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The Two-Book Model

Posted By Randall D. Isaac, Friday, May 13, 2016

The two-book model is a well-known and oft-used construct for articulating the basis for harmony between science and the Bible. In the model, God is the author of two books, the book of God’s works and the book of God’s words. Having the same omniscient author who cannot err means that the two books cannot conflict. Hence, any perceived conflict between the two is the result of an inaccurate interpretation, either by science of the book of God’s works or by theology of the book of God’s words. It seems to me that there is no or very little controversy in the Christian community about this model. The secular community doesn’t necessarily accept the premise that God authored either book. But Christians invariably accept both. I have read only one article that objects to the model and I haven’t been able to find it again. This model is therefore an excellent starting point for bringing harmony to the debates on science and faith.

The difficulties soon begin when it becomes obvious that the model doesn’t provide any insight on how to resolve perceived conflicts. Which interpretation needs to be changed if there is a difference of opinion? In several of my talks, I have taken the time to explore different variations of the two-book model which lead to different schools of thought.

The first chart in the attached file (downloadable from the link below this post) shows my personal version of the two-book model. I like to refer to the author as “Logos” in light of my favorite passage of creation in the first chapter of the Gospel of John. Science and theology are the study of the books of God’s works and words, respectively. The remaining pages reflect a somewhat playful modification of the model in ways that lead to various types of errors.

Consider the one-book model which reflects the view that the material world is evil or at least irrelevant and not worthy of consideration. Where is theology, however, when it cannot relate to the world in which we live? This version has little survival value.

Alternatively, a one-book variation might consider only the book of God’s works and not admit to God’s words. In that scenario, theology would seek to find God solely through the study of nature. This was a popular form of study a few centuries and we refer to it as natural theology. However, there is no calibration of the conclusions to be drawn about God from nature. Is he full of beauty and grace as the sunset over the calm ocean? Or is he full of rage and fury as the wind and waves in a hurricane?

Without the book of God’s words, would scientific study of God’s works lead us to God? This is essentially the basis of much of scientific apologetics. Many people feel that science, by itself, reveals the existence of God, another variation of natural theology. But who is this God? How is he related to the one revealed in the book of God’s words?

Another approach is to study the book of God’s words through scientific methodology. We refer to this as higher criticism. It presupposes primarily a human authorship of the Bible. While it can bring great insight into understanding the Bible, it can also be taken to extreme to minimize divine inspiration.

It is also possible to study the book of God’s works through the book of God’s words. In the early 18th century this approach was sometimes called “Scripture geology.” This leads us to the concept of concordism. The two-book model seems to me to be inherently non-concordistic in the sense that it makes no claims about the content and teachings of God’s word, particularly whether or not God’s word describes nature inerrantly. Concordism assumes that the Bible does teach science accurately and presages modern science and not ancient cosmology. This sets up a potentially inherent conflict model in which the study of God’s works through science is pitted against that study through God’s word. A non-concordistic approach assumes that the teachings in the two books are not of the same kind and therefore not inherently in conflict.

A true two-book model therefore can help us avoid many variations that lead to conflict and disagreement. Perhaps by seeing these conflicts as originating in a deviation from the two-book model, we can help diffuse the disagreements.

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Tags:  concordism  Two-Book Model 

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Comments on this post...

Paul R. Bruggink says...
Posted Friday, May 13, 2016
Re your " I have read only one article that objects to the model and I haven’t been able to find it again.", could that one article have been Jason Lisle's "The Two-Book Fallacy," Acts & Facts. 42 (1): 9 (2013) at ?
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Randall D. Isaac says...
Posted Friday, May 13, 2016
It may indeed have been Paul Lisle's article though in another publication. It's been many years since I read Acts & Facts regularly. Thank you very much for citing it. Seems as if he thinks books cannot be metaphors but must be written language. Perhaps he doesn't realize that information can be conveyed in many different formats.
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Sara J. Miles says...
Posted Friday, May 13, 2016
Randy, Your understanding of concordism and mine are not the same. I'm much closer to John Walton, who wrote “Concordists believe the Bible must agree—be in concord with—all the findings of contemporary science” (p. 19 of The Lost World of Genesis One). I would have added after "Bible" the phrase "when properly interpreted."

Essentially the study and understanding of both the Bible and Nature require multiple disciples to be properly understood. Moreover, given the finite nature of human intelligence, both will require continuing revision. However, either without the other is missing important elements. I don't read the Bible to find out God's detailed methods of creating (both historically and currently).

I don't study science to lead me to God (you asked the question if without the Word would the study of God's works lead us to God). Here I'd follow Asa Gray, who began with faith in God and then saw Him at work in His creation. That's why he could see purpose in evolution whereas Darwin could not. Darwin was operating from Paley's natural theology that did believe you could start with God's works and find God--and Darwin couldn't.

But back to your major issue--how do we know how to resolve apparent conflicts? It seems to me that we begin by examining the methodology used to arrive at the understanding of each book. Is the exegesis utilizing all the disciplines and findings available to arrive at an understanding of this passage? Do the scientific findings utilize agreed upon scientific theories, methodologies, and/or findings from disciplines that are not specific to the one being examined; do they answer unanswered questions or problems; do they promote research questions that can possibly provide further confirmation or revision? If the answer to both is yes, then we begin to do cross-referencing. What are ways that our scientific issue would require changes in exegesis/ theology? How would those changes affect our understanding of other passages/doctrines? Can those changes be reconciled with our overall understanding of scripture? Where does our interpretation of a passage/doctrine conflict with the scientific finding? Is the issue one of real conflict or of a too limited explanation? (By this I mean, for instance, does the science imply a mechanistic, self-sufficient Nature that theology -- at least for Christians -- can moderate?) There has to be a dialogue between the two disciplines. Historically what has usually happened is that theologians ignore the science (and scientists ignore the theology) until science has so overwhelmingly "proved" the theory that the vast majority of theologians go back to find another way of interpreting the passage (e.g., the sun standing still, the geocentric universe). Quite frankly, I can't think of a scientific theory that was proven false by theologians. I can think of scientists and theories that are impoverished by theology's absence.
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Randall D. Isaac says...
Posted Sunday, May 22, 2016
Sara, I think you are correct that we are using the term "concordism" in two very different ways. We do agree very much on methodology for connecting our understanding of the two books. My only point was that the two book model, by itself, doesn't teach us that methodology and others may accept the two book model but use a different methodology.

As for the meaning of concordism, I'm mainly relying on Paul Seely and Denis Lamoureux, and to some extent Hugh Ross, if I understand them correctly. Instead of the harmony that you see arising from the "correct" interpretation, it seems to me that they see concordism as meaning that any statement in the Bible on scientific matters is indeed an accurate statement according to modern science. That is, statements in the Bible on the three-tier cosmology must have scientific meaning corresponding to modern science as well. Maybe we should let Paul and Denis clarify our understanding.
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