Greetings in Christ! This is the seventh in a series of blog articles that deal with the age of the Earth from a Christian perspective. I am a Christian geologist who has been working in this field of science for 38 years. I take the Bible as the inerrant inspired word of God, as I have done since my youth. As explained in prior blogs, I believe the Earth is considerably older than 6000 years and I do not believe that this conflicts with Scripture. The immensity of this subject is more than book length. Due to the fact that my time and energy for writing on this subject is limited, all I can do is bite off a single small piece at a time. There are not many areas that I can speak with true authority, but this is one of them. I know my geology. I hope you will give me audience.
This is the eighth in a series of blog articles that deal with the age of the Earth from a Christian perspective. In this particular article I am going to address the underlying presuppositions by which we read our Bible that are imposed by cultural influences.
We Christians are strange people. We have literally based our hopes and lives on a man we have never met or seen, and much of what we know about Him is not too impressive. He came from a poor lower class Palestinian family decidedly different from our own. He grew up a blue-collar manual laborer working as a carpenter, He spoke a different language, belonged to a different ethnicity, and never wrote a single word of which we have record. No details of his appearance were ever recorded and that fact alone may indicate that his appearance was not striking and perhaps even unattractive.
So why do we follow Him? First and foremost because God has called us. Anyone who has ever sensed the presence of the Holy Spirit knows we are not believing the cold dead philosophy of a sadly deluded Palestinian. There is something special about this man that defies the insane, power hungry, or opportunistic labels attached to so many other powerful men in history. When we learned about Him, He did not become just another historical figure. God touched us with His life. There can be no doubt that this poor Palestinian carpenter that lived 2000 years ago still lives in our midst.
But we are left with something else as testimony beyond the unseen call of God. And this is a good thing. Our emotions and senses are tricky and frequently misleading. They can play games on us and are subject to our imagination, mental health, and mind-altering substances. What is this other testimony? It is a book — the Bible. Christianity in many ways is rightfully called a book religion. This Bible is a most unusual book written over centuries by around 40 authors, and in multiple languages. What if you knew of someone who was working on a book that would not be finished for eight centuries? It would be unthinkable.
How do we approach the Bible? How do we understand it? Why have so many people down through the ages studied this book and come away with such different conclusions, ideas, and even extremely different churches based on the Bible? Why has the Bible been used to support or oppose issues as varied as communism, capitalism, persecution of the Jews, asceticism, slavery, capital punishment, and a variety of science issues? Part of the answer is the fallen nature of man. We always try to rationalize and turn things to our own selfish advantage. But another part is clearly the underlying presuppositions with which we approach the Bible. In this short blog I am going to attempt to "go where angels fear to tread" and address these presuppositions.
My knowledge of this subject comes heavily from two sources that have greatly influenced my theology over the years. The first is the books of well known Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer. The second is a lesser known Doctor of Theology by the name of Lynn Mitchell. He was the sole Protestant professor at the Catholic St. Thomas Univ. in Houston at the time I took his classes. These men led me to other reading that is too much to try to detail here.
In order for us to receive the full effects and teachings of the Scriptures we must be able to read and understand them in the sense in which they were written. When you pick up your Bible, from what viewpoint do you read it? Is it Western thinking, middle-upper class, educated? Is it as an engineer, lawyer or scientist? Is it as a Baptist, Presbyterian or Catholic? Or is it from the viewpoint of someone steeped in Hebrew-Judaeo tradition as were the Bible's writers? Is there any chance you could be carrying philosophical baggage that may be affecting your understanding of the Bible? And if so, what might that baggage be?
Those of you who have read Francis Schaeffer will understand what I am talking about. Schaeffer chronicles the march of man's thought-forms through time. He takes us from the Apostle Paul to Augustine to Aquinas to Hegel, Kierkegaard and the modern existentialist thinkers. His message is that man does not live in a cultural/philosophical vacuum. We are all a product of our culture. Any possibility of thinking outside of our cultural bias can only come by way of conscious forced correction.
The fact is that whether or not you have read or even heard about Plato, you have been influenced by him. The same goes for Aquinas and Augustine. It extends from the most educated to the least educated of our society. It is part of our inherited culture. Our culture has specific philosophical roots and we are a product of it.
We in the Western world are inheritors of two primary cultures — Greek classical and Hebrew-Judaeo-Christian. Therefore we are a Greek philosophy-influenced culture. We read our Bibles heavily as if it were written by Greeks and it was not, so we have trouble understanding some of it. The typical way we read it, is as if it were written by someone who was interested in intellectual doctrine and science. The Hebrews were not interested in that; the Greeks were. The Hebrews were after something much more vital. The Greeks had admirable philosophical systems but in some ways they are diametrically opposed to Hebrew-Judaeo theology, which can introduce distortions in our reading of the Bible. We have trouble grasping the fact that the Bible has virtually no philosophy or science in the proper definition of those words.
This journey in our time machine is difficult for us to take; for we are Greek rather than Hebrew in our orientation, and under the influence of Greek thought. It is only by the exertion of considerable effort that we can understand the biblical world. We pursue knowledge by the road of dissection rather than by the path of fusion. When we want to understand something, we pull it apart; we break it into its constituent parts and examine each particle microscopically. This is our habitual pattern in philosophy, psychology, history, literary criticism, physical and biological sciences, no less than in our study of the Bible.
Renchkens, Henricus, 1964, Israel's Concept of the Beginning
To try to be as specific as possible, the following is a list of points that contrast the two world views in my best attempt to summarize them.
• Hebrew-Judaeo man (HJ) is concerned with the cargo; Western man (WM) with the cart
• HJ with spiritual meaning; WM with meaning in science and technology
• HJ with personal relationships; WM with physical relationships
• HJ with unity of knowledge; WM with specialized partitioned knowledge
• HJ with metaphor and symbol oriented language; WM with fact-oriented language
• HJ with comprehension of concepts; WM with comprehension of intellectual doctrine, study techniques, methodology, inductive reasoning, syllogism, etc.
• HJ with the flow of time; WM with the chronology of time
• HJ with harmony in relationships; WM with harmony in science
• HJ with wisdom; WM with knowledge
• HJ with unity of community; WM with emphasis on the individual
• HJ with organizations that emphasize personal relationships; WM with organizations that emphasize structure and efficiency
• HJ with spiritual things; WM with physical things
• HJ is tolerant of mystery and paradox; WM insists on answers for the unknown and unclear
The biggest negative impact Greek influence has had on Christianity if that we tend to trivialize the Bible by looking for facts instead of meaning, structure instead of relationship, doctrine instead of wisdom, and minute detail instead of spiritual depth. In so doing, we nourish a love for factual knowledge instead of a love for God and our fellow man.
I hope you can see how this applies to the current discussion at hand, namely the age of the Earth in Genesis. The Bible is not talking about science. It never intentionally gives us scientific information. Why is this? First and foremost, science is simply unimportant compared to the other information the Bible is conveying to us. The only way we manage to see any science in the Bible is because of our cultural predisposition to do so. We read into it what we want to see. Secondly, if God actually conveyed science to us, it would not have been understood in the past and it would not be understood today. The reality that underlies all things that has been created by God would be too much for our feeble minds to comprehend. Third, intentionally giving us science would be a harmful thing. We have already attained the capability of blowing up our world with nuclear bombs. There are good reasons why God has not allowed our science and technology to progress any faster than it has.
Once again I hope you are patient and forgiving of me tackling such an ambitious topic in so few words. This blog article alone deserves book-length treatment, but I deemed it better to say this much than to say nothing at all.
Blessings and keep the faith!