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Christianity and Science, Guest Posts

The Life Dialogue: Matt Moss Guest Post Part 1

This post is the first guest post in my series on the “Life Dialogue” within Christianity. See other posts in the series here.

This post was written by my dear friend, Matt Moss, who has just returned from studies in England. Here we go:

JW has asked me to write this guest post for a long time now and I have delayed and delayed due to school and general business. So now I begin what he has asked me to do: present an explanation of creation as it is presented in Genesis 1. One reason this post was delayed was because I came across a book by John Walton entitled “The Lost World of Genesis 1,” which tackled Genesis 1 in a similar way in which I had hoped to. I decided to study it before attempting to write my own piece. While I do not agree with every direction he takes, the work is insightful and challenging. In the end it served to be a very formative work in helping me develop what others (professors) were beginning to form in my mind. Namely, that the cosmology of Genesis 1 is not intended to address 21st century scientific debates on the origin of species and to make it address such debates is shoddy exegesis and an abuse of Scripture.

Precisely speaking, the cosmology of Genesis 1 is a Temple cosmology, a religious document that tells us so much more than how the material of this world came into existence. As this post will hopefully show, Genesis 1 goes beyond the pithy question of how and when everything came into being. Genesis 1 answers who brought it about and why! The when and the how are not answered which tells us two things. 1) The ancients might have been smart enough to realize that the important questions are ones of metaphysical importance: why are we here? And/or 2) God did not tie salvation to having a 100% perfect scientific cosmology and therefore did not deem it necessary to provide the ancients (or us) with a fail-safe scientific model for how and when He did what He did.

Given our ever-present desire to know all things, this will hardly be greeted with joyful ears, but hopefully by the end of this post you will see that there are much better discoveries in the Genesis 1 than what the scientific harmonizers try to glean from the text.

PART 1

Thesis 1: The Bible does not tell us everything we want to know.

I hope this one is self-explanatory, thus I will not waste any more space on it.

Thesis 2: The Bible tells us what it does so that we might believe in Jesus Christ as God’s Son and have life in His name.

For the Christians who read this blog entry, I sincerely hope that this too is unanimously affirmed and needs no more addressing. (Jn 20:30-31)

Thesis 3: Therefore, nothing on which the Bible is silent will negatively or positively affect your salvation.

The implication being- if the Bible is silent on the mechanics of the material creation (as we will explore below) then modern debates over young earth, old earth, design, and all other scientific cosmologies fall into a level of importance far below what the text actually seeks to tell us. Now, I am fully willing to acknowledge that many in the scientific field will take evolution and other aspects of theoretical cosmologies and use them to offer proofs that deny God’s existence. Thus, apologetics serves a valiant purpose in refuting this and affirming the truth that God is creator. However, this post’s main focus is on Genesis 1, which is the chief text wrestled over by all who place themselves under the large umbrella of “creationists.” If Genesis 1 is truly silent on the how and when of creation by God, then Young Earth Creationists should not use Genesis 1 to brow beat Old Earthers into accepting their 21st century model (and vice versa, et al). Let science do its job with integrity, clarity, and truth and let the Bible say what it says. Unduly harmonizing them does injustice to both. 100 years from now science may have developed a cosmology that is 180 degrees different than anything we have today. Think then of how much time would have been wasted force-fitting Genesis 1 into a 21st century cosmology. We would have nothing to show for it but a need to start all over and try and force Genesis 1 into a 22nd century cosmology. I think the better option is to (1) adopt as best we can an ancient Israelite cosmology while we read the text, (2) take out (exegete) what it is truly saying, and (3) learn the lessons that God communicated to His first audience which is what He still desires to tell us.

Part 2- Coming later this week.

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

Discussion

9 thoughts on “The Life Dialogue: Matt Moss Guest Post Part 1

  1. Matt,

    I think the last part of this post is the most compelling, “I think the better option is to (1) adopt as best we can an ancient Israelite cosmology while we read the text, (2) take out (exegete) what it is truly saying, and (3) learn the lessons that God communicated to His first audience which is what He still desires to tell us.”

    I agree with you on this point, but I’d like to ask the first question which came to my mind, which is “Where do we draw the line?” I recall discussing something similar to this with someone recently and I brought up points similar to those in your quote here. Their response was “But then we may as well be [insert random denomination] and just go around asking ‘What does this mean ”to me”?’ ”

    Where does one realize the presuppositions of an author and then draw meaning exegetically, as opposed to just taking the author at his/her word? Interestingly, I think this latter part of your post ties very well with some of the points Richard Swinburne makes in “Revelation”, which I recently reviewed.

    Posted by J.W. Wartick | July 13, 2010, 9:11 PM
  2. Quite frankly, I think this three step method is the exact opposite of those who approach the Bible with a “what does this mean TO ME?” mindset. Thus I think the method allows the text to draw its own lines for interpretation.

    Most often the “what does this text mean TO ME?” approach throws context to the wind. Context is more than the verse/chapter preceding and following the text in question. Context includes worldview, culture, author, audience, and many more things that influence an interpretation of the text.

    If “what does this text mean TO ME?” is the first question you ask, you will at best have a shallow, relative, culturally backwards interpretation of the text. Such an interpretation is in no way authoritative because it is strictly YOUR interpretation, out of context, isolated and independent of the proper hermeneutics. It shouldn’t be formative for any one else and it really shouldn’t be formative for you, the interpreter either! It’s not God’s Word, it’s your 21st century reconfiguring of an ancient text.

    Let it be noted that AUTHORity is grounded in the AUTHOR and not in the recipient’s own interpretative reading. As Christians we speak of authorial inspiration and divine revelation. While I truly believe the Holy Spirit is present with those who are studying God’s Word, our interpretations are NOT inerrant, inspired, divine revelation. It is ONLY what the inspired human authors have written that is authoritative.

    I will give an example and try to be brief. Rom. 10:9-10. “confess with your mouth, … believe in your heart… you will be saved.” You know the words in between, if not, look it up. If I ask “What does this mean TO ME?” first, before any study of culture, language, etc. I will walk away thinking I need to have an emotionally reassuring acceptance, grounded in my heart, vocalized with my mouth. That is because in the 21st century we view the heart as the center of emotion. UNFORTUNATELY! That interpretation of what appears to be a clear text is WRONG! In the Hellenized Judeo-Christian world of St. Paul, the intestines were the center of emotion and the heart (kardia) was viewed as the center of knowledge and reason (21st century views that as the mind). Thus, a person who is attempting to PROPERLY exegete this passage, faithful to the inspired author’s intent would do the following (outlined in my post). He would first study and understand the worldview of the author: heart = knowledge NOT emotion (step 1 in my post, also in this step would be all the other forms of contextualization not covered in this brief example). He will then draw a conclusion of the author’s writing: salvation is accomplished by the Word (10:8) that you heard (10:17) that resides in your heart and is vocalized (10:8-10) (step 2 in my post). NOW the student can rightly ask “What does this mean (to me)?” (Step 3 in my post). Note that his application of this passage to himself will be night and day different from the person who answers “what does this mean?” before studying the text. The exegesis has allowed the text to draw its own lines for what constitutes an AUTHORized interpretation. The text does not AUTHORize the reader to conclude that his salvation is dependent on the emotional response of the heart (21st century view of heart). The text ONLY AUTHORizes what the AUTHOR has written and intended.

    I feel the urge to start ranting about the importance of adequate and thorough theological training for all who are to be pastors in the church. I also feel the urge to rant about the importance of attending Bible studies taught by adequate theological pastors. And at the very least I feel the urge to start promoting various Study Bibles that provide some of this necessary outside context. I will suppress those rants and simply say I come before you as one who has spent 5+ years of theological study UNlearning what I always thought the text said. I’m not promoting a special, gnostic code. I’m not trying to deny the priesthood of all believers. I am one who has benefited beyond measure from the advanced study of Scripture. I saw so many problems, difficulties, and apparent contradictions in Scripture when I was reading it at a 21st Century-face value. I am still a student. I still have much to learn. But as is often the case, the more I learn, the more I realize how much I did not know before now!

    God’s peace to you JW and to all who read.

    Posted by Matt | July 13, 2010, 10:16 PM
    • Where do you think the lines are drawn between overdoing the emphasis on the need to understand how to interpret Scripture and the need to argue that Scripture is for all people in all times?

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | July 14, 2010, 2:19 PM
      • I don’t think there is a line dividing them because I don’t see them as opposites. Just because God’s Word is given for all people does not mean that there is a degree of free reign to make it say whatever we or our culture wants it to say. Now, salvation is not based on getting all the right answers on a heaven-entrance-exam, so we shouldn’t be too afraid of misunderstanding or not knowing everything. Yet still we should dedicate ourselves to studying the Scriptures and learning what God would have us know about Himself, His Son, and all that He has done for us. We do this knowing full well that our human minds will never fully grasp the deepest and richest wells of knowledge contained in God’s Word.

        If you really want a line distinguishing the two I suppose I would say the line is at translation. Not everyone needs to learn Greek, Hebrew, & Aramaic to benefit from Scripture. Picking up an NIV or ESV is still reading God’s Word and learning about salvation in Christ. But as you well know, every translation is an interpretation. So people who read their English Bibles would do well to have a study Bible, or read the foot notes, or perhaps best of all: have a pastor and teacher who is able to help them understand what seems confusing and to guide them in the study of God’s Word.

        Remember Ephesians 4.11 God has given us Apostles, Prophets, and Evangelists (their writings stay with us in the Bible) AND Pastors and teachers. God’s Word is (almost) never read in a vacuum. God’s Word is carried by messengers (broadly speaking: the Church).

        I don’t know if I’ve answered your question or if I’ve just run around it with lots of wordiness. I assure you my goal was to answer your question.

        Posted by Matt | July 17, 2010, 11:22 AM

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: The Origins Debate Within Christianity « - July 13, 2010

  2. Pingback: The Life Dialogue: Matt Moss Guest Post Part 2 « - July 17, 2010

  3. Pingback: The Life Dialogue: Matt Moss Guest Post Part 3 « - July 20, 2010

  4. Pingback: The Life Dialogue: Matt Moss Guest Post Part 4 « - July 26, 2010

  5. Pingback: The Life Dialogue: Matt Moss Guest Post 5 « - August 9, 2010

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