Posts Tagged Religion

Book Review: The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate

I want to thank Adrianna Wright at InterVarsity Press for sending me a courtesy copy of The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate by John W. Walton.

Book Details:

The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate

John H. Walton

Intervarsity Press, July 2009

ISBN 978-0-8308-3704-5

Buy The Lost World of Genesis One @ Amazon

I’ve been making my way through my stack of books for review on Genesis in, essentially, reverse order of receipt. I’m glad I started on the top of the stack and not the bottom because I would have read The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate by John H. Walton a year ago, and my reading of the other books would have been colored by my reading of this one.

As with many theological questions, I think we tend to develop a theological framework and then read scripture within that framework. It would be very easy to do that with The Lost World of Genesis One because Walton’s  propositions are extremely persuasive and his conclusions compelling.

And I in no way intend for this to be a slight, quite the opposite.

Walton organizes The Lost World of Genesis One into a series of eighteen propositions. Admittedly, as a former high school debater, I initially found Walton’s proposition approach somewhat irritating because the organization allows for little reader interaction. What I mean is that Walton breaks his thesis down into so many of its tiny component parts that there is little to no mystery. Again, this is not a slight on the book, it is a confession of my own predisposition to be intrigued by ideas more than details, and Walton constructs the larger idea one detail at a time. By the end of the book, my mind was changed about the effectiveness of the approach because Walton leaves little room for disagreement.

Walton’s initial assertions (and I’m paraphrasing his propositions), our reading of Genesis 1 in terms of material creation is wrong because Genesis 1 was never intended to describe material creation. Instead, Genesis 1 is meant to describe the function of God’s creation rather than the manner and means of creation.

Walton asserts the ancients would have thought and perceived Genesis 1 in terms of function rather than elemental material creation. Walton begins his function analysis using the example of the creation of a computer. When is a computer a computer? Each hardware component is manufactured, but until each component is brought together there is no computer. Software programs are written and installed, but without a power source the computer is not functional. Even with a power source, unless a person uses the computer it remains non-functional. Walton’s question is one of ontology. When does the computer exist? At what stage is the computer created?

Walton maintains that if we think of Genesis 1 in terms of assignment of function, not creation of the component parts, the questions relating to Genesis 1 and scientific accuracy become irrelevant.

We should not worry about the questions of ‘truth’ with regard to the Bible’s use of Old World Science. … Adoption of the framework of the target audience is most logical.

Using other ancient creation accounts as comparisons, Walton concludes that in the ancient world, to create something meant to assign it a function, not create its material properties.

Again I’m paraphrasing, Walton next determines that the creation account in Genesis 1 is a cosmic enshrinement. It is the creation of a cosmic temple suitable for God to take up residence. He terms this view the cosmic temple inauguration view.

Walton also views this reading of Genesis 1 as a literal reading, as it would have been understood in the ancient environment as opposed to a reading that requires reconciliation with modern science.

But most people who seek to defend a young-earth view do so because they believe that the Bible obligates them to such a defense. I admire the fact that believers are willing to take unpopular positions and investigate all sorts of alternatives in an attempt to defend the reputation of the Biblical text. But if the Biblical text does not demand a young earth there would be little impetus or evidence to offer such a suggestion.

Walton also spends a fair amount of time discussing competing creation theories, as does virtually everyone else, so I won’t here, but the excerpt above should fairly well sum up the author’s take on competing creation accounts.

I give Walton a lot of credit for bringing something new to the table (see also my review of The Genesis Enigma). As I’ve written before, the old methods of resolving the Genesis debate don’t work because the debate itself is pointless. And viewing Genesis 1 in terms other than purely scientific terms is certainly a more appropriate approach.

My only real criticism of The Lost World of Genesis One is that the author falls into the same trap as most by (1) entering the public policy debate in proposition 18 which will unnecessarily ostracize young-earth creationists and ID proponents, and to a lesser extent (2) crafting the cosmic temple inauguration view such that is excludes other possibilities. I acknowledge that in the author’s Q&A at the end he acknowledges that Genesis 1 could theoretically be both functional and material, but that we cannot demand such a reading. But Walton doesn’t embrace those possibilities.

Fortunately, my reading of The Lost World of Genesis One has coincided with my intensive study of related material, specifically the feasts of the Lord and the tabernacle (and later temple). And it makes perfect sense to me that the instructions for the construction of the tabernacle would reflect a cosmic temple. So, for that and many other reasons, I would highly recommend The Lost World of Genesis One. I am a slightly less inclined to accept the cosmic temple inauguration view as the theory of everything on Genesis, but it certainly adds another dimension to Genesis 1 that is worthy of study.

Read it and enjoy it!

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A Few Random Thoughts on Genesis

Many of you are aware of my preoccupation with Genesis. It is both a blessing and a curse, but a good kind of curse.

Said preoccupation, naturally, results in my reading a lot about Genesis. I am forever grateful to the publishers who have provided books for me to review at my request, and I am especially thankful to those who have taken the initiative to ask me to review books related to Genesis.

From much of this recent reading, several thoughts have emerged (most are obvious):

Efforts to reconcile the “creation” account in Genesis with “science” are futile, if fun to read. There is far too big a gap between the ancient Israelite culture and language and present-day Western culture and English to even know all that is meant by Genesis 1 & 2, much less prove what we cannot know. Absent a Mosaic or Pauline revelation from the Lord Himself (which I am still anxiously anticipating, whereafter I will immediately post all the answers), I’m afraid we will always be left wondering.

We shouldn’t stop wondering. The futility in seeking answers to ultimately unanswerable questions is no reason to stop asking. There are plenty of lessons to be learned short of, but probably more important than, the actual who’s, what’s, when’s and where’s (why’s deliberately excluded because we should know the why’s).

Fighting about it is also pointless. And we should stop that. Honestly, has anyone ever been converted by argument. Christian’s bashing anything or anyone acknowledging scientific evidence as such doesn’t help our cause.

No theory is exactly right, but maybe none of them are entirely wrong either. And isn’t that really the beauty of the Bible, generally, and Genesis, particularly. Do these ideas have to be exclusive of the others? Certainly not. The array of plausible ideas is perhaps the best evidence of a God worthy of our praise and His multi-dimensional Word worthy of our study.

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Fishing With Moses

Hillarious!

Thanks to Joel who got it here.

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Dissecting the James Dilemma-Part 1

I have spent enough time both in and out of the flock to know which Bible verses give believers fits, and James 2:14-26 probably tops the list:

14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,
16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?
17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?
26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. James 2:14-26 (KJV)

I must confess, I’m not entirely sure I’ve heard a truly satisfactory reconciliation of this passage in James and Paul, specifically,  “Therefore we conclude that man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” Romans 3:28. I think the reason is because there is an attempted reconciliation where none is necessary.

Explanations usually begin with an acknowledgment of an apparent contradiction then employ circularity to explain why the two are not contradictory (e.g. the Bible cannot contradict itself, therefore there is no contradiction). Other explanations suggest James really means something other than what he is saying. These are equally problematic.

Part of the problem, in my opinion, is that all such explanations are necessarily aimed at an opposing logical fallacy, the straw man that the two are contradictory.

Paul clearly maintains that one is justified by faith, regardless of works. James clearly maintains that one is justified by faith and works. The assertion that these positions contradict each other is only valid if justification is a one-time event, and only a one-time event. If justification is both an event and a process, there is no contradiction.

Was Abraham justified by faith apart from works? Yes. Was Abraham also justified by his subsequent works? Yes.

To say that “faith without works is dead” means “faith alone is insufficient for justification” is simply a misunderstanding of the faith/works relationship. In James 2:22 he writes, “and by works was faith made perfect.” What came first? Faith, by which Abraham was initially made righteous. Then, works which worked to perfect that faith. Thus, Abraham was made righteous by his faith and continued to be made righteous by the perfection of his faith through works.

In Part 2, I will discuss the nature of works and whether any ol’ good works will do.

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Complete Prayer System

Our pastor is away at a pastor’s conference, and he asked me to write his Monday Morning Review (his weekly blog) this week. I consider it an honor and a privilege when I’m permitted to do so.

In the past, I’ve taken a few liberties, but I’ve always been invited for a return engagement. This one, however, may get me fired from my substitute blogger job: Pastor Eric’s Complete Prayer System.

I may have had a little too much fun at his (and other pastors who employ acronyms as sermon tools) expense.

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Question on the Nature of God and Blessing or Cursing

For the last several months, our church has been holding a weekly noontime Bible study through the book of Revelation. It’s been quite enlightening, and my end-times theological cage is being rattled a little. Incidentally, the progress is being written about @ The Watchman’s Gaze if you care to follow.

But, during a recent meeting, we chased a few rabbit trails, including: Did Jesus (and by extension God) curse Israel (specifically when Jesus cursed the fig tree, or ever)? Does God curse anything? If He did before, does He still? Is God capable of cursing anything given His nature(?), or given Christ’s accomplishment on the cross(?), or are curses merely brought upon one’s self?

The discussion was obviously much more in depth than the narrowly defined questions posed above, but this is my (admittedly) slanted summary.

Thoughts? Ideas? Comments?

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Review: What’s in the Bible? Episodes 1 and 2

Thanks to the good folks over at Tyndale House and Phil Vischer (creator of VeggieTales) for the advance review copy of What’s in the Bible? Episodes 1 & 2.

The What’s in the Bible? website describes this new video series as follows:

What’s in the Bible? is a new DVD series from VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer designed to walk kids and families through the entire Bible.

As you can imagine, I was excited to be included among those asked to review the first two episodes in this series, especially since my 20-month old daughter (The Libster) and I are VeggieTales-aholics.

So, here goes. First, What’s in the Bible? with Buck Denver (and friends), is a puppet-human collaboration in the tradition of Sesame Street. The hosts are Phil Vischer (human) and Buck Denver, Man of News, (puppet). The cast of puppet characters includes the gray-haired Sunday School Lady, the piano playing Pastor Paul, explorers Clive & Ian, and other memorable characters. There is also an entertaining meta-character, Michael, who is a puppet child traveling in the backseat of a vehicle that appears at the beginning and between segments asking his mother to change DVDs. He’s quite amusing, really.

Second, each episode, which consists of two half-hour programs, begins with a “Big Question” such as, “What is the Bible?” “Who wrote the Bible?” and “Who picked the books to be in the Bible?” There are also “new words” where Biblical and theological terms and concepts are explained.

Each episode is filled with song, self-deprecating humor, sarcasm, and, of course, Bible stuff. The first episode, “In the Beginning,” explains “What is the Bible?” in the first segment and takes the viewers through the first eleven chapters of Genesis in the second segment. The second episode, “Let My People Go,” takes the viewer from Abraham to Moses and through Exodus.

The theology appears to be traditional Protestant/Evangelical. The humor ranges from slapstick to high-brow and everything in between. The concepts covered are considerably more complex than what can be found in Christian cartoons and Bible-story programs. This is because What’s in the Bible? aims at teaching the Bible and not just Bible stories. It’s a bold move, but one I expect to pay off.

The downside, if there is one, is that the audience might be limited to children over a certain age. On the Libby test, What’s in the Bible? struggled to hold the attention of a 20-month old. She liked the music and the children interviews, but she has yet to make it through a 30 minute segment after three or four attempts (as opposed to similar length VeggieTales episodes, which she can watch and still want more). I doubt, however, the audience is intended to be so young.

I do appreciate the working assumption: that children are capable of learning and appreciating more than simple Bible stories. Buck Denver and his crew take on concepts such as “redemption,” “salvation,” and the Christian “canon,” and they do so quite well. I suspect there are many adults as well who need refresher courses in these concepts.

In short, if you are looking for VeggieTales retold, look elsewhere. What’s in the Bible? is a more grown-up kids series. It is, however, a great way to introduce kids to more complicated Biblical ideas and to go beyond Bible stories. I would recommend for parents and children to watch together if possible. I would also recommend this series for Sunday school classes, vacation Bible school curricula, even as a supplement to grade school and possibly junior high age lessons.

I think you will be surprised by how easily complex matters are handled and explained. Enjoy!

Buy What’s in the Bible from Amazon?

Related Websites:

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Romans Bible Study

Our Wednesday night Bible study (which was Hebrews last semester) got a second act. This semester we will be studying the book of Romans.

For those following the Hebrews Bible Study online, I realize I haven’t posted the concluding chapters, which I will do when I get a little spare time, but I invite you to follow our Romans Bible Study. Last night we kicked off this semester with a lifegroup party before we dig into Romans starting next Wednesday.

Our group experienced some pretty cool stuff last semester, and we were presented with one ministry opportunity after another, after another. And it sure is fun watching all of that continue to unfold. So, I think we will be expanding even more the ministry aspect of our lifegroup, but without shortchanging the Bible study itself. I’m hoping we can make the ministry stuff our extra-curricular activity, so we can have the study element, the ministry element, and the testimonial element, without having to cram all of it into 1.5 hours a week.

This will be the repository for all of the Romans Bible Study posts for now until the semester is over and I can compile all of the posts into one master post, so bookmark this page. The chapter links below will become active as the semester progresses.

Any suggestions regarding commentaries, extra reading, etc. would be much appreciated. I’ve ordered two commentaries (Stott’s Romans: Encountering the Gospel’s Power and Kuhatschek’s Romans: Becoming New in Christ), but they have yet to arrive.

It’s going to be another great semester!

  • Romans Chapter 1
  • Romans Chapter 2
  • Romans Chapter 3
  • Romans Chapter 4
  • Romans Chapter 5
  • Romans Chapter 6
  • Romans Chapter 7
  • Romans Chapter 8
  • Romans Chapter 9
  • Romans Chapter 10
  • Romans Chapter 11
  • Romans Chapter 12
  • Romans Chapter 13
  • Romans Chapter 14
  • Romans Chapter 15
  • Romans Chapter 16

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Jesus: Creator, Created, Both or Other

We had an interesting discussion yesterday during our church’s Revelation Bible Study (we meet weekly, and it’s led by a good friend of mine who blogs about it at The Watchman’s Gaze).  I didn’t at all mean to derail the discussion, and I think I only sidetracked us for a few minutes, but I want other opinions.

Revelation 3:14 provides:

To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this… (NASB)

Now, I don’t mean to call into question the divinity of Jesus, or his role as creator, but as “the Beginning of the creation of God,” was there a point in time where the manifestation of God as Jesus came into existence or did the representation of God as Jesus always exist?

Our discussion leader and our pastor (who blogs at the Monday Morning Review) were  adamant (in a very friendly and cordial way-both are experienced in indulging my quirky rabbit trails) that Jesus always was. I, with very little other support around the table (except for possibly our pastor’s wife-who doesn’t blog yet), however, continue to be nagged with the metaphysical question of Jesus as “the Beginning of the creation of God” and as “…the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation…”

I certainly do not see it as heretical to think of Jesus coming into existence in some way as other reflections of God must have, His Word for example. I think we got hung up on the word “created.” And I don’t care if we use “created” or some other word to describe it. Physicists spend an awful lot of time and energy trying to figure out the moment of creation, but I want to know your thoughts about the time before that, specifically the moment of the creator.

Thoughts? Ideas? Scriptural Authority?

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Does God Ever Answer Prayer, “No!”?

I threw my Hebrews Bible Study group for a loop when I raised this question.

I suggested that scripture says He does not. I also confessed that my initial reaction to this question is to say, “Of course He does,” but I cannot find scriptural authority for that answer. I should also say that just about everyone who I have ever asked this question also says He does. I’m just not so sure. I realize this goes against everything that is rational and against everything we have ever been taught, but it is something I’ve been mulling over for quite some time now.

Now, my assertion, or suggestion really, requires several caveats (just to name a few):

  1. God can only do what God can do. I don’t think God is able to answer a prayer that would harm one believer in favor of another, for example. Nor do I think God is able to answer prayer that is made sinfully (translated selfishly, impatiently, etc.).
  2. God will not go against His Word. If a prayer is contrary to scripture, or requires something unscriptural of others, it cannot be answered.
  3. God cannot heal, relieve you of, or deliver you from certain conditions brought about by unforgiveness, for example, or willful sin, without the requisite forgiveness or confession and repentance.
  4. God’s answers aren’t always the answers we expect. For example, an answer to prayer for financial breakthrough might include learning about budgeting, or saving, or giving as prerequisites to God handing someone a big fat check; but, if the one praying just wants the check without the means to handle the funds, whose really saying, “No”?

There are others, of course, but, rather than simply tell me how wrong I am, I would ask that you think about the example(s) you come up with and see if they do not fit into one of these categories first. Our group raised a few interesting examples, and I will try and treat the categories of answers in a later post, but I want to know what you, my dear reader, think.

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