The antediluvian world intrigues me. For what the Bible says about it, but more for what it omits. The Bible is the word of God. I get that. Meanwhile, the universe God created is given short shrift in the beginnings of Genesis. We read where He created the heavens and the earth. He had a lot of creating to do, of which much is left unsaid. Frankly, I’d like to know what was going on in the 400 billion Milky Way stars, with 1-to-10 trillion orbiting planets. Not to mention the 2 trillion galaxies within our observable Universe. We are only beginning to understand things out there. Planet earth is but a grain of sand on endless miles of beach. Taking the Bible purely as an astronomy text makes for a very frustrating read. Apart from but a few brush strokes on a broad canvas, the Bible is silent. Let’s just say, there’s little help for cosmologists there.
Literalists don’t look at that as a weak point. Theirs is the conversation-ending “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” The fact that there’s a lot that God didn’t say doesn’t deter literalists from presuming to know he meant. In The Lost World of Scripture, John Walton and Brent Sandy observe there’s a considerable “lostness” in how the Bible came into being. This is the literalist’s dilemma throughout the pre-flood account of Genesis. Christianity is great at reading between the lines; the most malleable religion of all. The materiality of the Biblical ante-diluvian world is as ineffable as Heaven, given that an epoch terminated by a cataclysmic worldwide flood defies outside scrutiny. Even God to have delivered all of that pre-history into Moses’ hands is not specifically stated in the Bible. Nor is it a sure thing that Moses even wrote the Pentateuch – which somehow doesn’t explain how he could write the account of his own death.
“What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him?, asks the Psalmist. The Bible soon segues into what was revealed to human beings, using anthropomorphic language. God walked in the garden of Eden. (Gen. 3). “There’s no definitive proof, but the passage’s implication seems clear to me”, writes evangelical defender Randy Alcorn. Implication, surmise, presupposition, conjecture. Literalists twist themselves into logical pretzels reading into the Bible what isn’t there, or simply talk godly twaddle like Sunday School teachers to their 3rd grades. “Evangelicalism is not fundamentally an intellectual organism”, Peter Enns writes, “but an apologetic one”. This explains why evangelicals cannot be silent even where the Bible is silent.
Indeed, evangelicalism has been afraid of intellectual honesty since the Scopes trial, which exposed the empty-headed, predetermined conclusions of their doctrinal beliefs. Like Ken Ham, where his concrete boat, The Good Ship Eisegesis, teaches there were dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark. There is much to unlearn at his Kentucky religious theme park, where a little embellishment of the Biblical text might be necessary here and there to properly defend it. Temptation lurks in an apologetic that goes beyond the sacred page, seeking to control the text rather than submitting to it. God’s history is wild thing, which we profanize by domesticating it.
It’s easy to have these apologists drag you down into their “never contradicts itself” weeds, but the broad contours of literalism have been pretty well covered by Scopes. Suffice to it to say, that since then plenary inspiration has been a fundamentalist axe to grind against “liberal” Christians who see the Bible trustworthy so far as it is necessary for our salvation, and that it is to be received through the Holy Spirit as the true rule and guide for faith and practice. Funny that two pillars of fundamentalism – Machen and Warfield – rejected literalism in favor of “theistic evolution.” It wasn’t until the first Cultural War first salvos fired by Harold Lindsell, and later sanctified (or embalmed) by the Chicago Statement, that it became a doctrinal hill to die on.
Gallup published a poll this week showing a declining proportion of the overall American population — now 20% — believes the Bible is literally true, word for word. (This is down from 49% in 2011). Half of evangelicals polled did not believe every word should be taken literally. Most evangelicals look to the Bible for answers – not questions. If evangelicals were the least bit self-aware, they might appreciate that NO ONE wants to adopt an anti-intellectual, anti-science and anti-educational faith that is so absurdly and proudly detached from reality. Personally, I can’t accept a faith – much less a supernatural faith – where I have to check my brain at the church door. And I find it distressing that, despite overweening confidence in knowing what the Bible clearly teaches, fewer and fewer evangelicals are able to articulate the essentials of faith in even an elementary way.
I recite the Nicene Creed each Sunday, believing God “spoke through the prophets.” I believe in the nearness of a personal God, under whose providence we have the Bible as the written history of salvation under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And that the Scriptures are sufficient in fulfilling their purpose and function. Just as God had intervened in time and space, He was making himself known by history in story and story in history – a narrative unity inextricably linked to form what might be called true myth. That is to say, the Bible is to be read more as the history of revelation, than the revelation of history. It is sacred history, which Walter Bruggemann observes “stands some distance from what modern people might call history”. In that regard, “history” in the Old Testament is backgrounded to the metanarrative of love relationship between living God and broken creation. The subject matter of the Bible is God as He deals with His creation. Its attention is on Divine doing; the history of the hidden God gradually lifting the curtain on himself for the redemption of a fallen world.
The Bible is the word of God. Once again, I get that. I completely believe in it; except in the ways I don’t.