Foundation or Fairy Tale? Controversial Scriptures addressed at preaching workshop
FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – In an age when scientists, educators, and even some theologians presume naturalism and evolution are fact rather than theory, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Advanced Expository Preaching Workshop grappled with a section of Scripture that has served as a source of contention with atheists and Christians alike. During the workshop, titled “Foundation or Fairy Tale? Preaching Genesis 1-11,” speakers addressed key issues pastors face when proclaiming the truths of God’s Word in the face of opposition.
The first 11 chapters of the book of Genesis have been a hotbed of debate and controversy between liberal and conservative theologians not only in the broader evangelical arena but also at home within the Southern Baptist Convention during the 20th century. In fact, four major controversies within the SBC swirled around the issue of biblical inerrancy, with Genesis a primary battleground.
The Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy in the early part of the 20th century included claims that some within the convention supported views on evolution, thus denying the biblical account. In the early 1960s, SBC seminary professor Ralph Elliott wrote The Message of Genesis, published by the convention’s Broadman&Holman, where he asserted that Genesis 1-11 was simply myth. In 1969, sparks flew again when the Broadman Bible Commentary offered a similar hypothesis, and the convention voted to ban the publisher from printing the commentary. Eventually, these streams came to a head in the latter part of the 20th century as the battle for biblical inerrancy reached a fever pitch in the Conservative Resurgence.
The preaching workshop at Southwestern Seminary, Sept. 26, challenged pastors to preach these foundational passages to the Christian faith with courage and conviction. Southwestern Seminary professors Matthew McKellar, Jason Lee, and David Allen joined Beeson Divinity School Old Testament Professor Allen Ross to speak on creation, the fall, the flood, and the tower of Babel.
Associate Professor of Preaching Matthew McKellar spoke on the first two chapters of Genesis and the origin of man and the cosmos. McKellar said one’s doctrine of creation influences the rest of his theology, and understanding creation helps people differentiate Christianity from other religions and worldviews.
“If I’m going to deny the historicity of the creation account, then I’ve got some major problems elsewhere down the line,” McKellar said.
“There are people in your community who are in bondage to the worship of the created order. When you preach Genesis 1, God can use what you say to liberate them.”
McKellar addressed the nuanced views of theistic evolution, the gap theory, the day-age theory, and literal six-day creation. He holds to the literal view, saying, “The God of six-day creation is also the God of third-day resurrection.”
Associate Professor of Historical Theology Jason Lee addressed Genesis 2-3 and the introduction of sin into the world through Adam and Eve. He gave biblical hermeneutical principles to pastors to encourage them to let their preaching be driven by the text.
While he acknowledged the need to address questions and matters of conjecture from members of the congregation, Lee urged pastors not to allow apologetics to trump the biblical purpose.
“There is a subtle danger,” Lee said, “in that due to the level of interest in our congregations or even our own apologetic bent as preachers, that we would focus on the apologetic issues and therefore allow the text itself and the author’s intention to be eclipsed by our own purposes. As expository preachers we need to make sure our chief focus is the features of the inspired text and that the meaning expressed and the intention of the author is our interpretive goal and our proclamation foundation.”
Guest-speaker Allen Ross, author of Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis and Recalling the Hope of Glory: Biblical Worship from the Garden to the New Creation, taught on the flood account recorded in Genesis 6-10, offering valid arguments for the historicity of a universal flood.
“We know that sin, judgment and grace are the basic issues, but as you start to look in more detail, it’s very complex,” Ross said.
“This is the truth of most of the Bible as a whole but certainly of Genesis 1-11. You read it through, you follow the story line, you know essentially what it’s saying; but as you start to probe, you begin to realize that there is more there than you could possibly glean in a lifetime, and you’ll come back to it again and again and again, finding more every time you go through it because the seeds of everything that is going to come out in the Scripture is there.”
Ross said the divine judgment found in the flood narrative proves unpleasant for many, but “we shouldn’t be surprised by that because it’s unpleasant for God, too. … He is slow to judge.”
Southwestern Dean of Theology David Allen concluded the workshop on the issue of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. Regarding the multitude of languages spoken around the world, Allen said, “Apart from God’s revelation, accounting for the origin of language is an insoluble problem.”
Allen said the account exemplifies the ultimate act of hubris on the part of man. The men of Babel defied God’s decrees and sought to make a great name for themselves.
Audio and resources from the Advanced Expository Preaching Workshop can be accessed at www.swbts.edu/aepw2011.