When I teach the Genesis creation stories, I always begin with the proposition that we ought to read these two narratives as symbolic, not literal. To be more specific, I draw a simile between the Genesis stories and George Orwell’s Animal Farm by claiming that to read the creation stories as historically true events is like reading Animal Farm as a factually accurate picture of what happens when animals take over a farm.
In the video below, N.T. Wright also expresses this same sentiment. When reading the Genesis creation stories as literary, largely symbolic works, a deeper, richer vision of God and His holy word emerges. It’s about 5 minutes long and worth your time if you’re serious about understanding this alternative to plumbing the depths of the Bible as God’s revealed word.
One of the advantages to reading the Genesis creation stories as N.T. Wright would recommend, (and as I believe they were originally intended to be understood) is that the truths of God’s revelation encounters no contradiction with scientific findings and therefore requires no reconciliation with scientific observations. The findings of science (how the universe works) and the revelations of Genesis (the purpose of the universe) seek to answer different questions. As allegories, the reader is invited to ponder the metaphysical truths being conveyed — the transcendence of God, the consequences of free will, and the human’s role as vice regent of God’s creation.
As for evangelical outreach, imagine not having to justify to a critical thinking non-believer that whether the universe was created in 7 days or 13.6 billion years is irrelevant to the truths God wishes to reveal.