Book Review: Seven Days that Divide the World by John Lennox

Seven Days That Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and ScienceSeven Days that Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science by John C. Lennox addresses that controversial subject of the age of the earth. However, Lennox’s gracious manner goes a long way to avoid stirring the pot of controversy. Instead, Lennox writes five chapters to explain the controversy, apply principles of biblical interpretation, interpret the Genesis days, discuss the origin of humans, and explore the relevance of Genesis. It should be noted that the author emphasizes that this book is not meant to be exhaustive, but a response to the many questions he has received over the years.

In Chapter One: But Does it Move? A Lesson from History, Lennox introduces the controversy by recalling another controversy of the past. He takes a look at the shift in science from a fixed-earth view to the moving-earth view. This is the story of Galileo and the heliocentric view, from which some parallels are drawn to today. Lennox relays this story then asks:

But now we need to face an important question: why do Christians accept this “new” interpretation, and not still insist on a “literal” understanding of the “pillars of the earth”? Why are we not still split up into fixed-earthers and moving-earthers? Is it really because we have all compromised, and made Scripture subservience to science? (163)

In Chapter Two: But Does it Move? A Lesson About Scripture, Lennox makes the point: “The issue at stake in the Galileo controversy is, of course, how the Bible should be interpreted.” (183) And so this second chapter explores principles of biblical interpretation before applying them to the moving earth controversy. Some of these principles: “…the first question to ask is, how does the author who wrote it wish to be understood?” (186) “Next, one should in the first instance be guided by the natural understanding of a passage, sentence, word, or phrase in its context, historically, culturally, and linguistically.” (191) Lennox expands and adds to these, noting that sometimes there can be more than one natural reading for a word, and that in many places a literal understanding will not work. He again notes that for those who shifted their belief to from a fixed-earth, “Did the moving-earthers necessarily compromise the integrity and authority of scripture?” (270)
Lennox spends time discussing the relationship between faith and science (his forte), as well as emphasizing the importance of distinguishing between matters that are central to faith and those which there is freedom to differ upon:

It is Scripture that has the final authority, not our understanding of it. It is a sad spectacle, and one that brings discredit on the Christian message, when those who profess to believe that message belie their profession by fighting amongst themselves or caricaturing others, rather than engaging in respectful discussion through which all sides might just learn something. (342)

The author points out that “The Galileo incident teaches us that we should be humble enough to distinguish between what the Bible says and our interpretations of it.” (376) He notes that we should avoid two extremes: “The first is the danger of tying interpretation of Scripture too closely to the science of the day, as the fixed-earthers did […] The opposite danger is to ignore science.”

Chapter Three: But is it Old? The Days of Creation is where Lennox works with the principles of biblical interpretation discussed earlier and applies them to Genesis. Then he also explores the current scientific data to see what sort of model arises. But first, Lennox notes that both old-earth and young-earth perspectives go back a long way, so one can’t judge between the views based on who held the view historically. Instead, the reasons for the views must be evaluated. Lennox discusses three main views: the 24-hour view, the day-age view, and the framework view. The 24-hour view sees the days of Genesis as 24-hour days, one earth week, six thousand years ago or so. The day-age view sees the days a a chronological order of periods of time of unspecified length. The framework view sees the days a simply a logical order, not a chronological order.
Lennox begins to unpack Genesis, reading it as if for the first time. He looks at the various meanings of the word “day.” He discusses the various articles used in the Hebrew. He considers the nature of the creation week. “Here we see that, although Scripture could be understood as teaching that the earth is young, it does not have to be interpreted in this way.” (632) Lennox’s own view emerges through the discussion:

However, there is another possibility: that the writer did not intend us to think of the first six days as days of a single earth week, but rather as a sequence of six creation days; that is, days of normal length (with evenings and mornings as the text says) in which God acted to create something new, but days that might well have been separated by long periods of time. (642)

Of course, Lennox unpacks this view much further, giving more reasons and answering common objections. Those points will not be explored in this review. Lennox’s main point is not to advance his own view so much as to say: “The main thrust of my argument so far, then, is that there is a way of understanding Genesis 1 that does not compromise the authority of Scripture and that, at the same time, takes into account our increased knowledge of the universe, as Scripture itself suggests we should (Rom. 1:19-20).” (764)
Chapter Four: Human Beings: A Special Creation? looks at the origin of human beings. As making man was the pinnacle of God’s creation, this issue carries deep significance. Lennox also notes that Genesis indicates a special creation act of God to create man. It is here where the author has some critiques of some other Christian views that would suggest otherwise, such as those held by Denis Alexander. Lennox also tackles that theological objection of death before Adam’s sin. He points out that Paul “says that death passed upon all human beings as a result of Adam’s sin; he does not say that death passed upon all living things.” (1005) He also points out that animal predation also poses a significant problem for the no-death-before-Adam view. More could be said about this chapter — which raises more questions than it answers — but again, Lennox’s goal seems to be to expand the mind of the reader a bit: “It is simply false to suggest, as some do, that the only alternative to young-earth creationism is to accept the Darwinian model.” (1115)
Chapter Five: The Message of Genesis 1 is a relatively lengthy chapter compared to the others. Here the author presents a strong (and non-controversial amongst Christians) basis for the biblical worldview. He explores the big picture that is presented about God, the world, and man. God is eternal, creator, personal, a fellowship, distinct from His creation, purposeful, etc. With this full and powerful chapter reflecting on the nature of God and His creation, the author ends with a personal note, emphasizing the spirit that believers should have on these topics: “What, therefore, should our attitude be to others who do not agree with us, whatever view we hold? Surely the old adage has got it more or less right: ‘In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.’”
For the reader who has completed the five chapters that comprise the main part of the book, there are five more appendices waiting to be read. These will not be reviewed here, but here is what these appendices cover. Appendix A: A Brief Background to Genesis: this explores the Hebrew language usage in Genesis, as well as some of the ancient Near Eastern context. Appendix B: The Cosmic Temple View: this looks at one of the views of Genesis that was not explored in the main part of the book. Appendix C: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science: this looks at the overlap between the Bible and science, arguing that they are not separate. Appendix D: Two Accounts of Creation: this chapter addresses the argument that says that the early chapters of Genesis give two different creation accounts. Appendix E: Theistic Evolution and the God of the Gaps: here Lennox presents some criticisms of theistic evolution.
In sum, Seven Days that Divide the World by John Lennox is a good brief look at some of the key issues involved in evaluating views of the age of the earth and our interpretation of Genesis. The book is concise, clear, and charitable. Lennox doesn’t answer all the questions or explore all the details, but he does offer a good set of principles and insights to work with in considering one’s own view. One would do well to learn from Lennox, whatever view the potential reader may currently hold.

All citations taken from the Kindle version.

Written by

Brian Auten is the founder emeritus of Apologetics315. He is also director of Reasonable Faith Belfast. Brian holds a Masters degree in Christian Apologetics and has interviewed over 150 Christian apologists. His background is in missions, media direction, graphic design, and administration. Brian started Apologetics315 in 2007 to be an apologetics hub to equip Christians to defend the faith.

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