Book Club Discussion: In the beginning, at 9 a. m...

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

It’s Monday, so today we continue our conversation about Crystal Downing’s How Postmodernism Serves (My) Faith. 

Seeing as my hometown of Dayton, Tennessee became famous for the evolution/creation debate of the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, I found Downing’s analysis of 17th century theologian James Usher’s creation timeline fascinating. Downing writes that “based on his reading of all the ‘begats’ in the Bible, along with the stated ages of Old Testament patriarchs, Usher systematically reinforced time frames suggested by earlier Christian leaders to conclude that the world was created on October 23, 4004 B.C.-at 9:00 a.m., no less.” 

Wow; it’s interesting that God was apparently using the Roman calendar before the existence of the Roman empire! 

Downing concludes that “Usher’s intellectual edifice was influenced by modernist styles. It reflected the early modern impulse to submit Scripture to reason more than it harmonized with early church tradition, which regarded a literal six-day creation as unnecessary to Christian orthodoxy.” 

I like how Downing describes modernism’s influence on fundamentalism: 

“During the first half of the twentieth century, scientific modernists and fundamentalist Christians seemed to stand on opposite sides of the same door. But the door wasn’t Christ; it was logical positivism, which asserted that only scientifically verifiable statements can be considered ‘true.’ Seeming to agree with modernists that only science is worthy of reasoned assent, fundamentalists argued (and many still do) for the scientific accuracy of the Bible. They turned Scripture into a collection of positivistic statements and went to incredible lengths to explain away textual discrepancies…” 

Downing takes it a step further and says, “it is no coincidence that the concept of biblical inerrancy developed in nineteenth-century England almost simultaneously with Darwin’s idea of natural selection: both were influenced by Enlightenment empiricism.” 

So, is the concept of biblical inerrancy nothing more than a byproduct of modern rationalism? Did the Old Testament prophets, with their pre-modern worldviews, think of Scripture as inerrant? Did Jesus? Should we? What do you think?

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