Guest Post: The Bible and Books About Dinosaurs

Transient

Today’s guest post comes to us from one of my favorite bloggers. Mason Slater is an MA student at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, a freelance writer, and a publishing consultant. I had the pleasure of meeting Mason and his lovely wife Melinda when I was in Grand Rapids for the Festival of Faith and Writing. I love how this guy thinks! He’s smart, thoughtful, humble, and wise. 

Mason blogs at MasonSlater.com, where he writes about the latest news in theology, Christian living, and publishing. I’ve been following for several years now, and am always interested in the conversation there. Mason recently moved his blog, so be sure to re-subscribe! 

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The Bible and Books About Dinosaurs
by Mason Slater 

After years of research, and quite a bit of agonizing, I’m finally able to offer this small pronouncement.

I no longer believe that there is any inherent conflict between the Scriptures and the scientific account of human origins, by which of course I mean evolution.

Admittedly, that someone you’ve probably never met is able to affirm a scientific theory which most of the Western world takes for granted may not seem like that big of a deal.

But it is for me, and I imagine my story is not all that unlike many of yours.

I grew up in a conservative evangelical home. As best I can remember my parents never made a point to bring up Creationism or Evolution, but they didn’t have to – the subculture did it for them.

Over time a young boy who loved dinosaurs and fossils began to sense those things were dirty, that the books he was reading were looked on with suspicion. At first I wasn’t sure why, but soon I learned that these books taught things about the world that disagreed with the Bible. 

Because I loved the Bible more than my books about dinosaurs, it wasn’t long before those books found themselves gathering dust on my bookshelf.

That evolutionary science and Christian faith were incompatible seemed as apparent as that every autumn would lead to another cold Michigan winter. With that assumption firmly implanted, my young self was one day faced with a crisis. While talking with my mom she made some passing mention that my father believed in evolution. 

I was shocked, terrified even.

Terrified because I thought this meant dad might not be saved. So, after arriving home from a long day at work, my father was confronted by his twelve-year-old son who proceeded to try and convince him how important it was that he believed what the Bible said about God making the world. 

I’m sure I was not a terribly convincing young theologian at that point, but I’m also sure dad could see what it meant to me, so he agreed with me and the issue was never raised again.

Though it wasn’t long before I made my peace with Evolution not being an issue of salvation, these crisis moments ensured that I would wrestle for many years with the ways my faith seemed to clash with science.

By the time I graduated from high school I had read many Creationist books and had the debates time after time, and was no doubt obnoxiously sure of myself.

Then college hit, and the more widely I read the less sure I became of my easy answers. 

A Biblical Studies major as an undergrad, I expected to find theologians offering a thorough repudiation of godless Darwinism, what I found was quite the opposite. There were of course theologians who were outspoken Creationists, but plenty of theologians who I had come to deeply respect saw absolutely no contradiction between biblical faithfulness and the science of evolution.

This was exciting, freeing even, but also deeply frustrating.

See, I still cared more for the Bible than my books about dinosaurs. And, try as I might, I just couldn’t see how to make the two compatible without doing violence to the Scriptures I valued so highly.

As I continued to research I could see more and more massive holes in the Young Earth Creationism I had grown up on, but with no better option I became essentially agnostic. I knew I was no long a traditional Creationist, but I couldn’t really bring myself to throw in with any other position either.

Enter John Walton.

Last winter I read Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One and it changed everything. Or, rather, I knew that it could. I also knew I wanted to believe what he was saying, so I was a bit suspicious of my motives for embracing his argument. It made perfect sense, but did I just think that because of all sorts of subconscious motivations?

So I took some time to ponder it, and this summer I re-read The Lost World of Genesis One and had the chance to hear Walton speak about his argument in the book. This led to this post, and a follow up.

Walton’s suggestion? In the ancient world the idea of creation was not about material but function. So that, in all the ancient creation myths, the thing that is created is order, things are named and given roles and a place in the world. How the “stuff” that things are made of came into existence was simply not a concern to the ancients.

If that’s true, and Walton makes a very good case for it, here is the way it cashes out: Genesis 1 is about functional origins not material, the original audience would have understood it as being about how order was created out of chaos, not how matter came from non-matter. 

So the Bible takes no particular side in the debates we have about Evolution or the age of the earth, that Story is about something else entirely.

And suddenly I don’t have to choose between the Bible and those books about dinosaurs.

comments

http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/guest-post-mason-slater

Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.

Review: "The Lost World of Genesis One"

[Quick note completely unrelated to the post: There are a couple of Evolving in Monkey Town giveaways happening in the blogosphere today, so if you would like to enter for a chance to win a  free copy, hop on over to Jason Boyett’s interview or Big Mama’s review and leave a comment.]

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So a book about biblical interpretation in the context of ancient cosmological paradigms might not strike you as summer reading material, but please don’t let that stop you from picking up a copy of The Lost World of Genesis One by Old Testament scholar John Walton.

I loved this book.

It’s accessible. It’s well-written. It’s profound. It’s practical. It’s exhaustively researched. It’s short.

In just 190 pages, Walton explains that the most “literal” interpretation of Genesis 1-2 is one that takes the Hebrew language and Israelite culture seriously rather than imposing modern scientific paradigms onto the text.  

Writes Walton, “The Old Testament does communicate to us and it was written for us, and for all humankind. But it was not written to us. It was written to Israel.” Consequently, we must “translate the culture as well as the language if we hope to understand the text fully.” (p. 11)

With this in mind, Walton argues that Genesis 1 is reflective of ancient cosmology and that ancient cosmology is typically function-oriented rather than material-oriented.

“If we accept Genesis 1 as ancient cosmology, then we need to interpret it as ancient cosmology rather than translate it into modern cosmology," he explains.  "If we try to turn into modern cosmology, we are making the text say something that it never said. It is not just a case of adding meaning (as more information has become available) it is a case of changing meaning.” (17)

In other words, God used ancient near Eastern language and culture to communicate directly to his people, not modern scientific language and assumptions to communicate directly to us.

According to Walton, attempts to mine the ancient text for answers to today's scientific questions amounts to what is called concordism, which holds that the Bible must agree—(be in concord with)—all the findings of contemporary science. While concordism leaves the reader scratching her head as she attempts to figure out how there could have been waters above the sky (Genesis 1:7), Walton’s approach “maintains that this terminology is simply describing cosmic geography in Israelite terms to make a totally different point.” (p. 18)  (He also notes that concordism is often selective, as you don’t see a lot of folks trying to come up with a physiology for our times that explains how people think with their entrails, as was assumed by ancient people and referenced in multiple biblical passages.)

Notes Walton, “Through the entire Bible, there is not a single instance in which God revealed to Israel a science beyond their own culture.” (p. 19)

“We must take the text on its own terms—it is not written to us,” he says. “Much to our dismay then, we will find that the text is impervious to many of the questions that consume us in today’s dialogues. Though we long for the Bible to weigh in on these issues and give us biblical perspectives or answers, we dare not impose such an obligation on the text. God has chosen the agenda of the text, and  we must be content with the wisdom of these choices…The Bible’s message must not be subjected to cultural imperialism.” (p. 21)

I underlined that paragraph…and drew little stars around it…and wrote a note beside it that said,“Scripture doesn’t answer every question.”

There is a certain relief that comes with the realization that as much as I wish the Bible weighed in on evolutionary theory….or modern physics….or the level at which God is creatively involved in natural processes…these were not questions that Israel was asking, and so we are simply not privy to the answers. 

Instead, (according to Walton), Genesis One concerns functionality,  and the seven days relate to what he calls the “Cosmic Temple Inauguration”…ancient concepts that are a bit too complicated for me to tackle here, but which are clearly and concisely articulated in the rest of  The Lost World of Genesis One.

So if you love the Bible, but struggle with how to embrace it in light of modern science, please consider reading this book...now.  Besides, people will think you’re really smart when they see you reading it by the pool with your pina colada!

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What is your reaction to my statement that “Scripture doesn’t answer every question”?

Relief? Disappointment? Outrage?

comments

http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/lost-world

Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.