Why Christians Don’t Need to Be Threatened by Evolution

GENESIS RECAST Conference

For too long Christians in North America have thought the Bible was in conflict with biological evolution. Yet many orthodox Christian theologians of the nineteenth century (including Charles Hodge and B. B. Warfield) saw no conflict in principle.

The Manufactured “War” between Science and Religion

This famous “war” of science and religion (of which the creation-evolution battle is the most prominent example) is a relatively recent invention, manufactured from the atheist side by John William Draper (History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science, 1874) and by Andrew Dickson White (A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, 1896), and on the Christian side by fundamentalists who misread the Genesis creation accounts as scientific.

But this is a serious genre mistake. Many atheists treat “science” as a full-fledged worldview that claims to tell us that there is nothing to reality but the natural world and that the scientific method gives us all the valid knowledge there is. Likewise many Christians treat the Bible as a science textbook, when the point of creation accounts in the ancient world (of which Israel was a part) is to explain the meaning of life and how we are to live.

Of course, the issues are a bit more complex than that. But to find out more you will need to attend an important conference that is coming to the Buffalo, NY area on September 18-19, 2015.

Genesis Recast—The War with Science Is Over

This is the provocative name of the conference, which will headline John Walton, Old Testament professor from Wheaton College, on how the read the Genesis creation accounts. His orthodox Christian faith in connection with his expertise in the Bible and the ancient Near East admirably equips him to guide us in how the interpret the Genesis creation accounts in line with their original intent.

Of course, we need to go well beyond a declaration of “peace” between the Bible and science.

The Positive Role of a Biblical View of Creation

The biblical view of creation claims that the cosmos is “very good” (Gen 1:31) and is imbued with God’s wisdom and order (Prov 3:19-20). Indeed, the wisdom literature of the Bible encourages us to understand the world, in which God’s wisdom is embedded, that we might live better in it.

Furthermore, God’s creation of humanity in his own image, with the task to rule the earth (Gen 1:26-28) and tend the garden of creation (Gen 2:15), implies an exalted role for human beings, which includes the possibility of science. As stewards of earthly life, we are commissioned with a vocation that encompasses (but is not limited to) the scientific understanding of the world in which we live.

Not only can the world be studied scientifically, but a biblical view of God’s good creation suggests that human knowledge of the world (while not infallible) is possible and (when proper testing is in place) is reliable and trustworthy.

So far from being threatened by evolution, Christians who embrace a biblical understanding of creation may see the hand of God in the deep time of the cosmos and the complex processes of biological evolution. In fact, we may be in awe of the amazing creativity of this great God of ours.

Living with Unanswered Questions

Does this mean that we’ve solved all problems of how theology and the Bible relate to what we are learning about the cosmos and the evolution of life on this planet? By no means. I myself am working on these issues and have lots of questions. But whoever said that we would have all the answers, especially within our lifetime?

Expecting all the answers now is a decidedly modern form of hubris.

Instead, Christians need to learn the virtue of patience, and to take a long view of things. If we trust in the God of creation, revealed supremely in Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word, we can learn to live with the unanswered questions we have—indeed, to love the questions, as Rilke suggested, until that day when we live into the answers.

More Information on the Genesis Recast Conference

While John Walton is the keynote speaker for the Buffalo conference, there are other speakers, addressing issues relating to the New Testament, genetics, and implications for the church. You can find details about the other speakers on the conference website, as well as in my previous post on the subject.

Registration is so cheap as to be ridiculous. If you live within driving distance, there is no excuse not to go, since a conference of this caliber won’t come this way again in a long while.

I hope to see you there!

If you need flyers (4×6) or posters (13×19) for your church or organization, let the conference organizer know [iyouthguy@gmail.com], and he will send them to you.

Online Interview on Creation and Violence in the Old Testament (and a Few Other Topics)

I’ve just completed (this afternoon) the online interview I mentioned in a previous post on the topic of creation and violence in the Old Testament. Bill Brown (of Columbia Theological Seminary) and I were interviewed by Matt Lynch of the Westminster Theological Centre in the UK.

Bill Brown is so eloquent (in both print and in person) that he sometimes makes me feel a bit tongue tied. But it was a lot of fun and we discussed topics such as Genesis 1 and the goodness of creation, violence as a perversion of the imago Dei, the Flood as a response to human violence, God’s role in prophetic judgment, etc.

In fact, we ranged quite a bit beyond the advertized topic of creation and violence in the Old Testament.

Brown was asked about the role of “wonder” as a key to the wisdom literature in connection his new book, Wisdom’s Wonder: Character, Creation, and Crisis in the Bible’s Wisdom Literature (Eerdmans, 2014). And I got to respond to questions about eschatology, in connection with my new book A New Heaven and A New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology (Baker Academic, 2014).

The interview is available on online for those who missed it but still want to watch it.

On My Way Home from Jubilee 2015

On Saturday I uploaded a post in the Atlanta airport on my way to speak at Jubilee 2015 in Pittsburgh. Here I am a day later writing this post in the airport on my way home (though I am only posting now, after arriving back in Rochester).

I did have to clear a foot of snow off my driveway just to get into my garage (but enough about winter in Rochester already).

Restoration—The Destiny of God’s Good Creation

I gave my talk on “Restoration—The Destiny of God’s Good Creation” to a group of some 3,000 college students in the final plenary session of the conference Sunday morning. I was honored to have been invited to speak at Jubilee. I had attended the Jubilee conference once in the past when I was an IVCF campus minister, and I have always been impressed with the CCO, the campus ministry group based in Pittsburgh that has sponsored this conference for almost 40 years, helping college students learn how to worship God with their whole lives.

Speaking to a large group like this is always a strange experience, especially when I don’t actually know my audience (and the lights on the stage were so bright that I couldn’t see anyone beyond the front row). I much prefer the back-and-forth of dialogue that you get in a classroom with an interactive group. I love to help students actively process what they are learning; and I love the “aha” moment you sometime see in their eyes.

Nevertheless, I think I communicated what I set out to—the biblical emphasis on God’s love for creation, a love clearly displayed in God’s unswerving intent to redeem heaven and earth. My point was that we should love what God loves. So an understanding of biblical eschatology can lead us to care deeply about this world—both the natural world and the world of human culture and society—since God hasn’t given up on this world, but is in the business of restoring creation to its full glory.

Two Contrasting Views of the World

I opened my talk by contrasting two classic quotes, one by Dwight L. Moody (the prominent evangelist of the Third Great Awakening), the other by Abraham Kuyper (founder of the Free University of Amsterdam, past prime minister of the Netherlands), who introduced American Christians to the idea of a Christian worldview in his famous “Stone Lectures” at Princeton. Both were born the same year (1837).

In an 1877 sermon, Moody explained:

“I look on this world as a wrecked vessel. God has given me a life-boat, and said to me, ‘Moody, save all you can.’”

This contrasts with what Kuyper said in an 1880 speech:

“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign Lord of all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”

The Comprehensive Scope of Salvation—Five Key Restoration Texts

This vivid contrast between viewing the world as a wrecked vessel, from which we must escape, or as Christ’s world, even after sin, set the stage for looking at five key New Testament texts that clearly articulate God’s intent to restore creation (click here for a chart).

  • Acts 3:17-21 – the restoration of all things, as foretold by the prophets (v. 21)
  • Ephesians 1:7-10 – the bringing together of all things in heaven and on earth (v. 10)
  • Colossians 1:16-20 – the reconciliation of all things, whether on earth or in heaven, through the blood of the cross (v. 20)
  • Romans 8:19-23 –the liberation of creation from its bondage to decay (v. 21); the redemption of the body (v. 23)
  • 2 Peter 3:10-13the “finding” of the earth after judgment (v. 10); the renewal of heaven and earth (v. 13)

The Biblical Plot—A Coherent Story of Restoration

After we looked at these five New Testament texts, I invited the audience to accompany me on a whirlwind tour of the biblical drama from creation to eschaton, tracing the basic plot structure of the Bible’s narrative (click here for a diagram). I sketched three levels of the biblical plot, beginning with the initial narrative sequence of creation.

  • Level I Creation—The Original Human Calling in God’s Creation
  • Level II Israel—The Mission of God’s OT People among the Nations
  • Level III Jesus—The Climax of a Series of God’s Redemptive Agents
  • Level II The Church—The Community of Jew and Gentle as God’s NT Redeemed People
  • Level I Eschaton—The Renewed Humanity in God’s New Creation

I wanted to show that there is a return to the original narrative sequence (creation) in the eschaton, so that our basic human calling to tend the earth and develop culture to God’s glory is renewed.

I probably tried to accomplish too much, since I combined two topics that I usually divide into two class sessions when I teach this material. The result was that I ended up going ten minutes over my allotted time of 25 minutes.

Toward the end I used this picture of Sean Purcell doodling a quote from my eschatology book.

A video of the talk is now posted on You Tube.

I ended the talk with the title of the conference: This Changes Everything!

You can find a two-minute video montage of the Jubilee 2015 conference here.