Book Review: John Lennox’s Seven Days That Divide the World

In Seven Days that Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science, John Lennox addresses the science and theology relevant to the age-of-the-earth debate. This is a controversy that continues to escalate within the church, as young-earth advocates claim that acknowledgement of biblical authority and inspiration requires a young-earth interpretation of Scripture, an assertion that old-earth proponents vehemently deny. Lennox explores the relevant biblical text to argue that a high view of Scripture can be appropriately and effectively harmonized with a responsible interpretation of scientific data.

John C. Lennox is Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford. He holds a Ph.D. and M.A. from Cambridge University, a D.Phil. from Oxford, and an M.A. in Bioethics from the University of Surrey. He was awarded the D.Sc. for his research at the University of Walesin Cardiff. He is a Fellow in Mathematics and Philosophy of Science, and Pastoral Advisor at Green Templeton College, Oxford. He serves as Adjunct Lecturer at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics as well as the Trinity Forum. Dr. Lennox authored the 2009 book, Has Science Buried God? and has lectured across North America and Europe on mathematics, philosophy of science, and Christian apologetics. He has debated Richard Dawkins on Has Science Buried God? and Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion. He has also debated the late Christopher Hitchens on the question, “Is God Great?”

Lennox begins Seven Days that Divide the World by establishing his reasons for taking on this hot-button topic. He says that an improper view of Christianity’s relationship to science is an obstacle to the faith for some unbelievers, and for many believers, the earth-age controversy is disturbing in itself–with some Christians holding dogmatically to one particular interpretation, one that other sincere Christians completely disagree with. However, argues Lennox, there are excellent reasons why Christians shouldn’t give up hope on this issue:

“…since God is the author both of his Word the Bible and of the universe, there must ultimately be harmony between correct interpretation of the biblical data and correct interpretation of the scientific data.”

Lennox draws a comparison between the current age-of-the-earth debate and the fixed-earth debate of the sixteenth century. Aristotle’s teaching of a fixed earth resting at the center of the universe–combined with Scripture passages that seem to corroborate that teaching–set the stage for controversy when the theory of heliocentrism began garnering attention. Prominent church figures such as John Calvin spoke against the model, and the theory was at the center of the infamous Galileo affair (though that incident was indeed much different and more complicated than some revisionist history reports). Now, many years later, the heliocentric model has become widely accepted, and Christians no longer argue with one another about it. Lennox asks, “Why are we not still split up into fixed-earthers and moving-earthers? Is it really because we have all compromised, and made Scripture subservient to science?” Here, he alludes to the accusation of compromise often leveled at old-earth creationists by young-earth creationists.

In the ensuing chapters, Lennox addresses biblical interpretation (yes, he talks quite a bit about yom, the Hebrew word for “day”). He outlines what he believes are the main categories of creation perspectives, and comments on each. The proper relationship between science and theology is explored, which is one of the main underlying issues in this debate (and other debates over areas where these two disciplines overlap). Perhaps most importantly, Lennox affirms the historicity of Adam and Eve and the Fall of mankind, seeing them as essential to the doctrine of Redemption.

Five excellent appendices round out the book, and in my opinion, they alone are worth the price of the book.

Although Seven Days That Divide the World is not a lengthy, in-depth study and does not touch on all facets of the earth-age debate, it more than fulfills its purpose: it successfully demonstrates that a high view of Scripture–acknowledging full inspiration and authority–does not necessitate adherence to young-earth cosmology, and that Christians can heed scientific knowledge while giving full respect to the biblical narrative. It also shows that an old-earth viewpoint is not inextricably linked with an evolutionary account of biological origins.

Using winsome prose, Lennox draws the reader into a thoughtful consideration of how best to view the relationship between Scripture and science. The example he uses from history, the dispute over whether earth was fixed in space or revolved around the sun, works well to illustrate the folly of holding too tightly to a preferred interpretation of a Scripture passage despite contrasting extra-biblical information about the world. While a strict parallel can’t be drawn between the fixed-earth and old-earth positions (and Lennox doesn’t claim that one can), the historical example shows the importance of careful, informed deliberation when determining the grammatical technique and the literary genre intended by the original author of the text, and of allowing extra-biblical information to inform interpretation.

The accessible language and brevity of the text make it an attractive option for the layperson seeking a clear perspective on the theological viability of the old-earth paradigm without being overwhelmed with auxiliary details. This is not to say that Lennox does not offer sufficient support for his assertions; he is extremely succinct yet highly persuasive. It is admirable that Lennox humbly admits that problems remain for the old-earth interpretation. Readers would do well to follow his example in their attitude, no matter which position they happen to take. In this regard, the book offers a wonderful model for Christian dialogue on this and other controversial matters.

What are we to do about our disagreement with other Christians on issues such as the age of the earth? Lennox says, “Surely the old adage has got it more or less right: ‘In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.’ But there we really must let matters rest! It is high time for a Sabbath!”

Seven Days That Divide the World is a very important contribution to the science and faith dialogue, and should be read by every Christian, especially those who do not plan to read extensively on this particular subject. The book is accessible to a broad audience, perhaps college age and above, regardless of educational background. Advocates of young-earth creationism would do well to give the text careful consideration so as to better relate to their Christian brethren that hold to an old-earth model. Pastors and other leaders will learn, through a clearer understanding of the actual issues, how to foster harmonious dialogue within their respective institutions. Despite the lay-level treatment of the material, those with high-level degrees would also find Lennox’s exploration of this subject instructive and refreshing.