When the Grid Goes Down
“Getting Genesis 1 wrong, capitulating to the worldview and resulting pseudo-science and pseudo-history of darkened minds, will eventually lead you to get Genesis 2 wrong as well.”
[Addendum added below for those who are not familiar with my biblical-theological framework. This post is not really about the complementarian debate. It is about our modern ignorance of biblical structure and process.]
Sydney Anglicans used to have an online forum for discussion of theology. It was a great way to spend a few hours I didn’t have. From those times, two things stick in my mind: the creation/evolution thread that would not die, and one commenter who denied that compromising on a particular controversial issue would lead the compromisers down the proverbial “slippery slope.”
Since I called people names this week, very ungraciously, perhaps it might help if I explained myself a little. I see the interpretation of early Genesis as crucial for our interpretation of the rest of the Bible, but also for our understanding of the world we live in. If a Christian gives in to whatever the prevailing culture demands, there will be ramifications for the rest of his theology. This is because the Bible is fractal in its nature. It is a closely knit network, a carefully constructed grid, just like the created world. To cave on one issue will have outcomes in other areas of theology, and the example I have in mind right now is John Dickson, a brave, educated and wise Christian apologist.
Last week, on national TV, John said that Genesis 1 was poetry, not literal history, and that Christians who believed otherwise simply needed some education. It boils down to many Christians not being aware of Ancient Near Eastern cultures, and how they would have understood this passage. But every atheist knows that compromise on this issue is like the iceberg under the water, slowly ripping its way along the entire side of the Titanic. If evolution is true, Christianity is simply a human ideology (like a creation story), which may be helpful, but sits within a framework of “reality” as defined by modern scientism. In other words, the Christian is on the atheist’s turf. If Genesis 1 is literal history, then the atheist not only sits within a Christian reality, a turf that the saints will inherit from him, but does so under a very bright and interrogative light, the light of not only physical but social and liturgical Law–God’s grid.
John represents the Centre for Public Christianity, which was founded to put Christianity back into the secular arena to which it gave existence but which has been stolen from it. If you are interested in the Ancient Near Eastern theory, the centre’s site has some introductory videos by John Walton here, and you can read a rebuttal here. I would add to the rebuttal by saying that neither Dickson nor Walton seem to have considered that the biblical text can be scientific (observational), liturgical, architectural, historical (a true chronology) and poetic all at the same time. They are victims of modernity who either have not been instructed in how to actually read ancient texts (including observation of repeated patterns) or else have little respect for these ancient texts which they implore us to understand. Genesis 1 contains all of these facets because all of them are expressions of the nature of God, and of man.
Well, enough on that, and back to the slippery slope. Unless one is walking on ice or a wet floor, one does not expect to slip. It happens very suddenly and generally before one really knows what is going on. The first experience is generally an awareness of pain. The Katoomba Christian Convention invited John Dickson to speak at its next Women’s Convention. Because John has recently published a thoughtful book stating that he believes women should be able to preach sometimes, and this has caused some controversy, John has been disinvited. I’m not questioning anybody’s motives here, and I’m not putting it down to politics. John is sincere and the convention made a wise move (you can read their statement here). My whole point here is to say that getting Genesis 1 wrong, capitulating to the worldview and resulting pseudo-science and pseudo-history of darkened minds, will eventually lead you to get Genesis 2 wrong as well.
The Creation Science people have been telling us for years that the liberal church’s inability to stand against gay clergy is a direct result of their mythologizing of Genesis 1, 2 and 3. If we evolved from non-life, the difference between the sexes is not a combination of physiological, social and liturgical. Social and liturgical stations become a free-for-all. Whatever I feel like is what God has called me to do. (It’s funny how we disbelieve serial killers in movies when they say that God told them to do it, yet when a woman says she wants to be a bishop because God told her to do it, entirely against His written Word, people take her at her word.) John’s new compromise is only slight, but as with the justification of same sex marriage, it has to deconstruct or ignore all the defenses against slipping further—basically, reject the biblical worldview.
Lionel Windsor has a measured response to Dickson’s book here, in which he points out that Dickson has to argue that “teaching ain’t teaching.” That is a Genesis 2 issue. God gave Adam the Law, and he was to digest it and teach his bride and protect her. This process is repeated thousands of times throughout the Bible (although these Anglican gents don’t often operate with that particular biblical lens). In these events, when the serpent is crushed, the Bride sings a song of victory and joins her Bridegroom in calling down the curses upon the evil one.  So, there is most definitely a time for the Bride to speak, but ignorance of biblical types and the repeated Covenantal process which they communicate will leave us open to another hidden process: the slippery slope.
I would argue that the necessity to redefine “teaching” is very similar to the bait-and-switch carried out by one of Dickson’s fellow panelists last week on Q&A, Professor Lawrence Krauss, who tried to tell us that “nothing ain’t nothing,” because he has a Genesis 1 problem. (An audience member then questioned him, “If nothing isn’t nothing, where did the nothing come from?”) Dickson bases most of his argument concerning teaching on the interpretation of a single Greek word because he does not have an interpretive grid, at least, not a biblical one. John’s rejection of the very ordered and worshipful physical creation of the world, and the animal and human life within it, for a chaotic process of sex and death (which, as my friend Tim Nichols says, is simply Enuma Elish baptized in post-Enlightenment balloon juice), leaves him without the interpretive grid within which all his favourite New Testament passages were written. It also leaves him with a God who expressed His perfect character and glory by initiating a mind-blowingly long process of suffering and death.
If John is keen to interpret the texts of the Bible with an understanding of the culture, his understanding must include the cultus, which had no problem with texts being poetic, historical, scientific and liturgical all at once. Such dissection of the text is a symptom of a similar dissection of reality, both physical and social. His questioning of the liturgical stations of men and women is the direct result of separating reality, and the rest of the Bible, from the liturgy of the historical Creation. [2 - PLEASE, PLEASE read these two essays.]
 See how this pattern in Genesis plays out in Esther and the Ten Words, Trinitarian Judgments and The Throne of Eve.
 See Liturgical Man, Liturgical Woman.
John Dickson has told me off for not actually reading his book. Fair enough. I’m working through it but so far Lionel’s detailed summary was spot on. And I don’t think John gets where I’m coming from.
The post was written for regular readers who are familiar with the work of James Jordan and Peter Leithart on Bible chronology, liturgy, Bible history (including a very different view on oral culture and transmission, and dating of NT texts to John’s view), and Bible structure (systematic typology).
I’m not questioning anybody’s motives. I’m saying that those who are attempting to read texts through an ancient lens are actually reading it through a very modern one, one that has little idea of the triune historical/social/liturgical structure of the Bible. Does anyone reading here see Genesis 1 in Israel’s annual festal calendar? Or in Leviticus 1 (the ascension offering)? Or in the structure of the Book of Revelation? And most importantly in the structure of worship services for the past 1900 years? If not, you won’t understand where I’m coming from. These structural similarities are not optional ornamentation. A structural allusion is very often the label on the tin. If we don’t get them under our belts, we haven’t a hope of answering the question John is asking (for example) without making a mess and capitulating to the anti-Christian culture around us. The Western church is already effeminate. To give women a greater speaking role without reference to revealed liturgy and liturgy-shaped history is going to make things worse.
So, where do we put prophetesses in the worship service? The testimony of women is part of a legal process which recapitulates Genesis 1, and in fact structures everything that God does, including His Covenant documents. The speaking roles of women are tied up with, and expressions of, the very nature of God, the relationships within the Trinity. (John makes a brief reference to Genesis in his book but so far there is no analysis of process or structure.) That was my point. I’ve been trying to promote such an understanding for a few years now but the modern mind — especially an educated one — is very often incapable of thinking in this way. Consequently, a lot of what is going on in the texts goes right over our heads. If you are interested to read more around here, my pointed criticism might seem a little less outrageous.