There isn’t a lot going on in the world of theology, philosophy, and science on December 30, 2011. Yet, at Southern Evangelical Seminary (SES) in Charlotte, NC there was a packed room of 200+ people listening to a two hour presentation on the days of creation.
Such an event might be a failure unless you have a competent, witty Irishman who is bilingual in both biblical interpretation and scientific inquiry. Though technically Dr. John Lennox is a mathematician, his long, tenured career at the University of Wales and his current post at the University of Oxford has seen him engage in the science-faith debate and take upon the vocation of a Christian apologist. Lennox is well-known for his debates with the so-called ‘new atheists’ such as Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens.
The lecture at SES was entitled “Seven Days that Divide the World” based on his book by the same title. After a humorous introduction to the evening by Dr. Richard Howe, Professor of Philosophy and Apologetics at SES, Lennox continued the evening filled with laughter in his hour long lecture followed by a thirty minute Q&A session.
Lennox first noted his background, being born in sectarian Northern Ireland to Christian, non-sectarian parents who encouraged him in his studies. While a college student, Lennox was greatly influenced by C.S. Lewis and even attended Lewis’ final lectures. Interactions with agnostics and other non-theists motivated Lennox to pursue apologetical goals in his career.
The book authored by Lennox was written in response to numerous conversations had with college students. The beginning story in Genesis 1-3 is a crucial text for Christians who live in a scientifically-driven culture and want to hold to the orthodox Christian faith. Even if, as Lennox noted, Christianity undergirded the rise of science after the Reformation, today’s scientific culture appears antithetical to Christianity.
Yet, Lennox contended that Scripture doesn’t contradict science. Rightly interpreted, science is coherent with Scripture and even confirms what Scripture said several millennium ago (e.g. Aristotelian notion of an eternal universe versus the more recent notion since the 1980s that the universe had a beginning). In an interesting note, Lennox spoke of how long it took for the scientific establishment to admit twentieth century discoveries in cosmology to break away from Aristotelian science since many didn’t want to give credence to theism.
Regarding the integration of Scripture and science, Lennox positively stated that while the Bible is not interested in many scientific details, the mandate for science comes from the Bible. Indeed, the “Bible and science aren’t non-intersecting magisteria. Genesis 1:1 describes the same cosmos that the cosmologists study!” Compromise must not be surrendered to for either Scripture or science, Lennox noted. There must be real harmony between both.
Lennox then spoke about the focus of his book and lecture, the days of Genesis 1. A disclaimer by Lennox stated that disagreement over this issue must be done with respect among fellow Christians. Lennox also admitted that his proposal is a modest, humble one since there is more to the Genesis text than meets the eye. The emotion of this debate needs to be dissipated, and Lennox noted how this debate is more heated in America than it ever was in Europe.
The running illustration used by Lennox was Galileo’s revolutionary discovery of a heliocentric universe over the long accepted geocentric model. If the debate today among evangelical Christians is between young earthers and old earthers, the debate in Galileo’s days was between fixed earthers and moving earthers. The fixed earthers, representing geocentricism, appealed to the ‘literal’ and plain meaning of 1 Chron 16:30, “The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved.” Galileo and other heliocentrists saw more than one natural reading of the text.
After painting this historical debate for the audience, Lennox noted that the term ‘literal’ is unhelpful today even if Calvin and others employed it more responsibly. Lennox pointed out that biblical words often have more than one sense or definition to them. The term ‘earth’ has different meanings in Genesis 1, and Jesus’ I AM statements in John’s gospel (e.g. “I am the Door”) substantiate this claim. Even our own vernacular demonstrates this. “The car is flying down the road,” does not mean what it ‘literally’ means.
What does this mean for interpreting Genesis 1? Lennox suggested that one approach the text carefully since the familiarity with the text might make one miss crucial details. An important exegetical rule is to not say anything less than Scripture says or anything more than Scripture says. Another point raised by Lennox is that the difficulty in interpreting the days of Genesis didn’t originate with Darwin. Non-traditional views of Genesis 1 were taught by Justin Martyr (who held something close to the day-age view), Clement (timeless creation), Augustine (instantaneous creation), Origen (discrepancies between days one and four).
Lennox then covered the important question of chronology in the Genesis text. After stating the three camps of interpretation (24 hour, day-age, literary framework), Lennox pointed out that the Bible may speak in a non-chronological sense regarding creation (Isaiah 45:12 says the earth and mankind were created before God stretched out the heavens). Yet, there must be at least some sense of chronology in Genesis 1 since there appears to be a logical, chronological order of creation.
The most interesting portion of Lennox’s lecture concerned the discussion of the word ‘day’ in Genesis 1. Lennox noted that even if one holds to a 24 hour view, not every instance of ‘day’ in Genesis 1 means 24 hours. There are at least four uses, according to Lennox. First, the light is called “day” on day one (Gen 1:5). Second, the sequence of creation days followed by the refrain “evening and morning” (which Lennox initially grants could be 24 hours). Lennox noted, though, that only days six and seven have a definite article while the other days do not. Third, the seventh day, the Sabbath, is a unique days since it is not followed by the refrain “evening and morning” and is technically still in effect. Finally, the entire creation act is called a day. (Gen 2:4)
The discussion got even more interesting as Lennox presented a hypothesis that day one of the creation period was not necessarily the beginning of the cosmos since the description of the cosmos in Genesis 1:1-2 precedes the narrative material beginning in Genesis 1:3. Lennox humorously pointed out that, on this view, one could be an old earth six day creationist! Lennox finally concluded his exegesis in noting that the text could be speaking of six days of a normal earth week or just six days of God speaking. (The latter option is close to what is known as the analogical days view as taught by Herman Bavinck, John C. Collins, and Vern Poythress.)
Concluding his lecture, Lennox admitted that the Genesis 1 text is ambiguous on the issue of the earth’s age. However, Lennox conceded that the text could legitimately be understood as teaching a young earth, but a faithful understanding of the text doesn’t require such a conclusion. The final question put to the audience by Lennox was, “Why put the gospel on the line over this issue when you don’t have to?”
There were some highlights during the Q&A portion of the evening. The most notable comment from Lennox had to do with humility scientists should have in their work since the knowledge we will have a 100 years from now would make us marvel. Even when we are in heaven, when God finally reveals to us how he did it all, we will only shake our heads at our idiotic our own conceptions were. In addition, Lennox noted that while he is an old earth proponent, he does not hold to macroevolution regarding humanity. He strongly iterated that Genesis 2 teaches a special creation of Adam and Eve and that the dismissal of a first Adam does irrevocable damage to one’s view of the Second Adam.
Along with a strong crowd the night before new year’s eve, the excellent hosting of SES, and the entertaining nature of Lennox’s lecture, there was much to enjoy about the evening. A few comments are needed to summarize the content of the talk.
First, Lennox is an evangelical of the strongest type. He not only sees his vocation as having an evangelistic quality (he broke out a sermon or two during his lecture), but he also has a high view of the authority of Scripture. Even if one disagrees with Lennox’s conclusion about the days of Genesis or how science relates to Scripture, no one may competently claim that Lennox has a compromised view of Scripture or sees general revelation as having an equal authority with Scripture. Lennox publicly disagreed with Francis Collins’ view of human origins and held to the veracity of Genesis 2 in its teaching of a special creation of our first parents.
Second, the charitable nature of Lennox’s argument is to be commended. I have argued elsewhere that both old earthers and young earthers need to see this exegetical issue as having a secondary, open-handed quality that is not on par with more central doctrines such as penal substitutionary atonement, the final judgment, etc. I heard many in the audience utter an appropriate ‘amen’ when Lennox pleaded that we not put the gospel on the line when talking about these issues.
Third, Lennox argument ‘against’ a six day view was well articulated. In reading literature written by six day proponents, there is a repeated failure to come to grips with the complexity and artistry of Genesis 1. I myself had never given much thought to the four uses of the word ‘day’ in the Genesis text. Even the discussion about Genesis 1:1-2 was intriguing.
Fourth, Lennox was onto something in speaking about non-literal language in Scripture. The point by Lennox is that we distinguish Jesus’ use of the word ‘door’ about himself from a literal interpretation because as creatures made in God’s image living in God’s world, we simply know better. While he didn’t use this particular ‘p’ word, Lennox was appealing to the phenomenological quality of language that we often take for granted. This goes beyond a mere recognition of literary genre in Scripture, since even narrative prose uses phenomenological language.
Fifth, I was impressed that Lennox showed a lot of respect for the six day position. He admitted in the end that the six day view is exegetically possible. In other words, there is no necessary contradiction in Genesis 1-2 that should prevent one from holding such a view. Now, one may think the analogical days or literary framework perspective is a better interpretation, but the six day view cannot be so easily dismissed. Lennox also admitted that the text could be teaching a young earth perspective.
However, I wonder what Lennox would argue is the best strategy for young earthers to take in demonstrating coherence between scientific data and their interpretation of Scripture. For the record, Lennox did say he was familiar with Gerald Schroeder’s work on this subject. Schroeder, an orthodox Jew, is a young earther who employs Einstein’s theory of general relativity to handle cosmological evidence in making a case for a young earth. In a jovial moment, Lennox stated he still doesn’t understand all of Schroeder’s theory, but he claimed that it is not so far fetched to say that Schroeder could be right.
Sixth, while I have not read Lennox’s book and thus do not know if he deals with this issue, I would tell Lennox that the strongest case for the six day position is actually the word yom or day. The presence of vav consecutives in Genesis 1 demonstrates that the pericope is narrative and not some form of exalted prose or poetic narrative. The refrain of “evening and morning” may be a poetic-type refrain, and the literary artistry and chiastic structure of the text are elements to behold, but such does not dismiss the clear genre. The gospel narratives exhibit similar qualities, yet no one would call them anything except narrative history.
If this is the case with Genesis 1, an important question to ask is, What would the original reading audience think about the text? While Lennox raises good questions about what the text could mean, he doesn’t deal with the question of original reading audience (though maybe he does in his book). One reason why I am more persuaded that a six day view is best suited for Genesis 1 is that the day age, literary framework, and analogical days views seem to overly complicate the text to the point that the narrative of the story might be lost to the origina reading audience. Now, I will grant that six day proponents have so blown up the issue concerning the length of the six days that they lose sight of the central meaning of the text, but the question regarding original reading audience is important to ask.
Finally, I would ask Lennox questions regarding the relationship between sociology of knowledge and scientific academia. There was more than one occasion where Lennox hinted at the presence of unfair biases, anti-religious sentiment, and frequent questioning of accepted scientific paradigms in the academy. Many Christians who aren’t involved in the sciences may wonder how much non-theistic presuppositions really do affect issues such as evolutionary biology, neuroscience, etc. From the brief statements I heard from Lennox, it seems that he would agree with Peter Berger’s notion of plausibility structures.
In conclusion, I would heartily recommend any lecture or debate featuring Lennox that you or your church may get your hands on. No rational evangelical Christian should be afraid of Lennox’s respectful exegesis and submission to the sacred text.
Daniel F. Wells is Licensed to preach in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. He is currently on staff at the Craig Avenue Tabernacle Church (ARP) in Charlotte, NC focusing on outreach and revitalization. This article was written on assignment from The Aquila Report.
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