Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Created out of water

I'm rather enjoying my break this summer, but I did want to share one thought on a NT understanding of creation.

A while ago I noted that (I think) most OT scholars think Genesis 1 – together with the other known myths in Akkadian literature – reflects a belief that creation was not there understood as creation ex nihilo, but rather as the command of order on chaos. This view reflects a more popular reading of Genesis 1:1 as 'In the beginning when God created' or 'in the beginning of God's creation, the earth being ...'. 'The narrative', as OT scholar John Goldingay argues, 'indeed presupposes the existence of matter, of raw material for God to use' (Old Testament Theology. Volume 1: Israel's Gospel [Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP, 2003], 80).

Rather interestingly, though many jump to passages in Paul to defend creation ex nihilo in the NT (which I suspect only suggest the seeds for a later ex nihilo doctrine), such as Romans 4:17, have you ever meditated on 2 Peter 3:5?

'They deliberately ignore this fact, that by the word of God heavens existed long ago and an earth was formed out of water and by means of water'

Richard Bauckham comments in his Word commentary:

'According to the creation account in Gen 1, and in accordance with general Near Eastern myth, the world—sky and earth—merged out of a primeval ocean (Gen 1:2, 6–7, 9; cf. Ps 33:7; 136:6; Prov 8:27–29; Sir 39:17; Herm. Vis. 1:3:4). The world exists because the waters of chaos, which are now above the firmament, beneath the earth and surrounding the earth, are held back and can no longer engulf the world. The phrase ξ δατος ("out of water") expresses this mythological concept of the world's emergence out of the watery chaos, rather than the more "scientific" notion, taught by Thales of Miletus, that water is the basic element out of which everything else is made (cf. Clem. Hom. 11:24:1)' (Bauckham, R. J., Jude, 2 Peter, p.297).

I find it particularly interesting that the context of 2 Peter 3 links this to God's faithfulness to his promises, which once again links God's faithfulness to his covenant to the whole of creation. But in terms of creation, what are we to make of the (later) doctrine of ex nihilo in light of such biblical themes. One can either:

  1. Reject ex nihilo as a doctrine in light of scripture, which would, for example, perhaps help deal with the knotty problem of theodicy. 'God did not created chaos', it could be argued, his creation power was its limiting.
  2. Argue that ex nihilo is an entirely new doctrinal development, yet can be embraced as a correct doctrine on the basis of the Spirit's guidance of the church
  3. Maintain that ex nihilo, while a later development, is consistent with seeds of truth already to be found in the NT and Apocrypha. This the doctrine reflects a legitimate and further nuanced development of the understanding of creation (ex nihilo only being clearly formulated, so maintain I think the majority, in the 2nd century AD). Perhaps the church's developing formulations of Trinitarian faith is an inadequate potential comparison.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Darwin and God

I'll deliver a lecture at our (rather large!) church week away at the end of the month, celebrating Darwin's 200th birthday. During my research I've used some useful introductory books on Darwin, such as Jonathan Howard's contribution to the Very Short Introduction Series, and Jonathan Miller's Introducing Darwin.

Both were helpful, but when they turned to matters of religion they tended to be disastrously naive and inaccurate. For example, Howard writes that it has become 'hard, perhaps impossible for the orthodox Christian to come to terms with Darwin' (106)! Let's give him a bit of slack; he is a Geneticist after all, not a theologian, but this is nevertheless an absurd claim! Some key Christians, both in the UK and in USA, were the first to promote Darwin's theories in the 19th century, while some 'secular' scientists opposed it! As for the whole creationism debate, Darwinism poses a problem only for a very culturally specific and dubious reading of Genesis. Where it does get trickier is in the magnification of the theodicy problem, which did not appear on Howard's radar. Darwinism is actually exciting, for traditional Christian dogma, in the way it helps the Church rethink some of its anthropological and philosophical assumptions, and regain a closer approximation to the more relational biblical intuitions.

Nick Spencer's little book, Darwin and God thus comes as a real breath of fresh air, and deals with the nature and development of Darwin's religious beliefs. Thanks to my kind American friend, David Vinson, for the copy! My colleagues recently interviewed Nick for our college podcast here, which makes for interesting listening.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Quick notice

David Bentley Hart's Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies.

One word:


One of the most important books I have ever read. Utterly brilliant. Prophetic. Extremely lucid. Violently convincing.

And it is one of the most devastating critiques of anything, anywhere, never mind just the particular squabble it addresses. Daniel Dennett, for example, is absolutely shredded. My jaw was left on the flaw. But it is so much more than a simple critique of the silly New Atheist High Priests.

Please get this book. Seriously.

I stand rebuked

Innocently as you can imagine, white as the driven snow, pure as ... well, you get the idea.

But that's me, folks. Plain, old, simple holy.

Not all, however, seem to appreciate my generally elevated levels of sanctification, even though it shines in such wise forms as this post: A Biblical Guide to Dating.

Nevertheless, an 'Anonymous' (surprise, surprise) felt the need to chastise my winsome words in the comments:

"This is not funny. And the message of Yahweh Elohim and his Son, Yahshua the Messiah should not be taken lightly. Have your fun now, but I tell you the truth: it won't last long. You will regret ever putting your foolish advice on the web. Let me ask you this: If you have a daughter and she believes in the Word, would you want some perverted man to be misusing her belief for his own twisted sexual interests? Is that how you would want your daughter to be treated? Is that how you would want your mother or sister to be treated? Grow up, men. The world needs men who can lead nations and conquer kingdoms, not treacherous and deceptive men. We need honorable, valiant men in this world. We need leaders. Are you going to waste your life setting foolish traps for women? Is that what you call purpose? Arise, men of God. Arise to your position in the true Kingdom of Yahweh. Arise to honor. Arise to Truth. Arise to purpose. It is time"

OK, I cleaned up some of his grammar, but you get the idea: I've apparently pooped the holy pants, soiled the sanctity nappy.

So .... *takes a deep breath* ... I guess I had better say an apology:

"I am very sorry, Anonymous ... that you have no sense of humour".

I'll be the guy giving you a smarting wedgie in the in the New Jerusalem.

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