a material ontology: something exists because it exists in space and we can sense it there. But in the ancient world, the ontology was primarily a functional ontology, much like the company that I mentioned earlier: something exists because it carries out its appropriate role. (Walton spends a fair amount of time substantiating this claim from multiple near-Eastern cosmologies and makes his case quite well, though you’d have to read the book to see that.) Why this is important is this: “If ontology defines the terms of existence, and creation means to bring something into existence, then one’s ontology sets the parameters by which one thinks about creation.”

You might see where this is headed now: when we read Genesis 1, we immediately think about God’s creative acts as pertaining to his creation of the material forms which we interact with in the world. But that was not what the ancient Israelites had in mind when they read Genesis 1; rather, they had in mind God’s work in creating a series of functions which, when working together, made for a functional and ordered system. So in such a system, the sun does not exist because it is a burning ball of gas, but because it lends light and warmth for the earth (and numerous other functions) and especially for humanity, since humanity is the pinnacle of God’s creation and the reason for creating the earth.

So in such a system, the actual act of creating is not about bringing the material of a thing into being (which, by the way, the ancient Israelites fully believed that God did by himself, from nothing) but rather by making something a functional part of an ordered system, often from a previously nonfunctional condition.

It is at this propositions that I must stop until the next post. As it is, this is plenty of information, and the second proposition is very difficult to wrap around, given how entrenched we are in modern, material ontology (this is not bashing this, just saying that to understand Genesis 1 properly, we need to be able to step outside of material ontology). In the next post I will continue with the propositions, some of which are less weighty and less thought-provoking than the second proposition. So consider what I have said already, mull over it, think about its possible outworking, and stay tuned for continued reading.

(All quotes, unless otherwise noted, and all creative material work unless I specify it as my opinion, comes from John H. Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate.)