Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Alan Meyers
Look in your church library and see if you can find a book called The Bible Speaks to You, by Robert McAfee Brown. It was part of our denomination’s Christian education materials when I was in my first year of high school. (Yes, I am an old dude. I’m talking about the early 1960s. But hang on — this is not just an exercise in Boomer nostalgia.)
Brown’s wonderful book played a huge role in my life. One of the most important parts of the book for me was a chapter entitled “God, Genesis, and Geology.” When I was still a small child I had been told that some people thought that “we came from apes,” and that people who thought that way “didn’t believe in God.” As I approached the ninth grade and the prospect of a biology course in which we would study Darwin, I was filled with apprehension. How could I take the study of science seriously and still remain a Christian? Didn’t accepting evolution by natural selection mean you didn’t believe God created us? Didn’t believing that the Bible is God’s Word mean you had to accept that the world had been created in six days the way it said in the first chapter of Genesis, and not over billions of years as the scientists said? How could I choose between science and faith?
I remember the enormous relief I felt after reading that chapter in The Bible Speaks to You. Dr. Brown said that the Bible and modern science were not talking about the same thing. Science is about the How of creation, the details of exactly what happened to bring about the world we know. Genesis is not a scientific description of exactly, literally, how the world came into being; it deals with the Why of creation and its answer is “God.” The writers of the Bible were expressing their faith in God in terms of an understanding of the world that was available to them then — but that faith does not depend on that understanding. (See the Book of Confessions, 9.29.) Today we can share the faith of the Biblical writers and also share the outlook of modern science, without cognitive dissonance.
What a liberating insight this was to my thirteen-year-old self! But I am afraid that many present-day Christians still have not experienced anything like this liberation. When I taught courses on the critical study of the Bible at a Presbyterian college, I found that lots of my students were Biblical literalists, and did not even realize that any other way of reading the Bible was possible for a faithful Christian. I would not force Brown’s way of reading the Bible on anyone — but I would like everyone at least to know that such a reading is available if they want to adopt it.
How about our Christian education curricula today? Are the young people in your church — or the older people — ever exposed to the thinking I learned about in Robert McAfee Brown’s book? If not, wouldn’t it be a good idea to do a unit on Biblical interpretation in your Sunday School classes? It might relieve a lot of hearts and minds of a serious burden.
Rev. Dr. Alan Meyers