Tuesday, August 12, 2008

a few quick bullets on the genesis talks...

I’m scared that the good things I believe I have to offer – indeed, that I feel I have an obligation to offer – may get lost in controversy...which would suck. So, here is a little info about the series i'd like to float in advance, to help good conversation get started.

Here are some bullets to help isolate the central "problem":
• the “conflict” between evolutionary science and biblical faith centers on genesis 1
• genesis 1 talk about a 6 day creation, taking place about 6500 yrs ago (assuming we add up the age of all the people recorded in genesis, working our way back to the beginning)
• scientists, however, maintain that the world is probably almost 16billion years old (+/- 2 billion yrs)
• when confronted with these facts, many of us feel like we are supposed to now pick a side – either the side of science, thereby dismissing the truthfulness of scripture (including all of the claims of jesus christ and his apostles), or the side of faith, thereby dismissing scientific evidence (and associating evolutionary biology with atheism and an attempt to destroy christian spirituality)
• my belief, though, is that genesis 1 should not be taken as a kind of historical document that outlines how god actually created the world, nor do I think it was ever designed to be that kind of document.
• I’ll outline why I believe that in a moment, and what – instead – I think genesis 1 is about; but, for now, let me just say that if we understand that genesis 1 is not about science, but is instead about theology, then this first conflict disappears completely (there are other, consequent conflicts that arise, but they are much more easily reconciled and far less problematic to our faith)
• so, because I think genesis 1 is not a scientific document, I do not believe there is any need to choose between science and faith.

This is my real purpose in talking about evolution.

As to what I think genesis 1 is really about...
• It is designed to show us that god made the world
• that god is in control of the world
• that god created us to steward the world and look after it
• that we are under his authority and will be judged and loved by him
• that we have a massive responsibility to him – and not merely to ourselves and our own desires – in the world

As to when I think genesis was written...
• contrary to popular belief I’m not a bible scholar, just a pastor, so – from my best research delivered by our best bible scholars – it looks like genesis 1 was written around 600 BC, during the assyrian/babylonian captivity
• the research that indicates this is based on some very technical stuff – namely diction, word choice, parsing and phrasing, textual criticism and dating, authorial concerns, etc... I could go into more detail here if you like
• suffice to say, though, that the author of genesis 1 is a different author than that of genesis 2 (in fact, most of genesis is a kind of mish-mash of authors)
• furthermore, the author of genesis was probably a prophet not a historian, which is hugely significant (as I’ll outline below)

As to why that is significant...
• the language of genesis 1 closely mirrors that of other creation stories from the ancient near east (the enuma elish, the gilgamesh epic, etc.)
• except that genesis 1 makes some very special distinctions...
• for example, in other creation stories the world is created in violence and fire
• in genesis 1, though, the world is created in love through speech and song
• in other creation stories, the world is born in chaos and destruction
• in genesis 1, though, the world is born out of chaos/void by a god who loves and authors order, playfulness, and beauty
• in fact, it seems like genesis 1 was written to correct the errors of the other creation stories...that essentially it was designed to say (to the babylonians or whomever else) “you’ve got it wrong...YHWH made the world, and he made it in love”

As to what I think genesis 1 was designed to communicate to its original audience (i.e. why it was written at all)...
• given the above info, I think genesis 1 was likely written by a prophet
• as we know, the intent of a prophet it to critique and to criticize those things that are wrong in the world and to speak forth of a tie when god will make them right
• I believe genesis 1 was written with the intent to critique and provoke the people of god into a kind of holy rebellion against their oppressors (the babylonians, assyrians, etc...)
• I think it’s a poem that basically says “people of god, don’t buy into the gross lie of our captors. God is not a god of violence, but a god of love. You were not created to be slaves, but to be sons and daughter of god. The babylonians think that they have a god-given right to conquer, rape, and destroy, but this is a lie. God hasn’t made us for destruction, he’s made us for dominion. Even though it looks like the babylonians are right at the present time, god will ultimately deliver us from their oppression. Don’t lose hope.”

How can I justify such a completely different interpretation of this text than the more “popular” one...
• research, mostly – most of our biblical eggheads (middleton, brueggemann, sarna...just to name a few though there are many, many others) agree about date, authorship, and intent
• furthermore, even our earliest Christian theologians didn’t think genesis was about the date/time in which god created the worls (augustine, origin, ireneus to name a few)
• again, I think the purpose of genesis 1 is to tell us who we are in relationship to god (shadows and imitators), who god is in relationship to the world (creator, lord, lover, judge), and what our responsibilities are to the world as we seek to honor god (look after it, care for it, cultivate it)

Am I the only person to think this...
• no, in fact, I have learned to believe that this stuff is true based on my study of other people's work
• as such, none of this material is “my own”

Do I think this really needs to be taught at ww...
• yes. There are huge payoffs in the conversation about evolution and faith
• yes. There are huge payoffs in coming to an understanding that the way god wants the world to be is in stark contrast to the way the world actually is (whether that world happens to be the word of 600BC Babylon or 2008 Jackson)
• yes. I think hurting people can take immense comfort from known that God is on their side in the midst of their suffering.

Why am I ok with teaching it, even though it is likely to cause some kind of a stir...
• because I truly am heartbroken over many of my friends (and former constituents) who have walked away from their faith in jesus christ because of the inability of the christian church to provide an adequate defense of the scripture in light of the findings of evolutionary biology
• because I genuinely believe that if we can equip our people with an alternative to either abandoning god or abandoning reason then it is my god-given responsibility to do so
• because I have the love and support of my wife, our elders at westwinds, our staff at westwinds, and of people like yourselves – who are willing to make sure I take the utmost care when talking about such sensitive matters and are committed to ensuing that I am neither reckless nor irresponsible with this work

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