Monday, January 11, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: In the Beginning: Issues in Genesis

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 31 Num. 15
“In the Beginning: Issues in Genesis”
First Published: April 16, 1998

This Sunday evening we will begin a study of the book of Genesis. It goes without saying that this book provides us with the foundational doctrines of the faith: without an understanding of Genesis you can’t adequately understand the New Testament. But it also provides us with precisely the truth we need both to combat the various non-Christian worldviews which now surround us, and to hold on to faith, morality, and sanity in a sea of relativism.

The teachings of the book of Genesis have been the occasion of much controversy in the last one hundred fifty years or so. The apparent conflict between Genesis and modern science has been a standard feature of the study of the book ever since the time of Charles Darwin. Does Genesis teach “special creation” ex nihilo (“out of nothing”)? Does it allow for some form of theistic evolution? How long were the days of Genesis 1? Was Adam a real person or a symbol? Were there human-like creatures prior to Adam and Eve? Can Genesis 1-2 be squared with modern physics’ and biology’s account of the earth’s origins? Can Genesis 1-2 be harmonized with current scientific anthropology’s account of human origins? Did death exist in the natural world before the fall? Did the human race descend from one stock and can the race be considered as a unity?

But scientific controversy is not the only sort which has accompanied the study of Genesis. Ever since the early liberal scholars began to discount Moses’s authorship of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible), a variety of assertions have been maintained. It is alleged that the “author” of the book (whoever he or she was!) was actually a rather bad editor, who had ineffectively performed a cut and paste operation on the numerous sources at hand. Thus Genesis, it is declared, is a patchwork of contradictory stories. Perhaps you remember hearing your college religion professor say that Genesis 1 and 2 contain two conflicting accounts of creation (you mean the editor somehow missed that?), or that Genesis comprises material from four major sources commonly known is J, E, D, and P (this view first developed when some bright spark noticed that there were different “names” for God used in different portions of the book, and thus deduced that this indicated different authors and theological traditions — don’t let these guys read than name on your social security card and compare it with the nicknames from your wife’s love notes to you or they’ll decide that you’re either two distinct people or a split personality!).

Then there are the theological battles that rage: what is the nature of the image of God in man taught in Genesis 1. What does Genesis have to say about male-female equality and role relations (is it, for instance, hopelessly patriarchal and chauvinistic?)? What about the origins of racial differences? Can they be traced to the mark of Cain, or the sin of Ham, or the incident at Babel? What about Noah’s flood? Was it world-wide?

These and many other issues connected with the early chapters of Genesis have occupied Christian reflection for many years now. We will not dodge these matters, but rather face them squarely, and at the same time set forth the groundwork of a Christian worldview. Indeed, we’re not going to sit back on our heels and merely defend the faith from all comers (After all, Spurgeon once said: “Defend the Bible? Why I rather defend a lion! Defend it? No. Let it loose!”), rather, we are are going to “let the truth loose.” I think you’ll find that truth exhilarating. Please join us (and bring a friend) as we begin this vital study in the substructure of the Gospel.

Your friend,
Ligon Duncan

[editorial note: these sermons are available to read or download HERE:]

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