Nostalgia for Eden
Though I wonder if Guthrie would use these words, I read this book as a warning against an inflated nostalgia for the goodness and originality of Eden. Most children of the church learned in Sunday school that Eden was good. What we learned well was that God’s creation reflects his character. Yet this lesson stretches too far away from the actual text when we make the nest leap: God is perfect, so his creation must have been perfect. Yet nowhere in the Genesis account are we told that this is the case.
Pastor Tim Mackie discusses this idea in The Bible Project’s podcast series, The Image of God. He points out the word perfect means complete. He asks his co-host to explain what sounds complete about God asking Adam to name all the creatures. Work had to be done. Both Mackie and Guthrie catch on to this theme throughout the account of Eden, in which God is looking to collaborate with humans in order to make Eden something greater. In essence, Eden was not yet perfect, but it had to potential to be so.
This idea can feel threatening. It feels new, and new ideas in theology are often distrusted (rightfully so) because our whole system of thought is rooted in centuries of written-down, agreed upon belief. An unskilled theologian (like myself) can make a mess of things when he or she tries to explain to others how their not-quite-thought-through impressions of Genesis don’t match up with the text. Fortunately, graceful and articulate theologians like Nancy Guthrie can show how these ideas come straight from the Bible and how they strengthen our understanding of the redemptive history laid out in the Scriptures.
Leading The Charge
A correct view of the lost potential, not lost perfection, of Eden helps us understand more about God and his plans for creation. In fact, these is much in this book that can help readers open and read Genesis with fresh eyes. Too often we approach the text to tell us things of secondary importance to the original authors: Were humans created via evolution? Were there dinosaurs? Is there a gap of time between Gen. 1:1 and Gen 1:2?
In asking these questions, we overlook questions that can reveal so much more: Why did God rest on the seventh day? What does Adam and Eve’s nakedness imply? What happens if Adam and Eve pass the test of the fruit?
Some writers and scholars are moving to a more literary approach to early chapters in Genesis. They no longer wish to force this poetic, literary, and inspired piece of writing into a 20th- and 21st-century fact-obsessed culture. They instead prioritize a hermeneutic that asks, Why did the authors choose those specific words? What would original readers have understood?
No one is denying the historicity of the chapters. No one is calling Adam and Eve fictional. No one is saying any of that.
What they are saying is that we’ve been missing out on a lot of great, important truths about Genesis due to our reading style, and it’s time to change that without compromising the doctrine of Inerrancy. This is a remarkably difficult task, but it is one that Nancy Guthrie does seamlessly in her new book.