Cognitive Whiplash – What I’ve Been Reading (8)

I dare you to read Andrew Snelling’s Earth’s Catastrophic Past and Davis Young’s The Bible, Rocks and Time side by side. Both men are professional geologists, and both books exhibit the proficiency and expertise of their respective authors. Snelling’s two volume set argues for young-earth creationism and that Noah’s flood created the preponderance of the geological record. Young and his co-author, Ralph Stearley, present the case for an ancient earth and that Noah’s flood was a local phenomena. Snelling’s book is intended to be a successor to Whitcomb and Morris’ seminal work The Genesis Flood (1961). Young and Stearley’s book is a revision of Davis’ earlier Christianity and the Age of the Earth (1982). The two works together total over 1500 pages. I just finished both and I’m suffering from cognitive whiplash.

Snelling is thorough in his presentation. He realizes that he is arguing against the consensus view of the geological community and therefore must meticulously make his case. Davis and Stearley’s give more attention to the historical development of the debate about the age of the earth, but they also give methodical attention to the evidences for their position. Geological laymen (like me) will probably find the books to be a difficult slog. Both books attempt to make their respective cases via cumulative arguments—piling up one example after another. Again speaking as a non-geologist, for me reading them–at times–was like being pummeled to death with ping pong balls.

Snelling and Young often present the same geological data—the geological column of the Grand Canyon, the mid-Atlantic ridge, coral reefs, etc. But they almost always arrive at diametrically opposite conclusions.

What’s going on here? There are at least four possible explanations: (1) The postmodernists and deconstructionists are right–all meaning and truth is subjective and created by the reader. In this case the text is the geological column and the readers are the geologists. (2) At least one side is engaged in deliberate deceit. (3) Spiritual forces are at work. One side is blinded by the evil one while the other’s mind is divinely illuminated. Or (4) at least one side has an almost pathological inability to see the truth. These blind spots render them unable to see what should be obvious.

I don’t like any of the four above possibilities. I am open to another explanation. The postmodernist answer (1), is self-referentially contradictory. Deconstructionism may work as a descriptor but fails as a philosophy. As for explanation (2), there is nothing about Snelling or Davis that indicates either would be willing to deceive or be deliberately dishonest. As for (3), Christians have no doubt about spiritual warfare, and that spiritual battles occur in every avenue of human endeavor, and this includes the scientific realm. However, both Davis and Snelling (and the respective Christian communities they represent) affirm the Lordship of Jesus Christ over their vocations as geologists. Both are servants of Christ. I am in no position to make a spiritual determination about either one. Of the four possible explanations, the phenomena of blind spots (4) is the most likely.

Explanation (4) is also the most optimistic, even if one or both sides seems to be intransigent. Here the community of faith can play a crucial role. If Davis and Snelling, and others who hold to their respective views, will meet, talk, and pray together; if they will allow other godly, concerned, and informed brethren to speak truth into their lives; if they will be humble enough to acknowledge their respective blind spots, then it will be possible for progress to be made and for some type of consensus to be achieved.

As it stands now, the dissonance between the two geologists and their respective books is so great that one has to wonder if they are looking at the same planet.

This post was cross-posted at www.theologyforthechurch.com

What I’ve Been Reading (5)–The Evolution of Adam

Peter Enns is the fellow that Ken Ham has been warning about. Members of the Answers in Genesis organization (such as Ken Ham and Terry Mortenson) have often contended that abandoning young-earth creationism is the first step on a slippery slope in which the historicity of Adam and the Fall is denied, and eventually the gospel is compromised.  Logicians generally consider the slippery slope argument a fallacy (or a poor argument at best), but Enns makes the AIG guys look like they’re on to something. Peter Enns’ The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins is both disturbing and disappointing.  Enns doesn’t present much that is all that new (Bultmann made many of the same arguments 75 years ago).  What is new is that the arguments are being made by one who, until recently, signed the ETS statement affirming the inerrancy of Scripture.

Enns argues that Paul got it wrong about Adam, but but we shouldn’t worry about that because the apostle got it right about Christ.  According to Enns, Paul’s use of Adam is idiosyncratic.  Because Paul engaged in the creative hermeneutics typical of 2nd Temple Judaism, he presents a view of Adam that cannot be sustained by a close reading of the Old Testament.  Actually, Paul’s understanding of Adam is not typical of 2nd Temple Judaism.  He may have been using their hermeneutics, but he doesn’t arrive at their conclusions. In passages such as Rom 5 and 1 Cor 15, Paul engages in the theological equivalent of reverse engineering.  He saw Christ’s resurrection as a solution in search of a problem.  He begins with the resurrection of Jesus, and then re-interprets the Old Testment (particularly Genesis 3) to make sense of it all.   In the end, the apostle presents us with a view of Adam and the Fall that cannot by justified by theology, biology, history, or even the Old Testament itself. 

The classic theological liberals of the 19th and 20th centuries demonstrated the danger of accommodating the modern worldview to the point the gospel is lost.  Has Peter Enns made the same mistake? I fear he is on the verge of doing so.  Enns affirms the bodily resurrection of Christ, but he abandons the first half of the grand biblical narrative that makes sense of the event.  Enns puts that narrative–Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration–in serious jeopardy.  When he jettisons a historical Adam and a subsequent historical fall, Enns seriously damages the first half of the gospel.

The problem is not simply that Enns advocates theistic evolution.  Other evangelicals in the past have done so (B. B. Warfield and C.S. Lewis come to mind) and some current evangelicals do so today (think J. I. Packer and Tim Keller).  I think they’re wrong about evolution, but they still held, or hold, to a literal Adam who fell in a literal garden.  Enns says that there must be a synthesis of evolution and Christianity. “The only question,” states Enns, “is how that will be done” (123).  I can think of at least one more question. After the merger, is the result still Christian?

This blogpost is cross-posted at www.theologyforthechurch.com.online games

Pursuing Hagar

Administrator’s Note: The following post was originally published at the personal website of Steve McKinion, who serves as Associate Professor of Historical Theology and Patristic Studies at Southeastern Seminary. Dr. McKinion has graciously given us permission to republish his excellent article at Between the Times.

Genesis 16 contains the narrative of Abram, Sarai, and Hagar. It is rife with conflict, intrigue, and drama. It is also a clear picture of God on mission.

From the beginning, Genesis has told us of God’s mission “to the nations.” His call of Abram was not one to the salvation of Abram, his family, or his (biological) descendants, but rather of the salvation of the nations. This narrative is one of the most obvious representations of that intention.

Moses informs the reader that Hagar is an Egyptian; she was from the ‘nations’ [Gen 16:1]. After the unfortunate decision by Sarai and Abram to reject God’s provision of a “seed,” even while believing his promise of one, Hagar flees her mistreatment by Sarai. Hagar was “in the wilderness, on the way to Shur.” She had fled the Land and the blessing of being in right relationship with God and Abram, and had gone into the wilderness. Moses draws a clear parallel for us with Adam and Eve leaving the land due to sin and being exiled to the wilderness. The consequence of sin is the wilderness, the place where there is no rest, only wandering. Hagar is, due to the disobedience of Abram and Sarai, suffering in the wilderness when the LORD finds her.

God then pursued and “found” Hagar, in the same as he had found Adam and Eve following their sin. And when God comes to Hagar he promises her blessing. She will have a son, and her offspring will be numerous. Ishmael is no illegitimate son, even if Abram and Hagar were illegitimate parents! Hagar was told to return to the Land, which in Genesis is the place where Life is, in the presence of God.

What does Moses intend for us to see? Obviously, he wants us to see the result of a failure to trust him to provide the promised Son. Paul tells us this is the case in Galatians. And even where there is unfaithfulness and sin, God is not content to leave sinners in the wilderness. Just as he pursued Hagar into the wilderness to see her returned to the Land, so too does he pursue the nations into the wilderness to make a people for himself from them. He is on mission in the wilderness, where people who do not know the Son of God, Jesus Christ, are wandering around with no place of rest.

Since God is on mission in the wilderness, it is only fitting that his people are in the wilderness as well. Why are content to rest in the Land, delighting in our own condition, while the Hagar’s of the world are lost in the wilderness? God is not blind or deaf to their needs. He is the God who hears and sees. But do we have ears to hear and eyes to see? I fear that too often we are pleased with the milk and honey of the Land, unaware that God is at work in the wilderness, where he has gone in pursuit of Hagar.

Christians congregate in order to be shaped by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the death of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, and the proclamation of Jesus to the nations, according to the Scriptures. Where there is no proclamation to the nations, there only an incomplete and therefore inadequate Gospel. To be on mission with God means to be in the wilderness, the place where he found us and where he is “finding” people everyday. May he forgive us for being fat and happy in the land, where our multi-million-dollar buildings restrict us, figuratively and financially, from going to the wilderness where the nations are. Want to build something to the glory of God? The build a road into the wilderness.