Genesis: Just a Bunch of Stories?

Tony Jones is a theologian-of-sorts who operates in residence at Solomon’s Porch, a “community” founded by Doug Pagitt located in Minneapolis, MN.  

This “community” clearly is part of the Emergent church movement, and Tony Jones is not shy at all about his encouragement on questioning the authority of Scripture and his affirmation of practicing homosexuals.

I ran across this disturbing observation by Tony Jones today:

And that’s a good summary of Genesis, in a nutshell: Some great stories that tell us a lot about the origins of our faith, and a bunch of places where we sure wish we had more details.

Why is this disturbing?  At first glance it may say very little, but when considering the breadth of material that Genesis contains, disturbing is kind.  Not only is Genesis about the events that brought sin into the world, but it is also about the origins of the people of Israel and the promise of the Messiah.

Without Genesis, the supposed collections of stories, we have very little context for our faith.  Genesis declares our utter depravity and pinpoints that state at the beginning of the human race.  It spreads the woe of death that resulted from Adam’s sin, and yet in the same chapter it presents hope of the coming salvation.

Heaven help us if we miss the power of the unfolding story of God’s salvation, if we skip over what a damaged state we are in, and see it only as a collection of tales that really have no purpose in our lives as Christians.  It is such a beautiful thing to know that even at the moment that Adam sinned that God planned to send his Son to die for us “while we were yet sinners.” 

Read, absorb, and be challenged by the beginnings of our faith and the promise of our salvation that we call the book of Genesis!

Advertisements

About Aaron Gardner

Aaron is a counselor and student of the Bible, passionate about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. He lives in central Indiana with his wife, one-year-old son and their two dogs. View all posts by Aaron Gardner

28 responses to “Genesis: Just a Bunch of Stories?

  • dosidoe

    I kinda think you are reading Genesis from the wrong angle. Maybe Genesis is about a God that is willing to give grace to a bunch of dysfunctional people. I’m not at all turned off by Genesis being a collection of stories. I think that is exactly what it is…and in the stories we see God work in ways that He says He won’t work…”If you eat from the tree, you will surely die.” After eating from the tree…Adam and Eve are still alive. I think that in questioning the scripture, discovery of God’s character and His relationship with the human race is found. I do find it rather interesting that you bring up Tony Jone’s affirmation of practicing Homosexuals. What does that have a hill of beans to do with Genesis being a bunch of stories? While I do agree that the Bible speaks against homosexuality, it also speaks against judgment of others as well as seeking the highest good for a person. I’m not sure that this blog post accomplishes either of the two.

  • Aaron

    First of all asking questions “of” Scripture is very different than “questioning” Scripture. What Tony Jones promotes, especially in reference to Paul’s writings in NT is questioning whether or not they should be included in the Bible, as if a group of people, independent of the will of God, decided what books to include and which not to include.

    If Genesis is “just a bunch of stories” and if those stories are only about origins of faith and not seen as the promise fulfilled in Christ, we could say that they are nice to have but have no authority or meaning in my life. It is a subtle way that Jones promotes the erosion of the Bible’s authority.

    I reference homosexuality in this post for two reasons: first it is a watershed issue that shows people who are unfamiliar with Jones a directive stance on this issue and therefore similar ones. Secondly, Jones questions the authority of Paul’s writings in part because these are the only NT books that reference homosexuality as a sin. Jones’s affirmation of homosexuality is indicative of his lack of respect for the authority of the Word of God.

    And if you are unclear about my position on homosexuality, perhaps this will help: https://lunchboxsw.wordpress.com/2010/04/29/a-letter-to-a-friend/

  • Boz

    “a group of people, independent of the will of God, decided what books to include and which not to include [in the bible].”

    My understanding is that this is the case. How is this incorrect?

  • wmdkitty

    Boz is correct, please reference the Council of Nicea, etc.

    RE: homosexuality — how can love between two consenting adults be a “sin”? It ought to be celebrated as the bonding of two people, same as heterosexual love. (No, I really don’t see what difference the respective genitals of those involved makes in this issue.)

    This Paul fellow was, most likely, a self-loathing homosexual himself, and certainly a misogynist.

  • Aaron

    Thank you, Boz and wmdkitty, for siding with Tony Jones and further proving my point. Just as I observed in this post (https://lunchboxsw.wordpress.com/2010/05/05/meta-critique-mehta-on-miller/) it is continuing to interest me to see how atheists point out how Christians are going off the mark when they undermine their own belief structure and discount the teaching of the Bible.

    Both of your questions are summaried in the teaching “sola scriptura” which teaches that God was not only in the writing of the Bible but also in its preservation and delivery in the form that we now have. This includes human decisions on which books to include and which were not to be included. Yet, even before that decision was made the books that are contained in the canon of Scripture were authoratitive in the lives of Christians.

    “Sola Scriptura” is the belief that if the Bible says it then I believe it. It is an acknowledgement that the infinite God that we serve is in a better position to decide what is good for me and what is not good for me. If homosexuality is defined as a sin by Scripture, then it is a sin, no matter how painful it is to say so.

  • Boz

    So, one of the ideas from the principle of sola scriptura (God was not only in the writing of the Bible but also in its preservation and delivery in the form that we now have.), if true, disproves the claim that “a group of people, independent of the will of God, decided what books to include and which not to include in the bible.”

    So, how is this idea true? (God was not only in the writing of the Bible but also in its preservation and delivery in the form that we now have.)

  • wmdkitty

    Boz is, yet again, correct.

    If this “god” of yours is even REAL, why doesn’t he just come down and TELL US what he meant, instead of letting a bunch of bronze-age goat-herds mess it up? Wait… he DOESN’T EXIST! (And on the off chance he does, honestly, he’s nothing more than a petty, abusive tyrant. Reminds me of my ex…)

  • Renier

    “Both of your questions are summaried in the teaching “sola scriptura” which teaches that God was not only in the writing of the Bible but also in its preservation and delivery in the form that we now have.”

    And it is silly, considering the end result. Christians disagree about interpretations of the Bible. If I was a god, and I had something to say, and it was important, and I was all-mighty, then I would have done a better job than the Bible. There is nothing “god-like” about the Bible and no reason to think any god had a hand in it.

  • Aaron

    Renier… I continually think that it is interesting to put this sort of blame on God when even from Genesis chapter 3 it is clear that the foundational problem with humanity is that we think we know better than God… but that is assuming that there is a God at all which you dispute.

    wmdkitty: that last sentence should be an answer to your last comment.

    Boz,*of course* it discounts that a group of people independent of the will of God would make any decision on what would be included in the Bible. If you read that statement again, hopefully you will see that I was saying that about Tony Jones’ position, and that he is wrong to think that way. The books of the Bible were considered authoritative *before* they were voted in. It was not the vote that gave them authority but their inherent authority as the revelation of God.

  • Boz

    Yes, I understand what you are saying, that his claim (“a group of people, independent of the will of God, decided what books to include and which not to include in the bible.”) is discounted by the idea of sola scriptura.

    my question is, why should a person from a different christian denomination to yous, or a person from a different religion, or a person that is non-religious, accept your claim (“God was not only in the writing of the Bible but also in its preservation and delivery in the form that we now have.”) instead of Tony Jones’ claim (“God was not involved in choosing the contents of the bible”)

  • Aaron

    Because Christ spoke of the Scripture with authority, he chose the disciples to witness his life and testify to what they saw. He chose Paul (Saul) on the road to Damascus and charged him with preaching his Word.

    In short: because Christ himself said that these books have authority. This is not a denominational difference, this is whether or not a person can call themselves a Christian.

  • wmdkitty

    Aaron, you’re using circular logic. Your evidence for your holy book being holy is because it says so in your holy book.

    Now, if this God fellow were to come and personally PHYSICALLY manifest in front of me, and in front of witnesses, making himself available for empirical verification, and says, “Hey, I put this book here for such and such a reason,” I might buy into the idea you’re pushing. But until he does, until your god is proven to exist, you have no authority on which to base your statement of the scripture being in ANY way “authored by god”.

  • Joshua

    Actually, Tony is right. You’re assuming that the definition of “story” is fiction. That’s simply not the case. For example, I can tell you the story of the Mayflower or the story of the first Antarctic expedition. So the first part is right. Genesis is a collection of stories. As for the second part, there are a lot of unanswrered questions that we walk away from Genesis with. I can understand if you feel that his statement is not sufficient enough, but it is not technically inaccurate.

  • Aaron

    wmdkitty:

    You would be put into an assylum if you had that experience. I doubt seriously if you witnessed writing on the wall that spelled out “I am God and I exist” that you would believe it.

    My holy book says that because Jesus was a physical human being who literally said those things. It is circular logic only if these are works of fiction, which again you would argue so again the gulf is wide and deep.

    Joshua:

    I am not assuming that Jones thinks that these are works of fiction. My concern is that there is nothing in his summary of the study on Genesis that even implies that they are nothing more than stories that have little to do with my life as a Christian, when they have EVERYTHING to do with how I understand my faith.

    As for unanswered questions, I have not made that a point for contention. I agree that there are indeed unanswered questions, but I would also argue that the message of Genesis is complete in that it is God’s revelation to us and it is what God intended.

  • Joshua

    In my job, I deal with people who expected to get something more out of something that wasn’t intended to give more than it gave. I don’t know if that makes sense, but it’s similar to when people are given a free lunch and are mad that it didn’t come with catsup. I think that’s something similar to your issue here. You wanted an affirmation of your view of Genesis. Tony did not give you this, but he also did not reject it. I think you’re reading the wrong blogs if you want an affirmation of your particular position.

    So I’d still stick with my statement. In the quote you gave, there is nothing wrong with tony’s statement, as you seem to accept from your previous post. Your problem is he didn’t say more. Well… I can’t help that you didn’t get catsup with that lunch.

  • Aaron

    Joshua:

    I understand what you are saying and I would agree with you except this is not an anomaly. The other posts I refer to are more explicit, but Jones regularly undermines the authority of Scripture.

    Perhaps I am being a little picky on this one, granted. But it is responsive to the sensitivty that I have in general about people who claim to be Christian but undercut the Word of God and in particular Tony Jones regular explicit challenge against the authority of the Bible (especially Paul’s writiings).

  • Boz

    aaron, I’m trying to clarify your position:

    Is this a fair representation?

    1.The contents of the bible are true because the bible says that jesus said that the contents of the bible are true

    3.if it is written in the bible, it is true.

    4.”god was directly involved in writing the manuscripts, choosing and preserving the contents of the bible” is written in the bible.

    5.”god was directly involved in writing the manuscripts, choosing and preserving the contents of the bible” is true

    6. Therefore Tony Jones’s claim is false.

  • Renier

    Aaron wrote: “Renier… I continually think that it is interesting to put this sort of blame on God when even from Genesis chapter 3 it is clear that the foundational problem with humanity is that we think we know better than God… but that is assuming that there is a God at all which you dispute.”

    We think we know better than God? A demonstration of God’s knowledge is called for please so that we can compare, else how could such a statement even be made?. What does God know? In addition to this I might ask what any Bible author knew about God. These flimsy claims of knowledge that is being flung around are never backed up by anything solid nor demonstrated to have any bearing on reality. To put this into perspective, I might ask what knowledge God has that the FSM does not have?

  • Manager

    “Both of your questions are summaried in the teaching “sola scriptura” which teaches that God was not only in the writing of the Bible but also in its preservation and delivery in the form that we now have.”

    Hmmmm the Bible is text written in the time of some of Jesus’s contemporaries…not BY them. There is no evidence that half of the people in the Bible even met Jesus. Paul saw VISIONS. (won’t even get into how these visions contradict what Jesus said)…
    And since you are using the Bible to prove that the Bible is infallible…the Bible itself says it is.

    And I am not an atheist…

  • Renier

    Concerning Genesis. Some of it is myth and some of it probably legends that has some vague facts. The Isrealite ancestors might have come from Egypt, but as mercenaries in a buffer state and not slaves. As for a perfect garden with a talking snake, myths, takes from older Sumerian myths. Same goes for Noah’s flood, taken from older Sumerian stories. Genesis, all in all, in my opinion is pretty useless and perhaps even the cause of bad things, such as the current wave of reality deniers (Creationists) that is trying very hard to indoctrinate children with their silly myths at the cost of knowledge. Perhaps God did not foresee that when he “inspired” the writers? Genesis would have been useful if God “inspired” the write3rs to write the truth at least. nothing about the big Bang, fusion, revealing maths or geology. No sir. Talking snake and ugly ideas, such that Children are be default born with having offended the deity.

  • Aaron

    So all truth must be non-offensive?

  • Renier

    Aaron: “So all truth must be non-offensive?”

    Say what? Who said that? What “truth” are you referring to?

  • wmdkitty

    @Renier — I think he’s referring to the fact that his “truth” (i.e. “the bible is the inerrant word of god”) is not only disputed, but that people get offended when he denies reality (i.e. the fact that Genesis, et al, are MYTHS) and insists that he has “The Truth”(TM).

  • Aaron

    Renier:

    My impression from your recent comment and from months of dialogue with you is that your problem with thinking that the Bible, in part or as a whole, is that the events are offensive, either intellectually, morally, or ethically. Short of arguing for and against those suppositions, I get the impression that you perceive “truth” to be something that would bring peace, good feeling, and calm. Please help me by clarifying if this is at all where you are coming from.

    Let me make this clear: just because I believe the Bible to be inerrant does not mean that I do not find it offensive. As a matter of fact, many Christians (at least the ones who take the Bible seriously) DO find the Bible offensive. I just did a search on “gospel offensive” and found a series of posts and articles by Christians who say that the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the overarching story of the Bible, is offensive.

    I do find the book of Genesis offensive. I would like to read it in a way that would accommodate the ideas, thoughts and opinions of all people. But that is not the message of the book. I do agree that the book of Genesis is not intended by the original author to have been a scientific record of the origin of life and everything. Yet I am just as critical of people like Francis Collins who demonstrate a faulty theology in his attempt to marry science and the Bible.

    I find it offensive to think that there are unanswered questions. I don’t disagree with Tony Jones on that point. The whole point I tried to make in my post is that the stories of Genesis (not implying that they are fiction just because of the use of that term) are more than, for Christians at least, just episodes of history that point to the beginning of our faith. It is the end of innocence and the inauguration of the promise, the culmination of which is the life and death of Jesus Christ. My concern is that Jones does not give these stories the weight that they deserve for whatever reason… and it is the unstated reasons that are most concerning to me.

  • Boz

    Why should a person who does not accept the doctrine of sola scriptura, change their position and accept the doctrine of sola scriptura?

    aaron said: “I find it offensive to think that there are unanswered questions.”

    This is a very interesting comment. I have heard some atheists say that one of the main reasons that people become or remain theists is that humans have a hard time dealing with not knowing. And many “how” and “why” questions can apparently be answered with “God did it” or “It’s God’s will”.

    Unfortunately, it looks like there will always be unanswered questions of the form “is it A or B?”. here are some: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millennium_Prize_Problems

  • Renier

    Aaron wrote: “My impression from your recent comment and from months of dialogue with you is that your problem with thinking that the Bible, in part or as a whole, is that the events are offensive, either intellectually, morally, or ethically.”

    Correct. Expecting people to believe the nonsense (my opinion), as found in Genesis, about a perfect garden, talking snake and fall of man is in my opinion no different than expecting me to believe in the Little Red Riding Hood story to be saved.

    Aaron wrote: “Short of arguing for and against those suppositions, I get the impression that you perceive “truth” to be something that would bring peace, good feeling, and calm. Please help me by clarifying if this is at all where you are coming from.”

    Truth in my book is a fact. Whether that fact brings peace or war makes no difference to the validity of the statement, i.e, the fact. The Earth is orbiting the sun. This is a verifiable fact (thus my “truths”). If some people go to war because they reject this fact, it makes no difference to the truth of the statement. Facts are morally neutral.

    Aaron: “Let me make this clear: just because I believe the Bible to be inerrant does not mean that I do not find it offensive. As a matter of fact, many Christians (at least the ones who take the Bible seriously) DO find the Bible offensive. I just did a search on “gospel offensive” and found a series of posts and articles by Christians who say that the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the overarching story of the Bible, is offensive.”

    You confuse “Truth” and “truth” here, in my opinion. If the Bible claims to be a moral guide, and it commands or justifies the morally inexcusable, then it is offensive in that it lies about the “goodness” of the deity whom it claims inspired it. The bears ripping into the children and killing them, simply for teasing an old man about his bald spot as an act of god should be sufficient to convince anyone that such a deity has moral issues, even according to our poor human standards. Claiming such a deity is “good” is offensive to me, in that it assumes I am an immoral idiot.

    Aaron wrote: “I do find the book of Genesis offensive. I would like to read it in a way that would accommodate the ideas, thoughts and opinions of all people. But that is not the message of the book. I do agree that the book of Genesis is not intended by the original author to have been a scientific record of the origin of life and everything. Yet I am just as critical of people like Francis Collins who demonstrate a faulty theology in his attempt to marry science and the Bible.”

    Though I reject Collin’s ideas concerning God and science I have to say I understand why he does gymnastics in an attempt to marry his religion with reality. Collins knows what DNA is telling us. He also knows what the Bible says about origins. They do not agree. Collins is well aware of this and attempts to make things in the Bible more open ended to interpretation so that he can hammer the round peg of his religion into the square hole of reality. Many people don’t like this, such as yourself on the side of religion and myself on the side of “truth”, i.e, the facts. Dreaming up fancy notions of why and how god did things are inherently dishonest in that there is no knowledge/evidence about/for any god. Discussions on what the god wanted or intended are therefore just as useless as discussions about what the fairies in my garden intended when they made the bees.

    Aaron: “I find it offensive to think that there are unanswered questions.”

    We cannot know everything. It is okay. It is however more honest to say “I don’t know” than to attribute the unexplained as the acts of a god, i.e, a placeholder for our ignorance.

    Aaron: “I don’t disagree with Tony Jones on that point. The whole point I tried to make in my post is that the stories of Genesis (not implying that they are fiction just because of the use of that term) are more than, for Christians at least, just episodes of history that point to the beginning of our faith.”

    In this I can agree with you. It has elements that explains how the roots of your faith came to be or perhaps at least tries to convey the ideas that are the root elements of your faith.

    Aaron: “It is the end of innocence and the inauguration of the promise, the culmination of which is the life and death of Jesus Christ. My concern is that Jones does not give these stories the weight that they deserve for whatever reason… and it is the unstated reasons that are most concerning to me.”

    Perhaps because the older Gilgamesh would be a better source when you attempt to understand the roots of your faith? I don’t know. You appear to place more value in Genesis than Jones does, for your own personal reasons. As for me, I don’t have a book or a god in this fight. One might have been arguing the value of the Iliad to the Greek cults. In such a comparison I can understand your point, that for you, Genesis has great value. It is after all the the book that explains many aspects of your faith. Whether those aspects are grounded in reality or myth is therefore no longer a question in relation to the (subjective) value of the book for a specific person. You like the book, I get it 🙂

  • Renier

    Boz: “I have heard some atheists say that one of the main reasons that people become or remain theists is that humans have a hard time dealing with not knowing. And many “how” and “why” questions can apparently be answered with “God did it” or “It’s God’s will”.

    Funny enough, I have been thinking of the “why” and the “how” for the last week. It is in my opinion the major difference between religion and science. Religion jumps in and tries to answer the “why” without any thought of the “why”. Science on the other hands tries to determine the “how” before it attempts to answer the “why”. The latter (science) are therefore left with more data (because they asked how) before attempting to answer the “why”. In many cases there is no “why” and I think this messes with human minds.

    It is as if we are hard-wired to determine intent due to our social nature and the advantage it holds when one is able to determine the intent of another member of the society. After all, thinking alpha lion wants to play when he is in fact irritated hungry is a bad survival choice. This inherent instinct to determine intent might be the reason we conjured gods to explain the things we did not know the “why” or the “how” about. Just my 2c. no claim to “truth”.

  • Aaron

    Renier said: “In this I can agree with you. It has elements that explains how the roots of your faith came to be or perhaps at least tries to convey the ideas that are the root elements of your faith.”

    THANK YOU! That was the point of my post and you agree. Thank you. LOL!!! 🙂

    I honestly should go back and read Collins. My issue with him is not that there are connections that can be made between faith and science, my issue is “how” he does it.

    Interesting thoughts on the “why” and the “how” of science and religion. The trouble is that so many have made religion all about the “why,” and no doubt biblical faith in many ways does give a “why.” But where so many find such difficulty with faith is that they actually make the “why” so important, and passages like the final chapters of Job clearly teach that God is not about the “why” but about the “what” and the “how.”

    But that may be best left to a post on its own… stay tuned.

%d bloggers like this: