Concordism Under Fire

Concordism Under Fire

Many readers of John Walton’s best-selling book, The Lost World of Genesis One, see it as a polemic against concordism and of Reasons To Believe’s concordist view in particular. In The Lost World of Genesis One’s first proposition, the Wheaton College professor of Old Testament defines concordism: “Concordists believe the Bible must agree—be in concord with—all the findings of contemporary science.”1

This definition marginalizes Reasons To Believe’s view. No scholar here holds that position. Walton instead defines a subset of concordism: hard concordism.

What’s the distinction? Hard concordists look to make nearly all scientific discoveries agree with some Scripture passage. Soft concordists seek for agreement between properly interpreted Scripture passages that describe some aspect of the natural realm and indisputably established and well-understood scientific data. Reasons To Believe holds the latter view.

RTB’s soft concordism brand agrees with Walton that a literalistic hermeneutic does not apply to all Bible passages. It also agrees that one must always guard against reading more into the biblical text than what the text warrants. An overreach sets a person or group up for possible embarrassment and the church at large for possible ridicule.

On the other hand, to read less into the biblical text than what the text teaches also is problematic. Secularists often interpret such responses as believers conceding that Scripture cannot withstand objective testing. Furthermore, believers lose out on truth they can apply for Christian living and witness.

What are Christian apologists to do, then, with the Bible? Nobody can claim complete and perfect understanding of everything the Bible teaches. The same goes for the book of nature. However, the Bible calls people in their humanity to be both theologians and scientists. Christians are to diligently and thoroughly research both of God’s books and, through careful application of the biblical testing method (aka scientific method), develop the best and most complete interpretations of God’s books. If we overreach, we humbly back up. If we underreach, we courageously move forward. As we press forward to gain more truth, we submit our hypotheses to rigorous objective testing. Proposition eleven of Walton’s book again seems to take a swipe at Reasons To Believe’s concordism. He writes, “They [concordists] might conclude that if the big bang really happened as a mechanism for the origins of the universe, it must be included in the biblical account of the origins of the universe. So concordists will attempt to determine where the big bang fits into the biblical record and what words could be understood to express it (even if in rather mystical or subtle ways).”

Apparently, Walton is unaware of how I became a Christian. When I first gave the Bible a serious read, I was expecting it to be like all other “holy” books: skimpy on scientific details and largely incorrect in its descriptions of nature. I was not looking for big bang cosmology in the Bible and at that time the discipline was far from firmly established by astronomical research. I was surprised that the Bible taught big bang cosmology fundamentals (cosmic beginning including a beginning of space, time, matter, and energy, cosmic expansion, and constant physical laws, including a pervasive law of decay) not in a mystical or subtle way but explicitly and repeatedly. At the time, I saw nothing inconsistent with what the Bible taught and what astronomers had established about the universe. I wondered, though, how the Bible’s specifically stated cosmological claims would fare as astronomical research advanced.

Reasons To Believe does not try to force fit big bang cosmology into the Bible. But, neither are we embarrassed or unduly concerned to find it there. From our perspective it is plainly taught in the Bible, not just in Genesis but in many other Old and New Testament books. Thus, if astronomers were to prove beyond any shadow of doubt, for example, that the universe did not have a beginning (that it was not created), such truth would be catastrophic to our belief that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God. It also would demand a major alteration in our theology of God.

Such an alteration, I believe, is evident in Walton’s book. He writes, “Genesis One was never intended to offer an account of material origins”2 and that “the text does not offer scientific explanations.”3 He concludes, “Science cannot offer an unbiblical view of material origins because there is no biblical view of material origins.”4

I am sympathetic to Walton’s motivation to eliminate conflict between science and the Bible. However, to insist the Bible is silent on material origins and explanations goes too far. It is the task––a rewarding one––of all Christians to study both creation and Scripture and discover complementary voices that go “out into all the earth” to “declare the glory” and righteousness of God (Psalm 19:1–4; Psalm 97:6).

  1. John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 19.
  2. Ibid, 113.
  3. Ibid, 107.
  4. Ibid, 113.