What Is Genesis?

This sponsored post is part of the Patheos Book Club. Check out the Book Club for more posts on this book, an interview with the author, and for responses from other bloggers and columnists.

Christians continue to talk about Genesis, to debate Genesis, and to write books about Genesis. Fellow Patheos blogger Peter Enns, for instance, got some evangelical undies in a bunch with his 2012 book, The Evolution of Adam, The: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins.

The latest book on the scene is by fellow evangelical, Karl Giberson. Giberson is a scientist, not a biblical scholar, and this book is more poetic than prosaic. In Seven Glorious Days: A Scientist Retells the Genesis Creation Story, Giberson uses the seven-day creation account in Genesis 1 to retell the scientific origins of the cosmos. In other words, he uses Genesis as the framework for a scientific narrative.

In general, I think we need a lot more of this. That is, creative retellings of biblical accounts. It’s related to what people in my field call “theo-poetics.” It’s not about literalism, but about inspiration. It allows the Bible to do what it was meant to do: inspire our imaginations, stoke our passion, and, as Giberson writes in his chapter on the Seventh Day, communicate the Creator’s love for us.

We are, as Giberson nearly sings at the end, more than simply meat puppets, a collections of flesh and bones with nerves and a brain stem. We are creatures uniquely (at least as far as we can tell) capable of love:

“If the Spirit of God is everywhere at work in our open-grained universe, that means that every event since the beginning of has occurred in the presence of God. The history of life on our planet has unfloded with the real option of divine interaction. Events, as they occurred, may have been drawn by God toward fulfillment of divine purposes.

“Such possibilities open the door to a different kind of world — one with a real direction to unfolding patterns like the big bang and evolution — and not just in the sense of more complexity or more diversity. If life unfolds in the presence of the Spirit of God, that trajectory may reveal a purpose — a reason why the world is as it is.”

Yes, just imagine.

  • Keith Rowley

    I didn’t know there were other people in “your field” I thought you were sort of unique. :-)

  • Keith Rowley

    I didn’t know there were other people in “your field” I thought you were sort of unique. :-)

    Random text to make comment longer.

  • Keith Rowley

    Sorry about the double post. Your blog does not like me today. :-(

  • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

    Amen to this Tony: “I think we need a lot more . . . creative retellings of biblical accounts. . . . It’s not about literalism, but about inspiration. It allows the Bible to . . . inspire our imaginations, stoke our passion, and, as Giberson writes in his chapter on the Seventh Day, communicate the Creator’s love for us.”

  • Kevin

    “It’s not about literalism, but about inspiration. It allows the Bible to do what it was meant to do: inspire our imaginations, stoke our passion, and communicate the Creator’s love for us.”

    What an inspiring description of the scripture’s ministry! Thanks, Tony!

  • http://Livingthequestion.org Riley

    What is Genesis? Ugh this book and discussion remind me of how FAR we need still need to go in Christianity in understanding ‘the beginning’ and ‘the end’ that the bible talks about. These are covenantal realities, in a redemption story about people, not planets. Genesis is not a story about material creation!! And until we get our minds around that we won’t get it. It’s the story of covenant creation, covenant life. It is a poetic, symbolic, yet very real picture of ‘The Genesis’ of the old covenant world of Israel. It is a non-concordist story – it doesnt have a 1-1 correspondence to our material world – like old earth or new earth creationism teach. Read up on some of the non-concordist views like Wheaton Prof Dr John Waltons “The Lost World of Genesis 1″. Or Milton Terry’s hermeneutics. We in the 21st c west have ‘lost’ our understanfing of the ‘world’ that is being spoken of in genesis. The heavens and earth are the heavens and earth OF Israel. That is why the text begins “these are the generations of the heavens and the earth” and the word generation is only ever used of peoples, like “these are the generations of Noah” and a thousand other textual clues that are random anomalies of you try to smuggle in a story of material creation – which it will never fit!- but which fit together perfectly to tell a covenant creation story. It stands on its own when its allowed to speak for itself from its own cultural context. We now know from the discovery of ancient lawcodes like Hammurabis code and others that ancients told their national histories with a creation account of the creation of their “world” – this was their cosmology- and then also attached the code of laws that governed the citizens of that world. Just like Moses did with the Torah. It was understood by the ancients that the creator-god created the material world however and whenever he did it. Ancient Greek nation states had their creation accounts – cosmologies- and laws, for example, but they knew they were not competing universal creation accounts. They were ways of telling their national history. Ancient Israel is no different in this regard. They recorded their national history in the way in which it would have made sense culturally to their people in their time. What do you think the Israelites were more likely asking Moses to tell them, anout the creation of the universe (as if god would put that glorious development into a few sentences anyway!) or “Who are we? How are we unique from other nations? How did we get our special covenant relationship with god?” I think the latter. And this is exactly what Moses wrote concerning them. In a long culturally relevant poem, about the creation of their world, it’s destiny, and the laws that governed it. The ‘old earth’, or land, were old covenant Israel, which is why god says “my land, my people” or why he speaks “hear oh heavens, give ear oh earth” interchangeably with “hear oh Israel”. He is speaking to Israel! Just as the new earth, land or kingdom, are new Cov people in Christ. Which is why Jesus said the kingdom (the new earth, land) is within and among us. We are the kingdom, the new land, the new creation. It IS us. Those waiting for ‘something more’, something magical to happen to our material earth will be waiting a long time. And missing the point in a story about the genesis and redemption of a people, not a planet. It’s about people getting ‘the life’ – living life in the restored presence of God. Like we have now.

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