A Doubter’s Guide to the Bible Review: what do you make of sin?
A Doubter’s Guide to the Bible Review: Chapter 2 – Why so much is bad: Adam’s story and ours
The second chapter John Dickson’s A Doubter’s Guide to the Bible deals with Chapters 2-11 of Genesis and the concept of “sin”. Dickson prises open the human heart and once inside ‘we are confronted with the dark and selfish twist’ (p.37). He explains that the ‘wicked, wretched and dark streak in humanity’ is explained by the fall and Genesis 2 & 3.
Dickson is certainly right in my opinion that humanity does have a ‘dark and selfish twist’. It’s uncomfortable, but I think we’d agree it is a universal experience. So I’m not sure what you make of the concept of “sin”? Is the human heart ‘dark and selfish’?
Interpretations of the text – what do you make of Genesis 2 & 3?
As Dickson explains and outlines the implications of the text of ‘the fall’ of Genesis. Dickson outlines four different ways in which the Adam and Eve narrative have been in interpreted. Was Adam:
- An historical individual and the story is a straightforward piece of history?
- A symbol of humanity?
- A symbol of Israel?
- A concrete symbol where the story is a real event in picture language?
Dickson prefers the fourth option where ‘there was a time in this world when a prehistoric individual or couple was in perfect communion with God and then in some way defied God’ (p.42).
What do you make of this assessment? If you read Genesis 2 & 3, are these potential conclusions reasonable?
Dickson doesn’t really go into much detail about some of the more ‘unusual’ aspects of the narrative in Genesis 2 & 3, like talking snakes etc. Given he is writing a small book he cannot deal with everything in great detail, but do the presence of things like a talking snake in Genesis 2 & 3 make taking the narrative harder for you to believe?
The myth of progress?
Dickson is very critical of the ‘evolutionary’ view of life which proposes that instead of accepting that we are ‘sinful’ we as a society are in fact are ‘progressing’. He highlights the enigma that whilst there have been some advances in technological and ethical arenas, there are also some areas where we seem to be regressing e.g. the failure of so many marriages, the decline in charitable giving and the burgeoning sex trade.
To support his case Dickson quotes Terry Eagleton, who is critical of the New Atheists (people like Richard Dawkins). Eagleton supposes the New Atheists as anti-realists who hold complacent beliefs that we are all becoming kinder and more civilised. Eagleton rejects their simplistic analysis by pointing to some of the great social and political challenges of the 21st Century. (p45).
This is an apt, correct and helpful quotation, but also slightly puzzling. Eagleton does demonstrate that there are challenges to the view that we as a society are ‘progressing’, but mentioning people like Dawkins comes a little as a surprise. So far it appears Dickson’s audience is the average person unfamiliar with the biblical story. Yet here he appears to be addressing more the more trenchant and staunch opponent of the Christian message. This raises in my mind questions about what kind of ‘doubter’ Dickson is addressing?
This criticism notwithstanding, what do you think of the suggestion that the world is not actually ‘progressing’?
The absent Ark?
Dickson finishes this chapter with a brief exploration of Genesis 4-11. Yet in his treatment I do wonder if he passes too quickly over the great flood of Noah? This is a very significant event and is a great challenge to many ‘doubters’ both historically and ethically. Yet Dickson deals with it in just two paragraphs. His analysis is helpful as he shows the flood of Noah is a story of judgement and he brings the story into dialogue with other flood ‘myths’ of the Ancient world. But given the barrier to belief that the flood affords to many ‘doubters’ I wonder if Dickson needed more time to explore this issue?
What do you make of the flood of Noah? Is it a barrier to accepting the Bible?
Dickson makes some helpful and thoughtful points in this chapter. He outlines some legitimate and useful ways of understanding Genesis 2. So, I wonder what you make of it? I’ve asked lots of questions, but I’m keen to get your thoughts as I review the book.