The authors profess belief in an inerrant Bible. They grant further that, before 1859, Christians generally read Genesis in a literal way. Yet they believe also that science has proven that the earth is 4.7 billion years old and that life has evolved from primitive forms to humans about 30,000 years ago.
This places them before a dilemma: “the book of nature (science) and the book of Scripture cannot contradict each other.” Their proposal is to simply re-interpret the offending biblical passages. Here they defer to the “incarnational” approach to Scripture of Peter Enns. Enns stresses the human aspect of the Bible which, he says, is shown in its numerous errors and contradictions. According to Enns, Gen.1-11 is full of ancient myth, which the Bible narrator mistakenly accepted as factual.
The authors contend that Genesis 1 & 2 do not intend to tell us how God created. It has the same form as pagan creation myths, but with a different theological message. God accommodated himself to the world of his chosen people. Genesis conveys deep theological truths in terms of creation concepts well known throughout the ancient world. It constitutes a Hebrew worldview statement about God, the originator of all things, and their identity as God’s people.
In short, the book’s basic stance is that science addresses questions of how natural processes began and continue to develop, while the Bible answers why God created the universe.
The authors allege that a literal reading of the two creation accounts in Genesis 1-2 results in contradictions. First, Gen.2:4--“in the day [Hebrew: beyom] that the Lord God made…”--says everything was created in one day, rather than the six days of Gen.1. Second, the two accounts have a different order.
But most commentators have not seen any contradictions in Gen.1 and 2. Why not? First, the meaning of words is determined by their context. As is well-known, the compound Hebrew word “beyom” (“in the day”) in Gen.2:4 is idiomatic for “when”. In fact, there is an exact parallel in Num.3:1-- “in the day (beyom) when the Lord spoke with Moses spoke on Mount Sinai”—where we know that Moses was on Mount Sinai for forty days (Ex.24:18) rather than just one day. Second, the apparently different orders can easily be reconciled. The simplest is to recognize that Gen.1-Gen.2:3 refers to the creation of the entire universe, whereas Gen.2:4-24 concerns the details of the creation of man in paradise.
Interestingly, the authors interpret Rom.8:19-23 as referring to the redemption of the entire created order, which was put under God’s curse of death and decay as a result of man’s sin. In the future, they maintain, creation will be restored to its original very good condition (Gen1:31). Here the authors seem unaware that their own reading of Romans contradicts their evolutionary view of origins, which posits that death and decay existed long before man appeared.
The authors lament that a literal reading of Genesis brings into question much of modern physics, cosmology, earth science and biology. Our scientific understanding would be pushed back to the 17th century.
This, of course, is hardly the case. Upholding the biblical view of origins does not affect operational science, the basic science done in laboratories. This includes most of physics, chemistry and biology, as well as observational geology, astronomy and the like. Nor does it does concern technology. It will affect some theories of historical science, which includes evolutionary biology, geology and archaeology. These disciplines interpret presently observed data in terms of hypothetical past events. Here one’s worldview presuppositions play a crucial role. Christians should insist that our historical science be consistent with our knowledge of the past as revealed to us by God in His word.
The authors conclude their book by contending that a non-historical view of Genesis will yield big gains for Christians.
First, it brings conciliation between secular science and Christian faith. Now “nothing in contemporary Darwinism threatens Christianity or Christian doctrine, as long as Darwinism is confined to science.” Second, “doors will be opened wider for presenting the gospel to our educated friends.” We no longer have to attack evolution. On the contrary, we can celebrate it as a sign of God’s wisdom, power, care and faithfulness.
This is all rather naïve. As recent developments at Calvin College illustrate, the embracement of evolution has huge theological consequences. These include the denial of an historical Adam and his fall, the denial of original sin, the recasting of Christ’s atonement and, not least, the loss of an authoritative Bible. Nor has such appeasement resulted in any notable progress in evangelism, as is shown by declining membership in mainstream denominations, who long ago already capitulated to evolutionary science. There are no gains—only huge losses.
In sum, this book is very disappointing, both at the theological and scientific levels. This is particularly so since Prof. Longman is an influential theologian in Reformed circles.