Book Plunge: Retrieving Augustine’s Doctrine of Creation

What do I think of Gavin Ortlund’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Gavin Ortlund is a pastor and a scholar.

Yeah. I know. I didn’t realize that was legal either. Pastors can actually be well-educated and write scholarly books?

Thank God they can and we need more like that. This book is on Augustine and his doctrine of creation. What can we learn from him on this? After all, he did not know about Darwin and the theory of evolution. He did not know about what modern science says about the age of the Earth. He did not know about Einstein and cosmology. We also have about 1,400 years of biblical exegesis on him now.

If we think we cannot, we miss out. As Ortlund tells us, Augustine’s time was a different time and they had different issues and debates going on which can cause them to see our issues and debates in a new light. Imagine a table where you have Francis Collins from BioLogos, Hugh Ross from Reasons to Believe, and Ken Ham from Answers in Genesis all sitting together debating creation. Augustine comes and joins them. What will he add to the conversation? What will he take away from it?

Let’s start with one of the first lessons he can teach everyone at the table. Humility. Augustine did hold strongly to his positions, but when he wrote, he also said “This position that I disagree with now could be right.” He is not dogmatic in his stances and does not hold only one position on the matter of creation as the Christian position. While we debate how long it took, many might be surprised to hear what Augustine would say. Young-earthers sometimes ask old-earthers about God taking so long to create. Augustine would say the same to young-earthers since he held that creation was instantaneous and Anselm even said that was the most common view in his time years later.

The first lesson that Augustine would want to teach us I think is that we need humility to be able to listen instead of just try to respond. What are the concerns of the intellectual opponents. Why do they hold their position? Should we really be calling their faith into question over this topic? You cannot tell someone’s commitment to Christ solely based on how they answer questions on evolution or the age of the Earth.

Augustine could also tell us a lot about the literal interpretation of Genesis. He wrote a book called that and yet we today would not think his interpretations are very literal. He’s got figurative and allegorical meanings in his understanding of creation. Yet despite this, he also does pay attention to the historical matters in the book. He does tend to want to take it to be historical, but his main concern is how we see the Scriptures. Augustine would have more understanding to someone who takes the passages in a figurative or allegorical sense and yet holds to inerrancy than one who rejects them because he thinks they don’t cohere with modern science and that the Bible just got it wrong thinking the Bible requires one interpretation.

What about animal death? This is a big one and we can be tempted to think that modern science again has caused many people to think animal death was going on before the Fall and Augustine would be unfamiliar with that debate. We would be inaccurate. Augustine spoke about animal predation. He would tell us it’s unwise for us to critique the design of the universe in this area like it would be unwise for a layman to go into an engineer’s office and see many of the tools and be critical not knowing what the tools represent.

For Augustine, creation is a key doctrine and the one that gets him the most enthralled quite likely. He has endless praise for even the simple worm. He does see something beautiful in even predation. The way the system works together is amazing as he says old life needs to pass away to make room for new life. Augustine also lived in a time before the world was touched by Disney. We can automatically think hunting is evil after hearing the story of Bambi after all.

The chapter on evolution is wonderfully named. Can we evolve on evolution without falling on the fall? This chapter deals with how we should see evolution. Ortlund doesn’t take any side in this actually, but he says many of the debates aren’t new. For this one, it usually comes down to the historical Adam and there are evolutionary creationists who think Adam is historical.

Yet even before the coming of Darwin, many interpreters of Genesis were suggesting that Adam was not the only human being on Earth. When the story of Adam and Eve took place, there were other humans there. This explains where Cain got his wife, Cain building a city for inhabitants, and the avoidance of inbreeding to bring about new people.

I am not saying this is what Ortlund says happened as he admits he doesn’t know enough of the science to comment, but I think he just wants us to be more open. Even if we can’t agree in dialogue, is there a way we can have better dialogues? If all three organizations could meet at the table, have a heated debate, and in the end shake hands and leave as fellow Christians and friends though still disagreeing, I think Ortlund would be pleased and even more, I think Augustine would as well.

Those interested in the debate about creation and evolution and Genesis should read this book. Again, I think the main lesson to learn is humility. Reading Augustine could cause us to look with new eyes at creation.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: Since The Beginning

What do I think of Kyle Greenwood’s book published by Baker Academic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We all know that from the very beginning, Genesis 1 and 2 were thought to be totally scientific accounts to know about the origins of the cosmos. Everyone believed that the Earth was 6,000 years old or so. Then along came modern times and people began to reject that idea with the teaching of evolution.

We all know that.

But sometimes we don’t know what we think we really know.

People who think this really need to pick up this latest book by Kyle Greenwood. Greenwood is the editor as he has many writers write about the interpretation of these two chapters throughout history. Since it’s 1-2, it covers more than just the age of the Earth, but the age of the Earth is what comes to mind immediately for most people.

If you were like me, you would think that the first part would be to look at the Ante-Nicene Fathers and see what they had to say about the text. If you were like me, you would also be wrong. Greenwood takes the bizarre stance of looking at an Old Testament text by actually beginning with the Old Testament text. From there, he goes on to list ways themes from this portion of Scripture show up in the rest of the Old Testament.

From there, we get to Second Temple Judaism. These are the ideas from what is known as more of the Intertestamental period. What was being said about the text then? What do we find in the Dead Sea Scrolls?

This is followed by the New Testament. When we look at the writers and speakers of the New Testament, they will often refer to the Old Testament. How did they see the text? What can we learn? This is especially important for those of us who are Christians since most of us would see this text as inspired in some way.

After that, we get to see what rabbis at the time of Jesus were saying about the passages. Here we get to see some of the creativity of them. One rabbi asked another why it was that Adam was with Eve when the serpent came and yet he said nothing. The other responded that Adam and Eve had just got done having sexual intercourse so Adam fell asleep and when Eve woke him up with the fruit he took it not knowing what it was.

They were certainly creative.

From there we get to the Ante-Nicene Fathers. The point being that if you think we’re just going to jump into Christian interpretations immediately, you’ll be mistaken. As you go through, you realize people had many different views. You discuss the length of the days, the role of Sabbath, the location of the Garden of Eden, the role of men and women, etc.

And as you go through, you come to see that things aren’t as cut and dry as you would think. There have been many interpretations of the passage throughout history. Some you will think have something to them. Some you will wonder how anyone could have ever thought such a thing about them.

Sometimes I do wish more would have been said about the creation and role of humanity. For example, I remember wanting to see more about how the Fathers viewed men and women. It’s my understanding that sexuality was seen by them as a necessary evil and it should only be for the purpose of procreation.

Of course, we do eventually get to our own time and to post-Darwinian interpretations of the text. Yet once you get there, you’re not really surprised. In some ways, the interpretation is different, but in many ways, it’s the same. It’s the language to describe it I think that differs.

A valuable contribution to this will be to realize that interpretation has been multi-faceted from the beginning. Greenwood I am sure holds to an interpretation of the text, but he does not push for any of them here. He simply presents what is founded in history.

Anyone wanting to seriously study the text needs to interact with this book. It will be a valuable compendium for quite some time on thought throughout history on these texts. Hopefully, by reading from the past, we can learn more for today on how to understand what has happened since the beginning.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Origins, The Ancient Impact And Modern Implications of Genesis 1-11

What do I think of Douglas Jacoby and Paul Copan’s book published by Morgan James Faith? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

If the writer of Ecclesiastes had said that of writing books about Genesis there is no end, he would have been quite right. It looks like often in discussions of the Bible, the two most debated books are Genesis and Revelation. Now another book has been added to the Genesis column.

I want to thank Douglas Jacoby for sending me a review copy of the book. I went through it in about a week’s time or so I’d say. The opening sections are incredibly helpful with discussing how to read the book and discovering what it would mean for the ancient audience. This is something that’s too often forgotten as we look at these kinds of topics. We are so stuck on our Western perspectives. Revelation we read literally because, well, that’s how you’re supposed to read the Bible isn’t it? Genesis we do the same except we read it scientifically literally, as if the ancient writer and audience really had questions of science in mind.

The writers also introduce the readers to pagan thought of the time and other epics about creation and the flood that were around. When you read this book, you will not only get an education in the Bible. You will also get an education in the pagan systems of the time and how they thought.

In some ways, the work reads as a commentary. In others, it doesn’t. This is a work more interested in answering questions from an apologetics perspective. That isn’t to say that other issues don’t come up, but Copan and Jacoby want us to try to understand how we can communicate the message of Genesis to our audiences today.

The writers also do right what they should do and that’s to rely on great scholars in the field. There are a plethora of endnotes and there is a bibliography section with recommended literature. Those who want to know more will have no lack of places to go to find more information.

The writers also tend to stay out of many of the controversies we have today, such as the age of the Earth, evolution, and the range of the flood, although sometimes endnotes do give their positions. Those aren’t the messages they want to have emphasized. Instead, it’s much more focused on what the ancients would have thought about the text as they read it.

The authors also do present interesting theories on many of the questions we have. You can even find arguments about the genealogies. Why is it that there were such long life spans in the book of Genesis? I’m still thinking about their interpretation of that which is worth looking into. Basically, their view is that the base root is 6 and the numbers should be seen differently. There’s a lot more involved and it’s best explained by getting the book.

What I like best is that the sections end by having a look at what has been established, then a look at how it relates to the New Testament, and then application is last of all. What a wonderful method this would be for pastors to take! Don’t take a text and jump straight to application! Instead, take the text and tell us what it meant to them, how it relates to the Bible as a whole, what it means to us, and then give the application!

Jacoby and Copan have given us a fine work to contribute to our study of origins. It is a work that is very reader friendly and the chapters are short enough that they would be appropriate for small group discussion. I recommend getting this one if you care about debates about Genesis.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 7/1/2017: Ted Cabal

What’s coming up on the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Christians have never been without controversy. Many of the Pauline letters were written to deal with controversies. We can be sure that once one controversy gets answered, we will move on to a whole new one. Nowadays, a great controversy of the ages for Christians is the, well, controversy of the ages.

How old is the Earth? How did God create? To be sure, this is an issue that we should debate and we should debate heartily, but we should not divide over it. When we do, we have a whole lot more heat than light. Sadly, this sort of division has often occurred.

My guest this week is the co-author of the book Controversy of the Ages. He has written not to settle the debate, but to encourage us in how we frame the debate. How is it that a Christian approaches questions of faith and science? If we believe that the two can never contradict, what happens when it looks like they do? How can each side learn to listen to the other to have better dialogues than we are often having right now?

So who is this co-author? He’s Dr. Ted Cabal. Who is he?

According to his bio:

Theodore James Cabal has taught philosophy and apologetics at Dallas Baptist University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and for the last 20 years at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition to numerous journal articles and book chapters, he is the general editor of The Apologetics Study Bible (2nd ed. summer 2017) and co-author with Peter Rasor of The Controversy of the Ages: Why Christians Should not Divide over the Age of the Earth (2017).

We’ll be looking at the relationship between Christianity and science in the past. What was going on when the Galileo affair took place? Was it really a tension between faith and science or was something else going on there? How does it parallel to today? Are we in danger of the same mistake today?

We’ll be discussing the three main camps when it comes to the age of the Earth. You have the young-earth creationists who think the Earth is 6-10,000 years old. You have Old-earth creationists who have an Earth about 4.5 billion years old yet don’t accept evolution, and you have the theistic evolutionists who have an old Earth and think that God did use evolution to create.

What divides these camps in such a heated way so often? How do each of these camps view science? What can each of these camps learn from one another? We’ll be looking at this question and hopefully this interview will shed more light than heat on this important topic.

I hope you’ll be listening for this next episode and I hope regardless of which stance you take, you’ll learn something about your side and something about how you can learn to view your opponents in a better light. Please also leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast. It’s always a joy to hear that you like the show!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Foundation For Your Faith

What is your hope built on? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Last night I was in a group when someone came with this question “How can I not be a YEC and still keep my faith?” Now some of you reading this are YECs so I want you to hang on. Right now, I don’t care if you remain a YEC or not. That’s not my issue. It’s irrelevant to the point. The point I want to make is, should YEC (Or OEC or TE) be the foundation for your faith?

I decided to respond to this person by asking them about the resurrection of Jesus and ask “If I was a Christian in doubt, how would you convince me of the resurrection of Jesus?” The person had to admit he didn’t know and then tried to make a defense. I told him if he wants to learn this, then I recommend getting Habermas and Licona’s book and going through that and I’d be glad to talk with him afterwards.

It’s quite sad to me that so many people can be able to defend their eschatology or their doctrine of the age of the Earth or any number of other secondary issues, but they have never been told how to make a case for the resurrection of Jesus. You could believe in the Earth being young and not believe in Jesus’s resurrection. Believing in the resurrection and trusting it is something different. (I say trusting since Pinchas Lapides was a Jew who believed in the resurrection but never once thought Jesus was the Messiah.)

This is my problem with when we make a doctrine like the age of the Earth or inerrancy or any other secondary doctrine the focus of our apologetic. I mention those two because those are two of the favorite ones that skeptics like to attack Christianity on and too many people think that if one of those falls, the resurrection falls. Consider inerrancy. I do not believe in the resurrection because I believe in inerrancy. I believe in inerrancy because I believe in the resurrection. I could lose my belief in inerrancy and still hold to the resurrection. You know what? I’d still be in. Suppose I believed in inerrancy and yet somehow horribly misinterpreted the Bible. (JWs have a high view of Scripture after all.) I would not be part of the covenant of God. The resurrection is what changes it.

Not only that, the resurrection when understood provides much more joy in life. Thinking the Earth is young is not enough to show that God is a covenant keeping God who honors His promises and is making this world right. Knowing about the resurrection is enough to show that. Again, the resurrection is the foundation.

Sadly, this is not what we find taught in most churches. I do not hear in churches a case for the resurrection of Jesus. It’s just not taught that often. In fact, I can’t even say I often hear what difference the resurrection makes. It’s like it’s just a fact in history that proves Christianity is true or proves that Jesus is God, but it doesn’t reach beyond that.

I look forward to the day when our churches return to the resurrection. This is the foundation of our faith and nothing else. Believe what you want in the secondary areas, but remember that they are secondary. Keep the resurrection as your focus.

In Christ,
Nick Peters