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Francis Schaeffer's book Genesis in Space and Time1 was his attempt to highlight the importance of Genesis to Christian faith and life. Whatever differences people may have with some of the specific interpretations Schaeffer stated in that book, the fact remains that Genesis is essential to any truly Christian understanding of our world and faith, and Schaeffer did the Christian community a favor by bringing this into the spotlight.
Unfortunately, many Christians did not follow after him in taking the teachings of Genesis seriously. Other Christians allow themselves to become sidetracked on issues regarding Genesis that are of little or lesser importance to the faith. Still others fail to recognize the essential order of things in terms of Christian faith; as Christians we believe that God is Creator because we believe in Jesus Christ, not the reverse. The author of Hebrews writes, "By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible" (Hebrews 11:3). The resurrection of Christ, together with the miracles surrounding His life and ministry, confirm that He is the Creator.
This is not to say that it is wrong to discuss creation or Genesis with unbelievers. At times a correct understanding of the Christian point of view regarding creation can lead to openness to the Gospel. But full confidence in and understanding of Genesis stems from faith in Jesus Christ. And it is after His example of faith in Genesis, and, indeed, all of the books of Moses, that we place full confidence in the clear teachings of this book.
The necessity of placing faith first in Jesus Christ, then in Genesis, rather than the other way around, has profound implications for more than just evangelism and missions. For example, it results in a proper perspective on the Law of Moses as revealed in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. When Jesus wants to correct a misunderstanding of the Law concerning the subject of divorce, He appeals to Genesis. The Pharisees said, "Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away" (Mark 10:4, Deuteronomy 24:1-3). Jesus answered, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and the two shall become one flesh;' so they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate" (Mark 10:5-9, Genesis 1:27, 2:24, 5:2 ). Here Jesus' reasons from the time before sin entered the human race – from the intention and design of God when He called all creation "good." Jesus then acknowledges that because sin entered the human race, it was necessary to accommodate "hardness of heart" on some issues for a while. This provided time for Israel, and others through Israel, to understand more foundational teachings.
It isn't that the Law was less than holy, but that it was, of necessity, less than complete. It was the very incompleteness of the Law that made it something people should have been able to live by, and that served as a point of condemnation to those who did not even live up to the letter of the Law. As Jesus taught in His Sermon on the Mount, those who loved God and truly wanted to serve Him would do more than the Law required. Meanwhile, the Law served to restrain the wickedness of those who lived by the letter, rather than the spirit, of the Law. Jesus' corrective to the Pharisees regarding the Law directed attention not to truth revealed after the Law, but to truth that had already been revealed in the early chapters of Genesis.
Following after Jesus, when the apostle Paul wanted to address issues of marriage and morality in I Corinthians 6:15-20, he referred to Genesis as well as to God's redemptive purposes through Jesus Christ. But the importance of the spiritual truths taught in Genesis is not limited to this subject matter. It underlies Paul's point of view throughout his letter to the Romans as seen, for example, in the latter part of Romans 1, the latter part of Roman 5, and Romans 9:19-21, but perhaps most clearly in Romans 4. In this chapter, Paul corrects a misunderstanding about the purpose of the Law of Moses by making plain that the manner in which God related to Abraham, which preceded the Law, is the same manner in which God relates to Christians -- on the basis of faith. Thus the greatest principle of the Protestant Reformation, salvation by grace through faith, is established by an appeal to Genesis. One of the great problems Paul addresses throughout his letters is a misunderstanding of the Law. Here Paul puts the Law in proper perspective by paying attention to the truth revealed in Genesis.
The targeting of Genesis by skeptics is a subtle acknowledgment of the importance of Genesis to Christian theology. Until recently, modern critics have been able to act as if evolutionary theory was established fact that prevented any reasonable individual from taking Genesis seriously, even people of faith. Biochemist Michael Behe's book, Darwin's Black Box, however, provides solid, scientific evidence against the belief that Darwinian evolution is a plausible explanation for the development of cellular life -- evidence that no one can afford to ignore.2 And this is all the more true because Behe, although a Roman Catholic, does not use the book to try to establish a certain theological position except that life had to have an Intelligent Designer. He keeps it in the realm of science.
It would seem that intellectual integrity would demand that Behe's work be given careful consideration within the academic community, especially given the manner in which he presents his case. If his book had presented a strong case in favor of Darwinian evolution, it is difficult to imagine that this would not be done. It is because Behe's work makes a scientific argument for intelligent design, and thus for a Creator, that his work is so often overlooked. To neglect his work on these grounds, however, is not just to dismiss the evidence he presents, but to reject scientific and academic integrity in the process.
Dr. Robert Jastrow, founder of NASA's Goddard Institute, wrote a book entitled God and the Astronomers in which he discussed just such a violation of scientific integrity with regard to the Big Bang theory; the theory that the universe that we know suddenly exploded into existence. Whatever one's evaluation of that theory, it is nevertheless true that the theory points, almost necessarily, to the existence of a Creator. This point was not lost to the astronomers and physicists who first considered the theory, many of whom were loath to admit anything that might lend support the belief that the universe came into existence as the result of anything but natural processes. All of this was in line with the uniformitarian views of science at that time, a view which sought to avoid "naked singularities" -- places in space or time when the laws of physics (as we know them) do not apply – like the universe prior to some beginning time. Scientists have accepted the existence of "naked singularities" in light of the evidence for "black holes," which, if they truly exist, seem to have unpredictable characteristics as far as scientists can determine today. But at the time the Big Bang theory was first considered, such an aversion to any hiatus in natural law was very much in vogue, and all the more because science viewed the universe as a "closed system" operating under natural laws, and thus precluding the need for a Creator.
Concerning the eventual acceptance of the Big Bang theory Jastrow writes,
. . . at this moment it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation. For the scientist who has lived by faith in his powers of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to scale the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.3
Scientific prejudice, then, prevented an objective evaluation of the Big Bang theory until the evidence in favor of it became overwhelming. Robert Jastrow, although a religious agnostic, nevertheless makes the point in his book that prejudice against religion is as detrimental to true science as prejudice for a particular religious view. It is just such a prejudice that prevents the widespread recognition of the importance of Behe's work. Interestingly, today the prejudice is as strong outside the scientific community as in, especially among those who see Darwinian evolution as the basis for the rejection of traditional Christianity and the substitution of liberal or radical theology.
Such a prejudice, in the religious sense, is not new, it is simply more exposed than it has been. It has existed for many years in the Wesleyan community, where many of those who call themselves "Wesleyan" and "Methodist" have ignored important parts of Wesley's teachings that define what Wesleyan Methodism is. This is particularly true with regard to Wesley's teachings regarding original sin, a subject which must be carefully understood from Scripture, but a teaching that is soundly Scriptural nonetheless, and one that has it basis in Genesis. Those who would argue that Wesley's views on this doctrine were more acceptable in Wesley's time ignore the fact that Wesley was "going against the tide" in his own time to promote such a doctrine, that he did so on Scriptural grounds, and that it is a teaching that has always been offensive to those who reject orthodox, Christian doctrine.
It is as important to notice the place that Wesley gives this doctrine within Christian theology as it is to understand that the doctrine is Scriptural; for both views are Wesleyan. A sermon on the subject is one of the fifty-two standard sermons that are historically part of the doctrinal standards of Methodism. A longer, more detailed examination of the doctrine is found in his "The Doctrine of Original Sin, according to Scriptures, Reason, and Experience." 4 Wesley called the doctrine of original sin, ". . . the first grand distinguishing point between Heathenism and Christianity" and taught that the one who denies the doctrine is not a Christian but a heathen.5 It is an interesting verification of Wesley's views that those who so strongly reject the traditional Christian doctrine of original sin in our own time have either gone off into neo-pagan belief and practice or see nothing wrong with those who do so.
Thomas Oden has written that, "We will not penetrate far into Wesley's theology until we take seriously his doctrine of original sin;" 6 indeed, it is this doctrine that, according to Oden, lays the foundation for Wesley's teachings on "justification, new birth, and especially transforming, sanctifying grace." 7 The foundation of Wesleyanism is in Genesis.
Even without Behe's work, and even if we disregard Wesley's writings, those who choose to truly follow after Jesus Christ have no choice but to take the teachings of Genesis seriously as well -- because their Master did. On many occasions when an interpretation of Scripture is off-base it is because teachings from Genesis have been left out of the discussion. Factoring Genesis into the interpretation of Scripture helps provide the perspective that brings us into line with what God intended to say. For instance, we are no longer obligated to keep the civil or ceremonial laws that were delivered specifically to Israel in the Law of Moses, their purpose is complete following the ministry of Jesus Christ; but the spiritual and moral lessons are still relevant. Noticing the relationship of certain parts of the Law with God's nature and intentions revealed in Genesis helps make sense of some of those spiritual and moral teachings; as, for example, teachings concerning the occult or sexual morality.
Later Scripture increases and deepens our understanding of the truths taught in Genesis, but does not change them. To be interpreted correctly, this later Scripture must be seen in the context of the teachings of Genesis even when they reveal much that is new. For example, Genesis teaches that there is only one, true God, a truth emphasized to Israel in the Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4-5. The Christian doctrine that God is Triune in nature does not supersede or replace this teaching, but is given within the context of the earlier teaching; so that Christians insist, on the basis of Scripture, that there is One God who is Triune in nature. In his commentary on Genesis for The Wesleyan Bible Commentary, Lee Haines wrote,
The relationship of Genesis to the whole of religion is one of primary importance: it is in all things the beginning. For all the questions which have tortured the mind and soul of man about himself and his place under the sun, it contains the beginnings of the most profound and satisfying answer. For all the rest of divine revelation it is the foundation, introducing all the important themes of Scripture, all the doctrines of the Christian faith, giving to the other books perspective and meaning. In Genesis all the rest is found in embryo. Without Genesis all the rest would be a haunting riddle.8
For this reason, getting side-tracked on issues of little importance or misinterpreting Genesis is a hindrance to the proper interpretation of other Scripture. Here it is important to notice how the lessons of Genesis are repeated or developed in Scripture; for example, how God's role as Creator is emphasized in such Scripture as Job 38-41, Psalms 19 and 33, Isaiah 40, the prologue to John's Gospel, Acts 17:24-29, and Revelation 4. Beyond this, any interpretation which is foreign to that which has been widely held and considered orthodox in the Christian community must be discarded, or at the very least held strongly suspect. In other words, interpretations that contradict traditional, orthodox Christian teachings or where earlier interpreters did not voice that specific interpretation are unsound. An extreme example would be interpreting God to have a physical body like man (apart from the incarnation of Jesus Christ) because in Genesis 3:8 God was "walking in the garden." Such an interpretation of God (making Him bodily like a man) finds no basis in orthodox, Christian teaching and is clearly contradicted by other Scripture such as Acts 17:24-29.
Within these bounds, the door must be open to increasing our understanding of the relationship between science and Scripture because there is much to learn and much we may never fully understand. Nevertheless, the primary teachings of Genesis, those foundational to the rest of Scripture, have always been clear to those who follow the guidelines given above.
A proper attitude towards Genesis follows a proper understanding of and commitment to Jesus Christ. A proper understanding of Genesis comes from paying careful attention to how the teachings of Genesis are repeated, developed, and referred to throughout Scripture, but particularly in the New Testament. It is this that helps us to understand that the teachings of the New Testament did not stem from the common views of New Testament times but from the revelation God has graciously provided for us in Holy Scripture. And it is the understanding of these teachings that, in turn, help us to place other Scripture in its proper context.
Those who find this fact disturbing should consider the full consequences. It is true that Genesis discusses some of the darkest and most disturbing truths about the human race. But it should not disturb us that God speaks to us about the most unattractive parts of human nature. The very fact that they appear in Scripture is an indication of hope – because if there were no hope there would be no reason for God to speak to us about them. And this reason for hope is confirmed in that it is in Genesis that God also begins to shine the brightest and warmest rays of hope. When redemption through the death of Christ at Calvary is foretold in the protoevangelium of Genesis 3:15, and when God points to the stars to indicate Abraham's offspring in Genesis 15:5, we should see ourselves, you and me, as included in those verses. For we were, even then, the potential beneficiaries of God's gracious plan of salvation through Jesus Christ. --SMD
1 Francis A. Schaeffer, Genesis in Space and Time (Downers Grover: Intervarsity Press, 1972.
2 Michael Behe, Darwin's Black Box (New York: The Free Press, 1996). Dr. Behe is Associate Professor of Biochemistry at LeHigh University.
3 Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers, Warner Books Edition (New York: Warner Books, Inc., 1978), 105, 106.
4 John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley, Third Edition, Complete and Unabridged, 14 vols., ed. Thomas Jackson (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, reprinted 1978 from the 1872 edition issued by the Wesleyan Methodist Book Room, London), Volume 9, 191-464.
5 Wesley, Sermon LXIV, "Original Sin," Ibid., Volume 6, 63.
6 Thomas C. Oden, John Wesley's Scriptural Christianity (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 157.
7 Ibid., 155, 156.
8 Lee Haines, "The Book of Genesis: Introduction," The Wesleyan Bible Commentary, Volume I, Part 1, Charles W. Carter ed. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), 20.
Other writings at our web site regarding basic Christian doctrines, Methodism, and the church today include:
John Wesley's sermons are available online at The Wesley Center for Applied Theology, http://wesley.nnu.edu/
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This page was last updated January 28, 2006.