Almost-great Bible study has fatal flaws
Review of Jen Wilkin’s God of Creation (Lifeway, 2018).
There is a certain market for ‘generically evangelical’ Bible studies—explanations that take the Bible seriously as history, but don’t get too far into controversial topics where Christians have different opinions. Popular Bible teacher Jen Wilkin’s new Bible study for women God of Creation falls solidly into that category.
Wilkin’s study is designed for personal or group use, and it consists of a book and recorded teaching that can either be purchased as video or audio downloads. Both the book and either the audio or video are required for the study, which lasts ten weeks. It is designed in such a way that the student spends the week in the text of Scripture, answering questions from the workbook, before hearing the teaching about that section.
On first glance, there are a lot of things that seem to recommend Wilkin’s study. She affirms that Genesis is written as historical narrative, that Genesis depicts things that actually happen, and that Genesis sets up the context for the rest of God’s redemptive plan. She connects what happens in the first 11 chapters of Genesis to Christ. She affirms Mosaic authorship, and does not present JEDP as even an option.
Her Bible study also features a lot of work with the text itself, encouraging women to make a conscious effort to notice the details and interpret the text according to what the author intended. This would be especially useful for someone who has never engaged in this type of study before.
Unfortunately, there are fatal flaws that negate these good qualities, and it probably comes from an attempt to appeal to a wider audience. Wilkin teaches that young earth creation, old earth creation, and theistic evolution are all valid options for understanding origins. She also says that one might understand the Flood to be regional, not global, as long as one affirms that all humans except the eight on the Ark were killed by it. These instances are exceptions to her normally plain interpretation of the historical nature of Genesis 1–11.
These fatal flaws mean that there is not really an ideal audience for this study. If Wilkin were consistent in taking Genesis as history, this would be a good study for people without much experience studying the Bible or Genesis in particular. But with these flaws, that audience that could have benefited the most might be deceived regarding these important issues. Those with the experience to avoid these pitfalls probably don’t need such a basic study.
Why do publishers produce these studies?
It is important to note that resources like this do not come together out of thin air; they are developed in response to perceived demand. This isn’t evil—even CMI develops resources based on what we think people will find useful and want to have in their own libraries. Lifeway clearly knows that people want to know more about creation—but they wrongly think that being agnostic about some of the most important issues in Genesis 1–11 will make a more popular product. But this makes it substantially less helpful than it might have been.
How should we respond?
It would be easy to call creationists to righteous indignation that yet another Bible teacher has gotten it wrong, and pat ourselves on the back that we’ve gotten it right. If we really wanted to fire people up, we could call for a boycott of the publisher. But I don’t think that Wilkin is a false teacher in the same way that BioLogos is—she may be simply uninformed about these particular issues. That doesn’t mean that she’s not responsible for the errors in her study—anyone who stands up to teach about a topic brings greater scrutiny because they’re claiming to be an authority. But someone who follows Wilkin’s general method consistently will be a biblical creationist, even if she is inconsistent on this point and does not teach it. And that makes me hesitant to condemn Wilkin herself, even if I cannot recommend her study for those who want to know more about creation.