Sunday, 30 November 2014

No, you don't just 'read' the creation narratives. (Or why ignorance of hermeneutics has cursed us with YEC)

It's axiomatic that if there is a contradiction between interpretations of the Bible and science, then we have a problem with Biblical understanding that needs to be corrected. Unfortunately, our community has more than a few people who confuse a natural reading of the Bible with its original meaning. A knowledge of basic hermeneutics, which was once part of our community, is sadly lacking.

Reformed pastor Scott Hoezee's words may be aimed at the evangelical world, but they apply just as well to us:
After I preached a sermon in Iowa some years ago—a sermon that had nothing to do with cosmic origins or Genesis—a man came up to me to inquire what we at Calvin Seminary were thinking about Genesis 1-2. About four or five words into my reply I mentioned the word “interpretation” and this prompted the man to cut me off cold. “That is just your problem,” he snapped. “Stop interpreting it and just read it!” 
Again and again we hear about the importance of a “natural reading” of the early chapters of Genesis. It’s clearly a literal narrative, we are assured—it was written as such and so requires no interpretation whatsoever to uncover its meaning. Just read it! But on this point some are self-deceived: the “natural” readers of the text are employing a hermeneutical tool—fueled by an upfront hermeneutical decision—no less than those who take the text in other ways. Even as you cannot properly understand any three-chapter chunk of Matthew’s Gospel without thoughtfully and carefully employing several different hermeneutical tools, so you cannot read Genesis or any part of the Bible without doing the same thing.
It is important to recognise that Genesis, while written for all people, was not originally written to us. Those who fail to enter the ancient Near Eastern world of Genesis and read the text, not as a literal how-to manual of creation, but as a polemic against paganism which accommodated ancient Near Eastern cosmogeography to make a theological point will never fully understand the message of Genesis. Worse still, those who ignore genre and context lock themselves in a hermeneutical bubble. As Hoezee says:
But when some fellow believers cut themselves off from the entire interpretive tradition of both Jews and Christians alike by claiming that their view is so obviously true no interpretation is even involved, there is little hope for a common starting point. Worse, it is likely that those who wield a different hermeneutical tool than young earth creationists will, in increasingly shrill tones, be dismissed as enemies of God’s Word.
Unfortunately, that is what we are increasingly seeing. If those who have the intellectual honesty to accept the universe as it is, rather than how others demand it should be, we should not be surprised to see our community dwindle into fundamentalist irrelevance.