In The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate John H. Walton asserts that a proper, and what he calls “literal,” reading of Genesis 1 does not concern material creation of the world, but rather the functional creation of the cosmos. This does not deny that God is the creator of the material, but simply that Genesis 1 is an account of that process. The author of Genesis 1 is explaining God gives function to all that has been created, bringing order out of the chaos of verse 1. The ultimate function of all that is created is to make the earth habitable for humanity.
Most intriguing to me is Walton’s conclusion that Genesis 1 is the account of God creating a temple in which he will dwell. Through some great extra-biblical examples and passages from the Hebrew scripture, Walton makes a convincing argument that the statement that on the seventh day God rested, is a statement of God taking his place in the temple of the cosmos he as completed. This idea of God dwelling among us, rather than watching us from a remote heaven, is an important and often missing piece of one’s theological understanding of our lives.
This argument of God’s creative work including giving purpose (rather than limiting God’s creation to shape and form) allows for God to remain the eternal creator. In other words, it is not as though after Day 6 of Genesis 1, God hung up his work boots, never to create again. Rather, as God gives each of us purpose, not just an eternal purpose, but a purpose for today, God is continuing his creative work.
I would have liked the book to turn toward a discussion of how this understanding of creation informs the rest of the Old Testament, the ministry of Jesus, the authors of the New Testament, our eschatologies, and the church. I am still processing these areas on my own. If you are interested there, you might want to turn to N. T. Wright’s Simply Jesus. But this was not the purpose of this book.
Instead, the final section of the book is a discussion of the evolution/creation/darwinism/intelligent design debate. I have recognized for some time that this debate is asking Genesis 1 to do something the author never intended, so I found this section a bit tedious. For those mired in the debate though, Walton offers some great insight. He argues that science deals solely in the material which Genesis 1 does not address, and Genesis 1 deals only with function/purpose which is outside the realm of science. Thus the conflict need not continue.
I recommend this book to all who have questioned what Genesis 1 is about, and those who feel that acceptance of science is somehow a denial of Genesis 1, and by extension the whole canon of scripture.