I learnt about John Lennox through his debate with Richard Dawkins, organized by Fixed Point Foundation at University of Alabama in 2007. What draws me to Lennox's works is not so much his impressive academic achievement, but his gift in communicating the Christian faith to audience in secular setting that often pegs science against Christianity. This is largely not only due to his background as a Professor of Mathematics, Laing Trust Fellow in Mathematics and Philosophy of Science, and Pastoral Advisor at Green Templeton College of Oxford University, but also his experiences of working in the atheistic-communist environment of eastern Europe and a guest lecturer at Russia's Academy of Sciences. His three doctorates are from Cambridge, Wales, and Oxford.
Lennox's book Seven Days That Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science (USA: Zondervan, 2011) explores how should we understand the creation account in Genesis in view of what we know from the ancient text, the present scientific knowledge, as well as the integrity of Christian discipleship. To Lennox, our understanding of Genesis is not merely informative but should affect the way our Christian life is lived. As he remarked,
It is one thing to wrestle with the meaning of the days of Genesis; it is another to understand, apply, and live the whole message of Genesis. And if we are not doing the latter, I am not sure that the former will profit us much. (p. 116)
This book comes in 5 chapters with 5 appendixes. The first chapter But Does It Move? A Lesson From History draws the Galileo affair to set the stage for the whole book. Lennox clarified that the 17th century controversy was not so much a competition between science and Christianity. Lennox demonstrated that Galileo himself did not see conflict between his scientific conjecture with his Christian faith. The conflict was between two "world-pictures", that is between the then pervasive Aristotelian-fixed-earth picture and Copernicus-Galileo-earth-moving picture.
The second chapter But Does It Move? A Lesson About Scripture highlights the nature of interpretation on the Bible based on the Galileo affair. What I find helpful is Lennox's clarification of the dubious category of "literal" and "metaphorical". He pointed out that what we mean by "literal" are sometimes more complicated. For instance, "the (literal) ascension of Christ is a metaphor of his (literal) assumption of universal authority." (p. 24)
To Lennox, the language of the Bible is "phenomenological" which describes what appeared to everyone. Therefore the Bible talks about the sun rising, which appeared to both scientists and non-scientists alike. This language does not commit the text to any position, be it fixed-earth or earth-moving view. It just describes what appeared to everyone. The guiding principle to interpreting the Bible is to figure out the "natural understanding of a passage, sentence, word, or phrase in its context, historically, culturally, and linguistically." (p.22)
Lennox cautioned us to avoid two extremes. On one hand, we should recognize the danger of tying interpretation of Scripture to prevalent scientific understanding. Those who disagreed with Galileo have tied their interpretation to the widespread Aristotelianism at that time. On the other hand, we should not ignore science as God has given us minds to relate the created world with the Bible.
The third chapter But Is It Old? The Days of Creation is the main gist of the book. In it, Lennox masterfully demonstrated how we can see the phenomenological language "day" used in Genesis chapter 1 to mean 24-hour day, and to believe that the universe is a few billions year-old. Such allowance is enabled by Lennox's note of the linguistic construction of verses 1 to 3. Those who are familiar with this discussion would recognize that Lennox's position is a variant of what is commonly known as the gap theory.
This theory contends that a long period (probably few million years) has transpired between what God did in Genesis 1:1-2 and God's creative activity from verse 3 onwards. Lennox's modification of this theory lies in his insertion of gap between each of the six days of creation. This means that the six days did not occur in one continuous week ending with God's rest in the seventh day. Instead, each day is separated by millions of years. The lack of definite article on day 1 to day 5 and the usage of perfect tense of "created" in the original Hebrew text are among the reasons Lennox marshaled as his justification. Hence, Lennox qualified his position as one that is reached "quite apart from any scientific considerations". (p.53)
The main objection against Lennox's view is that the ancient Israelites understood the six days as occurred in one continuous week, which ends with Sabbath as the seventh day. (Exodus 20:9-11) Lennox's answer is that we cannot parallel our regular week with the seven days of creation because they are not identical. The creation sequence happened only once, with God resting from the work of creating the world. This is different from our one-week sequence which is continuous through the years with us resting from our work for one day per week and then resume our work the next day after Sabbath.
However I find Lennox's answer not as strong as it seems. Exodus 20:9-11 clearly draws a parallel between the regular week with the six days when God created the world. This means that the ancient Israelites understood the six days as one continuous week. Historically and culturally, I think the ancient Israelites are nearer to the authors of the text of Genesis than both Lennox and I, and hence their understanding of what the six days mean is nearer to the intended meaning of the text. If this is so, then we should give priority to their understanding of the six days.
This would go along Lennox's own principle that we should interpret the Bible according to the "natural understanding of a passage, sentence, word, or phrase in its context, historically, culturally, and linguistically." (p.22) So, I am not saying that ancient Israelites' interpretation of Genesis 1 represents how the text is meant to be understood. All I am suggesting is that if we employ Lennox's hermeneutical method, then that is probably the logical conclusion we should reach. Ironically, it is a conclusion which Lennox does not seem to prefer.
Chapter four Human Beings: A Special Creation? deals with the condition of humanity. Lennox wrote that the Scripture does not give us the exact dating of the age of humanity. He is particularly critical of Denis Alexander's interpretation that Adam and Eve were Neolithic farmers who were chosen out of millions others by God to receive spiritual revelation. This topic necessitates the discussion on the origin of sin, which Lennox does not shy away.
The final chapter The Message of Genesis 1 is Lennox' theological exposition on the relevance of the text to Christian life. It reaffirms the important implication of the doctrine of the creator God and the creatureliness of the creation.
The 5 appendixes supplement the main body of the book by engaging various pertinent topics such as the ancient near eastern background of Genesis, the recently proposed "Cosmic Temple" reading by John Walton, the convergence of Genesis and contemporary science, the relationship between Genesis 1 and 2, theistic evolution and the appropriation of the notion of God of the gaps. Overall, this is a small yet very resourceful book on this important subject. And Lennox has shown himself not only as an astute participant in this debate, but also a passionate disciple of Christ who desires to testify to the truthfulness of the inspired text through his own life.