This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Debating Genesis

It’s not always easy to distinguish sand from rocks. The Feb. 4 debate between Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis and Bill Nye “The Science Guy” seemed at times to turn into an attempt to prove the stupidity of each other’s assumptions.

I thought of the two builders that Jesus talked about and that as kids we sang about. The rains came down and floods came up and the house on the rock stood firm. But the house on the sand went splat! As kids we liked the song with its actions and its big clap. Ham and Nye seemed like kids, rooting for each other’s truths to fall down. They seemed a little too cheery about their superiority.

We want our foundations to hold up. For some, science is unquestionable. For others science is a threat. Will science discover something that makes our faith go splat? Does digging in and defending a literal Genesis build a solid foundation? Our Anabaptist foundation can help us sort sand from rock.

Are we building on sand when we read the Bible thinking it needs no interpretation? Ham kept saying he has a book. How do we read this book, this Bible? The Ancient Near East culture is not our culture. Reading implies interpretation.

The Anabaptists viewed the Bible as foundational, but they weren’t interested in empty belief-dueling. According to Walter Klaassen, the Anabaptists “were most concerned, not with the intellectual questions, but with humble obedience to Jesus to whom the scriptures testify” (Anabaptism in Outline). Beliefs need to connect with living.

Are we building on sand when we make Genesis the focal point of the Bible? Ham would have us believe that if we don’t agree with his young-Earth, six-day creation view, then our faith is in danger: “Creationism is the only viable option.” To those of us who may read the Bible differently: splat!

The Anabaptists read the Bible through the lens of Jesus, not Genesis. Sixteenth-century Anabaptist Bernhard Rothmann said, “An interpretation is reliable if it leads to behavior that conforms to Christ. If such behavior is not there, Scripture has not been understood.”

Are we building on sand when we hang onto a literal biblical interpretation? What do we do with owning slaves, allowing concubines and stoning adulterers? Christian philosopher Nancey Murphy, who has written on the relationship between theology and science, said, “I shocked some Christians by saying I am in favor of reading the Bible literally, so long as we begin with the Sermon on the Mount and work our way to other passages after we have gotten that one right” (Reconciling Theology and Science). Taking enemy love literally doesn’t seem as popular as debating creationism.

When we color Genesis with our modern scientific questions, we miss valuable insight. Israel was debating their neighbors’ claims that the sun, moon and stars were gods. They disagreed with neighboring creation accounts that humans came from the blood of violent dueling gods. As Millard Lind reminds us in Yahweh Is a Warrior, the biblical creation account climaxes in the human family rather than being used to justify the state or the rule of an emperor.

It’s easier to argue over beliefs than to live a foundation modeled by Jesus. It’s easy to think our way of reading the Bible is the correct one. It’s easy to confuse science and belief. We need each other’s perspectives to sort the cheap sand from the more costly rock.

Now, what was the original context of the builder’s story? Was Jesus talking about a science debate?

Jane Yoder-Short attends West Union Mennonite Church in Parnell, Iowa.

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