Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Seven Pillars of Creation 1 (RJS)

posted by Jesus Creed Admin

Today I begin a series on William P. Brown‘s new book: The
Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science, and the Ecology of
Wonder
.This book was brought to my attention by David Vinson (who by the way also wrote a nice post at BioLogos a few weeks ago, and is mentioned in Brown’s acknowledgments).

Dr. Brown is a Professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur GA. In his book he looks at  the creation narratives – seven of them – found within the pages of the Old Testament. The question that drives the study: “What is it like to read the Bible in one hand and the journal Science in the other? … What is it like to be both a sage and a psalmist, a steward of creation’s mysteries and a servant of Christ?” (p. 8-9) According to Brown we need both an empirical appreciation for the world God created, a sense of wonder, and an appreciation for the revelation of God’s story in scripture.

To talk comprehensively about the story of God’s creative and redemptive work is to overturn the woefully narrow view that treats the world as merely a stage for humanities salvation. The world that God so loved in John 3:16 is nothing less than cosmic. The extent of God’s provident love reaches the whole of creation (Rom 8:19-23). If Earth’s story is deemed at all important for our time, then it must find a place within or at least alongside God’s story for all time, whose very bookends are, in fact, creation and new creation. And at either end of the either story – whether the Bible’s or the Earth’s – the scope of life, and thus God’s purposes extend far beyond humanity. (p. 9)

Seven Pillars of Creation

Brown is a biblical theologian and this book is a discussion of the creation narratives found in scripture – it is first and foremost a book rooted in scripture. There are seven narratives identified and discussed (p. 6):

  1. Genesis 1:1-2:3
  2. Genesis 2:4-3:24
  3. Job 38-41
  4. Psalm 104
  5. Proverbs 8:22-31
  6. Ecclesiastes 1:2-11; 12:1-7
  7. Isaiah 40-55 (excerpts)

Anything short of full consideration of the whole of the Biblical creation narrative is inadequate.

Biblical Authority and Interpretation

Before advancing too far into the subject Brown lays out a view of the authority of scripture.

The Bible’s “authority,” thus, points to its regenerative power to evoke reflection and shape conduct, indeed the very identity, of the reader and the reading community. Biblical authority is as formative as it is normative, and is manifest in Scripture;s creative authorial power for its readers. As the attractive, binding force of gravity has helped to shape the universe in all its complexity, so the authority of Scripture forms the community of faith in all its variety. (p. 12)

Brown then discusses his hermeneutical approach – a feedback loop that examines both what the text meant and what it means. “Discerning the text’s meaning involves interpreting the text in the light of one’s experience and within one’s community. One cannot interpret the biblical text without interpreting oneself within the one’s context (cultural, religious, and personal).” (p. 13) 

The feedback loop Brown will employ has three steps. (p. 14)

1. Elucidate the text’s perspective on creation within the text’s contexts.

2. Associate the text’s perspective on creation with the perspective of science.

3. Appropriate the text in relation to science and science in relation to the text.

One feature of Brown’s approach, a feature that may challenge some, is the suggestion that the seven creation narratives are thought experiments. They address specific questions – although they are not the scientific questions that concern us today. They flesh out understanding of these specific questions. But more than this, “these traditions were, and continue to be, theological “life experiments” that not only evoke wonder but also cultivate wisdom.” (p. 19)

More to come. We will consider this book slowly over the next several weeks. If you are interested, get the book and read along. I anticipate eight or nine more posts – strung out one or two a week.

What do you think of Brown’s interpretative approach – a feedback loop using both our empirical knowledge of God’s creation and the narrative of scripture to look for the wisdom in the creation story?

If you wish to contact me, you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net.



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Carl Holmes

posted June 3, 2010 at 8:18 am


I am actually AHEAD of the Jesus Creed writers for once? (OK, no gloating, just surprised) I read this book a few months ago, and it was awesome. It is hard to get through some of the intro on the Enuma Elish and other narratives. It reads much as John Walton’s book on Genesis does. Once you get through it though you start to see his thinking, and He is a thinker.
I look forward to seeing what this community has to say on the book. It was challenging, and exiting tying wisdom and creation into one.



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John W Frye

posted June 3, 2010 at 9:29 am


Well, RJS, you’ve done it again: introduced us to another intruguing book. I have not read it (and may not…so much to do), but I will follow closely your posts and the JCers’ comments. Do you know much about Columbia Theological Seminary?



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JHM

posted June 3, 2010 at 9:38 am


Could we get a bit more elucidation (haha) of the feedback loop? I can understand what Step 1 would be fairly well but I’m having a hard time seeing what Steps 2 & 3 would really entail.
In Step 2, by “associate” do we mean compare?
In Step 3 are we talking about something along the lines of “OK, here’s how the ancient Israelites would have understood that story, now let’s bring that theology forward into our context”?



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Rick

posted June 3, 2010 at 10:03 am


John #2-
Columbia is a Presb. USA seminary located in the Atlanta metro area. Walter Brueggemann teaches (prof emeritus) there as well.



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AHH

posted June 3, 2010 at 10:40 am


I’m only about 85% of the way through the book so far, but at this point I am a little disappointed.
The feedback loop approach outlined in RJS’s post has promise. But I’m not much liking the way it is carried out.
Actually, his Step 1 is valuable and I am learning things I didn’t know about the OT texts in their context, so give him a plus for that. And a big plus for recognizing (as others have) that the Biblical witness to “creation” is not just in Genesis.
But his “Associate” step is all “virtual” (his word) which consists of things like “of course the text isn’t talking about quantum mechanics, but there’s a hint in the text of God’s unpredictability and QM also has an aspect of unpredictability so I’m going to spend 5 pages on gee-whiz ramblings about quantum mechanics.” In most cases, I’m not seeing much point to the vague virtual connections he is drawing.
Maybe in the 40 pages I have yet to read things will be drawn together and something coherent and edifying will emerge. But I’m underwhelmed so far. Part of my problem may be with Brown’s writing style, which at times strikes me as … well, the term coming to my mind is a reference to self-pleasure.



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RJS

posted June 3, 2010 at 3:20 pm


AHH,
I’ve only read the intro so far, so I’ll see how it goes. Perhaps it will be fewer posts than I anticipated.
I hope to put up a second post next week.



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Paul Bruggink

posted June 3, 2010 at 3:23 pm


I finished this book a couple weeks ago and was also underwhelmed. There are a number of books out there that do a more-informative job of relating science and the Bible.



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AHH

posted June 3, 2010 at 10:27 pm


Maybe minor, but Prof. Brown also needed a better proofreader.
This evening I picked up the book to read more, and within 2 paragraphs was the word “teams” when he meant “teems”. I’ve noticed quite a few such things in the 200 pages I’ve read so far — more than average for a scholarly book. I may be more picky than most readers, though.



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