Friday, July 20, 2012

From doubt to doubt

In a recent book by John Suk, Not Sure: A Pastor’s Journey from Faith to Doubt, we are treated to a memoir-ish sketch of one pastor’s formerly firm foundation in the faith into suppressed doubts into doubts in the open, and now from his blog I have learned that he has chosen to resign his ministerial credentials in the Christian Reformed Church.

Irony: many pastors know the condition of serving people when the pastor can seemingly jump out of the scene, examine it all, and wonder if it make sense. Suk’s problems, discussed piercingly in his chp on “Postmodern Faith,” was not only the cosmopolitan relativism but learning creation stories in the Ancient Near East, and the sense of imminency in the New Testament, the politics of the Nicene Creed…

i) The CRC is pretty liberal to begin with. So is Calvin College and Seminary. Hence, Suk’s odyssey is less a journey from faith to doubt that a journey from lesser doubt to greater doubt.

ii) McKnight is alluding to pp62-63 of Suk’s book. It’s as if Suk never read the Bible before he attended seminary.

iii) There are good treatments on comparative mythology, such as John Oswalt’s The Bible Among the Myths.

iv) But what about Gen 1-2 in relation to ANE creation stories? Was Suk surprised to discover the existence of ANE creation stories? If so, why would that surprise him? Don’t most cultures have creation stories?

v) Moreover, even if Gen 1-2 share some generic motifs in common with other ANE creation stories, how does that cast doubt on the factuality of Gen 1-2?

To begin with, this is a description of the natural world. The type of world which the audience inhabited. To the extent that the story has primitive features, that’s because it’s describing a primitive world. That’s what the world was really like back then.

It's also not surprising if Gen 1-2 shared some literary characteristics in common with the genre of ANE creation stories. 

For modern readers, who inhabit a fairly artificial world, with fast food and HVAC microclimates–from the home to the car to the business, &c., Gen 1-2 may seem a bit alien to us.

Yet you’d expect a realistic creation account, addressed to people living in the ANE, to talk about day and night, morning and evening, summer and winter, seedtime and harvest, rain, floodplains, river valleys, wild animals, game animals, livestock, sun, moon, stars, fish, fruit-trees, dirt, breath, and so on. Both fictitious and factual creation stories set in the ANE would include many of the same basic ingredients.

If most of us were still ranchers or farmers, we’d find nothing fictitious or mythical about these elements. Of course, the Biblical accounts have some supernatural elements as well, but that’s only mythological on the prior assumption that God, angels, and evil spirits don’t exist. That miracles don’t happen.

Keep in mind, too, that once the garden of Eden was planted and furnished, everything would seem quite natural. There’s no evidence that God or angels paid visits on a regular basis. God appears in judgment. The cherubim appear in judgment. 

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