Saturday, July 9, 2011

Coming to Grips with Genesis by Dr. Terry Mortenson and Thane Ury

book cover

Coming to Grips with Genesis
by Dr. Terry Mortenson and Thane Ury

ISBN-13: 9780890515488
Trade Paperback: 486 pages
Publisher: Master Books
Released: 2008, 2010

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description from Back Cover:
Fourteen theological scholars address key topics related to the age of the earth, which is the crucial issue of debate in the church today regarding origins. Bringing to bear rigorous biblical, theological, and historical arguments in favor of a six-day creation, the global Flood, and a young earth, they also provide much-needed critiques of a number of contemporary old-earth interpretations of the book of Genesis.

This fresh defense of the literal history of Genesis 1-11 nicely complements other studies which focus more on the scientific evidence of young-earth creationism. As such, this book can serve as a versatile supplement to other works, but is also designed to be used as a standalone text for seminary and Bible college professors and students, pastors, missionaries, and others who want in-depth apologetic resources.

Coming to Grips with Genesis: Biblical Authority and the Age of the Earth includes:

  • Forewords by Dr. John MacArthur, President of the Master?s Seminary and Senior Pastor of Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, CA; and the late Dr. Henry Morris, Founder and President Emeritus, Institute for Creation Research
  • Detailed analysis of the verbs of Genesis 1
  • A defense of the Genesis 5 & 11 genealogies as strict chronologies
  • Reasons for rejecting millions of years of death and natural evil before Adam's sin
  • Careful reflection on Jesus' teachings regarding a young earth

My Review:
Coming to Grips with Genesis is a collection of 14 articles discussing the different interpretations of Genesis 1-11. Though written by 14 separate scholars, there's surprisingly little overlap of material and a high consistency in quality.

It's written in a formal tone. Some articles get somewhat technical when talking about the original language, and the authors assume you know something about Hebrew grammar. However, the footnotes explain a technical point in more detail for those who don't know this information. There's excellent footnoting, so you always know where the information or quote came from. I also liked that the authors quoted the people in question so the reader could see for themselves what was said. Overall, if you have questions about the topics covered or want to be better able to argue the points, then I'd highly recommend this book.

Chapter 1, 2, 3, and 14 explored how Christian theological leaders before the 19th century viewed Genesis 1-11, especially how long they thought God took to create everything. Chapters 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 discussed the different ways Genesis 1 & 2 are interpreted, how to properly interpret Scripture as a whole and how that applies to Genesis 1 & 2, and is nature/general revelation equal in authority to Scripture/special revelation.

Chapter 9 talked about Noah's Flood, especially about the timeline of what happened and what one would expect to find now in the rock layers as a result of the Flood. Chapter 10 discussed the type of genealogies are in Genesis 5 and 11 and how accurate they are for chronological purposes. Chapter 11 and 12 pointed out how Jesus and the apostles viewed Genesis (as real history and real people or otherwise). Chapter 13 discussed how having death and suffering before creation was completed (as long geological ages demands) affects Christian theology.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One:
The opening chapters of Genesis are the most foundational in all of Scripture. Indeed, for the Christian faith, nothing makes lasting sense if these chapters are undermined. Here the foundation of nearly every major Christian theme can be found. This explains in part why the early Church writers dealt so much with these chapters, reminding us in the process that the history of theological development is essentially the history of exegesis.

From the early days of the Church, appeals to patristic exegesis have always played a key role in theological debate and helped to clarify the parameters of orthodoxy. The controversies over Christological, Trinitarian, and canonizing matters were intense, and sometimes took centuries to resolve. But what God-fearing Christian today is not profoundly grateful for those like Athanasius in the early community of faith, who risked even their lives to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3; NKJV).

Fast-forward to our day, where the controversy over the age of the earth continues. There has been a renewal of interests in the Church fathers, and how they handled matters such as the length of the creation days, the age of the earth, and the Genesis Flood. Since their voice on theological matters has always been coveted, it would be expected that, along with a cautious use of their wisdom, there is also a tendency with some to misread the patristic literature. The teachings of the fathers can be just as surely taken out of context, eisegeted, or muffled altogether, as the Scriptures can be.

It is not insignificant that notable authors have recruited some fathers as accepting the idea of deep time. Scholars like William G.T. Shedd believe some in the patristic era taught the day-age theory. Henri Blocher claims Augustine held to a framework type view. Arthur Custance finds a champion of the gap theory in Origen. Such diversity of opinion can be highly confusing to the layperson, and leads us to ask four important questions. First, which specific ancient treatises were these modern scholars using to class the ancients into such post-Darwinian sounding categories? Second, were there any treatises or resources these modern writers overlooked? Third, if there were overlooked resources, was this innocent oversight due to perhaps consulting only secondary sources? And fourth, if these men were presented with sufficient patrological counter-evidence, would they acknowledge this in subsequent writings? This chapter aims to counter some of the misreadings of the fathers, and provide clarity by analyzing the original sources to see if their writings aid and abet modern deep-time theories.

Contemporary Misreadings of the Fathers
Proponents of the day-age view and framework hypothesis claim six-day creationism is of fairly recent vintage, and a reactionary movement against uniformitarian or proto-Darwinian ideas. They propose that prominent early Church exegetes pursued theological meaning as of the highest priority (rather than historical meaning), and would not identify with modern young-earth theses.

While some may wonder whether their views have any relevance in the current debate, others, such as Hugh Ross, know the value that a theological position has if it can claim the imprimatur of the Church fathers.

Thus, like Shedd, Blocher, and Custance, Ross makes an attempt to buttress his old-earth position with some patristic clout. And four common lines of reasoning seem to link all their proposals. First, these modern old-earth advocates think that at the time when the Church was clarifying and fortifying its creeds, the age of the earth was less vital to the fundamentals of Christianity. Second, it is implied (if not stated), if these God-fearing men from the past (the fathers) felt comfortable with a wide spectrum of exegetical method and hermeneutical conclusions on the age of the cosmos, we should emulate them. Third, they say, we have sufficient patristic confirmation that young-earth creationism was not the position of the Early Church, and definitely not compulsory to classic orthodoxy. And, fourth, when modern scholars invoke Augustine and others as comfortable with deep time, the pivotal premise seems to be that belief in millions of years is not a fallback concession brought on by uniformitarianism, but has always been a position compatible with orthodoxy.

Christians should be aware of the great cloud of witnesses in Church history, and a judicious use of the fathers can be both relevant and edifying. And even though the Christian’s highest and final authority should always be Scripture, the more knowledge of Church history one has, the better. In being tutored by the fathers, we will be better armed to discern and respond to the novel theological heterodoxies in their day and ours.

Read the Table of Contents and an excerpt from Chapter One.

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