Quite obviously, one very important part of a Christian’s life is learning about the Bible: what it is, how to interpret it, and what role does it play in the individual life of a Christian and the corporate life of the Church. It should also be quite obvious that people do not always agree on just what portions of the Bible say, particularly on a number of hot-button issues like the role of women, homosexuality, and the always ever-so-lovely “creation/evolution debate.”
What I have realized is that, although there will always be differences of opinion in regards how to interpret various passages of Scripture, the major reason why there is so much difference of opinion on certain subjects is that many Christians simply don’t know what the Bible even says, and they end up reading into the Bible their own prejudices and assumptions. It’s what scholars call “eisegesis.” When, therefore, you learn something new about the Bible, one that shatters a particular assumption you might have had, you have a choice: either admit you were wrong and reassess your understanding of that particular passage in light of that new truth, or refuse to admit you could be wrong, reject that truth, and continue to plunge headlong into further ignorance.
Here’s just one example: the term “apocalypse” doesn’t mean the future-telling of the end of the world. It literally means “uncovering”—and it was a genre of literature in which writers claimed to “uncover” (or “reveal”) what God was doing in the present situation of persecution. So yes, that’s right, John wasn’t writing about Nicolae Carpathia from the “Left Behind” series. What are you going to do with that?
In any case, over the next few posts I’m going to give an quasi-in-depth book review of N.T. Wright’s book Surprised by Scripture, in which he goes through what the Bible has to say about a number of contemporary issues. The reason why this will take a few posts is because, quite frankly, I have a hard time writing short posts. If I were to review this book all in one post, it would be one quite long, and off-putting post. Instead, I’ll take bite-sized pieces, so we can all enjoy the banquet that N.T. Wright has cooked up.
For those of you who don’t know who N.T. Wright is, he is possibly the most influential New Testament scholar of our day. He was also the Bishop of Durham in the Anglican Church for a time. And for those of you who don’t know what that means, it basically means that he was the number two guy in the entire Anglican Church, right below the Archbishop of Canterbury.
In any case, Wright, in addition to having a perfect name for a New Testament scholar (NT Wright? Really? I want to change my name to O.T. Veracious!), has written an incredible amount of not only scholarly books, but also an equal number of books in which he takes his scholarly work and tries to make it digestible for the average, non-scholarly reader. At the end of this post, I’ll list a few of my favorite books by Wright.
Surprised by Scripture is one of those books aimed for the average reader. But don’t be deceived, the material he covers is still extremely controversial, so if you don’t like to be challenged, then forego his book. But of course, if you do have a backbone, read at least these next few posts.
Chapter 1: Healing the Divide Between Science and Religion
Yes…let’s start off with something easy! Here in Evangelical America, as soon as you hear “science and religion,” you also hear “evolution vs. creation: let’s get ready to rumble!” Well, I’m sure I’ll touch upon that topic in more detail in later posts, let me just share a few things Wright points out.
Instead of starting with the modern debate, Wright begins by taking us back to a very interesting time: ancient Greece. Why? Because there really is nothing new under the sun. Here’s the problem in a nutshell: the modern “creation/evolution debate” is not really about actual scientific claims; for that matter, it isn’t really even about philosophical worldviews. The modern “creation/evolution debate” is a debate that is thoroughly rooted in one philosophical worldview that actually goes back to the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus. The philosophy he started, quite obviously, was Epicureanism.
Epicureanism taught that “the gods” had nothing to do with our world. Life in the material world is life in the material world, and when you die, you’re done. The gods don’t interfere in any way, so go ahead and enjoy your life while you can. Quite obviously, with the rise of Christianity, and the proclamation that God is immensely involved with this world, so much so that he sent his Son to redeem and transform the world, Epicureanism fell by the wayside throughout most of Church history.
Then something—two things really—happened in the 16th-18th centuries. First, with the Reformation, Protestants rebelled against the Catholic notion that God was some sort of bully in the sky who longed to interfere with your life. Second, there was the Enlightenment, where philosophers latched upon the recent scientific discoveries, and then spun those discoveries to revive the long-abandoned Epicurean philosophy. “Science shows that the universe runs on ‘natural laws,’ therefore, even if there is a God, he clearly doesn’t have anything to do with the material world.” And voila! Deism was born! It was simply Epicureanism with the language of modern science…but it still was Epicureanism nonetheless. It regulated “God” to another corner of the universe, and insisted that there was no room for intervention in the natural world by the supernatural world.
This Enlightenment/Epicurean worldview is so imbedded in our modern world, that even well-meaning Christians have adopted it, not realizing just how unbiblical it is. Wright points out the very use of the word “miracle” betrays this Enlightenment worldview. The traditional definition of “miracle” goes something like this: “God set the world up to run according to ‘natural laws,’ but every now and then He decides to ‘intervene’ and thus temporarily suspend those ‘natural laws’—that’s how Jesus healed lepers, walked on water, and rose from the dead.”
Now don’t get me wrong, I believe those things happened—I just wouldn’t call them “miracles” because the very word “miracle” is a made up word that stems from the Enlightenment worldview that assumes that in order for God to act in the world, that he must “break natural laws” and disrupt the natural order of things. Ah, but you might say, “But wait! The word ‘miracle’ is in the Bible!”
Well…no it isn’t. The word translated into English with the word “miracle” is often one of two words in Greek, and proper translation of those word is “sign” for one, and “dynamic deed” for the other. The reason why that is important is because neither of those words carry with the false Enlightenment presupposition that the natural world is “here,” that God is “over there,” and that in order for “God over there” to affect the “natural world here,” that he has to violate some sort of natural law.
Simply put, the biblical worldview, and the proper Christian worldview, does not view God as a deity that only occasionally intervenes into the natural world via some sort of “miracle.” The biblical worldview sees God as intimately involved with His creation at all times. There never is a time when He isn’t involved. Therefore, what we have come to describe as “natural laws” are God’s consistent way of doing things that we can understand. But Christians do not limit God’s actions to “natural laws.” We admit that there are other things God does that we can’t understand. Enlightenment thinkers call those things “miracles,” and eventually regulate them to non-existence. Biblical writers called them “signs” and “dynamic deeds” that further testify to the power and mystery of God and his dealing with the natural world.
Another interesting thing Wright points out, particularly in regards to many Americans who reject Darwinism out of hand, on the grounds that it is “unbiblical,” is that these very people actually applaud the applications of “survival of the fittest” in many other ways: America should essentially impose its will on other nations in order to ensure our survival; if those poor people are too lazy to work, then why should the government help them to survive on the hard-earned income of other who do work? Does that hit a bit too close to home? It certainly made me do a double-take!
The Real Problem and Real Battle
Wright is essentially arguing that the real problem in the supposed “battle between science and religion” isn’t where most people think. The problem is that atheists like Richard Dawkins and young earth creationists like Ken Ham actually share the same Enlightenment worldview, and they both use Darwinism (albeit in vastly different ways) to justify their respective position on a variety of social and political issues. Does that cause a severe brain cramp? It should…I told you this book was challenging and good.
Both Dawkins and Ham’s fundamental understanding of God and nature is based on an unbiblical, deistic, Enlightenment worldview that is misleading and blinding both many atheists and well-meaning Christians alike. That fact completely blows my mind. Yet the older I get, the more I see that it really is true.
Genesis and Creation
So what is the biblical view of creation? Wright points out that New Testament writers like Paul inherited their doctrine of creation, not from modern science, but from the ancient biblical vision of Genesis, that described creation not in the terms of modern science, but in the highly poetic language of their day. And the point of the Genesis account, therefore, was to emphasize the “wisdom, goodness, and power of the God” who made creation.
Furthermore, Wright points something else out that is so obvious that we often miss it. God created “a world that will then make itself.” Everything in the world is commanded to “be fruitful and multiply,” and as Wright puts it, “be dependent co-creators.”
The point of Genesis 1 is to introduce a theme that runs throughout the entire Bible, both the Old and New Testaments: this world has been created to be God’s Temple, where He communes and interacts with human beings within His creation. It is to be the place that is filled with God’s glory, and that is cared for and ruled over by creatures that bear His image.
Simply put, Genesis 1 is not about process—it is about purpose. It is not about how creation came about—it is about the purpose for which creation exists. If you get that straight, then you’ll be able to see that all the claims both Dawkins and Ham makes, about how “if evolution is true, then the Bible is false and there is no God” are simply unfounded. Both are working from a deistic and Epicurean worldview and wrongly assuming that it is, in fact, the Christian and Biblical worldview…which it isn’t.
Wright ends the chapter elaborated on two more points. First, in light of the fact that Genesis 1 tells us about God’s purpose for creation (i.e. to be His Temple where he communes with human beings), Wright also points out that Genesis 3 (and the most of the Bible from that point on) tells the story about how human beings have failed to be God’s image-bearers, and how, instead of caring for and ruling creation, instead of offering it up to God as an act of worship to Him, human being ended up worshiping the creation itself, and thereby incurred death. The entire Old Testament is a “testament” to that very thing being played out time and time again in the life of Israel.
The Good News, though, is the second point: the Gospel is that Jesus, the true human being, who is the image of God Himself, has come to set creation to rights. He is God’s Temple, and those who put their faith in Him, become part of that Temple. It is what Wright calls “a new temple project.” In Christ, God’s original purpose for His creation is fulfilled—it is the New Creation. Yet things aren’t over yet. Those who are called in Christ—the Church—have a calling: to proclaim, bear witness to, and usher in the New Creation. We, in Christ, are the New Adam, and we, as image-bearers of God are called to care for, serve, and offer up to God His New Creation. In Christ, God’s glory fills His creation.
With that said, Wright looks back to the “religion vs. science” and “evolution vs. creation” battle over the past 100 years and shrugs: that whole thing is a sideshow, founded not on the Biblical worldview, but on the Enlightenment worldview, distracting everyone from trying to live out the Biblical purpose of creation and mankind. As Wright says, if we truly grasp the Biblical worldview, “it wouldn’t simply be a matter of finding a way to reconcile atheistic science with rationalistic Christianity, either by letting them live in separate spheres or finding some kind of awkward in-between accommodation. That simply perpetuates the split-level Epicurean worldview that I have been argued has been the problem all along….”
Simply put, Wright is saying this: The only way you get a “religion vs. science” or “creation vs. evolution” debate in the first place is if you jettison the Biblical worldview in favor of a re-hashed Epicurean worldview of Enlightenment deism, and then mistake that for a Biblical worldview.
So, here’s a question for you: What are your thoughts on Christianity, the Bible, Science, and the supposed “creation vs. evolution” debate? I’d love to hear your thoughts, or questions!