I finally concluded reading this tome on our flight home from Europe last Sunday. It was a painful--but, I thought, necessary--task.
I want to do for you what I don't normally do and what Lamoureux himself failed to do in his book: I want to summarize the guts of his "message" before I present the "arguments" he offers and my detailed critique of what he says and how he says it.
Lamoureux's basic thesis: the narratives contained in Genesis 1-11 convey uniquely God-inspired messages about spiritual realities and spiritual truths that human beings throughout history--all people--have needed and still need to take seriously. At the same time, he says, these narratives contain virtually no information that anyone should attend to in order to inform or shape their views of history or science.
Put another way: We need to apply the same kind of discernment to our interpretation of Scripture that we naturally afford our interpretation of Jesus' incarnation. We understand that, in order to speak to the people of His day, Jesus had to utilize the language and cultural forms appropriate to that time and place. Even if He had wanted to, He would not--because He could not, properly--speak of galaxies, bacteria, thermonuclear energy, or calculus. The concepts themselves didn't exist at that time in human culture, and there was no need for Jesus to "enlighten" them concerning their ignorance. Jesus spoke real (spiritual) truth, but He accommodated Himself to the limitations of His audience.
So it is, says Lamoureux, with Scripture. God speaks real (spiritual) truth in the Bible, but He accommodated Himself to the limitations of His audience when it came to the literary forms and the assumptive history and science communicated throughout. Rather than confusing and upsetting His audience with long-winded and, ultimately, almost assuredly non-understandable discourses about "the way things really are" in the physical realm, God utilized the history and science of their day-- the things they understood (whether literally true or not [and Lamoureux says they are not!])--
Lamoureux's perspective: He calls it the "Message-Incident Principle." Anything in Genesis 1-11 that we might perceive as impinging on history or science
In essence, then: We can toss the wrapper, even while we savor what the wrapper contains.
What Does Such a Perspective Mean . . . and How Far Should We Apply It?
Lamoureux is unable to hold his application of the Message-Incident Principle to Genesis 1-11 only. Indeed, part of his "argument" for the Principle rests on the historical debate over how one can adopt a Galilean-Copernican perspective concerning the universe in light of passages like 1 Chronicles 16:30b, Psalm 93:1b, or Psalm 96:10b--all of which unmistakably declare: "the world is firmly established, it will not be moved."
"No Christian today believes the earth is stationary," Lamoureux asserts, "and no one interprets [these passages] literally. For that matter, the Galileo affair teaches us that science contributes to biblical interpretation" (p. 112). And what it ought to contribute to our interpretation of Genesis 1-11, Lamoureux says, is the realization that Genesis 1 to 11 has nothing to contribute to us in the realm of science or history.
[t]he Old Testament clearly presents the immovability of the earth,In the same way, then, we need to
. . .the purpose of [1 Chronicles 16:30, Psalm 93:1, and Psalm 96:10] is not to reveal any fact about nature. Rather, [the phrase about the world's immovability is] found in passages that praise God's Lordship over the creation. In other words, this ancient geological understanding is an incidental vessel used to reveal the message that the Lord is the Ordainer and Sustainer of the world.
Thus, too, Genesis 2 "is not historical" (p. 198) and "is not a historical account of human origins" (p. 201). "[I]ts purpose is not to disclose how God made the universe and life, including humanity" (p. 201), but it
complements the Divine Theology in Gen 1 and asserts that humanity is a special and unique creation. We are the only creatures in a personal relationship with the Creator. This chapter also reveals that men and women were made to enjoy the mystery of marriage.As for Genesis 3:
. . .And most importantly, Gen 2 reveals little God sets limits on human freedom, and failure to respect these boundaries has serious consequences.
[T]he ancient motifs in Gen 3, the ancient understanding of causality, and the fossil record all point away from the historicity of this chapter and the causal connection between sin and death.And so it goes.
. . .[T]he Message of Faith in Gen 3 is not dependent upon the historical reality of a lost idyllic age, a talking snake, mystical fruit, or cherubim. Instead, these ancient motifs are incidental to a Divine Theology that was radically different from the pagan beliefs surrounding the Hebrews.
Genesis 3 reveals the reality of human sin.
. . .[It] reveals that humans are responsible for their actions and are accountable before God. The consequences of disobedience are significant because the Creator judges men and women for their sins. . . .
Despite the traditional literal reading of Gen 3 as actual history, the revelatory power of this divinely inspired account has been affirmed over and over again throughout the ages. It has consistently convicted men and women of their sins, and has left him knowing that God judges them accordingly.
. . .Who has not experienced the spiritual-intellectual dynamic of the Garden of Eden? Is anyone not tempted to disobey their Maker? And who has not tried to rationalize their sin before the Holy Spirit? Clearly, the inerrant and infallible Messages of Faith in Gen 3 transcend the incidental ancient motifs and ancient categories of causality through which they are revealed.
--pp. 202, 203, 206
Lamoureux(re)interprets each chapter of Genesis 1-11 along these lines.
And beyond Genesis 1-11?
. . . I'll have to address that in my next post on this subject.