A few weeks ago, Hunter asked why evangelicals seem obsessed with the proper interpretation of Genesis when, ahem, we are evangelicals. Which means we’re centered on the gospel, the good news about the historical reality of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
It’s a fair question. I suspect that you can draw a line between more traditional evangelicals and the so called “young evangelicals” based on how they want to read Genesis. And if I may unfairly stereotype for a moment, both sides of the movement tend to emphasize their preferred aspects of the book.
So on the one hand, old-school evangelicals discover both sanction for traditional sexual arrangements therein and that making the text compatible with evolution is extremely tricky, if not impossible. On the other hand, the younger set takes their sexual cues from the resurrection (preferring not to think about the so-called “order of creation”) while using Genesis to highlight their culture-making activities and their environmental concerns.*
Of course, each side might want to claim elements of the other side for their own. The above is simply what both sets tend to emphasize in their interpretations of the book.
I’d like to suggest–in strictly tentative fashion as a hypothesis that I am amusing myself with these days–that as important as each of those questions are, none of them should be the starting point for our doctrine of creation. Prior to the question of how the world comes into being is a question of the nature of being itself. Which is to say, metaphysics, which evangelicals seem particularly averse to. In the order of questions, how the world came into being, or whether the world is good, or what responsibilities we have toward the world are all derivative upon the questions of what the world is and how it is to be understood in reference to the Creator.
In that sense, the doctrine of creation must be a doctrine. It must be explicitly theological. And so our knowledge of creation cannot be separated from our knowledge of the creator, for what does it mean to know creation as creation if we do not understand its relationship to its Maker? ”We believe in God, the maker of heaven and earth.” It is a reality that we must confess, but it is a reality about God and his relationship to creation, not the means by which he created the creation. While that can be read to provide cover for theological evolutionists (of which I am not one), my point is simply that our problems in the doctrine of creation might be further upstream than we imagine.
Here, then, is the second part of my hypothesis: the evangelical focus on certain aspects of Genesis have to do with our sense that the Resurrection breaks with the created order, rather than re-establishes it. As Oliver O’Donovan has put it, “New creation is creation renewed, a restoration and enhancement, not an abolition…God has announced his kingdom in a Second Adam, and “Adam” means “Human.”
If we thought that, then we may be able to fit creation as a doctrine more easily into our theological systems, rather than reducing it to the relationship between science and the Bible or us and the environment.
In short, our doctrine of creation is simply too small. We need to move back beyond the first pages of Genesis to the reality of God Himself, a God who brings being out of non-being (a metaphysical claim if I’ve ever heard one!). Only when we know him will we understand the creation which he has fashioned.
*As a side note, I’m not sure how many people noticed in Andy Crouch’s excellent book how he integrates the family into culture, but it’s probably the most interesting aspect of his book that was maybe the least talked about.
Addendum: Did I mention that these are hypotheses? I’m no expert in these matters, so if you want a full treatment on the topic, I suggest reading this. And if you want the cliff’s notes version to that, check out here.