Too many books posit faith and science as mortal enemies, with arguments that often draw from the best of one side to derail the worst of the other. Likewise, too many books blithely ignore the fine details and hairy nuances of Biblical faith and science in order to reach some kind of happy coincidence between them. Brown’s book does neither. With the kind of hermeneutical insight that one might expect from an Old Testament professor at Columbia Theological Seminary, but with a surprising breadth of understanding over the various fields of science, Brown offers a true platform for respecting the integrity of both science and faith in dialogue.
The Seven Pillars of Creation is a look at seven different creation traditions in the Hebrew Bible, beginning with the two creation stories of Genesis and moving on to Job, Psalm 104, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Second Isaiah. In each case, Brown approaches the text like a true Biblical theologian, not only utilizing the best in Bible scholarship for interpreting the text, but also displaying a deep appreciation for the theological cosmology that animates the text. From the studies found in this book, one gains a great appreciation for the varied ways that early communities saw God in relation to God’s world. God has productively dirty fingernails in one tradition, sports with Leviathan in another, and delights in daughter wisdom in yet another.
But, Brown does not stop with the creation stories. He also brings the best, most wonder-filled insights of science into dialogue with those stories. There is not always happy coincidence — in fact, there are places of outright contradiction if one imagines that the Biblical texts are making scientific statements — but there is always room for dialogue, where faith and science can have their say and perhaps discover that they are marveling at very similar things.
And that is the point. Brown is not insisting that the priestly writers knew of the Big Bang (or better, the Big Flash) when they identified “light” as first in the order of creation. But, the fact that an ancient community perceived the primacy of light in its hymn of creation and that science traces our world’s origin to a primal flash of light is something worth wondering about — together.
Brown’s writing style is an important feature of his book. Readers have to work a bit to stay with the level of Biblical and scientific sophistication in Brown’s explanations. But, he helps along the way.
The last chapter discloses that Brown’s point in writing about science is far more than just an interesting sideline. An unfolding environmental crisis calls for the best of science and the best of humanity’s deepest-held beliefs about the value of the world to find ways to share in a common disposition of wonder.
D. MARK DAVIS is the pastor of Heartland Church in Clive, Iowa.