Most experts – Christian and non-Christian alike – believe the earth is old, very old. Some experts believe the earth is young. But the phrases “Old Earth Creationism” and “Young Earth Creationism” have come to mean something slightly different. Those phrases have come to denote views which ascribe a theory regarding the age and creation-process of the universe to the Bible, and specifically to Genesis chapter one.
I have a problem with that. But before I explain what that is, I think Rob Bell does a good job of taking-the-words-out-of-my-mouth-and-placing-them-in-a-different-context, if you will.
In discussing the story of Jonah and bantering around the perspectives of whether or not the story represents a historical account or a literary one, he writes this:
It’s possible to affirm the literal fact of a man being swallowed by a fish, making that the crux of the story in such a way that you defend that, believe that, argue about that-and in spending your energies on the defend-the-fish-part miss the point of the story, the point about allowing God’s redeeming love to flow through us with such power and grace that we are able to love and bless even our worst enemies.
And that, when applied to Genesis one, is a serious problem with OEC and YEC perspectives. Both views insist upon a “scientific” reading of Genesis one. And while they spend all of their time affirming their scientific perspective, defending it, making it the crux of the story and spending all their energies and countless resources on making Genesis one about that, the actual point of the story, its actual message is totally, absolutely missed.
It is an embarrassing testament to this fact that in all the years of being in Church, it wasn’t until recent years when I began to pick up text books written by Old Testament Bible scholars, that I found out what Genesis one is all about – a God who creates order out of chaos, a God who is God Almighty over/above all the other “gods” of this world, a God who can be trusted on and counted on and who is responsible for making sure the world gets put to rights.
And once you read Genesis one in its context, once you see the “tohu-wabohu” pattern in connection to the framing and the functions of the days, the less likely it becomes that Genesis one is attempting in any way to describe a scientific process of creation – either by way of great ages, or seven actual days.
The root issue here is nothing less than a faithful reading of Genesis one on its own terms. And OEC and YEC alike – though sincere they may be – are just not reading Genesis one faithfully. Any attempt to read Genesis one scientifically is to commit the fallacy of reading back into it (eisegesis) something that’s not there. I’m not pointing my finger to laity who simply affirm and teach what they’ve always been taught. I think the hammer falls on those who are higher up.
I think, to a great extent, pastors are to blame. And so are seminaries. I think the Christian community needs to be educated. But what scholars teach in seminary and academic books are either not being picked up by pastors (which is a whole other issue), or they’re not being communicated to the people in their pews. Biblical illiteracy is a serious problem. The problem deepens when you consider – and now this is from my own experience over the years – that a good majority of people in Church don’t want to learn (which is another issue that needs to be discussed sometime). With education comes uncertainty, and we are a people who do not like uncertainty. Pastor’s know this and want to give their people confidence and straight answers. They don’t like being controversial or divisive. But pastors may be underestimating the intelligence of their people. I think that if they find ways to creatively go deeper into the faith, their people can and will learn and appreciate it. Some will leave, thinking their pastor has gone “liberal.” But most will be curious and have questions. That’s my experience anyways. And this encourages more learning and enriches the faith.
I think it’s a pastoral challenge, to be sure. But it’s one that really needs to be met head on today more than ever. I think pastors need to find creative ways to communicate complex issues – like teaching what Genesis one is really all about – so that their sheep can “get it.” It will be an uphill battle for sure. They listen to fundamentalists radio talk show personalities, they read books by apologists, they grew up in a faith-community that ignored a deeper faith for far too long. The situation is practically an endemic.
But I for one would like to see more pastors be courageous enough to take up that mantle. And in the Evangelical community that might mean picking up a few diverse scholarly tomes and wrestling through them.