Monday, September 8, 2014

Book Write-Up: Biblical Portraits of Creation

Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. and Dorington G. Little.  Biblical Portraits of Creation: Celebrating the Maker of Heaven and Earth.  Wooster, Ohio: Weaver Book Company, 2014.  See here for Amazon’s page about this book.

Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. is an evangelical Hebrew Bible scholar.  Dorington G. Little was pastor of a church that Kaiser and Kaiser’s late wife attended when Kaiser lived in Massachusetts.  Both men contribute chapters to Biblical Portraits of Creation: Celebrating the Maker of Heaven and Earth, with Kaiser contributing the vast majority of them, and Little contributing three.  The book interacts with the topic of creation as it appears in various places throughout the Bible: Genesis 1-2, the Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Isaiah, and even the New Testament.

The aim of the book seems to be threefold.  First, it seeks to educate believers about the biblical teachings about creation and the significance of God as creator.  Second, it wants the biblical teachings to have a significant place in current Christian debates about origins.  And, third, it argues that the primeval chapters of Genesis (Genesis 1-11) were intended to be historical, to describe what happened in history.  Kaiser is maintaining this position against theistic evolutionists and Christians and scholars who dispute the historicity of Genesis 1-11, seeing it instead as poetry or myth.  While Kaiser offers a brief criticism of Young Earth Creationism (and renowned Old Earth Creationist Hugh Ross endorses the book), neither Kaiser nor Little really engage Young Earth Creationism throughout most of the book.

A lot of the book, in my opinion, states the obvious: that God is wise, and that God created things.  I cannot say that these parts of the book particularly thrilled me with any fresh insights. I suppose that readers who want to exalt God as creator could enjoy these parts as devotional reading, but they could get the same edification from just reading the Bible.  Another deficiency to the book is what it does not really engage: the scientific arguments regarding evolution, and the debates within Christianity about the age of the earth.

At the same time, the book is valuable because of its engagement with scholarly ideas.  Kaiser argues against biblical scholars who maintain that the biblical writers were relying on Mesopotamian documents or tales, that the biblical authors believed in a flat earth covered by a dome, that Genesis 1:1 depicts God using already existing raw materials rather than creating ex nihilo, and that Genesis 1 and 2 are two different creation accounts that contradict each other.  In making some of these arguments, especially in the appendix (which provides a 1969 article that Kaiser wrote), Kaiser refers to scholars who are not particularly evangelical and thus are not aiming to uphold the authority of Scripture.  Kaiser also interacts with thought-provoking questions, such as whether wisdom in Proverbs 8 is a being (such as Jesus Christ—-you may be surprised by Kaiser’s answer!), and whether the Bible contradicts itself in its assertions about whether the cosmos is stable or will be destroyed.  Kaiser’s arguments range from being unconvincing and unsatisfying to being informative, interesting, and even rather convincing.  In any case, those looking for an alternative scholarly perspective may find Kaiser’s arguments (and his references) well worth the read.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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