Something must change

Howard J. Van Till (
Fri, 14 Aug 1998 09:44:58 -0400

Ryan Rassmussen (in "The original vegetarian movement?") asked a couple of
questions of the form: "How does one reconcile some particular portion of
the Genesis text with our modern scientific understanding regarding the
character and history of the universe?"

Questions of this sort have a long history of generating puzzles, problems,
conflicts, debates, shouting matches, denominational splits, and other
forms of both pain and nonsense.

I submit that it's high time that we Christians admit that the fundamental
problem here is generated by a concept of the biblical text--concerning its
character and appropriate use--that is profoundly misguided. In the
extreme, communities of faith have crafted numerous claims about the text
that are at best unrealistic, and often downright ridiculous.

Forcing the biblical text to do things for which it was never intended is
sure to generate nonsense.

The promotion of nonsense in the name of Christianity will do nothing but
alienate thinking persons from the faith.

The biblical text was not _written_ by God, it was _inspired_ by God. It
was written by human beings in the conceptual vocabularies of their day and
culture, and within the limits of the writers' knowledge base. It is very
valuable as a record of how particular persons and communities experienced
the authentic presence of God, but expecting or demanding that it provide
us now with an epistemological shortcut to information about the
particulars of the universe's formational history is, I submit, profoundly

Those outside the faith know that, and all of our attempts to deny it will
serve only to make us appear not only stupid, but dishonest as well.

The Christian community must get out of this rut of biblicism bordering on
bibliolatry. We must stop lusting after the kind of certitude that leads to
making impossible demands on the biblical text and closing our eyes to what
can be learned by the competent scholarship and sound judgment that, by
God's generous gifting, we are capable.

Howard Van Till