Recommended Science and Faith Books

The past 20 years have resulted in a remarkable number of commentaries and treatments of the first chapters of Genesis. I suspect that the number of books written on all aspects of issue surrounding the first 11 chapters of Genesis this decade has far exceeded all of the books written in the past three decades combined. In particular there have been numerous books just in the past five years each of which makes very significant new contributions to the field of study.  Another remarkable feature of the available literature is that orthodox defenses of a literal 6 day creation are few and far between and those are generally not scholarly efforts.  I suppose a response to this observation could be that there isn’t any need to continue to defend a historically defended position.  But what I have found is that there are very few commentaries or other book length treatises written by theologians in the past 50 years that defend a literalistic view detail.  Below are two that argue for a 6-day position from a reformed Christian perspective:

1)      James Jordan “Creation in Six Days: a defense of the traditional reading of Genesis one”  1999.  By “defense” what the book does is goes through all the other readings of Genesis and reviews what is wrong with them.   There is little effort to present an actual proper reading of Genesis 1 other than the generalities found in many other places.

2)      Douglas Kelly “Creation and Change: Genesis 1:1-2.4 in light of changing scientific paradigms.”  This book is often referred to as the best theological defense of the traditional view.  The back cover states “He assesses both the biblical details and the scientific data to show that there is a convincing case for this understanding and how it is scientifically viable.”  Reading the book it is very clear that the scientifically viable part is derived wholly from the creation science literature.

Both the above books are partly reactions to the many commentaries that have been published that have questioned the traditional reading.  I think they partly question whether the traditional reading really ever had a convincing case for a young earth at all but rather was simply the benefactor of a lack of scrutiny of the text because it was just assumed that the traditional view was correct.

I have read many many books that address questions of science and faith and the question of origins in particular.  Of those I have selected a few that have helped me develop a biblical-orthodox understanding of science and faith that I believe provides a richer and deeper understanding of not just Genesis but of God’s redemptive history as a whole than that of the six–day creation interpretation of Genesis.  Rather than feeling defensive about not holding to a particular hyper-literal view of Genesis 1 these books provide a positive case that a deeper, richer and more accurate understanding of Scripture is not only possible but is indeed necessary.

Note:  Most of this literature is to varying degrees the product of Christians with a reformed-Christian background.

W. Robert Godfrey “God’s Pattern for Creation: a covenantal reading of Genesis 1” 2003.   Godfrey is the past president of Westminster Seminary in California. This is my favorite short book that provides a excellent background to what the author of Genesis intended to teach us about creation.  Godfrey takes a covenantal-theology approach to lay out problems with the traditional hyper-literal approach. This is the book I would give to a lay Christian wanting to understand what the Biblical author (in this case he believes this author is Moses) wishes to communicate in Genesis 1. The body of the text is only 90 pages and is easily read in a sitting and well worth it for getting a nice view of the bigger picture.  I bought extra copies just so I could give this book away.

Collins Genesis 1-4C. John Collins “Genesis 1-4: A linguistic, literary and theological commentary” 2006.  Collins is professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary (Presbyterian Church of America).  Although I have read many other commentaries that explore the first chapters of Genesis I learned many new things from Collins and he presents one of the most compelling linguistic cases for a a non hyper-literal reading of Genesis 1 and 2.  He promotes a view called the Analogical days approach which provides a compelling and it a “literalistic” understanding of Genesis.  So far this book has the most detailed Biblical analysis of just what are the effects of the fall that I’ve read yet.  He presents a strong argument from the Scriptures that sin did not bring physical death into the world as is commonly believed.  I find his sections about the nature of nature and how the sin-curse has affected nature to be very insightful.  I think this book will be an important reference for many future discussions.  So far I have found that the framework interpretation promoted by Dr. Meridith Kline has received much criticism but at this point I feel that framework interpretation continues to receive attention simply because 6-day creationists focus on it knowing that they can poke holes in it and use it as a foil to their viewpoint.  More than 10 years later, I have found few attempts by 6-day creationists to rebut Collins’ analogical days view which I believe is a more consistent interpretation of Genesis and corresponds well with conservative Biblical scholars understanding of how the Bible was written (the doctrine of inspiration).

C. John Collins  “Science and Faith: friends or foes”  2003. Crossway.  This book has an excellent chapter on Providence and miracles which I have used in preparing my recent Sunday school lessons.  This book contains the most complete description of his analogical days interpretation.  Collins includes a chapter on the age of the earth in which he accepts the evidence that points to an old earth.  However, he stops at accepting a large part of evolutionary theory and defers to an ID argument in the last chapters. I did not know this when I first picked up the book and I was actually quite surprised because his whole discussion of providence and miracles appeared to me to lay the groundwork for accepting much of evolutionary theory and so his last chapter just didn’t seem to mesh with the rest of the book.  Overall, a very readable book that provides very reasonable evidence for holding an old earth and literary/analogical interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis.

Keith Miller (ed) “Perspectives on an Evolving Creation” 2003.  Eerdmans. This book is a compilation of chapters from various authors that examine issues from the perspective of an old earth and the acceptance of evolutionary theory as representing the probably origin of living things.  Chapters include evidences for an old earth and evolution from the scientific side and then move on to tackle the tough questions such as: what is the fossil record of man, what was the garden of Eden, who were Adam and Eve and when did they live, how does God work in creation/providence, where does original sin fit, what is pain and suffering, etc…  The authors come from various background not all strictly reformed.  I definitely don’t agree with all the conclusions drawn by all the authors, but I was given much to think about after reading some of the chapters.  the chapter on original sin is especially challenging and worth considering.

The Lost World of Genesis OneJohn Walton “The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate” 2009.  Walton, professor at Wheaton College, presents in this book a view that has become known as the cosmic temple inauguration view.  Walton argues that Genesis one describes the functions of the creation not their physical origin.  A very readable and thought provoking book, a more scholarly follow-up book was published a few years later.  Of the books I have read in the past decade this one is right up there in terms of impact on me and it has had a massive impact in the evangelical world.  This is one of the most referenced books with respect to individuals and pastors who have struggled with the topic of creationism when asked what book helped them the most.

Adam and EveJohn C. Collins  “Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care”  2011.  Crossway Publishers.  The book asks the question, what are the boundaries for the discussion of a literal Adam and Eve. What must evangelicals hold firm on as indisputable truths set out by Scripture and where is the Scripture not as clear and thus room for discussion?  Collins sets out hoping to show where Christians must agree and where they can agree to disagree.   No matter what your final opinion of Collins opinion (though he leaves many questions unanswered) you will find this book thought provoking and enlightening especially if you wondered what all the debate is about.

The Erosion of InerrancyG. K. Beale.  “The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism: Responding to New Challenges to Biblical Authority” 2008.  Crossway Publishers.  Beale, now professor at Westminster Theological Seminary where Peter Enns formerly was employed, presents a case for the reformed doctrine of inspiration. I’ve recently spent quite a bit of time with Beale’s books “The erosion of inerrancy in Evangelicalism” and “The temple and the churches mission.” The first has been called the most comprehensive blow by blow rebuttal of Enn’s “Incarnation and Inspiration” and a good defense of the conservative view of inerrancy. The latter includes a more detailed examination of Temple language in Genesis. I have written some about his understanding of the Garden of Eden as a temple in this post (Adam, Eden, and the Corruption of Nature). I really found “The erosion of inerrancy” to be quite a compelling book but I admit that was quite stunned by the application in the last couple of chapters dealing with the creation narrative. Beale demonstrates that holding to high view of inerrancy doesn’t require that that the Bible be scientifically accurate where it does not intend to speak scientifically. Phenomenological expressions are common and not meant to convey scientific truth and “biblical writers expressed their theological – not scientific – conception of the universe and understood it to be a huge temple of God” He goes on to develop what I find to be a view very very similar to that found in Walton’s “The Lost World of Genesis One” which has been called the cosmic temple inauguration view.

Peter Enns “Inspiration and Incarnation” 2005.  This book gets at a central concern creation issue by asking the question just how is the Bible inspired.  I have become a firm believer that in order to really get at how to interpret Genesis one first has to come to some grips with how the Bible was written.  This book provides a simple but powerful summary of the various views of just how the Bible was written and shows how hermeneutics is bound to different view of inspiration.  One third of the book is a look at the question of just how was Genesis written.  I’m not convinces of all this theses about Genesis but it should be clear to any reader that his reading of Genesis is a clear outcome of his interpretation of what it means to be inspired. If he is correct in his view of inspiration then it would be difficult to reject his reading of Genesis.  I think that this is partly the reason for the strong resistance to his view of inspiration – the consequences are clearly seen because he puts them right out there very clearly in the book.

V. Philips Long “The Art of Biblical History”  1994.  Long is an associate professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary.  Following up on Enns book I decided to do some more reading on view of inspiration and this book examines the questions: just what is history, how is history written, how is the Bible a history book and is historicity important/critical (ie. does an event have to be described absolutely as it happened for it to be a true history).  Of course the short answer is that no historical event can actually be portrayed exactly as it happened in words. The author uses the analogy of different forms of painting to illustrate that the painter is an interpreter of his/her subject and can not present every single piece of information in his/her painting. Similarly the writer of history is portraying the events of history but for a purpose and so is painting us a picture. At times he may be painting a fairly realistic picture, though never perfect, but at other times he me be doing something more akin to an impressionistic painting.

Haarsma and Haarsma “Origins: a reformed look at creation, design and evolution.”   2007.  Both Deborah and Loren Haarsma are physics professors at Calvin College and have written extensively on the creation debate. I’ve followed Loren’s writing on several list-serves for 10 years and have learned much from him. This book is written mostly as a Sunday School text. Short chapters on a number of subjects that hit all the main questions and provide all of diversity of reformed answers.  The Haarsma’s are generally critical of ID and I would characterize them as theistic evolutionists.  The last chapters on original sin and who are Adam and Eve were the only chapters that I found particularly useful but that may be because the content in the rest of the book was very familiar to me.

Hageopian (editor) The Genesis Debate 2001. Three views of creation are presented 1) 24-hour view by Duncan and Hall; 2) Day-age view by Ross and Archer and 3) framework view by Iron and Kline.  The 24 hour chapter is remarkably weak as they spend nearly 90% of their pages space making the argument that Hall has been working on for years that the majority of Westminster divines held to a 24 hour view.  The argument then becomes, because our forefathers believed this we must as well and there is very little real exegesis to support their position. I think the Day-age view is bad theology and bad science so I’m not a big fan of that section.  Irons does a good job and hits some good points but I’m not especially thrilled with the framework view.  However, if you want to know what the framework view is there is definitely a good source.  This book is a bit outdated at this point. I think there are more effective treatments of each of these positions but as an introduction and finding all these views in one place, this is still a good place to start.

Bruce K Waltke “Genesis: A commentary”  Collins is my favorite commentary on the early chapters of Genesis but after that I like this one by Waltke.

Ad LitteramK. E. Greene-McCreight “Ad Litteram: How Augustine, Calvin and Barth read the ‘plain sense’ of Genesis 1-3.”  From the “Issues in Systematic Theology” series Vol 5  1999 Peter Lang Publishing.   This is a rather expensive and rare book that is essentially a published dissertation.  The book is a very detailed study of the meaning of literal and allegorical.  This has been one of the most fascinating books I’ve read.  It is the product of the Dissertation of Gren-McCreight at Yale University.  The first paragraphs from the Preface of the book provides a good overview of the content:

“This book attempts to deal with a central question involving the doctrine of scripture.  During the course of my graduate studies, it became increasingly clear to me that the fundamental theological problem which Christian theology faces today, indeed which Christian theology has continually faced throughout the ages, centers around the practice of privileging the “plain sense” of scripture, particularly when reading the Old Testament as scripture of the Church.  The purpose of this book, then is to trace a trajectory of the understandings of the notion of the “plain sense” of scripture.  The hope is that we might then come to some understanding at least of what is involved in reading the Bible as scripture.  The trajectory I chose is one which feeds Reformed Protestant Christianity: Augustine, John Calvin and Karl Barth.”

Peter Harrison “The Bible, Protestantism and the Rise of Natural Science”  1998 Cambridge University Press.  This is a great read on the relationship of the growth of natural science and the influence of Protestantism in that growth.   The book focuses heavily on issues surrounding Genesis for its examples.

Ronald Numbers “The Creationists:  the evolution of scientific creationism”  1992 University of California Press.   Ronald Numbers studies the history of science and has a special interest in creation science having grown up as a seventh day Adventist.  This book is the single best read if one wants to get a feel for the history of the modern day creationists movement.  Though not a creationists the book has been lauded by creationists as a good overview of their movement even if they don’t agree with all of his interpretations of that history.

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