What I’ve Been Reading (6)–Creationism Is Evolving

We often forget to make the distinction between creation and creationism. Creation is a doctrine, and as such it is an unchangeable tenet to the Christian faith.  Creationism is an apologetic approach which attempts to integrate the doctrine of creation with the current understandings of the natural sciences.  As such creationism is always changing and subject to amendment. Ronald Numbers has provided us with an excellent history of creationism with his book, The Creationists: The Evolution of Scientific Creationism. Numbers’ father was a Seventh-Day Adventist evangelist who preached in tent revivals sermons such as “God’s Answer to Evolution: Are Men and Monkeys Relatives?” Numbers today appears to be agnostic, but he treats creationists with respect, and he writes as who was an insider to the creationist movement. Creationism indeed has evolved, and Christians need to be aware of the changes that have occurred over last 150 years. The Creationists makes several points of interest: 

1. Virtually all early fundamentalists and evangelicals held to an ancient earth. For example, B.B. Warfield, who coined the term “inerrancy”, held to theistic evolution. R.A. Torrey, who founded both Moody Bible Institute and BIOLA and who edited The Fundamentals (from which we get the term “fundamentalist”), held to the gap theory.  In a celebrated debate over the creation account in Genesis between two early fundamentalists, W. B. Riley and Harry Rimmer, neither advocated young-earth creationism. Even William Jennings Bryan, of the Scopes Monkey Trials fame, held to a day-age interpretation of Genesis One. 

2. Young-earth creationism (YEC) did not ascend to prominence until the early 1960’s with the publication of Whitcomb and Morris’ The Genesis Flood (1961). Prior to Whitcomb and Morris, the view that the proper interpretation of Genesis requires that the earth be less than 10,000 years old was advocated almost exclusively by Seventh-Day Adventists such as George McCready Price. Ellen G. White, founder of Seventh-Day Adventism, claimed to have received a vision in which she was carried back to the original week of creation. There, she said, God showed her that the original week was seven days like any other week.

3. Young-earth creationism (YEC) originally was called “scientific creationism.” Whitcomb and Morris argued that, when the evidence is examined in an unbiased manner, the case for a young earth is much more compelling than for an old earth.  Artifact number one was the claim that humans footprints were found along with dinosaurs tracks in the river bed of the Paluxy River near Glen Rose, Texas.  YEC advocates don’t make that claim about the tracks anymore, nor do they still use the label of “scientific creationism.”

The Creationists was published in 1992, so it doesn’t cover significant developments within creationism over the last 20 years.  Most notably, there is no discussion of Ken Ham and the Answers in Genesis organization, nor is there anything about the rise of the Intelligent Design movement.  However, if one wants to know how the debate got to be where it is today then this book is an excellent place to start.

What I’ve Been Reading (5)–The Evolution of Adam

Peter Enns is the fellow that Ken Ham has been warning about. Members of the Answers in Genesis organization (such as Ken Ham and Terry Mortenson) have often contended that abandoning young-earth creationism is the first step on a slippery slope in which the historicity of Adam and the Fall is denied, and eventually the gospel is compromised.  Logicians generally consider the slippery slope argument a fallacy (or a poor argument at best), but Enns makes the AIG guys look like they’re on to something. Peter Enns’ The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins is both disturbing and disappointing.  Enns doesn’t present much that is all that new (Bultmann made many of the same arguments 75 years ago).  What is new is that the arguments are being made by one who, until recently, signed the ETS statement affirming the inerrancy of Scripture.

Enns argues that Paul got it wrong about Adam, but but we shouldn’t worry about that because the apostle got it right about Christ.  According to Enns, Paul’s use of Adam is idiosyncratic.  Because Paul engaged in the creative hermeneutics typical of 2nd Temple Judaism, he presents a view of Adam that cannot be sustained by a close reading of the Old Testament.  Actually, Paul’s understanding of Adam is not typical of 2nd Temple Judaism.  He may have been using their hermeneutics, but he doesn’t arrive at their conclusions. In passages such as Rom 5 and 1 Cor 15, Paul engages in the theological equivalent of reverse engineering.  He saw Christ’s resurrection as a solution in search of a problem.  He begins with the resurrection of Jesus, and then re-interprets the Old Testment (particularly Genesis 3) to make sense of it all.   In the end, the apostle presents us with a view of Adam and the Fall that cannot by justified by theology, biology, history, or even the Old Testament itself. 

The classic theological liberals of the 19th and 20th centuries demonstrated the danger of accommodating the modern worldview to the point the gospel is lost.  Has Peter Enns made the same mistake? I fear he is on the verge of doing so.  Enns affirms the bodily resurrection of Christ, but he abandons the first half of the grand biblical narrative that makes sense of the event.  Enns puts that narrative–Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration–in serious jeopardy.  When he jettisons a historical Adam and a subsequent historical fall, Enns seriously damages the first half of the gospel.

The problem is not simply that Enns advocates theistic evolution.  Other evangelicals in the past have done so (B. B. Warfield and C.S. Lewis come to mind) and some current evangelicals do so today (think J. I. Packer and Tim Keller).  I think they’re wrong about evolution, but they still held, or hold, to a literal Adam who fell in a literal garden.  Enns says that there must be a synthesis of evolution and Christianity. “The only question,” states Enns, “is how that will be done” (123).  I can think of at least one more question. After the merger, is the result still Christian?

This blogpost is cross-posted at www.theologyforthechurch.com.online games

What I’ve Been Reading (4)–Augustine says “Don’t Be an Idiot”

For over 50 years, Paulist Press has produced the Ancient Christian Writers, a series of critical translations into English of patristic works. Currently at over 60 volumes, Paulist Press adds a book or two each year. They are indispensible for the serious theology student. Volumes 41 & 42 of the series are Augustine’s commentary, The Literal Meaning of Genesis (complete with introduction, synopsis, and annotations).

Augustine wrote the commentary towards the end of his life, while he was also writing two other noteworthy books, The Trinity and The City of God.  What an amazing output from a brilliant mind that was devoted to thinking about the things of God!  At the end of book one, Augustine gives advice about reconciling Genesis with the latest scientific theories of the day. I’ve summed up that advice under six headings along with a brief quote. Though he wrote these words 1,600 years ago, they are relevant today.

1. Don’t say things that unbelievers will immediately see as nonsense.

“Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world…and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men.” (1.19.39)

I think Augustine’s point can be summed up as, “Don’t be an idiot.”

2. Do not rashly commit to or become dogmatic about one particular interpretation.

“With these facts in mind, I have worked out and presented the statements of the Book of Genesis in a variety of ways according to my ability; and, in interpreting words that have been written obscurely for the purpose of stimulating our thought, I have not rashly taken my stand on one side against a rival interpretation which might possibly be better. I have thought that each one, in keeping with his powers of understanding, should choose the interpretation that he can grasp. Where he cannot understand Holy Scripture, let him glorify God and fear for himself.” (1.40.20)

Even in Augustine’s day, Genesis 1-2 presented real challenges.  The Bishop advises us to recognize this, and therefore be charitable with those who disagree with us.

3. Do not let interpretative difficulties obscure the spiritual blessings available.

“But since the words of Scripture that I have treated are explained in so many senses, critics full of worldly learning should restrain themselves from attacking as ignorant and uncultured these utterances that have been made to nourish all devout souls. Such critics are like wingless creatures that crawl upon the earth and, while soaring no higher than the leap of a frog, mock the birds in their nests above.” (1.40.20)

We must not read Genesis 1-2 only with eyes focused on the trench warfare of the creation/evolution debate.  To do so runs the risk of robbing ourselves of the real spiritual nourishment the text is intended to provide.

4. Do not let the latest scientific or philosophical theories cause one to look down upon Scripture.

“But more dangerous is the error of certain weak brethren who faint away when they hear these irreligious critics learnedly and eloquently discoursing on the theories of astronomy or on any of the questions relating to the elements of this universe. With a sigh, they esteem these teachers as superior to themselves, looking upon them as great men; and they return with disdain to the books which were written for the good of their souls; and, although they ought to drink from these books with relish, they can scarcely bear to take them up. Turning away in disgust from the unattractive wheat field, they long for the blossoms on the thorn.” (1.20.40)

Sounds like something that could have been written in our day, doesn’t it?

5. Do not fear attacks on the biblical account of Creation.

“Someone will say: ‘What have you brought out with all the threshing of this treatise? What kernel have you revealed? What have you winnowed? Why does everything seem to lie hidden under questions? Adopt one of the many interpretations which you maintained were possible.’  To such a one my answer is that I have arrived at a nourishing kernel in that I have learnt that a man is not in any difficulty in making a reply according to his faith which he ought to make to those who try to defame our Holy Scripture.” (1.41.21)

In other words, Augustine is saying that though he couldn’t settle on one position, he is settled in his confidence concerning Scripture itself.

6. Take a discerning approach to the integration of Scripture and science.

When they are able, from reliable evidence, to prove some fact of physical science, we shall show that it is not contrary to our Scripture. But when they produce from any of their books a theory contrary to Scripture, and therefore contrary to the Catholic faith, either we shall have some ability to demonstrate that it is absolutely false, or at least we ourselves will hold it so without any shadow of a doubt.” (1.41.21)

And this is truly the task before us all: discerning the proper way to assess the findings of science in the light of the Word of God.  The God of the Bible is Maker of heaven and earth.  Augustine gives us sound advice about studying God’s Word and His world.