When coming at a subject like the one Dr. Collins is attempting to wrestle to the ground, it must feel a little like that scene from Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring where that cadre of unlikely heroes are just outside the mines of Moria and trying to battle the multi-tentacled Watcher in the Water that rose up from the murky depths nearby. Just when you think you have the reach of the beast in hand, you find three more tentacles threatening to drag you under. And Dr. Collins adds a few more tentacles to do battle with because he insists that his book “say something about everyday life” (p.21). But I commend Dr. Collins for this because the amount of glory gained for Christ when slaying any beast is directly proportional to the number of tentacles it has.
Well the first aspect of this topic toward which Dr. Collins applies his academic and pastoral tools is how we should read biblical history, including what relation the biblical accounts have to “myth”, and how our worldview lenses filter all this stuff. For starters one of the things that I loved to read was Dr. Collins’ insistence on the overarching need, even in this age of technological expertise and scientific precision, for a “captivated imagination” (pg. 20). He uses C.S. Lewis to help us see where the concept of “myth” can help us by joining forces with history and science to present our modern minds with something far more satisfying and liveable than any of the parts by themselves can provide. Think of it this way: we are all modern/postmodern, so the idea of holding onto “myths” might be fun, but certainly not true. After all, science and technology hold the keys to the secular kingdom of which we are all well-adjusted citizens. But we also see day in and day out that the priests of science insist we pay homage to their god before the voice of “myth” can be heard. But when we listen to the music that is being played in the secular cathedrals of science, what we hear is something akin to a cat trying to climb a bay window with its claws. Dr. Collins is quite successful in pulling back the curtain to reveal the reality that every worldview, even the modern priesthood of scientism, is underwritten by some sort of myth.
However, it is exactly at this point that I think Collins fails to help us as his students, not simply to recognize that the myth is there, but to evaluate the myth that is there. Certainly, he speaks of the modern scientific materialism of today as being founded on a “bleak” myth or a story that ends with a pointless life (see pages 29-30), but nowhere does he help us evaluate these overarching stories as either good/evil or beautiful/ugly or even if we are obligated somehow to choose which one should have the upper hand.
Though he uses C.S. Lewis when it comes to defining myth, he would have done well to go a little further in allowing Lewis to be his tutor in helping us see the value of marrying the concepts of myth and history. Here, let me quote an excerpt from another Lewis essay entitled “Myth Became Fact” taken from God in the Dock. Though he is speaking specifically of the Incarnation of God in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, Lewis’ insights are pertinent to the discussions surrounding the biblical creation story:
Myth is the isthmus which connects the peninsular world of thought with that vast continent we really belong to. It is not, like truth, abstract; nor is it, like direct experience, bound to the particular. … The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact … By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle… To be truly Christian we must both assent to the historical fact and also receive the myth (fact though it has become) with the same imaginative embrace which we accord to all myths. The one is hardly more necessary than the other… We must not be ashamed of the mythical radiance resting on our theology. For this is the marriage of heaven and earth: Perfect Myth and Perfect Fact: claiming not only our love and our obedience, but also our wonder and delight, addressed to the savage, the child, and the poet in each one of us no less than to the moralist, the scholar, and the philosopher.
Here, in my opinion, is the best way to make use of the often-slippery term “myth” as it relates to the creation account. Here is where Lewis helps us see that the Creator God isn’t the dispassionate and distant watch-maker of the scientists who must create and govern according to their rulebook. Nor is He the capricious and fanciful divine child who we see playing in the dirt in so many Ancient Near Eastern mythologies. What we get in the biblical account is a Creator who gives us our playbook but reserves the right to come and play in the dirt at His pleasure.