Creationism: A Bridge Too Far
It should be a given that theological students are taught early on to consider the historical context, writing style, and author intention when trying to understand the bible.
It seems somewhat surprising to me then that evangelicalism is still having debates about creation and evolution.
It is clear that those who find it necessary to defend creationism are concerned that any limiting of a literal view of Genesis is an attack on scripture as a whole.
I don’t share this concern because I am comfortable with the idea that different parts of the bible exist to perform different tasks in communicating the good news message the church has been entrusted with.
The analogy I use in order to help navigate a way through understanding scripture is that of bridge building. Using the idea that – you can’t drive a two ton truck over a one ton bridge – I ask of each part of scripture a key question. What size and type of bridge can we build from it?
I have used this analogy to influence my thinking in business as well as theology. When considering the viability of a particular business system it has been good to evaluate the weight of the process that will be using the system. That is to say: what is riding on this process. What have we got to lose if the system should fail.
If there is only a small risk associated then it may be fine to use a limited system. If however the risk is greater we might want to ensure that our system, or bridge, can take the load.
The analogy also works when considering relationships. It is not unusual to meet a couple where the expectations of one party are greater than the other. In these circumstances the relationship bridge can only be as strong as the commitment offered by the weaker expectations. In these circumstance one party is inevitably attempting to drive a two truck of expectation over a one ton relationship bridge.
When it comes to scripture in general, and theology in particular, we do well to ask whether we are able to construct a strong enough bridge with the evidence available in order to deliver our doctrinal statements with confidence.
If we take for example the gospel of Luke we see that from the writing style, the content, and the author’s intention we should be comfortable building a bridge that can take a significant amount of historical enquiry.
The gospel of John however does not provide us with the materials for such a bridge. His writing style, content, and presumed intentions lead us towards a more theological enquiry.
It’s not that Luke contains no theology or that John offers no history but we should take care to build the right kind of bridge with each.
To say this in no way undermines either the inspiration or the effectiveness of either books. In fact it adds to our appreciation of scripture.
If we then use the above method to shed light on the creation accounts in Genesis we are liberated from trying to build the wrong type of bridge.
Firstly, if no human author was present at the creation of the cosmos then we have to see these early stories as revelation and not history. This in no way undermines their usefulness but leads us to ask the right questions of the text.
To create a historically centred understanding from the text in order to argue against science is to try to build a one ton bridge only to drive a two ton truck across.
The use of terms such as scripture or inspired tend to lead us towards a view that all the words found in the bible have the same function. Note here I said function and not value.
I am comfortable to state that both Genesis and Luke are inspired whilst maintaining that their function is different. It seems clear that many creationists would see this as belittling the bible; indeed I have heard it said that to fail to believe in a literal six day creation is to weaken the message of Christianity.
I do not share this view and would go as far as to say that the weakening of the presented message is far more to be associated with a flat reading of the bible as if culture, context, writing style, and author intention were of no value.
Let us then construct the correct type of bridges for the correct type of theology.