GCI Update

Theology, science and Genesis

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Joe and Tammy TkachGenesis is perhaps the most debated book in the Bible, largely because its purpose and nature are often misunderstood. Fundamentalists and evolutionists alike claim that Genesis conflicts with science. But Genesis makes no attempt to address many of the questions that are the concern of modern, evolutionary science. The purpose of the creation narratives in Genesis (there are two, as I explain below) is not scientific but theological (with philosophical and religious implications). The creation narratives reveal who the creator God is, what kind of relationship he has with his creation, and his ultimate purpose for his creation. Science has other concerns.

Evolutionary creation?

The creation narratives of Genesis do not give detailed descriptions of the mechanisms involved that explain exactly how creation came about or unfolded. The descriptions are not “scientific” (as we would say today) in that way. But that does not mean they are inaccurate about what they do explain. Unfortunately, many of the scientists in the ongoing debate make claims that are largely philosophical rather than strictly scientific. Scientist Richard Dawkins (one of the so-called new atheists), a vocal contributor to the debate, is a prime example. His arguments, rather than being about material aspects of creation ascertained by the scientific method, are philosophical claims involving speculative logical inferences about God, religion and evil made from selected scientific information. That being said, a right understanding of Genesis does not rule out the possibility that God has (at least in part) used evolutionary processes to advance his creative purposes.

The creation narratives in Genesis leave room for theistic evolution (others prefer the term evolutionary creation), by which God oversees evolutionary processes in bringing about his purposes for creation. God’s oversight of and intervention in his creation comes, ultimately, in and through Jesus Christ. Since Genesis and the rest of Scripture do not specify the means God used (and continues to use) in creating, we are free to adopt the best scientific theories available that do not contradict the theological claims of biblical revelation.

Why the Genesis creation narratives?

Because the purpose of the Genesis creation narratives is fundamentally theological, they rule out the claims of atheism, polytheism, deism and dualism. In fact, the Genesis creation narratives likely were written to address those who had heard of and possibly believed in the creation myths taught by the polytheistic religions of Babylonia, Akkadia and Egypt. Evidence for this is seen in the many similarities between the Genesis creation accounts and the Babylonian creation myth known as Enûma Eliš. One of those similarities is that both begin with a watery chaos.

Unfortunately, some skeptics go too far in what they make of these similarities, claiming that the author of Genesis merely changed the Babylonian creation myth to make it about the God of Israel. But in making that claim they fail to account for the crucial differences between the biblical and the polytheistic creation narratives. Genesis gives us a theological explanation of who God is quite different than that of the pagan myths. Whereas Genesis tells the story of the creation of humanity by the one God of Israel, Enûma Eliš tells the story of creation through many gods, who in turn give birth to several other gods who grow up to be quite a rowdy bunch (much like humans!).

Babylonian polytheistic mythology (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Concerning the differences between the Genesis creation narratives and the Babylonian creation myth, Victor Hurowitz (in Is the Creation Story Babylonian?), wrote that it is “patently untenable” to speculate that the biblical authors simply took Enûma Eliš and “applied it to YHWH.” [1] As Hurowitz and others have noted, the character and purpose of the one creator God presented in Genesis is entirely different from the gods of the polytheistic creation myths. Consequently the depiction in Genesis of God’s relationship with humans is entirely different than the relationship between the gods and humans depicted in the pagan myths.

Reading Genesis rightly

Adding to the complexity of understanding Genesis is that it contains two creation narratives in its first few chapters. Current debates about Genesis often overlook this, along with three other facts: 1) the creation narratives are small parts of the larger whole of Genesis, 2) the focus of Genesis is not creation but the nation of Israel, 3) Genesis is part of the Pentateuch and the entire Bible, giving it a much larger context than is typically acknowledged.

It’s also important to note that Genesis must be read through ancient eyes rather than modern ones. These different “lenses” assume different things and ask different questions. Reading with ancient eyes requires that we become aware of our modern perspectives that mainly want to know how things work and how to use things for our purposes. Modern “scientific” explanations insist that we don’t need to know anything about any agent involved in creation, but only the mechanisms of the natural world. It also insists that there is no need to know the ultimate purposes of those things that exist—only how to use them for our own ends. In our modern era, these philosophical assumptions determine what constitutes scientific explanation, thus reducing the search for knowledge by asking essentially technological questions.

Reading Genesis rightly also requires that we understand what the original audience expected from stories such as the creation narratives. Ancient readers would not have looked to Genesis to learn how creation works at the natural, material and causal levels. Instead, they would have wanted to know about the agent(s) responsible for creation and its ultimate purpose or destiny.

Rather than trying to make Genesis answer modern, very constricted scientific questions it was not designed to address, we should ask, What questions was Genesis actually designed to answer? Genesis reveals theological truths about the agency behind creation and its purpose. It does this in fairly straightforward ways that do not require logical inferences and speculations about what is written.

For example, no passage of Scripture directly states the age of the universe. Trying to determine the date of creation from the Bible requires interpolating from what the biblical authors say about other things. But such interpolations (logical inferences) do not lead to truth. That is why the church, when it began to debate the improper question of the age of the universe, was unable to come to agreement. Those who contributed to the debate offered only unprovable theories based on unprovable assumptions, generated by logical inferences using biblical information provided for very different purposes! An example is the work of Bishop James Ussher who claimed to have calculated the exact date of creation based on inferences from biblical genealogies.

Another key issue in reading Genesis rightly is being able to identify the literary genre of the text. Tremper Longman III, professor of biblical studies at Westmont College, makes that point in his book, How to Read Genesis: “No reading of the book [of Genesis] can proceed without making a genre identification. Most people do it without reflection, a dangerous procedure since an error in this area results in fundamental misunderstanding of the book’s message” (p. 23).

Ultimately, the only way to rightly read Genesis is to read it through the “lens” of Jesus Christ—carefully accounting for his life, death, resurrection and ascension. In his Gospel, Luke tells us that, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] explained to [his followers] what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Jesus then said to them, “‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44). Luke then tells us that Jesus “opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45). It is Jesus—who he is and what he has done—that informs our understanding of Genesis as well as the rest of the Old Testament (and, indeed, the whole of Scripture).

The importance of seeing the whole picture

Capon Genesis the MovieIn Genesis: the MovieEpiscopal priest and scholar Robert Farrar Capon explains the book’s title and purpose:

[My purpose is to] help people stop reading the Bible as if it were a manual of instruction in religion or spirituality or morality or anything else and to start watching it as a film, presented to you by the Holy Spirit, who is the movie director. When you watch a movie, you don’t stop 10 minutes into the film and try to decide what it means. You cannot fairly say anything about the movie until you have seen the whole movie and hold it in your mind as an entirety—as a whole piece. And that is what needs to be done with the Bible. It has to be seen as one thing. So I’d like people to see biblical inspiration, not as a matter of word-by-word inspiration, but as scenes in the movie the way the director wants to show it to you, that is, scene-by-scene.

I think Capon is on to something here. If we don’t see the whole picture of the Bible, it’s easy to derive inaccurate meanings from passages that we are pulling out of the context of that one “movie.” It’s when we see what the Holy Spirit as the movie director is doing that we pick up the clues woven into the text. Capon’s book helps us understand not only the purpose of the book of Genesis, but how the whole of Scripture is integrated around the core of God’s ultimate plan of redemption in Jesus Christ.

Reading Genesis in the light of Jesus

DSC_0156I’m glad to say that my dear friend John McKenna (pictured at right) is writing a book that will offer important incarnational, Trinitarian perspective on Genesis. It will explain that Moses, the author of Genesis, was the great prophet who lived at the beginning of Israel’s history. It will note parallels between Moses and Jesus, referencing, for example, Deuteronomy 18:15 (KJV): “The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken.” Recognizing Moses as a prophet significantly impacts how we read Genesis.

John will also explain that the first eleven chapters of Genesis are “primordial prophecy” with the first chapter relating to the cosmos as first created or developed, and the second through the eleventh chapters relating to the earliest ages of history. John will explain that the remainder of Genesis is “ancestral prophecy”—telling the story of inheritance.

Please join me in encouraging Dr. McKenna to finish this important book, and also join me in reading Genesis from the perspective of who Jesus is and what his plan is for all humanity. After all, as Paul says in Colossians 1:15-20, everything was created through the Son, for the Son, and to be inherited by the Son of God. In the Old Testament, we see God’s faithfulness displayed in what he was doing to prepare the world for the Incarnation of the Son of God, leading to the redemption of all humanity in and through Jesus. It is in this light that Genesis is rightly read.

Rejoicing in the goodness of our Creator who is our Redeemer,
Joseph Tkach

PS: To read more on this topic, we recommend Three Views on Creation and Evolution, and Four Views on the Historical Adam. The latter book has a helpful chapter by Denis Lamaroux on evolutionary creation. Also click here for a related Surprising God post by Gary Deddo.

[1] Quoted from Exploring Genesis: The Bible’s Ancient Traditions in Context, a free e-book from the Biblical Archaeology Society. Here is an extended quote from Hurowitz’s chapter in that book:

As recent scholarship is making clear, simplistic comparison between Enûma Eliš and the biblical tradition—as if the Bible were directly dependent on Enûma Eliš and it alone—is patently untenable.… In light of all this and more, it is impossible to accept today in a simplistic manner the claims… that the biblical authors took the Babylonian Story of Creation, that is Enûma Eliš, and simply applied it to YHWH, God of Israel. The specific parallels are fewer than originally thought and even the best ones are not entirely certain. (pp. 11-12)

Mozambique relief

GCI relief funds and congregations from various nations have been helping provide food to 100+ GCI congregations in Mozambique suffering from hunger due to ongoing drought. Manuel Vasco, National Secretary of GCI-Mozambique recently submitted a report on the relief efforts. Below are excerpts. 

I set out on motorcycle to distribute drought support to our Mozambique congregations in the center of the country. At the beginning of the trip I hit a concrete bridge. I thank God I was not badly injured, though after spending the night camping out (see pictures below), my leg was badly swollen and I had to postpone the trip to obtain medical treatment.


When the trip resumed, I encountered very bad roads and given the dangerous political situation, I was only able to spend a short time with each congregation distributing aid at 19 centers where members came to receive support (see pictures of some of them below).


Because of the drought, many of our members have lost their crops and hunger is commonplace. They are now focused on their crops of corn and sweet potatoes (see pictures below), to supplement their diet of bananas, water lilies, pumpkins, watermelon, cucumbers and other fruits. At all the relief centers, I heard people lamenting the fact that their crops may fail if rain does not come. Please pray it will.

During the aid delivery process, the people expressed their deep thanks, saying they thought they were going to die, but now have food to eat and seeds to plant more crops. GCI’s churches in Mozambique thank their brothers and sisters around the world for their support through giving and prayer.

June Equipper: Cultivating generosity

The June issue of GCI Equipper focuses on our calling to follow the Spirit in cultivating generosity in our personal lives and within our congregations. Below are links to its five articles and a tongue-in-cheek cartoon to remind us of how not to approach the topic.

Used with permission
Used with permission

Death of Lowell Blackwell

We are saddened to learn of the recent death of retired GCI pastor Lowell Blackwell. Below are tributes from some of his family members (edited versions of what they posted on Facebook).

From Lowell’s son, Jim Blackwell

My father Lowell (pictured below) died at age 82 on Thursday, May 26. Having lost his battle to cancer, he opened his eyes to eternity.


Lowell was born in 1933 in Waynesville, MS to Dean and Marie Blackwell. He grew up with three brothers, Dean (Maxine), Tom (Pat), and Mike (Carol), and one sister, Bonnie (T.O.) Hughes. Lowell met Margaret (Pierce) in high school and married her on June 14, 1952. They were married for 63 years.

Lowell’s amazingly interesting life included a host of careers. He started as a roughneck in the west Texas oil fields, then moved on to engineering for Boeing Aircraft in Kansas, where he also worked part time as a police officer. God then called Lowell into the ministry and he moved his young family to Pasadena, CA, where he obtained a bachelors in Theology at Ambassador College (Pasadena) and then began serving in pastoral ministry. Lowell and Margaret pastored WCG churches in Glendale and Bakersfield, CA; Bismarck and Fargo, ND; and Dayton OH, before moving to Indianapolis, IN, where Lowell returned to engineering.

In 1995, Lowell retired from engineering and God drew him back into the ministry. He served as a pastor in Plymouth and Mishawaka, IN, and then finished in Springfield and Rolla, MO. In 1998, Lowell retired from employed ministry and he and Margaret moved to Mountain Home, AR, then to Pendleton, IN. In retirement they spent time with kids and grand-kids and enjoyed travel to places like Australia, New Zealand, England, France, Israel, the Caribbean and Mexico.

Lowell is survived by his wife (Margaret), and six children, Lowell Jr. (Suzy), David (June), Susan Endres (Gary), Marcy DeShong (Morris), Tim (Susan), and Jim (Pam). They have 16 grand-kids and 20 great grand-kids!

Blacwell family
Lowell (back row at right) with his family

From Lowell’s daughter, Susan Blackwell Endres

Dad fought the good fight, ran his race and won, and is now resting for eternity with his loving God. He touched many lives and ministered till he could not anymore. Now his gifts are in heaven. We were blessed as his children, and have many, many good memories.

From Lowell’s wife, Margaret Blackwell

Lowell and Margaret

I am at peace knowing my sweet husband of 63 years is at peace and with our Lord and Savior. No more pain, no more sorrow. Life will go on with the help of my “kids” and my God. His “Life Celebration” will be held at the Pendleton Christian Church on June 10. Jim Blackwell will officiate and you know his sense of humor! I think we all are all cried out—now is a wonderful time to remember my Sweetheart. Love to all.

Cards may be sent to:

Margaret Blackwell
123 Woodland Drive
Pendleton, IN 46064

William Condley

As reported in an earlier issue of Weekly Update, GCI-USA Pastor William Condley was hospitalized following surgery and was on a ventilator and in a coma. We are pleased to share this update from William’s wife Ednita:

William is now awake! He still can’t talk because of the tracheotomy, but he is doing much better. They have now started physical therapy. He is still on the ventilator, but we are thanking God for his mercy. Thanks for all the prayers and cards. They have been a big help to all of us. Our love to you all.

Cards may be sent to:

William and Ednita Condley
153 S. Main Street
Atkins, AR 72823-8235

GenMin teaching curricula published

Celebrate-the-grip-graphic-no-background-compressedWe are pleased to make available to our camps, congregations and ministries a children’s version of GenMin’s 2016 camp curriculum, Celebrate the Grip. This curriculum is written for elementary school-age kids and comes with songs, games, participatory activities and small group discussion guides. It was written by Becky Jarrett, a friend of GCI and an ordained minister, mom and veteran children’s leader. To download this curriculum, click here.

Additional related resources

For a teen or adult version of the Celebrate the Grip curriculum, written by Jeff McSwain, click here. For resources that will help you teach the curriculum, and for other curricula provided by GenMin, click here.

As noted by GenMin national coordinator Anthony Mullins, our prayer is that the Holy Spirit will use this material to bring children, teens and adults to conscious participation in the life and love of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.