Paul Borgman IVP Academic 2001-07-25

This study of the Book of Genesis challenges traditional readings of the biblical text at many points. Borgman, professor of English at Gordon College, approaches the text from the standpoint of a literary critic rather than a professional biblical scholar. Yet he is well aware of the work of Old Testament specialists, especially those who espouse newer literary methods. He acknowledges in particular the influence of James Ackerman, Walter Brueggemann, and Terence Fretheim on his thinking. Readers familiar with the work of these scholars will notice their influence on Borgman’s views.

Borgman is primarily interested in the dramatic elements of the Genesis story as they reflect the relational dimension of God’s work in the world. He theorizes that “Genesis . . . is story, because only story can capture the dynamic interaction between humans learning to be partners and a God who calls and prods humankind toward partnership. By failing to understand a narrative like Genesis as a dramatic whole, we fail to get a full portrait of the biblical God and of the drama of relationship between God and these troubled mortals. When we view it as a unified drama, however, we find a dynamism of change—both human and divine” (p. 16). Borgman’s concern that readers recognize the “story” dimension of the Genesis narrative is legitimate, for one cannot fully appreciate the theology and relevance of Genesis apart from such a literary approach. Indeed God is the most important character in this story, which gives insight into how He relates to the world He has created. Borgman is correct in affirming that the God who reveals Himself in Genesis is not a static, inflexible deity detached from the world, but rather one who is deeply involved in a give-and-take relationship with humanity that is complicated by the human propensity to resist His purposes.

According to Borgman, when a person reads Genesis as a dramatic whole, he encounters a God who “responds and initiates” with “breathtaking range” (p. 237). For Borgman “Genesis represents a world of action in which both God and mortal have real choice, including changes of mind and heart. This is the highest possibility of drama: resolve among clashing human wills is vastly complicated by the need for resolve, also, between human desire and God’s desires” (p. 235). As the story unfolds, “human beings invariably destroy themselves and wreck communities. Only God can help” (ibid). While appearing in “sovereign greatness,” God “refuses to force human choice” (ibid.). Instead He patiently and gradually transforms people as He seeks to make His world what He intended it to be. According to Borgman this relational dimension, highlighted by God’s working with human beings to achieve His purposes, has often been missed in traditional readings of Genesis.