At the risk of offending half of Christendom, it seems to me that there are three issues in Christendom which can become gospel issues when they should not: baptism, our view of the end times, and creation vs evolution. Of course the gospel itself should be first and foremost in our minds: the death and resurrection of Jesus. And I’m not suggesting that some issues cannot become gospel issues. Nonetheless it seems to me that many Christians make some topics into gospel issues when they are not. Here I wish to speak about creation vs evolution as I review Melvin Tinker’s book “Reclaiming Genesis” (Oxford: Monarch books, 2010).
In every church I have been in there are exponents of ‘creation science’ (the view that Genesis 1-11 stands opposed to the theory of evolution). I have usually respected these brothers and sisters in Christ greatly. Their desire is to read the Bible literally against a world, which rejects the literal truth of the Bible and infects the church with liberalizing tendencies. And, frankly, I always have respect for those who are more “fundy” than I am! And perhaps I am wrong and they are right.
But I do not hold to a ‘creation science’ position. I’m not particularly enamoured with the theory of evolution either. My concern is also for a right reading of God’s word. I believe that I am reading Genesis 1-11 literally, and that those who hold to creation science are not in fact reading it literally. And I particularly object when they say that Genesis 1-11 is the foundation of the Bible. The gospel is the foundation of the Bible. It is true that Genesis 1-11 is the foundation of the Torah and the Old Testament. But we must start with the gospel, not with Genesis 1-11.
Melvin Tinker has written a brilliant little book on Genesis 1-11. Sometimes as Christians we can baulk at reading key parts of the Bible because they have become such a contentious battle ground between Christians. This is unfortunate. However Tinker’s book walks us through Genesis 1-12, explaining it clearly and simply. His writing is entertaining – there are lots of good stories and illustrations. The book is not technical and is an easy read. However there is clearly great scholarship and learning behind this writing.
In his introduction Tinker writes: “The impression is sometimes given by young earth creationists that it is nigh impossible to be an evangelical and hold to the theory of evolution.” (p21) Elsewhere he says that there is “a tendency to polarize in terms of “creation” or “evolution”, with the former being described as the biblical world-view and the latter being not only the result of atheism but a sure slippery slope down towards atheism.” (p17) So is he suggesting we believe in evolution? And more importantly, how are we to read Genesis 1-11?
Tinker has a wise view of the place of science in God’s world. He does not argue whether or not we should believe in evolution. He also helpfully makes the distinction between the anti-God philosophy of “evolutionism” and the science of evolution. The latter is not necessarily anti-God. But his concern is much more for how we read our Bible.
Tinker treats Genesis as a theological text without downgrading its historicity. His book shows us what Genesis 1-12 is actually saying without reading into it a modern debate of which it was blissfully unaware. If I want a medical opinion I do not consult a street map. Likewise if I want a scientific opinion on evolution I will not consult Genesis. Evolution is not incompatible with divine creation and is not contradicted by the text of Genesis (though it may be wrong as a theory). Tinker writes: “the process of evolution is distinct from the act of creation: they belong to different categories”. (pp22-23) The text of Genesis is speaking about something other than evolution and is saying something far greater.
Tinker has done us a great service by lifting our eyes from a myopic debate to see the glory of God as revealed in the text of Scripture. Seeing what Genesis 1-11 is actually saying is liberating and encouraging. Tinker also has excellent Biblical Theology: that is, he reads Genesis 1-11 in the light of the whole of Scripture, showing how the text points to Jesus.
As a past lecturer in Old Testament I believe I have found here a book on Genesis 1-11 that “nails it”. On this part of Scripture I cannot recommend this book highly enough (and I know I’m not the only one!). Whatever your view of ‘creation science’, this book will be a very profitable read as we engage with a very important part of God’s word to us today.