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The Celtic Revival: Celtic Christian Worldview (3)

For indeed we believe as historical truth apart from any allegories, that the firmament, the sea, the earth, the luminaries and stars and even the animals of land and sea and man himself were created just as the Scripture of Genesis outlines.

  - Liber de Ordine Creaturarum, Irish, 7th century[1]

“For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day.”

  - Exodus 20.11

Let all the earth fear the LORD;
Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him.
For He spoke, and it was done;
He commanded, and it stood fast.

  - Psalm 33.8, 9

I am persuaded that the simple faith of those ancient Celts – taking God at His Word – is a large part of the reason God honored them with such an expansive season of revival (ca. 430-800 AD). Their worldview was grounded in His Word, which they took at face value, without any sense of needing to adjust the Word to suit the temper of their times.

They were solid Biblical scholars, and God honored their worldview and their labors accordingly.

A fundamental protocol of Biblical exegesis goes by the rather impressive name of the analogy of Scripture. If you want to understand the Bible, you have to know how to use this protocol, for by this means the Holy Spirit leads us to compare Scriptures in order to discern truth (1 Cor. 2.12, 13).

The analogy of Scripture involves, as The Westminster Confession of Faith points out in chapter 1, trying to understand obscure or difficult passages of the Bible, by turning to other passages that shed light on those more difficult or obscure passages.

Scripture, in other words, must be its own best commentary. Every good student of Scripture understands that. The anonymous writer of the Liber de Ordine Creaturarum certainly did.

It seems Christian thinkers are never very far away from the issue of how to interpret Genesis 1 and 2. In many Christian circles, those who believe the account of Genesis 1 and the creation week precisely as it is written are harrumphed and dismissed as obstacles to an intelligent faith. A true understanding of the Bible, we are told, needs to submit to what is reasonable and scientific, which, according to them, a six-24-hour-days creation is not.

James Turner argued in his book, Without God, Without Creed, that that kind of reasoning – faith in submission to reason – is what has turned America from a nation under God to a nation that believes whatever passing wind of doctrine can capture the sails of our souls. Defaulting to science and reason and the temper of the times, rather than following the plain teaching of Scripture, is a form of Scripture-twisting, and of employing a hermeneutic of convenience rather than the analogy of Scripture. C. S. Lewis exposed the fallacy of defaulting to science and reason in Screwtape Letters (number 7) and elsewhere.

If we apply the analogy of Scripture to Genesis 1, what do we find? Look: In Exodus 20.8-11 the writer is reflecting on the subject which is before us here. He seems to have believed the six-days-working/one-day-of-rest pattern of the Ten Commandments reflected the actual events of Genesis 1, precisely as written.

And here is a psalmist, who not only confirms the teaching of Genesis and Exodus, but who attaches believing the Scripture as it is written to fearing the Lord. Do we wonder why the fear of God is in such sharp decline in our day? Or why church leaders are so quick to accommodate whatever worldly breeze tries to force its way into our worship or ethics?

We could cite many more similar examples from the Word of God. The Writer in all these texts is not the anonymous Irish scribe from the 7th century, whom we might look down on as “medieval”, but God Himself, speaking through His servants. God Himself instructs us how to think about Genesis 1. The Irish scribe understood that well. How about us?

Shall we say to God, “Ha ha ha, Lord, very amusing, and how quaint that you should persist in encouraging us to believe what science and reason tell us is utterly impossible”? Celtic Christians had enough faith to trust God’s Word just as it is written. Trusting in God’s Word as God’s Word, they launched a revival that saved civilization (according to Thomas Cahill).

How’s that compare with where we stand at present?

While we may think we “know better” than they, we have a long way to go before our way of understanding Scripture results in the kind of vibrancy and transforming power demonstrated by those quaint, naïve, backward, unreasonable, soul-saving, world-changing missionary/monks.

Ours is a faith that accommodates the intellectual and cultural fashions of our age in flight from God. But theirs was a faith that empowered them for revival, renewal, and awakening.

For Reflection
1. Why does it matter what we believe about the cosmos and its beginnings?

2. How can you know when your faith is being compromised with the spirit of the age?

Psalm 33.6-9 (Truro: Shout, for the Blessed Jesus Reigns)
God spoke and heaven came to be, and all its hosts His Spirit wrought.
He heaps the waters of the sea; the deeps their dwelling place are taught.

Let all below now fear the Lord; let all in awe of Him abide!
The worlds exist by Jesus’ Word; let all on earth in Him confide.

Ground me in Your Word, O God, that I may hear and believe and obey Your Word only, lest I…


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All Psalms for singing from
The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

[1] Liber, J. A. Davies, trans., p. 17.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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