Theology

Science and the Bible, part two

Posted in: Articles, Blog, Theology

In the second of a two-part blog, Operation Noah’s Chair, Rev Darrell D. Hannahconsiders the Bible and its relationship with science. Read part one.

The Bible must be approached on its own terms, not ours. That means, to choose just one of the more important implications, we must read the Bible remembering that it was written in a very different historical context from our own. When I was a PhD student, I remember a conversation I had with a member of my church. She had heard I was pursuing doctoral studies in the New Testament. She said something like, ‘You are just the man; I have always wondered about this.’ She picked up a Bible and turned to first chapter of Genesis and read to me,

And God said, ‘Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.’ So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault ‘sky’. (Genesis 1:6-8, NIV)

She then turned to me and asked, ‘what is this “vault”‘? I began to explain that the common view in the ancient near east held that the world consisted of three levels, a flat earth, surmounted by a dome, which was the sky, and subterranean sea, which led down to the underworld. A pained look came onto her face and she said, ‘But, it isn’t true!’ She knew that the world was a globe spinning in space. 

The Bible was not written in a historical vacuum. Nor did God, in a Star Trek manner, beam the authors of the various books of the Bible out of their historical context and into ours when they wrote. Rather, they wrote assuming their context – just as all human writers have since time immemorial. The author of Genesis had no conception of the world as a globe spinning in space as it revolves around the sun. He (it was probably a ‘he’) did understand that all things owe their existence to God and that God, unlike many of the ancient near eastern myths, did not find creation a struggle. God simply spoke and creation flowed into being. To compel our scientific understanding of the world into conformity with the ancient near eastern assumptions of the biblical authors is to take the Bible on our terms not on its. It reflects not so much a reverence for Scripture, but an unwillingness to let go of our presuppositions and to appreciate the difference between the biblical world and our own.

Finally, the Bible makes clear in a number of places (e.g., Ps 8; 19; 104; Romans 1:18-23) that creation itself reveals to us something of the majesty and character of God. Theologians refer to this as ‘general revelation’, as opposed to the specific revelation contained in the Scriptures and, above all, in the Person of Christ. General revelation can never reveal as much to us of God as does the Bible and Jesus. Nonetheless, the Bible takes seriously the idea that creation reflects the beauty and faithfulness and wisdom of its Creator. As a masterpiece of the Supreme Artist, it bears, as it were, his signature. Science, as the study of creation, witnesses to this Artist by investigating his masterpiece. To refuse to see in scientists – and climate scientists – prophets of our age is to deny this central biblical doctrine. 

Darrell is the rector of All Saints parish church, Ascot Heath. An American, Darrell moved to the UK in 1992 to pursue a doctorate at the University of Cambridge, in Christian Origins, and has lived here ever since. He moved into full-time parish ministry, in 2008, after academic posts at the universities of Sheffield, Birmingham and Oxford. 

Read part one

Want to learn more? Tenants of the King is a Bible-based, Jesus-centred small group study resource from Operation Noah. It is designed to help you and your church consider what the Bible has to say about today’s climate crisis.

Science and the Bible, part one

Posted in: Articles, Blog, Theology

In the first of a two-part blog, Operation Noah’s Chair, Rev Darrell D. Hannah, considers the Bible and its relationship with science.

Operation Noah’s concise theological statement Climate Change and the Purposes of God (CCPG) likens climate scientists to Israel’s prophets who spoke uncomfortable and disturbing truths which the Old Testament kingdoms of Israel and Judah did not welcome. The framers of CCPG and the rest of us at ON manifestly place a high premium on science. After all, our strapline is: Faith-motivated. Science-informed. Hope-inspired. There are, however, some Christians who remain deeply suspicious of science. For them, modern science is the implacable enemy of faith. Especially in the United States – but not just there – one encounters the idea among certain Christians that beginning with the theory of evolution modern science made a decisively wrong turn in direction. Such Christians not only reject human and animal evolution, but the consensus among geologists concerning the age of the earth, the consensus among geneticists concerning the age and shared ancestry of humans and much else besides (Why creationism bears all the hallmarks of a conspiracy theory).

It is not surprising that among such Christians, concern for the environment tends to be negligible at best. Having dismissed the evidence for evolution as error inspired by Satan, there is little reason to pay attention to the scientific consensus for the current climate crisis. 

While I am not a scientist and not competent to comment on any scientific consensus or theory, I have no doubt that the root of the problem lies not so much with science but with the view of the Bible embraced by such Christians. Wishing to take the Bible seriously and to stand with it – even if that means standing against the rest of the world – when modern science and the Bible are presented as being in opposition, they naturally choose the Bible: science must be wrong. 

Having dedicated most of my adult life to the study of the Bible, I am convinced such Christians do not take the Bible too seriously. Rather, they do not take it seriously enough. For example, Christians who dismiss evolution and climate change tend to read all the different books of the Bible in the same way. A moment’s reflection will show how mistaken an approach this is. We don’t read a book of history the same way we read a collection of poetry; we read a Mills & Boon novel with different presuppositions and expectations than a biography of a major historical figure or even a science fiction novel. In the same way, to read the Psalms just as one reads the historical books of Samuel and Kings would not reflect a serious engagement with the Bible, but instead a superficial approach. Or to read the Gospels or the apocalyptic books, Daniel and Revelation, with the same expectations that one reads the erotic poem that is the Song of Songs (or Solomon), would only lead to serious misunderstanding.

When paying attention to the clues in the text of the different books of the Bible, and even to different portions within those books, it becomes clear that the Bible contains a number of different genres. Nowhere among the various writings that make up the Bible do we encounter a work of ancient science – to say nothing of modern science! More importantly, if we give careful attention of the text of Genesis, it is clear that its first eleven chapters differ in genre from the rest of the book. While in Genesis 12–50 we may be dealing with a kind of family history, in Genesis 1–11 we are dealing with something more like saga or myth (understanding the term ‘myth’ not as a lie, but as a story by which the ancients made sense of and interpreted their world). To read the creation story or the account of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden as scientific or historical accounts is to ignore clues the text of Genesis gives as to how they should be read.

Darrell is the rector of All Saints parish church, Ascot Heath. An American, Darrell moved to the UK in 1992 to pursue a doctorate at the University of Cambridge, in Christian Origins, and has lived here ever since. He moved into full-time parish ministry, in 2008, after academic posts at the universities of Sheffield, Birmingham and Oxford. 

Read part two

Want to learn more? Tenants of the King is a Bible-based, Jesus-centred small group study resource from Operation Noah. It is designed to help you and your church consider what the Bible has to say about today’s climate crisis.


Tenants of the King study guide

Posted in: Church resources, Communicating climate change, Theology
Resource type: Bible studies and reflections

Now available for your church

Tenants of the King is a Bible-based, Jesus-centred resource from Operation Noah. This four-part study series is designed to help you and your church consider what the Bible has to say about today’s climate crisis.

Through interactive group sessions, video interviews with leading Christian thinkers and insightful Bible commentary, this resource will help you and your church to reflect on the challenges of a changing climate, and how Christians can respond with hope to one of today’s greatest challenges.

This multimedia study guide includes:

  • Study guide booklets complete with material for four, one hour-long group study sessions.
  • Video interviews with experts including Rt Revd. Graham Tomlin (Bishop of Kensington), Rev. Mark Melluish (New Wine), Dr Ruth Valerio (Tearfund) and Dr Justin Thacker (Cliff College).
  • In-depth Leaders’ Notes to help you lead your small group study.

If you want to find out more about this exciting new resource, please send us an email at admin@operationnoah.org or order your copies below.

‘A fantastic resource that will enlarge your heart, inspire your thinking and move you to action.’
Justin Thacker, Cliff College

  • The Tenants of the King booklet is available as a downloadable pdf which you can order below. If you use these resources more widely, we would be very grateful if you could make a donation to Operation Noah as a thank-you. Donate here.
  • The videos are freely available on YouTube.
  • We do still have stocks of hard copy booklets. If you would like to receive them in this format please place an order below.
Front cover of the study guide, with photo of a small church in the mountains.
Order options

If you would like to order larger quantities of this resource, or place orders from overseas, please contact us directly on admin@operationnoah.org for assistance.

 

Watch the trailers

See what Ruth Valerio says about Tenants of the King

Video still showing Ruth Valerio speaking.

See what Mark Melluish says about Tenants of the King

Video still showing Mark Melluish speaking.

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