Friday, May 8, 2015

Beginnings, again

Interesting to come across a new book on Genesis and the questions of origins from an Evangelical who has taught at two well known Christian colleges. I went to one of them and I did not get my Old Testament foundation from anyone like this! Evangelicals have changed. At first when I heard of this book I wondered why we need another book on Genesis to go over the same territory Evangelicals have fought over for years. Then, upon reading a couple reviews, I decided to take a look. This book is different. John Walton who wrote,  The Lost World of Adam and Eve, is a careful Old Testament scholar who goes where the text leads him. He does not read his Evangelical theology and traditions back into the text. He does not believe Genesis needs to be read as six literal creation days. Adam and Eve do not have to be the first human beings. The serpent does have to be the personification of satan. And Eve may have tasted fruit outside the garden and the temptation may have taken place there, as well. Walton is not afraid of asking the questions that are in the text and coming up with non - traditional answers - for an Evangelical. That is refreshing. Walton knows the world in which the Old Testament stories circulated and he frequently refers to those non - Israelite stories and the influence they may have had. I was pleasantly surprised by Walton's book. I am sure he will take some flack for it. I was also somehow dissatisfied by it. It is technical, academic, learned and a bit dry. It's the facts and the explanations and the cross cultural references but I found myself wondering where the mystery had gone. After a close analysis of Eden the big picture got lost. What does it all mean for me, for us?

Evangelicals have read Genesis (and the Bible) not closely enough usually depending on what the experts tell them is ok to believe. They have not read it imaginatively which is too bad because it is such a wonderful story. It is said the text cannot mean what it did not mean to the first readers (Walton makes much of this). So, when we are reasonably certain what it meant then we can know what it means so we can apply it to our situations. The problem is the Bible as a whole story of God's dealings with humanity for our good can mean things that the first readers would not have heard and that does not make the interpretation a bad one. Our applications can be different from what "theirs" were and how do we know what theirs were anyway?

The tendency of Evangelical scholars like Walton is to read the text so closely so they can say, definitively, what the text meant and means and how it is to be applied. That can inhibit creatively engaging with the text, too. We Evangelicals who are people of the Book, may be slightly intimidated by the Book and afraid to come up with a "wrong" interpretation. We have been warned about the likes of Bruggemann and Crossan and Borg. Except when we do read them we find our imaginations opening up. The text is saying something surprising to us and that is a good thing. The ten commandments may have been written in stone but the interpretation of the Bible was not. We can hear God speak to us today.

I am going to take a Bible (probably The Message) and start reading in Genesis. I am going to keep a journal and take notes on what I'm reading. I want to hear God's word anew, afresh, and not read it as if I know already what it means. I am going to take a guy like Bruggemann or some one else who is outside the Evangelical mainstream or who is not quite so Eurocentric and see what he has to say about the text. The stories in the Bible, as Bruggemann says, are not there to aid us in our theologizing but to "catch us in our living." I want to be caught.

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