A Review of
The Bible and Ancient Science: Principles of Interpretation
Denis O. Lamoureux
Reviewed by Scott J. Pearson
Denis Lamoureux is a practicing Pentecostal who holds a PhD in Biology and a PhD in Theology. He also holds a degree in dentistry. He teaches courses in religion and science at the University of Alberta. In an evangelical style, he shares his “born again” experience that started his probing into religion.
He contends that the church needs to move on from a “concordist” view of Scripture and science. He defines this view as believing that the Scripture teaches true science, without error. Many call such a view a “literalist” understanding of Scripture. This view is most commonly expressed in the common evangelical belief in the “inerrancy” of Scripture, as seminally expressed in the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy. This statement leaves little place in a Christian’s life for newer and deeper understandings of the natural world – a situation that Lamoureux wants to counteract.
The author admits that concordism has been the dominant view of the Scriptures by many, if not most, theologians throughout the Protestant Christian tradition, at least. John Calvin, Martin Luther, and Augustine of Hippo all argued for a literal understanding of Genesis 1-3. Instead, Lamoureux argues that concordism presents problems with interpretation. Allegory itself is part of the tradition of many Biblical genres. For instance, almost no one would argue that Jesus’s parables (or even parts of the Psalms) are to be understood literally. Rather, they express an ancient literary form/structure that allows for a non-literal interpretation.
Lamoureux maintains that Scripture presents an ancient view of science that represents the society of the authors’ – and readers’ – age. He sees no reason that modern believers ought to continue to buy into a prior age’s belief system. For instance, he cites that the Biblical authors portray an earth-centered, flat world – something clearly not true. Nevertheless, because they are expressing cultural (incarnational?) beliefs as a part of a genre allowing for story, these authors (and the Author behind them) is not lying but only accommodating their message. Rather, it is we moderns who are imposing our worldview of literal truth on the authors of Scripture through “eisegesis.”
Lamoureux picks out clear views of ancient science about the natural world that are consistent in the Christian Bible so that we won’t fall into their traps when we interpret Scripture. He worries that young people in particular reject the faith as irrational when they hear Christians reject modern science, which has given us so much. He contends that we must separate the “message” of Scripture from the “incident.” The message is inerrant – though he leaves it unresolved how we ought to come to understand this message commonly as a Christian community. We’ve spent centuries and centuries fighting with each other, and Lamoureux seems only to offer a more individualist prerogative as an answer to our interpretive problem.
He vaguely argues against “liberal” views of Scripture, but really needs to unpack this concept more. It’s obvious that his theological education was centered in the conservative Christian tradition; he needs to explore more beliefs on inspiration and interpretation among those in non-conservative circles.
Finally, he leaves unspoken how to understand Jesus’s miracles. I suspect he would believe in their historicity, but nothing in his interpretive stances would prevent them just being allegorical, just like the stories of Jonah or Job. In order to come up with a comprehensive approach, he really needs to address Jesus’s life story more directly.
Overall, this book is most helpful for understanding the ancient science that undergirded the Biblical accounts. However, it leaves many stones unturned as far as it attempts to provide for a consistent hermeneutic. It appears that the author’s goal, however, is not to provide a thesis for the grand scales of history, but rather to win some souls to an honorable Christian faith compatible with modern science. If so, then he accomplishes that central goal quite well.
Scott J. Pearson
In his day job at a medical center in Nashville, Tennessee, Scott J. Pearson develops software that tracks career development of biomedical academics. He also has a lifelong interest in how Christians can use their faith to accomplish common good. He publishes book reviews at www.scottjpearson.com.