"Reading Genesis Well" Conference

   Campus News | Posted on February 21, 2018

"Reading Genesis Well," the 12th Annual Andrews Autumn Conference on Religion and Science, took place October 27-28, 2017, on the campus of Andrews University. The conference highlighted the importance of interpreting biblical material well in order to comprehend and appreciate the important themes God desires to be understood.

John "Jack" Collins, from Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, delivered Friday evening's message, which focused on the purpose and intended audience of Genesis 1-2. Collins noted the consistent theme of praise in these chapters, concluding that the text represents an "almost liturgical accounting of God's achievements," an account prioritizing the presentation of its story as a form of worship more than a useful taxonomy. The style parallels that of poetry rather than that of a rigorously detailed scientific account. The content also contrasts with creation stories told by other Ancient Near Eastern religions, where other gods made humans to do the work they did not want to do. The God of Genesis, rather, set aside time for rest and fellowship. Thus, Genesis was designed to spark imagination and call the followers of God to loyalty. Collins closed his discussion of creation saying, "When we enjoy it, we enjoy its maker."

Saturday's session began with a devotional given by Ante Jerončić, associate professor of theology and ethics at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, on the deadly sin of slothfulness and was followed by Collins' keynote presentation "Can Linguistics and Literary Studies Help Us Read Genesis Well?" First, Collins addressed taxonomy, discussing pragmatics and the differences between ordinary language, scientific language and poetic language. He noted that all of these are valid forms of reference to a particular idea or object; however, each is best suited for particular situations.

Collins then discussed audience criticism. Collins said, "Speakers assume that the readers can fill in understandings of the world and referential qualifications. Genesis is not about overthrowing the common sense of the world but, rather, embracing it." He noted that without understanding the viewpoints and culture of the Israelites, as well as the type of language being used in particular areas, our own modern interpretations of Scripture can falter. The role of anachronism also enters the scene, as Collins stated, "Genesis enables its audience to see itself as the proper heirs of those it describes." Finally, Collins summarized the worldview theory's traditional setup: Creation, Fall, Redemption and Judgement. Drawing on C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien repeatedly throughout the course of the presentation, Collins closed with Tolkien's quote, "We all long for Eden."

Three additional presentations helped provide further insights into the topic of what it means to read Genesis well. Roy Gane, professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Near Eastern languages in the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, gave some exegetical reflections on the sixth and seventh days of creation. Paul Keim, professor of Bible and religion at Goshen College, talked about human origins and human dignity as presented in the books of Genesis and Job. Finally, Gary Burdick, professor of physics at Andrews University, talked about what Genesis has to say to a physicist, particularly with regard to key questions regarding the universe and humanity's place in it.

After lunch, the four speakers participated in a panel discussion, where the presenters had the opportunity to ask each other questions as well as field questions from the audience. Anthony Bosman, assistant professor of mathematics at Andrews and moderator for the afternoon session, says, "Coming into dialogue with other scholars in order to expose our views to critique, and to charitably critique theirs, is one of the best ways we can maintain our institutional commitment to seeking knowledge. In this process of scholarly exchange, we see things in the text that we might have missed before or might have read too much into. However, all the presenters readily affirmed faith in the Creator God who acted in history as described by Genesis. This common faith commitment allowed us to model what it looks like for fellow believers who may disagree on some important particulars of a passage to have a cordial dialogue."

Gary Burdick, lead organizer for the conference, provided some background on the history of the conference, saying, "The Andrews Autumn Conference on Religion and Science began when a group of Mennonites from Goshen College reached out to Andrews University with the idea of starting a discussion involving both scientists and theologians on areas of mutual interest between our two faith communities."

As a result of these initial discussions, Andrews University joined the Midwest Religion and Science Society (MRSS), which is dedicated to the dialogue between religion and science. The MRSS includes members from eight religiously affiliated colleges and universities in southern Michigan, northern Indiana and northwestern Ohio: Andrews University, Bethel College, Bluffton University, Goshen College, Manchester College, Ohio Northern University, the University of Notre Dame and the University of St. Francis. The MRSS holds two conferences each year: the Andrews Autumn Conference on Religion and Science in the fall and the Goshen Conference on Religion and Science in the spring.

The next MRSS event is the Goshen Conference on Religion and Science, scheduled for March 9-11, 2018, which will feature Muzaffar Iqbal, founder-president of the Center for Islamic Sciences (Canada) and editor of Islamic Sciences, a journal of Islamic perspectives on science and civilization. For more information, visit the conference website, https://www.goshen.edu/religionscience/, or email the conference director, Carl Helrich, emeritus professor of physics at Goshen College, at carlsh@goshen.edu.