Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Beginning of Everything

Alasdair Paine, The First Chapters of Everything: How Genesis 1-4 Explains Our World, 2014. 189 pp. Paperback.

Reviewed by Dr. Ryan M. McGraw

What would it look like if you could cut to the heart of the message of Genesis 1-4, remove extraneous questions, and provide a goldmine of simple outlines, illustrations, and application for sermons? It would look something like Alistair Paine’s The First Chapters of Everything. Many books of this genre run into the extremes of being either complex technical commentaries on the biblical text or “popular” books with lightly allegorized application that does not really explain what the Bible means. Though this book raises some significant theological concerns for this reviewer, the discerning reader will find much here to profit the soul.

Paine’s primary contention is that Genesis 1-4 explains our relation to God in light of creation, sin, and redemption. The practical implications of these truths, which the author illustrates amply with a gripping style, explain all of the major issues related to human life on earth, both past and present. He does so with a brevity and clarity that will make preachers wish they could take Paine with them as they preach through the rest of the book of Genesis.

The book, however, contains some serious theological problems that are surprising coming from Christian Focus Publishing. The first is that he rejects the continuing obligation of the fourth commandment under the New Testament, replacing it with a pragmatic view of taking rest without divine obligation (83-84). This is a surprising shift from the publisher, who previous promoted the fourth commandment vigorously and would not publish anything to contrary. Second, Paine questions the length of the days of creation and treats the question of the length of the days as irrelevant to the meaning of the text (85). This is another matter that the publisher refused to publish in the recent past. Third, Paine argues that animal death was not necessarily a result of the fall and that the Bible does not clearly tell us the relationship between sin, death, and suffering (151-152). These issues, and a few others, not only illustrate deficiencies in an otherwise profoundly helpful work, but possibly a disturbing shift in a once trusted Reformed publisher.

In spite of such shortcomings, The First Chapters of Everything is profoundly helpful for preparing sermons. Perhaps this will be true even when it provokes disagreement. The author exemplifies the goal that all of us should have in approaching the text of Scripture: to understand what God is teaching us through the passage and how to apply it to our salvation.