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Spring 2014 · Vol. 43 No. 1 · pp. 49–64 

The Missional Relevance of Genesis 1–3

Pierre Gilbert

The work of the missionary consists in facilitating the spiritual birth of new followers of Christ and discipling them. 1 Both tasks involve an element of “science” and mystery. Announcing the gospel and actually bringing a person to a point of decision involves the deployment of a sophisticated set of skills, from exegeting a culture, initiating and nurturing relationships, building bridges between individuals and the gospel, 2 to leading that person into an encounter with Jesus Christ. A significant deficiency in any one of these endeavors has the potential to seriously impede the missionary’s effectiveness.

Missionaries should never underestimate the importance of giving sustained attention to the question of worldview in their outreach efforts.

The missionary enterprise also entails some elements of mystery. Chief among these is human free will, which denotes an individual’s ability to accept or reject the invitation to enter into a relationship with Christ. 3 Another factor is the Holy Spirit, who alone can trigger a sense of need and openness to the person of Christ. Without the intervention of the Spirit and a constant reliance on him, the work of the missionary will remain futile (John 15:26–27; 16:8–11.13).

The process of discipleship is also both a science and a mystery. It is science in that it entails the transmission of a certain kind of information. It is mystery in that discipleship is about spiritual transformation, which is {50} also contingent on the intervention of the Spirit and the individual’s willingness to be transformed.

The transmission of propositional truth, which encompasses Christian doctrine and the basic elements of the biblical worldview, is critical to both outreach and discipleship. 4 While there is no radical dichotomy between Christian doctrine and those concepts that are more germane to a discussion of worldview, for the purposes of this essay, I will focus on the latter. I will explore the concept of a biblical worldview by examining the creation account attested in Genesis 1–3 as a starting point for this discussion. 5 I will then offer some brief elements of reflection for the possible relevance of this discussion, first for traditional cultures, where belief in magic and spirits is intrinsic to the belief system, and, second, for modern cultures where secularity is the norm. 6


A worldview can be characterized as the conceptual frame of reference that enables human beings to define reality and test the validity of their experience. 7 It constitutes—consciously or unconsciously—a particular perception of reality, especially as it pertains to the divine, humanity, the universe, and the relationship between all three spheres.

While a worldview, by definition, will be coherent, self-validating and self-consistent, whether or not it actually reflects reality is another matter altogether. Suffice it to say that any particular worldview is reality for those who embrace it. This is why discussions involving worldview issues can be so emotionally intense. This also explains why the worst military conflicts of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have and will continue to be rooted in ideological imperatives.

Understanding someone else’s view of reality is much more than identifying a list of isolated beliefs. It is an attempt to comprehend how that person’s beliefs interact to form a dynamic conceptual framework. For missionaries, this observation is critical, for it implies that under certain circumstances, worldviews can be modified. 8 Conversion and genuine discipleship occur when an individual allows the biblical worldview to reengineer the structural pillars of his or her perception of reality.

Some will no doubt balk at the notion of a coherent biblical worldview. 9 Can we not concoct any worldview we wish by carefully selecting passages that support our preconceptions or preferences? Such an objection is valid and deserves to be addressed. One could, for instance, use the prologue of the book of Job to postulate a universe in which God and Satan routinely meet to discuss the moral virtues of exceptional men and women only to devise painful ways to test their integrity. In such a world, needless to say, it would be highly advisable to maintain a low profile to avoid becoming the target of a divine wager. {51}

While all Scripture is inspired by God and authoritative (2 Tim 3:16), individual texts address a variety of issues. Moreover, biblical texts must be interpreted in the light of their literary specificity. 10 This implies that any investigation must first begin with texts that address the issue at hand. Identifying such primary texts provides both a control factor and a common point of reference for further discussion.

It is my contention that the first three chapters of Genesis offer the best starting point in terms of outlining a biblical worldview. Genesis 1–3, by virtue of its literary genre as a creation narrative, was designed to provide the blueprint of a new worldview. Its primary purpose was to propose an alternative to the Canaanite/Mesopotamian 11 worldview the Israelites had absorbed over 400 years of captivity in Egypt. 12 It should be further noted that the creation account was in fact a polemic text. It was designed to undermine the recipients’ worldview and provide them with one that would reflect a more accurate view of reality. 13

In a manner consistent with a creation story, Genesis 1–3 is very specific about the kind of issues it addresses. For instance, it contains no explicit information about the sacrificial system as such, and no allusions to the ritual, sacrificial, or moral laws found in Leviticus and Numbers. There are no exhortations to show mercy and compassion to the poor and the vulnerable. This is not to say that the kind of stipulations associated with the covenant are irrelevant to a discussion of worldview, but these issues more precisely represent trajectories actualized in the context of Israel’s history. While many of the statements the narrative makes open new horizons on a whole array of social issues, there are few explicit extrapolations as such. The creation narrative was designed to offer critical insights into the basic architecture of reality.

In addition to providing the theological DNA for the rest of Scripture, the creation account was intended to provide the needed foundation to enable the Hebrews to shift successfully from Baalism to Yahwism. As such, it follows that this foundational text may also represent the most adequate basis to ensure a robust transition from paganism, whatever form it may take, to Christianity!

Ensuring an effective transformation of worldview is one of the most critical issues missionaries face. At the risk of being misunderstood, I would venture to say, in the spirit of the Great Commission (Matt 28:19–20), that conversion is but a first step; new believers must be equipped to resist the temptation to re-embrace their former worldview or live in a syncretistic system. 14

As Paul Hiebert cautions, new converts must avoid two pitfalls. The first is secularization, which would manifest itself in a growing disregard for the spiritual dimension of the Christian life. The second would involve {52} an inadvertent return to a Christianized form of animism “in which spirits and magic are used to explain everything.” 15 A contextualized and thorough integration of the creation account may in fact represent the most effective way to ensure that the conversion process reaches into the very DNA of a person’s identity, contributing thereby to stabilizing and reinforcing the new convert’s commitment to Christ.


If the biblical creation story was in fact designed to provide an alternative worldview, then we need to determine what it was competing against. From the evidence we can gather from the book of Exodus, it appears the Hebrew slaves had, in nearly 400 years of slavery in Egypt, absorbed the major elements of the Mesopotamian cosmology. 16 While many aspects of the Mesopotamian worldview can be gleaned from a variety of literary genres, they can most readily be identified from ancient mythology.

The most widely-known creation myths of the Ancient Near East are the Atrahasis and the Enuma Elish. 17 These stories teach that the universe was created in the context of conflict, war, and violence. Human beings were conceived in order to be slaves in the service of the gods. They had no inherent sense of identity beyond the purpose for which they had been created. They were born slaves and would die as such. The gods were fundamentally evil and unpredictable. Human existence was characterized by uncertainty and fear; there was hope neither in this life nor in the one to come. Men and women had no intrinsic sense of dignity and worth. The life of the average Mesopotamian was devoid of ultimate significance.

They lived in a world where there was little intersection between human and divine justice. Mesopotamians were cosmic orphans who had no one to appeal to. They constantly sought to appease the gods. If calamity struck a man, it was assumed that a god had been offended, or that a demon had been summoned against him. But not only would this man be ignorant of the identity of the god he had offended, he would have no idea of the nature of the offense. With a notion of justice that had little commonality with the more fluid and ever-shifting “justice” of the gods, such a man lived in a world devoid of universal moral rules. His only hope to live an uneventful life was to stay off the “radar” of the gods.

Human beings were the powerless victims of divine cosmic forces. Overwhelming powers determined their past, their present, and would inexorably shape their future. Men and women were entirely dependent on diviners and other such “spiritual” specialists to discover the ever-elusive will of the gods and to protect themselves against their wrath. 18

This, in a nutshell, is what Israel’s neighbors believed. And this is the belief system the Hebrews themselves came to assimilate during their stay {53} in Egypt. The Genesis creation account was designed to provide a radically different and revolutionary alternative to that worldview.


The biblical creation story represents one of the most remarkable texts ever to emerge from the ancient world, and the worldview it embodies is unlike anything else. 19 As a creation story, it is intended to broadcast a number of foundational concepts about the essence of reality, particularly as it pertains to God, humanity, and the universe. Moreover—and in this lies the true significance of this text—not only is it foundational, it is also profoundly subversive of some of the most disturbing characteristics of human cultures. Its teachings are intended to act as an acid on the structures of dehumanization and exploitation that all human societies inevitably create and reproduce with every new generation. In that sense, it is indeed good news.

While a detailed analysis of Genesis 1–3 is beyond the bounds of this essay, I will nevertheless highlight some of the most important concepts these chapters offer. As a starting point, I will examine two of the story’s most seminal intuitions. I will then provide a summary of its major themes and theological implications.

Demythologization of the Universe

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1 NIV, passim).

This text states that there is only one God, and that he created the entire universe. 20 This deceptively simple statement contains the seeds of the eventual demise of the entire Mesopotamian mythical universe. It constitutes the toll that marked the end of the age of the gods and the beginning of the age of men. Genesis 1:1 affirms the absolute sovereignty of God over creation and distinguishes the person of God from the created order.

One of the greatest theological innovations offered in Genesis 1:3–25 is the proclamation that the universe is “object” and not “subject.” Whereas Mesopotamian cosmology portrays the physical universe as the medium of divine essence, in the creation account, the physical universe is purged of any consciousness whatsoever. By repositioning humanity over nature (Gen 1:27–28), the narrative set the stage for humanity to take its rightful place in the universe: Not as slaves of divine cosmic powers, but as Yahweh’s ruling representatives over the entire world (see also Psalm 8).

By its repeated references to the goodness of creation, the author declares that humanity lives in a “friendly” universe. This is not to suggest that the world is devoid of challenges (the text, after all, locates its audience in a fallen world). It is, however, a universe in which humans no longer {54} need to fear (or covet!) supernatural powers and those who claim to wield them.

In the very process of eliminating the foundation for magic—by erasing the very existence of the gods on whom the powers of magic depended—this text had a surprising side effect. It set into motion the conditions that would eventually redefine humanity’s relationship to the physical world and establish the foundation for the development of science as we understand it. 21

As long as people believe that the conditions necessary to sustain human life are governed by divine interventions contingent on cultic rituals, as was the case in the ancient Near East and is still prevalent in traditional societies, they will primarily look to ritual to solve the crises that regularly threaten their existence. If, however, there is an authoritative text that eliminates the cosmic space necessary to support this paradigm, then human beings can acquire a new horizon to negotiate reality. They are free to navigate the challenges of human existence, not by appealing to sacred rituals and magic, but by exploiting the greatest God-given resource on earth: the three-pound brain. 22

The notion that magic could mysteriously influence human life was one of the commonlyheld beliefs the creation account was designed to challenge. In this respect, the text could not have been more explicit. By draining the cosmos of its divine essence, the narrative reveals magic for what it is: a pure fantasy of the mind. It is the formal proclamation that in effect, “A piece of wood is only and always a piece of wood!”

The prophet Isaiah’s brutal indictment of idolatry in 44:6–19 represents a powerful contextualization of Genesis 1. Creation theology is also at the core of Paul’s confident dismissal of the concerns the Corinthians expressed about the consequences of eating meats sacrificed to idols/demons in 1 Corinthians 8–10 (see 1 Cor 8:4–6 and 10:25).

In God’s Image

According to Genesis 1, the creation of the universe is the outcome of God’s peaceful and benevolent intent. There is no hint whatsoever of divine conflict, war, or violence directed at humanity. The world is the expression of God’s goodness towards the human race and is created for its benefit. Human beings are not created to serve as slaves, but to live as God’s representatives (Gen 1:26–31) and partners in shaping and managing the world (Gen 2:15–17).

Because they are made in the image of God, human beings are endowed with intrinsic value and dignity (see Gen 9:6). They are not portrayed as the helpless victims of cosmic powers that inexorably shape their destiny. In that respect, the account of the fall (Gen 3:1–24) confirms the {55} intuition conveyed by the concept of the image of God. Not only does this text proclaim humanity’s freedom and ability to shape its future, but by holding men and women accountable for their actions, it also affirms human dignity and moral responsibility. Human destiny is not written in the stars or the entrails of animals but lies squarely in our hands.


The following statements provide a concise summary of some of the basic concepts and implications of the worldview outlined in the creation account. 23

  1. The universe is created good by a benevolent God. It is ordered, predictable, and meaningful. The environment is not something to fear but the very expression of a generous God (Gen 1:1–31).
  2. The creation of the universe finds its origin in the intention of a good God and not in a primordial, violent cosmic conflict (Gen 1:1–2).
  3. Human beings are assigned intrinsic value and dignity (Gen 1:26–30). 24
  4. Human beings are endowed with free will that extends even to their relation to God. (Gen 1:26–30; 2:15–14; 3:1–24).
  5. Human beings are accountable for their actions (Gen 2:15–17; 3:1–24). 25
  6. Human fate lies in the hands of God, but also in our capacity to choose that which leads to life or death (Gen 2:15–17; 3:1–24).
  7. Sin and the results of sin are the consequences of human choice.
  8. While sin affects every dimension of human existence, it does not rob men and women of their dignity and their ability to choose God (see Gen 4:6–7).
  9. Human beings are called to embrace life (Gen 1:28; 2:15–17).
  10. Human beings do not discern what is true and false by consulting some guru, drawing up a precise list of dos and don’ts, engaging in a cultic ritual, appealing to magic, or immersing themselves in the realm of some unverifiable esoteric experience. Distinguishing the true from the false is, more often than not, accomplished by means of an intentional, conscious, and reasonable process (Gen 2:15–17; 3:1–24).
  11. Human beings have the ability to meet the challenges of human existence through the exercise of reason, human ingenuity, and hard work (Gen 2:19; 3:19).
  12. Human beings are created to be in partnership with God. Humanity is given the mandate to be God’s “image,” i.e., {56} to represent the suzerain God on the earth (Gen 1:26–27; 2:15–17). This underlines God’s willingness to trust men and women. The concept of partnership also entails the expectation that humans will consult God in the course of fulfilling their tasks. The notion of partnership is fundamental to humanity’s relationship with God and challenges any secular notion of autonomy.


At this point, I would like to briefly explore how the notion of worldview can be integrated into the missional enterprise.

First, missionaries should never underestimate the importance of giving sustained attention to the question of worldview in their outreach efforts. I cannot overemphasize the importance of engaging in this exercise independently of local cultural sensitivities. While analytical work and cultural respect are both essential aspects of mission, it is imperative to maintain a clear distinction between critical analysis and outreach strategies. The former is an academic exercise that offers a basic articulation of the biblical worldview, analyzes the plausibility structure of the recipient culture, and compares the two in order to highlight similarities and differences. The latter focuses on ascertaining the best strategy to engage the culture with the claims of Christ. The missionary’s foremost responsibility is to discern truth and confront the world with its claims. When we fail to fulfill this task, there is no longer any compelling purpose for Christian mission. We become just one more voice in the cacophony of postmodernity. 26

Second, missionaries must choose to trust in the most basic concepts of the biblical worldview. The relationship between exegesis and biblical theology, on the one hand, and “practice,” 27 on the other, needs to be as linear as possible. When an engineer builds a bridge, there is no doubt as to the load the structure can carry; the process is based on scientific principles that have proven to be dependable and trusted. Missionaries would do well to position their praxis in a similar framework relative to Scripture. 28


The gospel is God’s answer to humanity’s sinful condition and need for forgiveness. 29 Unfortunately, ready points of contacts to carry the most critical concepts of the Christian faith are not always readily available. Take for instance sin. C. S. Lewis once noted that ancient pagans did not need to be convicted of sin. It was inherent to their understanding of the gods and who they were. 30 That is unfortunately not the case in much of the world today. In fact, one of the greatest challenges Christians face, particularly so {57} where secular humanism is predominant, resides in the near-absence of a clear concept of moral sin on which to hang the invitation to repent.

Reflecting on a culture’s worldview may provide the clues necessary to identify how sin (not just sins) exhibits itself. If, as Genesis 3:8–24 suggests, sin is the expression of the principle of death that is now inherent to human nature, an analysis of worldview may in fact reveal how the principle of death is working itself out in a given culture.

When Baptist missionary William Carey went to India, he was confronted by the horrible rite of Sati, a custom that forced the self-immolation of the widow on her husband’s funeral pyre. Carey knew that this barbaric ritual could not be eliminated by simply appealing to human compassion. 31 The missionary intuitively grasped that in order to eradicate the practice, he needed to understand and address Hindu mythology. Furthermore, he believed that making Hindu traditional texts available to a broader segment of the population would build popular support against the custom. This conviction was one of the major catalysts behind Carey’s passion for literacy, the dissemination of Hindu sacred writings, and Bible translation.

In the same vein, few comprehend the full significance of what the great nineteenth-century abolitionist, William Wilberforce, accomplished. Eric Metaxas, the author of Amazing Grace, superbly encapsulates the reformer’s magnificent achievement:

To fathom the magnitude of what Wilberforce did we have to see that the “disease” he vanquished forever was actually neither the slave trade nor slavery. Slavery still exists around the world today, in such measure as we can hardly fathom. What Wilberforce vanquished was something even worse than slavery, something that was much more fundamental and can hardly be seen from where we stand today: he vanquished the very mind-set that made slavery acceptable and allowed it to survive and thrive for millennia. He destroyed an entire way of seeing the world, one that had held sway from the beginning of history, and he replaced it with another way of seeing the world. Included in the old way of seeing things was the idea that the evil of slavery was good. Wilberforce murdered that old way of seeing things, and so the idea that slavery was good died along with it. Even though slavery continues to exist here and there, the idea that it is good is dead. The idea that it is inextricably intertwined with human civilization, and part of the way things are supposed to be, and economically necessary and morally defensible, is gone. Because the entire mind-set that supported it is gone.

Wilberforce overturned not just European civilization’s view of slavery but its view of almost everything in the human sphere; and that is why it’s nearly impossible to do justice to the enormity {58} of his accomplishment; it was nothing less than a fundamental and important shift in human consciousness. 32

The significance of Wilberforce’s achievement should not be lost on anyone. He managed to knock an entire wall out of a deeply ingrained worldview and replace it with a new one!


The study of worldview is to be an exercise where the basic features of a people’s understanding of reality are contrasted to the biblical worldview and are effectively challenged in those spheres where the culture most glaringly gives expression to the principle of death that has been part of human nature since the fall.

In regard to traditional cultures, it will come as no surprise to learn, as Hiebert once observed, that magic and the occult are a source of much vexation for missionaries, who for the most part tend to have an equivocal stance towards those practices and their underlying assumptions. In this respect, however, the question that needs to be clarified is remarkably simple: Is there any objective reality underlying magical and occult practices? The answer can only be yes or no.

The only way to rationalize the empirical reality of magical and occult powers is to postulate the existence of some kind of underlying psychic “power grid” that would be embedded within the very fabric of the universe. But if such a grid is deemed to exist, then we need to demonstrate how it can be reconciled with the portrait of the universe depicted in the creation account, which tells us there is no god but God. 33

While there is still much debate about the nature and extent of occult and demonic influence, I maintain that the missionary’s primary task is to draw attention to the portrait of the universe offered in Genesis 1–3. Let people read the creation account for themselves and let them arrive at their own conclusions! Such an approach would truly contrast with the kind of colonialism Western missionaries have been accused of (I would add, often unfairly). 34

In regard to Western culture, while some of the issues are related to those found in traditional cultures, 35 they find their focus elsewhere. The principle of death in human nature manifests itself in at least three ways. First, the notion of absolute truth, particularly as it pertains to morality and religious claims, is all but completely eroded. This situation is sadly sowing the seeds of ideological and political totalitarianism. 36 Second, the demise of the Judeo-Christian tradition is giving birth to a terrible erosion of the sanctity of life and a rapid loss of confidence in the three-pound brain’s ability to meet the challenges of human existence. 37 The {59} enthusiastic global consensus that abortion is the great problem-solver is evidence of the former, and radical environmentalism’s perception of humans as an out-of-control evolutionary aberration that threatens to destroy the planet underlines the latter.

It is also incumbent on missionaries working in a secular environment to investigate the mythology of their culture. In that respect, evolutionism or Darwinism, as Jaki puts it, 38 which should be distinguished from the theory of evolution, virtually functions as a myth 39 and can be rightly identified as one of the most powerful factors in the rapid erosion of the notion of human dignity. 40

Regardless of the culture in which they find themselves, men and women all have one thing in common: they consistently display an innate hostility towards the one living God (Matt 15:19; Col 1:21). 41 One of the direst consequences of this reality is ideological. In a dazzling display of insight into human nature and history, C. S. Lewis once observed that left to themselves, human beings will naturally gravitate towards pantheism, a belief system the great Christian apologist aptly singled out as the “permanent natural bent of the human mind.” 42

If the propensity towards pantheism is easy enough to detect in traditional cultures, it is no less real in cultures where modernity has provided the dominant worldview. One need only think of the rise of belief in the supernatural and the collapse of the ontological distinction between humans and nature.

As Western society increasingly shuns the Judeo-Christian worldview to embrace ever-new versions of pantheism, missionaries have an extraordinary opportunity to challenge a resurging ancient ideology that will only leave death and chaos if unopposed. If Lewis was right and pantheism has “in the long run, only one really formidable opponent—namely Christianity,” 43 then it is incumbent on those who are on the frontlines of the church’s outreach to challenge it by confidently putting on display the portrait of reality found in the Genesis creation account. In so doing, they will not only contribute to the welfare of the culture, but will also be laying a more solid theological foundation to support genuine conversions to Christ and to resist syncretistic impulses thereafter (Col 1:15–20).


  1. While I do not wish to create an artificial dichotomy between conversion and discipleship, in Anabaptism, there has been a tendency for the latter to eclipse the former. As C. Arnold Snyder aptly observes, discipleship cannot constitute the all-encompassing characterization of the Christian life or, more precisely, its absolute point of departure. The question as to how one is born into the family of God must be asked. Snyder, “Bread, not Stone. Refocusing an Anabaptist Vision,” Vision 13 (Spring 2012):64–73. {60}
  2. The book of Ecclesiastes provides an excellent model of such an approach. For a detailed discussion, see Pierre Gilbert, “Fighting Fire with Fire: Divine Nihilism in Ecclesiastes,” Direction 40 (2011): 65–79.
  3. The Apostle John’s characterization of God as love (1 John 4:8) implies that God will never take anyone by force, love being the ultimate and absolute antithesis to coercion.
  4. The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview represents one of the more recent organizations to focus significant attention on this issue and stress the importance of articulating a Christian worldview.
  5. I have become increasingly convinced that an initial focus on worldview may be critical in providing meaningful insights into a culture and facilitate the creation of significant bridges between it and the gospel.
  6. The intent of this discussion is primarily illustrative and suggestive. It would be impossible in the context of such an article to account for the full breadth of worldviews that characterize human societies and for the models of contextualization needed to make the elements of a biblical worldview relevant to them. For a more thorough treatment of these questions, see Paul G. Hiebert, Transforming Worldviews (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008) and Paul G. Hiebert and Eloise Hiebert Meneses, Incarnational Ministries (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1995).
  7. For a detailed definition, see James Sire, The Universe Next Door, 4th ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004 [1988]). The Anabaptist missiologist Paul G. Hiebert also offers a very insightful treatment of the notion of worldview in relationship to the missionary enterprise in Transforming Worldviews, 13–30. See also Brian J. Walsh and J. Richard Middleton, The Transforming Vision (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1984).
  8. This is particularly true when an individual is confronted with a fact that is so inconsistent with his or her plausibility structure that it forces a reassessment of their belief system. In such cases, they can either deny the reality of the phenomenon, live with an even higher degree of cognitive dissonance, or allow the new data to modify their worldview.
  9. The notion of a biblical worldview implies the presence of a theological center spanning the Old and the New Testament. On the latter issue, biblical scholars are not unanimous. Elmer Martens makes a persuasive case for the notion of a theological center in the Old Testament in God’s Design, 3rd ed. (North Richland Hills, TX: BIBAL, 1998), 3–19. For an overview of the debate as it pertains to the Old Testament, see Walter Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1989), 1–114. For a survey of the issues relative to New Testament theology, see I. Howard Marshall, New Testament Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004), 17–48.
  10. See Grant Osborne, Hermeneutical Spiral (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1991), 149–51; 153–60.
  11. I use “Canaanite” and “Mesopotamian” somewhat interchangeably, as the Mesopotamian culture was widely diffused in the West. See Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, TX: Word, 1987), xliv. {61}
  12. For more details relating to the purpose of this text, see Yehezkel Kaufmann, The Religion of Israel: From Its Beginnings to the Babylonian Exile (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960), 60–63; Jean Bottéro, “Le Dieu de la bible,” in La plus belle histoire de Dieu: Qui est le Dieu de la bible? (Paris: Seuil, 1997); Naissance de Dieu: la Bible et l’historien (Paris: Gallimard, 1986). It should be noted that the majority of critical scholars assign a post-exilic date to Genesis 1–3, viewing any association with the Mosaic period as extremely tenuous. Be that as it may, we need to remember that the dating of biblical texts is, at best, a very imprecise and subjective endeavor. Up until a few decades ago, critical scholars held to the literary theory known as JEDP. According to this theory, the Pentateuch can be divided into sections indicating various sources originating from different eras and regions. Although no new hypothesis has received the general assent of the scholarly community, the JEDP theory is no longer unanimously endorsed. Following Gordon J. Wenham in Genesis 1–15 (Waco, TX: Word, 1987), xlii–xlv, I think there is sufficient ground to support the existence of a creation story that would have encompassed the most important ideas now attested in the canonical narrative. The existence of such a story would be compatible with Moses’s mandate to create a distinct religious entity. For a more detailed assessment of the documentary theory, see U. Cassuto, The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch: Eight Lectures, tr. by I. Abrahams (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1961); R. Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative (New York: Basic Books, 1981); D. Garrett, Rethinking Genesis: The Sources and Authorship of the First book of the Pentateuch (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1991); G. Maier, “How did Moses Compose the Pentateuch?” Stulos Theological Journal 1 (1993): 157–61; A. F. Campbell and M. A. O’Brien, Sources of the Pentateuch: Texts, Introductions, Annotations (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1993), 10–15. On an early dating of the creation narrative, see K. A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), 423–27.
  13. See Gerhard F. Hasel, “The Polemic Nature of the Genesis Cosmology,” Evangelical Quarterly 46 (1974): 81–102, and Pierre Gilbert, Demons, Lies & Shadows (Winnipeg, MB: Kindred, 2008), 45–50, 54.
  14. In this respect, the book of Hebrews represents an excellent example of an argument designed to persuade Jewish Christians to resist the temptation either to go back to Judaism or add some aspects of their old belief system to their newly found faith in Christ.
  15. Paul Hiebert, “The Flaw of the Excluded Middle,” Missiology: An International Review, 10 (1982): 200.
  16. For more details, see Pierre Gilbert, Demons, Lies & Shadows (Winnipeg, MB: Kindred, 2008), 46–50.
  17. A translation of these myths is found in James B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 3rd ed. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969). See also Victor H. Matthews and Don C. Benjamin, Old Testament Parallels, 2nd ed. (New York/Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 1997 [1991], 9–18 (Enuma Elish), 31–40 (Atrahasis) and Stephanie Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), 228–277 (Enuma Elish) and 1–38 (Atrahasis). {62}
  18. For a succinct summary of the Mesopotamian worldview, see Gilbert, Demons, 50–53. See also Jean Bottéro, Religion in Ancient Mesopotamia, tr. Teresa Lavender Fagan (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001).
  19. See in particular Hasel, “Genesis Cosmology,” 81–102. Kaufmann more broadly examines the unique character of Israelite religion in his book The Religion of Israel.
  20. The merism, “the heavens and the earth,” is intended to be all inclusive. See Wenham, Genesis, 15.
  21. Christopher Kaiser writes: “An operational faith in God as creator was a vital factor in the development of all branches of science until the late eighteenth century.” Kaiser, Creation and the History of Science (London: Marshall Pickering; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), 273. For a more detailed discussion of the relationship between the development of science and belief in creation, see Stanley L. Jaki, Cosmos and Creator (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1980), 112–41.
  22. This expression is borrowed from the French historian Pierre Chaunu.
  23. This summary also compares well with Walter Brueggemann’s own outline of the worldview attested in Hebrew wisdom literature, which to a great extent appears to reflect creation theology. In Man We Trust (Atlanta, GA: John Knox, 1972), 13–28.
  24. See the allusion to the image of God as a rationale against murder in Genesis 9:6.
  25. See also Genesis 4:6–7, where the notion of personal responsibility and accountability is applied to Cain.
  26. In this respect, we need to take to heart God’s warning to Ezekiel: “When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man to turn from his ways and he does not do so, he will die for his sin, but you will have saved yourself” (Ezek 33:8–9).
  27. I never feel completely comfortable using the term “practical” to denote praxis. Whether it is explicitly formulated or not, ministry practices and skills always assume, require, and express a theoretical framework.
  28. Epistemologically, I realize that some of the readers may dismiss these comments as unbearably naïve. In this postmodern era, it is no longer fashionable to speak in terms of a body of truth that functions as an absolute point of reference. But, as with many other things, postmodernism will eventually prove to be another fad that will collapse under its own epistemological inner contradictions. Those who wish to pursue this further can consult Alvin Plantinga, “Christian Philosophy at the End of the Twentieth Century,” in Christian Philosophy at the Close of the Twentieth Century, ed. Sander Griffioen and Bert Balk (Kampen, Netherlands: Kok, 1995), 29–54.
  29. As Mark Baker demonstrates in Proclaiming the Scandal of the Cross (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006) and Recovering the Scandal of the Cross (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2011), the New Testament uses a multiplicity of images to parse out the meaning of the cross. While it is not {63} my intent here to rehash the terms of the atonement debate, I do happen to side with those who believe, as the Church has from the beginning, that the death of Christ was driven by an ontological necessity. At a most basic level, the biblical witness unequivocally links the death of Christ to an absolute justice imperative that is an integral part of God’s very nature (see for instance Gal 3:13; Mark 10:45; 14:36; 2 Cor 5:21). For a succinct treatment of the contemporary terms of the debate, see N.T. Wright, Justification (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2009).
  30. C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996 [1940]), 48–62.
  31. In fact, it’s surprising to see to what extent ideology will trump common notions of compassion under certain conditions. In a short article where he reflects on the one-child policy introduced by the Chinese government in 1978, Canadian journalist, Mark Steyn, offers a shocking example of the disastrous impact of totalitarian ideology on something as basic as motherly love in rural China in “ ‘Throw it in a Stream’,” National Review Online, February 25, 2010,
  32. Eric Metaxas, Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2007), xv.
  33. See Richard Kyle, The Religious Fringe: A History of Alternative Religions in America (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1993) and The New Age Movement in American Culture (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1995). Stanley J. Grenz is atypical of where many Christians stand on the issue of magic and the occult. While he acknowledges the reality of demons and the absolute necessity to abstain from engaging in superstitious activities, he also believes that these “powers” are non-realities. Though the rationale proposed is not as clear as one might wish, Grenz is nevertheless among the few who attempt to distinguish between the ontological reality of demonic beings and the actual efficacy of their powers. See Stanley J. Grenz, “Superstition: A Christian Perspective,” The Asia Journal of Theology 8 (1994): 365–78.
  34. In this respect, Mark Andrew Ritchie has offered a devastating critique of the position that missionary activity has been fundamentally detrimental for traditional cultures. See his Spirit of the Rainforest. A Yanomamö Shaman’s Story, 2nd ed. (Chicago: Island Lake, 2000 [1996]).
  35. In Western culture, belief in magic and superstition has historically manifested itself in an interest in the New Age Movement, and more recently in popular culture’s renewed fascination with the supernatural (movies and books on the vampire theme being but one example).
  36. To paraphrase C. S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton, either we are all ruled by the law of God, or we will be subjected to the tyranny of a few powerful men. Lewis develops this theme at length in The Abolition of Man (HarperSanFrancisco, 2001 [1944]). Chesterton examines this issue in The Appetite of Tyranny (West Valley City, UT: Waking Lion, 2008 [1915]).
  37. The French quantitative historian, Pierre Chaunu, wrote extensively about the intrinsic value of human life and man’s ability to meet the challenges {64} of human existence without resorting to radical “solutions” such as state-sponsored population control or abortion. See, for instance, La mémoire et le sacré (Paris, France: Calmann-Lévy, 1978).
  38. Jaki writes: “Darwin’s own admission, that the failure of geological research to yield the infinitely many fine gradations between past and present species as required by the theory . . . remains as relevant as ever. What most effectively gives away Darwinism is the almost mystical faith voiced by its supporters in facing up to the absence of evidence and even to the contrary evidence” (Jaki, 120). With regard to Darwin’s own assessment of the importance of the fossil record to confirm his theory, see The Origin of Species, 6th ed. (London: John Murray, 1876), 265.
  39. C. S. Lewis discusses at length the myth of evolutionism in “The Funeral of a Great Myth,” in Christian Reflections (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1967), 82–93.
  40. Jaki provides an insightful explanation of the cause and effect relationship between the two: Darwinism is a creed not only with scientists committed to document the all-purpose role of natural selection. It is a creed with masses of people who have at best a vague notion of the mechanism of evolution as proposed by Darwin, let alone as further complicated by his successors. Clearly, the appeal cannot be that of a scientific truth, but of a philosophical belief which is not difficult to identify. Darwinism is a belief in the meaninglessness of existence. Jaki, 115.
  41. Empirically, this is probably best evidenced by humanity’s never-ending impulse to wage war.
  42. C. S. Lewis, Miracles (New York: Macmillan, 1947), 101.
  43. Ibid.
Pierre Gilbert holds a PhD from the Université de Montréal. He is an Associate Professor of Old Testament and Theology at Canadian Mennonite University and Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary Canada. His Demons, Lies & Shadows was published in 2008.

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