By Richard F. Carlson and Tremper Longman III, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010.
To compress the processes of origins science into a few thousand years is as hard as to extend the fiat of origins theology to billions of years. Seventh-day Adventist members would like science to confirm the Bible’s origins story as nicely as inspiration has often confirmed our health message, but that likely will not happen because a fiat creation is not an ongoing process amenable to scientific inquiry. Richard F. Carlson and Tremper Longman try to deal with the conflict and, although their progression of thought does not always seem obvious, here you will find one way of organizing it:
First, readers will appreciate the authors’ respect for the Bible. Theology tells of God and love; life after death; the eschaton and ultimate destiny; and human value, purpose, and responsibilities. The book’s primary emphasis centers on theology—a systematic Bible hermeneutic and celebration of God’s wisdom, power, care, and faithfulness with each new scientific discovery.
The authors note both fiat and process throughout the Bible. Isaiah 40 uses both as comfort for the Babylonian exiles. The Psalms speak of God’s power and creation’s regularity. John speaks of the Word at Creation and in continuing action. Colossians 1:15–20 and Hebrews 1:1–4 glorify Christ as Creator and Sustainer. Romans 1:18–20 and 8:19–23 speak of the Genesis curse and the redemption story for the entire creation.
Unfortunately, the book hardly deals with the problem of evil where some of the best clues come from an understanding of origins: God is not the source of evil, He created humans with freedom, is just, feels the evil with us, and limits evil in time.
Revelation may need to be reinterpreted. Some have done this in accepting science’s long-age processes for development of the universe, solar system, and earth itself; however, most would be uncomfortable with these authors’ acceptance of such processes for life as well.
The authors limit revelation in that both the Bible and Christ are an incarnational accommodation to humans. Both are beyond normal human understanding and science, for example, God’s character, our free will in spite of God’s omniscience, the Incarnation, the Resurrection, and miracles. Thus, the authors recognize that any reconciliation will be incomplete.
Second, readers would probably agree with this book’s respect for nature and the scientific method of studying it, but also its recognition that nature may need reinterpretation and that our human understanding is limited. Due to human limitations, the divine/human Christ presents a theology paradox, just as the wave/particle theory of light presents a science paradox. Thus, the authors reject a purely human description of God’s creative activity and note that even scientific descriptions go beyond normal human experiences for very large and small sizes and high speeds. When science does describe nature’s processes without referring to God, this is not necessarily godless, for it uses methodological naturalism without necessarily espousing metaphysical naturalism.
Third, the book tries to reconcile revelation and nature by rejecting either an anti-God or antiscience position, and instead suggests that theology tells why and science tells how. This attempt at reconciliation has major problems, as does any attempt, so the authors refer not only to the simple creation wisdom of Proverbs 3 and 8, but also the complex creation of Job 38–41. For Job, God’s direct response is better than having all the answers.
Fourth, the authors attempt to remove barriers for presenting the gospel to people. Although the attempt will not be useful to many, it may be helpful in encouraging faith among some in the poorly reached people group of the educated.
—Reviewed by Ben Clausen, PhD, associate director, Geoscience Research Institute, Loma Linda, California, United States.