For a start, see my recent review and part one of this series. Over the next two posts, I want to look at some of the strengths and weaknesses of his argument. I would strongly recommend this book to the reader who wants to start an exploration of a literal in context approach.
As I stated before, I would like to recommend this book to the reader, both scientific and theological. While I shared with you my view of the weaknesses of John H. Walton’s thesis, I would like to take this time to share with you my view of the strengths, and there are many, but I only want to talk about three of them.
- It allows for a theological context to develop free of traditional views
- It allows for the exploration of the purpose of Genesis 1 without the need to explore the scientific ramifications
- It allows for a literal view of the 7 day creation account while attempting to find the author’s original context.
While he has certain strong points in his argument, I want to examine the strengths of an argument such as his. Briefly, however, let me state that his idea of functionalization over materialization is a compelling argument, and his greatest strength. Basing it on the Hebrew word for create, the author is able to expand the idea of ontological existence to cover Genesis 1 in a manner which creates a deeper theological context. He allows in his argument the development purposes and functions for each aspect of creation. We can then examine the purpose of the light created in the darkness, or the sea creatures, or even the cosmic seas.
Too often, people examine the bible as a plain sense reading (always the starting point) and forget that God spoke to the author, and it was the author’s limitations as a human which caused the words. (Note, the author is inspired, and the Spirit worked through the author, but we must admit that the ineffable beauty of God’s ways are not the ways of humanity.) I think of Isaiah 7.14, or the whole host of Psalms, only understood prophetically through Christ. As David wrote Psalm 118, did he see Christ on the Cross? Doubtful, as he was experiencing the pains of separation from God then. Yet, God spoke through the feebleness of human communication to address the salvation offered through the Son.
We daily examine parables to drain from the words of the Lord deep meaning, more so than a simply story about a rebellious child and a caring father could employ. In a simple reading of the Prodigal’s Son, when we read that the father ran, we would see an anxious father running to his son, but by delving into the context of the story, the context of the speaker and the audience, we find the great humiliation which the Father had to suffer (running in public was a cultural taboo for men over 30 as they had to show their calf to do so) in order to restore the son to the family.
The same can be said of Hebrew poetry and the prophetic participles found in the Jewish bible. How arrogant are we when we assume that we can read these words so casually, applying our thoughts and our culture to the words of God? Cannot the same be said of Genesis 1? The author’s premise that Genesis 1 is about function, purpose and a deeper theology that we have seen normally expressed by some extreme literalist is a great strength which allows for those who desire to delve deeper into the theological meaning of that text.
I once heard a preacher take Genesis 1 and preach about holiness rather than Creation – something that fits into this argument.
Science and Religion are generally at odds, but the author, with his argument, allows a keener separation to occur, where science doesn’t have to undermine religious principles. We have civilizations 10,000 years old, which no record could be redacted to show otherwise. I simply cannot believe in evolution, based on the mathematics alone, but we do know that the earth is old, and that the universe is older, much older. Yet, by keeping Genesis 1 as a wholly religious document, we do not have to worry about the latest trend in scientific discovery.
Too often, people like to confuse the Scriptures as science, instead of the beauty of God’s communication with humanity. Walton attempts to resurrect the notion that the Scriptures are a purely theological enterprise, meant to draw humanity to God, to be our guild in a life lived to God.
Living and working in Appalachia, I have had the chance to explore the coal mines, some what. In doing so, I have come across fossils in the slate which runs along the coal seam. There is such a thing as kettle bottoms. They are petrified tries generally standing upright so that the miner stands beneath the root system. They find these things surrounded by all levels of cover (mountain). Further, they also find mud seams – parts of the mountain which is still muddy rock. Remember, the Appalachian Mountains are supposedly the oldest mountain chain in the world – and you have evidences of a breadth of time.
Walton has built his premise around a ‘literal in context’ method which preserves the essential literalism of the text, but seeks the context in which the text was first written. For the author, the purpose of the text is a vital element in finding the context. The strength here is that he allows the text – such as the literal 24 day – to speak plainly. He deals handily with both the young earth creationists and the old earth creationists by doing so. He shows what he believes is the fallibility of the both arguments (along with the Framework theory) by attempting to remain literal.
Walton’s strengths in his argument come from a desire, I believe, to remove the tension between science and religious in Genesis 1, and to provide a more secure footing in combating the increasing attempts to remove God from creation. For Walton, it is not what happened, but why, and this is perhaps the true greatest strength.