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Monday, December 7, 2015

Genesis, The Book of Beginnings Part I - Introduction

The material for this series of lessons is taken primarily from Henry Morris III's 3-volume series entitled The Book of Beginnings (Dallas:  Institute for Creation Research, 2012).  However, as with the other studies, this one is using Dr. Morris's book as a guide and will not be a chapter-by-chapter study - rather, it will be utilizing the Scripture text itself, supplemented by other material including writings of the Church Fathers, and also of writers throughout the centuries who dealt with literal six-day creation positions, such as St. Lawrence of Brindisi, Archbishop Ussher, and Fr. Victor Warkulwicz.  I also owe a debt of gratitude to the Kolbe Center for the Study of Creation, as well as the Creation Research Society, the latter of which I am a member.  This series was taught beginning in October 2015 at my parish church, St. Mary Anglican Catholic Church in Winter Haven, FL, as part of our Sunday morning Bible studies. 

Nothing stirs up debate and controversy more than when you study either Creation or prophecy, as it seems as if what Christians believe about the beginning and end of time tends to evoke emotions.  Many Christians unfortunately - even conservative/traditionalists at times - have bought into the Enlightenment mentality which often denigrates and allegorizes passages in Scripture which should actually be viewed literally.  That is why a study like this is important for the layperson in the average church, as Genesis is often looked at as either a morality tale, an allegory, or mythology.  However, it must be remembered that God wrote the book, and therefore we need to trust more in what He says maybe than what we tend to think, because as fallible mortal human beings, we can (and often do!) think wrong.  So, that is why we need to examine how the Church over the ages has traditionally believed and taught about Genesis, as it is part of what we call as Catholic Christians the Fidei Depositum.  

So, let's ask ourselves this question - why is Genesis important?  To begin, it must be established that everyone believes in something, and in the case of the Judeo-Christian belief system, the book of Genesis is at its source.  If we, as Christians, fail to believe in what we confess every Sunday in our Creeds - "I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth and all things visible and invisible..." - it will affect every other essential doctrine we believe as Christians.  Therefore, there are two things we need to understand about the Biblical record that sets it apart for us:

1.  The Biblical record is theistic.
2.  The Biblical record is creationist.

With most other religious systems, the cosmologies they contain are often classified in one of three ways:

1. Pantheism - everything is God, and therefore God is not distinct from creation but is synonymous with it.
2. Polytheism - Every force of nature is deity itself, and these deities are often animistic as well as being polytheistic.
3. Evolution -  A totally naturalistic approach in which all life evolved essentially from chemicals and random forces.

Some - notably what are called New Agers - combine evolution and pantheism to produce a doctrine called soul transmigration, otherwise known as reincarnation.  This idea essentially sees life "evolving" from simpler life forms to more complex, and at some point this process will result in the person becoming part of the "God-consciousness" themselves.  This is actually a dangerous belief in that it combines occultism and Darwinian evolution together, and that unholy union has produced a lot of nasty things over the past several decades - the Nazis, for instance, defined their entire worldview on this idea, and the modern Eugenics movement, which depersonalizes those it feels as "unfit," likewise gets its impetus from these ideologies.  And, the common thread among all these ideologies is that they are in direct contradiction with what Christians have historically believed over the centuries and the Church has taught since its inception on the day of Pentecost.  It is becaunse of such ideologies infecting an increasingly secularized society we face that it is more important than ever for Christians to study and appreciate Genesis.   The bottom line between this historic clash of worldviews though boils down to this - whether the God of Scripture created the universe or if some pagan nature deities "perfected" it.  Either way, the end result is that paganism of any form (including secularism, which is the paganization of wealth-worship) directly and boldy rebels against the one true God of history.

When studying Genesis and some of the weighty material about origins it contains, it is also important to know that ideas have consequences.  For one thing, no human being operates without some bias - this means the presupposition to believe one idea over another, which is rightly called faith.  Therefore, what one believes (theology) will determine how one thinks (philosophy).  In turn, what one thinks (philosophy) dictates what one does (morality).  Ultimately then what one does (morality) will be the impacting or dominating force in one's life (worldview).  This is therefore why there is a historic four-fold hermeutic to Scripture which must be fully embraced, and here it is:

                    Four-Fold Hermeneutic of Scripture

1. Literal – what it actually says
             •2. Allegorical – what we believe about it
       •3. Moral – how it effects our actions
                   •4. Anagogical – where we hope it leads us to

If we learn to read Scripture utilizing these aspects of hermeneutical principle not as contradicting each other, but rather as complimentary, we begin to get a fuller grasp of what the Church understands Scripture to mean.  And, if we do so in the right way, it shapes our own worldview conforming it to the one God intended us to have - it is in essence a putting to practice what we studied in the Lord's Prayer when we pray the petition "Thy will be done."  This is why too Genesis is an important book of Scripture for us to study.

In the secular world which hasn't been enlightened by the light of the Gospel, the universal search for meaning can often be misguided.  In fact, it has often been reduced to nothing more than "fulfilling self-image."  In recent years, the aforementioned synthesis of Darwinian evolution with New Age occultism has resulted in the terminology "survival of the fittest" being cloaked in quasi-spiritualist jargon as "self-empowerment."  And, as this culture becomes more commercialized, customized, jingled and jangled, manipulated by those offering this or that "solution" to a problem, it means that Satan has to a degree prevailed by shifting mankind's focus from God onto self.  And, there is a more practical downfall to this mentality - it is the reason why so many commercials interrupt that good television program we are watching (and now this crass commercial hawking has even entered movie theaters and YouTube videos!) as well as getting tons of junk mail, "spam," and annoying telemarketers calling at inconvenient times.  The thing is however that these things represent mankind's search for something, although it often leads as well to the willful ignorance (Kent Hovind's translation - dumb on purpose!) of timeless questions that should be directing us toward God.  In his book A Pentecostal Hermeneutic (Cleveland, TN:  CPT Press, 2009), Kenneth J. Archer calls that series of timeless questions by another name, specifically Central Narrative Convictions, or CNCS.  He lists what those are on page 157 of the book, and this is them:

Questions Addressed By CNC’s

               1.Where are we? (What is the nature of the reality in which we find ourselves?)
                2.Who are we? (What is the nature and task we are called to)
               3.What’s wrong? (In the past tense in this context – how do we understand and            account for the past sin and brokenness which brought us to conversion?)
               4.What’s the remedy (In this context – how did we find the way to conversion?)

These lead to variations of the above questions that Morris notes in his book on pages 11-12:

1.  What is my purpose in life?
2.  Why is the world so full of evil?
3.  Why can't we all just get along?
4.   Is it always going to be this way?

When we refuse to ask and address the right questions, what that means for us is that much of what we actually do embrace as individuals doesn't require a commitment of belief on our part.  Therefore, the accepted cliches' and jargon of one's particular cultural environment become substitutes for expressing genuine belief.  And, related to that is the faulty assumption that simply giving the "right answers" is deemed acceptable.  Genesis therefore provides for us a basis for a Biblical worldview, and this is why it is important to study Genesis.

One thing that a study of Genesis quicky reveals is the issue of authority, answering the question "who's in charge?"  Genesis should affirm in its readers the following things:

1.  A trustworthiness of Holy Scripture.
2. A trustworthiness of God.

If we believe that Scripture and the God who authored it are trustworthy, then God will be the supreme authority in all matters about which He writes through gifted human vessels throughout the ages.  God is first and foremost the author of all truth and no untruth. In summary, God doesn't lie!  Therefore, the complete text of Holy Scripture is purposefully and supernaturally inspired and trustworthy, and that includes even matters of science!  Scripture is also a consistent record.  God verifies, augments, describes, and cites His creative power without alteration throughout the whole of the Bible.  Therefore, anyone who reads the record of Genesis understands what is written - words and phrases are not at all complex, but do require belief!  This is not something which is merely "experienced" either, but is either to be believed or rejected, and there is no middle ground in the matter.

Mankind was from his creation given the responsibility to choose whether he will submit to the Author of truth (God) or reject both that truth and its source.  Therefore what it boils down to is who rules - God or man?  Judeo-Christian (and to a lesser degree classical Islamic) belief systems are creationist at their core in that they search for answers to nature's origins outside of nature - nature has a supernatural beginning, in other words.  Pagan religions, in contrast, are often corruptions of some truths initiated or inspired by demonic forces that compel man to wrongly worship the creation (forces of nature) rather than its Creator.  This also means that evolutionist thought on origins does the same thing - rather than relying on God, evolution attributes natural origins to random forces, and therefore indirectly worshipping those forces while denying the God who created those forces to begin with.  If God is indeed the Creator, then He alone is the owner of all that is and man is merely a steward of creation who is ultimately accountable to God for his actions.

With all that groundwork being laid now, here are the premises in which the various parts of this very extensive study will be based.  First, we are taking the position that Genesis records a true and historical account.  The earth and indeed all the universe was created by God - in the view of this study - between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago.  I know that there will be some who are creationists who will embrace what is called an "Old-Earth View," and that is fine too - I am myself a former Old-Earther too, so I understand that you still believe Genesis is historical, and that you also believe God is still the creator, yet you also may accept millions and billions of years in the creative process.  It is not going to imperil your salvation if you hold to that, but I believe that the evidence does point to a much younger universe, and I will be supplying a lot of that evidence at applicable points during the course of this study.  It is also a presupposition and premise of this particular study that around 4,400 years ago, God sent a global flood which was an effort to cleanse a world which had gotten so corrupt and evil that something had to be done, and that he preserved one man, Noah, and his family to continue the human race and thus His plan of salvation.  We will, at that juncture, also examine some legends from a variety of cultures around the world which affirm that Noah was an actual person, and what you will see will astound you in accuracy of detail.

That being said, I wanted to borrow from Pastor Billy Crone, of the Sonrise Baptist Church in Las Vegas, five important attributes we need to keep in mind regarding Genesis and the Creation, and they are as follows:

1.  It is an intelligent Creation (God's special design)
2.  It is a young Creation (10,000 years old max)
3.  It is a special Creation (this refutes the lies of evolution)
4.  It is a judged Creation (man sinned, God sent a flood 4400 years ago, but sin continues so God sent Himself - Jesus - to redeem us 2000 years ago)
5.  It is a fearful Creation (Dinosaurs, etc.)

Creation therefore is part of the story of salvation of mankind, and has Jesus Christ as its axis.  Jesus was at the beginning (John 1:1, Rev. 1:6), is unchanging (Hebrews 13:8), and is Himself God come in the flesh to save us (Comfortable Words in the Book of Common Prayer).  The Bible doesn't claim to be a history book, as its details were basically meant to chronicle God's salvific work, but its history is accurate and is proven more so every day even by secular scientists in various fields.  That being said, this refutes detractors even in religious circles who relegate the Bible to merely a "religious text," and by doing so such people have lost so much dimension in their own faith too.  In the next section, I will begin by talking about the days of Creation, one by one, and how they also were a plan of God in the way He did them in order to teach us some deep spiritual truths.  God be with you until next study.