Monday, November 27, 2017

A great weekend, but not for blogging

I have been a bit distracted, in a good way, recently, so no posts since last Monday and not much engagement with comments in the last few days. Our youngest child turned 21 at the weekend and the celebrations involved our house and garden. Some intensive effort to prepare things and then some full on hospitality as family arrived home and other family arrived. Food and drink to be purchased.Oh, and not all has been purchased so back to the supermarket. It has been great and wonderful and heartwarming. But a 21 year old youngest child means I am, well, older myself and the intensive effort has been tiring, including muscles not normally used when typing words on a laptop.

Fortunately the greatest crisis or moment of change in the Anglican world seems to be the non-controversial restoration of the Archbishop of York's clergy collar, following Mugabe's downfall. If only all Anglican challenges were so simply resolved - albeit after many years, too many years of waiting for change.

Also noted, English cricket's perennial struggle to match Australia, innings for innings when playing in Australia!

A comment each on a couple of comment threads through last week.

Creation in Genesis - myth or history?

A fascinating exchange last week which (in my words) went something like this:

X: you can't claim Genesis 1-3 as historical facts

Y: you claim we are made in the image of God, which comes from what you call the "creation myth" in Genesis 1-3, so either Genesis 1-3 is true or it isn't. Which is it?

Critical here is that Genesis 1-3, before it is determined to be historical or mythical (or even both), is Israel's claim that in these chapters truth has been revealed about God, humanity and the world in which humanity lives. God is sole source of the life of the world and of the life in the world. Humanity is the apex of God's creation (Genesis 1) and the centre of the life God has created (Genesis 2). As apex of creation, humanity is distinguished from plants and animals by being created in the image of God. This theological claim cannot be confirmed by biology or archaeology. It is a theological claim because it is integral to Israel's "talk about God." Israel's God has both created the world and communicated with the world. In Francis Schaeffer's phrase, God is not silent.

What many Christians struggle with, in the modern age, is that the scientific narrative of the origins of the world and of the life within it, at best contrasts with and at worst (from a theological perspective) contradicts the theological narrative told through the first chapters of Genesis. (By "theological narrative" I mean that a story is told in which truth about God and God's actions as creator and communicator is conveyed to readers and hearers of the narrative.)

Something we who live within the modern age seem to rarely grasp about the Genesis narrative is that it was a response within a particular, non-scientific context. In a world of plural creation myths, Egyptian through to Babylonian, and most likely with particular reference to the latter, since Genesis was almost certainly finalised after Judah was exiled to Babylon, the Genesis narrative told Israel that the other myths were at best partial insights into what happened. There was only one creating God and that God had neither competitor nor delegated secondary God/god assisting or hampering creation.

Genesis had to respond to the myths of the day not to a forecast of Darwinian evolutionary theory some 2300 years hence!

Jesus himself (and Paul) worked with the world in which they lived, an Israelite context in which a bedrock "fact" was the single origin of humanity through the first couple, Adam and Eve. Jesus was incarnated into a specific context. We must not think of his brain pausing every time he mentioned (or implied or presumed the story of) Adam and Eve to work out how truthful he was going to be because he also "knew" all about Darwin. He lived and breathed the scriptural world of his fellow first century human beings.

And the mission of Jesus was to save those made in God's image. (Sorry, dogs and cats, but we have absolutely no reason to think you will be also saved. You may or may not be. You are just not important enough for Jesus (or Paul) to have bothered with inane - yes, I am deeply prejudiced against the salvation of animals - questions about those not created in the image of God)!

Has Anglican theology, or Anglicans theologising, gone deep enough into the theology of life, of church, of salvation?

I have a lot of material to digest via various posted links in comments made, as well as comments themselves about my critique of the Jerusalem Declaration (as well as some comments made on my last post on You Known What). I cannot guarantee I will get to much of this before Christmas. My daughter's 21st is a gateway to quite a lot of Christmas/End of Year functions coming up :). But a quick sense is that we Anglicans really, really need to dig deeper than we are doing. It is not just that we are going to the dogs by drifting away from orthodoxy/"orthodoxy" and only digging deeper will bring realisation of how close to the precipice we are going (cf. Bryden Black's recent comments here). It is also, I sense, that we are not even close to understanding what development/"development" of dogma and doctrine might mean for a rapidly changing world. By which I do not mean being progressive/"progressive." Indeed the fact that for some Anglicans we appear only able to consider "development" to be development when it is clearly "progressive" is itself a sign of the lack of depth to our theological ruminations.

Right, back to annual leave. There are some post-party developments in my garden (Eden!) which need attending to :)

20 comments:

Bryden Black said...

A lot of light to counter the heat previously emitted might be found here:
John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate.

In brief, one might say that Darwin is talking about origins, while Genesis is not. Rather, Genesis is addressing the basic questions of form and void as per the text itself, ascribing days 1-3 to form, and 4-6 to filling the void. Walton in addition speaks of function and functionaries, associated with days 1-3 and 4-6 respectively, and where Gen 1 demythologizes a world populated by gods etc who were exactly those functionaries - of wind, stars, seas, etc. - in other worldviews.

I trust this casts some light on what is frankly otherwise a waste of time! It's like trying to speak with a brilliant artist about base isolation engineering. Or with that very engineering designer about the beauty of Thomas Tallis's music. I.e. We've simply a clash of incompatible categories, which refuse easy translation. Each is sound - in their own framework. Full stop!!

Anonymous said...

Peter and Bryden, perhaps this belongs on the prior thread, but for the convenience of readers of Bryden's fine comment, I post it here.

In many, if not all, popular debates about the scriptures-- including this one and That Topic-- the *casus belli* is the one that J I Packer put his finger on: those fighting to save the Pietist hermeneutic that God speaks directly to every believer in every verse of the Bible are not satisfied with an exegesis that sidesteps a problem by positing expert knowledge that is non-canonical and merely probable. For them, it is not enough for an exegesis to be sound; the Bible's proud independence of all worldly knowledge must also be maintained.

Now the 39A tacitly preempted the C18 Pietist hermeneutic at several points, but like evangelicals generally, Anglican evangelicals have tried to make it work anyway. Or at the very least, they have taught and preached in a way that did not disturb those in the pews anxious to meet God in the Word without the undue mediation of a new priesthood of biblical scholars or magisterial systematicians.

This reserve has borne some spiritual fruit, but it has also left several authority vacua in Anglican churches, including these-- (a) the office of the keys in scripture itself has been emptied of content, (b) the narrative backstory of the canon has no authoritative advocate, (c) the baptismal creed as the lens for reading scripture in Christ has been forgotten, and with that the tradition of dogma, (d) the bishops and other clergy exercise no effective authority in the interpretation of scripture, and (e) there is a kind of scrupulosity that avoids other knowledge in a way that St Paul did not do. These are authority vacua, not in the sense that we would have a tidier system if they were Spirit-filled (although we might), but in the sense that decisions that need to be taken for the good of souls are not taken. There is, of course, a view that the less Anglicans know about anything the more wise they are shown to be, but that it to embrace the identity but not the faith.

So I have no quarrel with John H. Walton's (no relation) project as such, nor with N. T. Wright's still grander project which obliquely speaks to many of the same issues, but Bryden's comment above makes me wonder how an Anglican church should authoritatively close the debate that he rightly finds unproductive and that I see dissuading souls from the gospel. Somehow, the right things have to be said to people conditioned to think of the Bible as the license for a myriad popes in churches of one.

BW

Glen Young said...


Hi Peter,

In picking up this issue on this thread,I don't really wish to repeat my previous statements;as you summed them up well.However,any structure is only as sound as the foundation it is built on.My faith is founded on:"Hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son,whom he hath appointed heir of all things,by whom also he made the worlds" Heb.1:2.

The Godhead preceded the creation and it was by the power of His Word the all that is seen and unseen came into being.God is not some celestial being who flitted past one day and saw a planet and said to himself,"This world could do with some form and function and I have a week to spare".

My point in the previous thread was that if you see some statements as myth,
at what point does the rest become fact.All the so called experts have added more confusion to life than clarity.I don't need all these questions answered to sleep at night; only that Christ is still me.



Anonymous said...

I have read a few things over the last few years of how the concept of creation as seen in opposition to evolution is a de-tracting influence for people considering the Christian faith. This is likely so after all evolution is taught in schools and generically accepted as scientific fact. Many a Christian do not see the two as mutually exclusive but some may out-right right off Christianity as being without credibility on this one premise.

Personally I believe in creation and not evolution and just to annoy everyone there is no rational reason for this - aside from my own stupendous revelation that if we did evolve surely it didn't stop, so where are the half-apes? At one stage I did out of interest look into the evidence for both concepts with the ultimate conclusion that both have to be taken on the basis of faith : ) ... although I did gain some good information for discussions sake. You know the kangaroo theory, the older the skeleton the bigger the kangaroo, evolution or de-evolution?

My interest was sparked by two factual minded people for whom evolution was a stumbling block to them believing in a Creator God. Once they came to believe this supposed block in their mindsets went away - it did not matter. One in particular was surprised he could have believed in evolution all his life and woken up the next day totally assured the world was created.

Maybe in C.S.Lewis's words, 'the difference with this myth is that it was true,' come into play.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous [please use your first name, at least, if further comments are to be published]
It is fine to disbelieve in evolution - there are irrational and rational reasons for doing so but even if Darwin is wrong, that does not equate to Genesis 1-3 accurately, scientifically describing what actually happened!

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter

Sorry that was me, writing too late at night.

For sure Genesis is not a scientific manual : ) ... I think though since the emergence of 'rationalism' there is tendency to see Science as people can see the Bible as the truth - not just referring to evolution. Whereas Science is the exploration of what already is, the discovery of truth about the world to the degree that people comprehend it at this point in time; it is not the only source or form of truth.

While of course many a famous scientist and many a modern one are at ease with seeing science and faith as being able to co-exist complementary style which they can. I think the strong emphasis in society as science as truth has been a stumbling block to some in terms of faith. I know it was a part of the reason my mad scientist of a brother decided Christianity was obsolete.

Cheers
Jean

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Jean!
(Thinking of scientists I know who are atheists and others who are believers) it is tricky to get that complementarity right!

David Wilson said...

Circa 1980 I was doing research in theoretical astrophysics in Cambridge. Derek Kidner came to the CU to give a bible reading on Genesis 1. This was unmissable - creationism was on the agenda back then. The only thing he had to say on the science was something like, "When it says 'let the earth bring forth', is there not room enough in that for evolution?" But it was a wonderful talk full of riches. More than that I saw in him was a man who loved God, and loved the Bible which showed him that God, and how he loved to share what he knew of God. He became a hero of mine.

Augustine had some strong words for those whose interpretation of the early chapters contradicts the clear understanding of the cosmos that people then knew. It puts a stumbling block in their way.

As you might guess from my background, my issues with the creationist interpretation are not with biological origins, but rather more clear cut issues regarding the age and size of the cosmos.

If, nonetheless, you want to adopt a very literal take on the age, then for consistency you should also take from the OT its spatial cosmology, waters above the firmament, and under the earth and all that. Paula Gooder's book on 'Heaven' has a nice picture. The Bible has no concept of the Antipodes!

Glen Young said...


Hi Peter and David,

I have no particular problem with the "Ruin/Reconstruction " interpretation of Genesis, provided that God is recognized as the original Creator and the Reformer of the "Void";and as the Maker of Adam and Eve in His "Likeness and
Image". It is their DNA (history and story),which has been present in every human being since.Though neo-Darwinist claim Mendel to be one of their heroes,his law is diametrically opposed to all that they espouse. Dawkins claims that creationist do not understand information; I say Dawkins does not understand information, because he does not acknowledge it's origin-The Mind of God.The uniformity of information in both the Periodic Table and in the DNA of life are too complex and vital to have occurred by chance.

In short:"Without Easter the Creation is a lost cause; without Adam and Eve, in the Garden,what is the meaning of Easter?

Bryden Black said...

Dear David; amen to that - Derek K was/is a saint, and a beautiful exegete. I still find myself referring to his many writings.

An aside you might enjoy:
John Polkinghorne came to Melbourne years ago to give some lectures. At one Q&A, someone asked the inevitable question. "With your academic training on the one hand and your ministry on the other, what do you make of God?" Dramatic pause: "well, he is clearly not in a hurry."

Liturgy said...

Let’s first be clear about John H. Walton’s theories. Dividing the “days” into “making” (1-3) and “filling” (4-6) fits with his theory but is not his primary point. Walton is a revisionist. He may well be right (many revisionists may be!) but his interpretation is new (some would say refreshingly new, others might want to keep to tradition’s interpretation of the creation story or stories).

Jesus, in the oft-quoted-on-this-site text when using the Adam-and-Eve story, in arguing against divorce used it because in that story there was no one else around. They simply could not get divorced and marry someone else! Reappropriating it to debate the marriage of same-sex couples is as serviceable as using it to debate the science of evolution.

Walton, of course, accepts that Adam and Eve are historical persons.

Bryden’s refrain of the CofE’s success in squaring the circle notwithstanding, in its enthusiasm for royal weddings, the CofE once again has egg on its one-man-one-woman-for-life (Canon B30) face.

And Christian arguing about science versus religion in relation to the creation story (stories), once again is misdirection – if Adam is not a historical person, it is soteriology (and, concomitantly, understanding of biblical inspiration, let alone Peter’s Jesus-knew-but-didn’t-let-on Superman/Clark Kent Christology) that needs much more work, not human origins.

Blessings

Bosco

Anonymous said...

Thomas Nagel on evolution--

https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/08/18/the-core-of-mind-and-cosmos/

http://web.mit.edu/philosophy/religionandscience/nagel4.pdf

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind_and_Cosmos

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/07/books/thomas-nagel-is-praised-by-creationists.html

Next?

BW

Bryden Black said...

Not sure quite why you see Walton as quite the revisionist, Bosco: DJ Wiseman, that arch evangelical, many years ago proposed the form/fill idea to counter the formless and void depiction of Gen 1:2.

Glen Young said...


Hi Perter,

So,I once again pose the Question,that if this whole universe is the result of "CHANCE";where did the "INFORMATION" in life's DNA come from. Also,is the flow of the Periodic Table, chance or design?

Anonymous said...

Hi Bowman

Your Negel references expand in the direction I head with this type of thinking. Years ago David Riddell a counsellor here in NZ sparked my interest when he noted when western thinking tended towards an empirical view of the world other forms of truths were excluded by default. I guess the Holy Spirit would fit into this category, ironically that which is said to lead us into all truth; an experience say of a vision given by the Holy Spirit can be contented to be real and the truth yet empirically who can prove it? What scientific method could you use to prove it? When Mother Teresa had the vision on the train of working with street children in India (years before she did) was that not truth? "... the evidence of things not seen"...

It's not so much as not seeing the truth in science or an empirical view but being open to truth existing beyond and aside from this viewpoint also. We are holistic creatures really.

Jean

Anonymous said...

Jean, we have missed your sane voice!

And yes, Western thought influenced by science has been too exclusive, trying to have its rationalistic cake and its empirical eating too. Nagel is the rare atheist who will not only admit that his bias lacks rational support, but that his notion of reason, although brilliant, is not adequate to the question.

When I first studied the philosophy of the physical sciences, I was likewise taken by the epistemological modesty of Paul Feyerabend. He seemed to me to be most daring in his embrace of the provisionality of scientific findings, as well as in his claim that some strong metaphysic stands behind every theory that continues to open new lines of investigation. In his view, the perennial rivalry of such theories is the life of research.

BW

Father Ron Smith said...

And, there still remains that conundrum of the Chicken and the Egg, and how our whole civilisation is dependent on an unequivocal response to the most important question of "which came first?"

Carpe, Diem!

Liturgy said...

Bryden, Walton (page110) acknowledges (Wiseman's) "Framework Hypothesis" as I noted in my comment. But Walton's reading of Genesis is neither a replacement nor a development of that. He reads Genesis differently. He argues that we misunderstand ‘create’ (bara) and ‘made’ (asa) when we interpret them as being about the material cosmos coming into existence. As such, yes, John Walton is saying that, open the Bible, and none of us have understood what the first page is about – at least not for a couple of thousand years! I hope that clarifies things.
Blessings
Bosco

Anonymous said...

Hi Bowman

I have missed you too - busy, busy... I am in agreement theories are theories and alternative theories can widen the picture and bring more insight... not limiting us to only one slice of cake. A doctor might diagnose me with a migraine and prescribe painkillers (purely hypothetical) but if he knew I had stayed up for two nights straight due to an overdue assignment he would more inclined to prescribe a good sleep and a bit of rest. It all depends on what we are 'seeing'... enough... I hope you are keeping well.

Father Ron... the egg and chicken came into being at the exact same time in one big explosion of course ! How could you have over-looked that crucial point : ) ... remember chicken licken's fear of the sky falling in it arises from a repressed experience.

Cheers
Jean

Anonymous said...

Hi Jean,

Here in Zone 5b, far up yonder, the Weather is confused. It knows the Calendar-- it should be dutifully getting colder, putting up more cloud cover, saving up snow for the holidays, pushing some Arctic blasts southward, etc. But then it reads new studies about global warming, loses heart, and relapses into what we up here call "indian summer."

If even the President cannot be stable, it reasons, why should I be? Maybe it is time to stir things up! So for a week or so, the late November days were relapsing into September ones. And even these first December days do not feel quite right for Christmas shopping, which should be a gratifyingly heroic braving of the elements to buy nice things for those we love.

The Weather will eventually discover its role again (so, for that matter, will the White House) but the present uncertainty has this one present advantage-- the sunsets each night have had a beautiful complexity of colour and form that I have not seen all year-- clouds form shapes seldom seen together and the sun's last rays brush unusual golds and violets.

Nor is even instability quite chaos: whatever the light show in the west, the moon still climbs in the east, and from behind the veil, the stars overhead shine from the depth of space. Some disruption accompanies every creativity, but then creativity reveals the deeper continuity.

BW