John James, Pastor of Helier Chapel, Northfield, Birmingham, Review for Affinity

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"[B]ack in the 90s, as a first year undergraduate geology student, having recently come to faith, I know I would have benefited from reading a book like this."

 

I am glad that James thinks he would have benefitted from the book when he was in the category of the intended audience, even though he has a big "However" waiting in the wings. He asks 3 questions: "Is Rau's map accurate, is it useful, and ultimately, is it achievable?" His critiques suggest improvements in wording that could have made the ideas clearer.

With regard to accuracy, he says:

This approach leads Rau to assert that the most consistently "supernatural" model is one that holds to a creation story of literal twenty-four-hour days. However, this presupposes that a natural explanation somehow excludes a corresponding supernatural explanation.

I don't think I anywhere used the phrase 'most consistently' supernatural, and I fully agree with his implication that a natural explanation does not exclude a corresponding supernatural, as they may be on different explanatory levels – mechanism and causality. In fact, all of the Christian models affirm that God is active in the whole creation. The gradient from natural to supernatural could perhaps be better phrased from "regular, law-like, repeatable phenomena to one-time, miraculous, non-repeatable phenomena," or some such, which would perhaps be more accurate, but less clear to the average college student, my primary audience. It would have opened the whole can of worms of how to define a miracle – in terms of impossibility according to the current laws of physics, extreme improbability, or as something that functions as a revelation of God. And then there is the whole discussion of the role of contingency. Essential conversations, but well beyond the scope of a 200 page book trying to look at the whole picture.

It was surprising to see the Cambrian explosion labelled as a significant contribution of Old Earth Creationists. Rau notes, the Cambrian explosion, "until about ten years ago was not even mentioned in textbooks, even though the phenomenon of many different phyla appearing in the fossil record within a very short period had been known for a long time" (160).

This may be explained by the context into which Rau is writing ...

Indeed it is. Many of the ideas of the book were developed when I was teaching high school. I should have said, "until about ten years ago was not even mentioned in American high school biology textbooks." I believe that statement would be correct. It was certainly found in college geology textbooks long before that. A correction of this has been noted on the Corrections page.

I was surprised that there was no real mapping of the debate over the age of the earth itself and related evidence.

Perhaps the reviewer missed it, but I did address this (far too briefly) on p. 103-104. I purposely did not spend more time on this issue since in the US this is often the place where discussion among Christians stalls, and others have dealt with the issue very completely. Young and Stearley's masterful work is mentioned in a footnote.

With regard to usefulness, he goes on:

Because of this, it is not only important to have a map of the various interpretations of the biblical data, which Rau helpfully provides within the book and as a dedicated appendix, but also to have a map of the underlying theological convictions regarding Scripture, and a map of what is at stake doctrinally for the Christian as an implication of each position.

Again, I agree, but to do this completely would have doubled the length of the book.

According to Rau, that the doctrines of sin and redemption are "human creations, not divine revelation" is not the conviction of one model, or the implication of one approach, but a foregone conclusion floating, unmapped, over the debate. When such a bias occasionally shows itself, without any apparent self-awareness, it rather undermines the usefulness of the map as a whole.

As I have responded to another review, yes, this is an assumption I make, that although the Bible is divine revelation, the doctrines that we draw from it, comparing one passage with another and interpreting their meaning, are inferences, and thus human creations. How else could we explain the differences in doctrine from one denomination to another? I am sure in the formation of Affinity, there was discussion of what doctrines are ‘central’ to our stance as evangelicals and which are ‘peripheral,’ on which we may have disagreements. Are the former part of divine revelation, and the others human contrivances? But is it not humans who are deciding on that line, and if so, is not the whole system a human creation?

Finally, with regard to achievability he says:

However, towards the end he clearly alludes to the fact that he believes the issue is resolvable, and he has a model of his own that could resolve it. (emphasis added)

Unbelievably, he makes this claim again:

My frustration with the book comes down to this. Rau clearly believes his model could resolve the debate, and though he is unwilling to plot it on the map he has charted, he believes that his mapping exercise is a step towards us getting there. Although he does not want to add his voice to the debate, he is implicitly adding his voice, but in a way that makes dialogue very difficult. Rather than feign objectivity, that is the book he should have written, and given this volume, it would probably be well worth reading. (emphasis added)

No, I do not believe my model will resolve the debate. Rather, it will further complicate it, by adding another option for people to consider. Obviously, I think it is worth considering, and has at least as much merit as the others on the table, but to think that it will resolve the debate? I very clearly state, "To change our model we also need to change our theology and admit that what we believed is incorrect. This is something few are willing to do, and so the conflict will continue." (p. 189) I still stand by that statement.

Again contrary to his assertion, my model is already on the map, but as I say in the epilogue, "as far as I know, no one has yet written a comprehensive justification of the model I support, from a theological and scientific perspective. Perhaps now that this book is done, I can consider attempting that." Hopefully this book I "should have written" will be written, and hopefully it will be "well worth reading."

Read the full review on the Affinity website:
http://www.affinity.org.uk/foundations-issues/issue-66-article-5---review-article-mapping-the-origins-debate

Affinity is a network of more than 1200 Bible-centred churches and Christian agencies throughout Britain and Ireland. By declaring and demonstrating our essential unity in the revealed truth of the Bible, we aim to make ourselves more effective in proclaiming the good news of salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ.