Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Christ, Redemption and Evolution

"Christ has delivered us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us. In him we are reconciled to God. He can bring us to God, because he is himself God, the incarnate, atoning, indwelling God. He is the principle of evolution, the upholder and conductor of the world-process, and the culmination and goal of that evolutionary process is the bringing back of humanity in him to God."

The Fall and the Redemption of Man in the Light of Evolution, A Paper to be read at the Baptist Congress, November 15 1898, A.H. Strong.

God willing this present generation of Christians will be able to seamlessly weave the narrative of evolution with the narrative of the death and atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the praise and glory of God the Father!

Friday, 12 April 2013

Thoughts From Discussions

Recently I've tried to get down and dirty in some good ol' fashioned rhetorical wranglings with some Young Earth Creationists (YEC's) who hold that the world is between 6,000 to 12,000 (if you're real liberal) years old.

It annoys me a lot when I hear a piece of wisdom, that I think can't be right, is proved correct right in front of my eyes. But gosh darnit Old Testament scholar Peter Enns (you can find his blog here) hits the nail on the head in his video on fear and the discussion of evolution

Another issue is discussed in the monologue below. Enns points out the almost insane view of scripture some of us hold to, forcing it to be the arbiter on issues of genomic and geological evidence. And creating enormous problems for ourselves.

Assumptions are everything. Fear only holds us back. I tried to make this point in my first blog and maybe it's useful to repeat it here. If we follow truth, God will go with us. If we simply retort old answers to that actually aren't answers at all (e.g. God said it! I believe it! or If Genesis is myth then isn't Jesus?) then we'll be having this same silly debate in 50 years with only more disgrace being heaped on the church.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Saint Augustine on the Seventh Day of Creation

“When it is said that God rested on the seventh day from all His works, and hallowed it, we are not to conceive of this in a childish fashion, as if work were a toil to God, who "spake and it was done,"--spake by the spiritual and eternal, not audible and transitory word. But God's rest signifies the rest of those who rest in God, as the joy of a house means the joy of those in the house who rejoice, though not the house, but something else, causes the joy. How much more intelligible is such phraseology, then, if the house itself, by its own beauty, makes the inhabitants joyful!”

Book 11, City of God

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

God as Creator

The idea that God is creator seems to be a simple Christian belief, it's a clear part of all Christian confessions. It forms the beginning of the most famous creed, the Apostle's creed famously starts this way:

"I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth"1

This may seem obvious, almost unneeded, but in the early church the role of God as the creator of all things was integral to both their doctrine and worship. This action of God was inextricably linked to His divine attributes, therefore ascribing this work to the eternal Son, Jesus Christ, was evidence of His deity. A few examples would suffice to prove this point:

"The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together." (Colossians 1:15-17)

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made" (John 1:1-3)

"In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe." (Hebrews 1:1-2)

In these passages Jesus Christ's deity is connected naturally with His role in creation. The constant link with creation is produced, for one point, to show that He is the real deal, He is truly the Son of God and ought to be glorified and worshipped.

Now what does this have to do with anything?

Well, a lot. God's creation ex nihilo (or, from nothing) is a precious part of the Christian proclamation  It shows God's power, sovereignty and dominion over the created order. The 2nd and 3rd century Christian teachers Tertullian and Iraneus both discuss these issues at length, in their attempts to combat the teaching of various false teachers who aimed to separate God off from the world, suggesting that God simply used pre-existent matter.

Could God create through evolution?

There is an assumption that the Creator God of scripture could never create through the random, death-filled, haphazard process of evolution. Leaving aside the inaccuracy of the adjectives usually invoked to discuss evolution, the assumption appears valid. But let's see, does the scriptural definition of creation even allow for God to use evolutionary processes to meet His aims?

The Fact vs The How

The focus of the New Testament is on the fact that God created (Hebrews 11:3; Revelation 4:11) over against the world being created by impersonal other forces. When we go to the Old Testament texts like Genesis 1 tells us more about God's specific actions in the creation of the heavens and the earth. But the focus is actually still on the fact that God created, rather than a focus on the how. John Walton, professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College, points out that Genesis 1's focus is not material origins e.g. how things came to be. (find more details here)

This may seem counter-intuitive given the modern stress on the crucial origin debates (young earth/old earth/evolutionary creationism), with Christians and the secular world battling it out over how the world began, in which Genesis 1 is useful ammunition for both sides. Walton's interpretation will not be discussed at this juncture but his thoughts underlie what I believe to be the accurate approach to the text.

In general Genesis 1:1-2:4a appears to be a celebration of the fact of creation. Whether or not you accept this as a valid lens through which to view the text, we all have to admit that Genesis says very little about the how of creation. Examine the chapter, God speaks and there is light (Gen 1:3), an expanse (1:6), dry land (1:9), vegetation (1:11), the sun and moon (1:14), sea creatures/birds (1:20) and humans and animals (1:24-26).
Within Genesis 1 there is no description of how these things were done. God says it. It happens.

A key example of this is God's operation on creation day three. In verse 11 God commands the ground to bring forth vegetation. But what takes place in the next verse? In the words of the ESV "The earth brought forth vegetation...". So, did God bring forth vegetation? Yes. Did the earth bring forth vegetation? Well, according to the text, yes. (Anyone wanting the Hebrew phrase for 'bring forth' can go here)
There's no discussion of the method by which vegetation was produced. There is no discussion of the how here, the point of the text is simply that God spoke and it happened, God said, and it was. If you want to discover how God created the plants you will have to go elsewhere.

Many people at this point will want to move to Genesis 2, which presents God creating the plants by sending rain on the earth, creating men and animals from the dust and producing a fully formed garden. This will be addressed in a future post, God willing, but what must be noted is that in the Genesis 1 account the manner in which God created is not at issue in any way.

This is further evidenced in the creation of human beings on creation day six, there is a lengthy discussion of God's creation of humans in his image (Gen 1:26), the male and femaleness of his image bearers (1:27), God's blessing and commission (1:28) then God's provision for them (1:29-30). This longer description of God's actions focus on the purpose of human beings and not how they were created.

What does this mean for God's role as Creator?

What I have attempted to demonstrate in this very short piece is that God's role as Creator is one that operates over and above the specific questions of how God acts. God is the Creator, whether you observe the growth of grass or study abiogenesis and the beginning of life on our planet. God is not creator because we can prove His intervention. God is not Creator because He is the best explanation for illogical or complex living organisms. God is not Creator because we believe He is.
God is Creator because He declares Himself to be such.

What could does this mean for God's role in evolution?

I accept evolution as God's mechanism for bringing about life on earth, maybe you do not, maybe you do. Regardless of your viewpoint, God's role as Creator as presented in Genesis 1 shows us that whatever takes place in the world is His action, His creative work and He deserves glory for it. Whether you believe God created human beings in a minute through a miraculous act or through natural production, do not see evolution as some kind of enemy. If evolutionary theory is true, and I believe it is, then what we find in the natural world must be controlled by God, even more - evidence of His action.

"Let all the earth fear the Lord;
let all the people of the world revere him.
For he spoke, and it came to be;
he commanded, and it stood firm."
Psalm 33:8-9

Sunday, 7 April 2013

An Example of Evolutionary Christian Thought

"Evolution, then, depends on increments of force plus continuity of plan. New creations are possible because the immanent God has not exhausted himself. Miracle is possible because God is not far away, but is at hand to do whatever the needs of his moral universe may require. Regeneration and answers to prayer are possible for the very reason that these are the objects for which the universe was built. Evolution, then, does not exclude Christianity. If we were deists, believing in a distant God and a mechanical universe, evolution and Christianity would be irreconcilable. But since we believe in a dynamical universe, of which the personal and living God is the inner source of energy, evolution is but the basis, foundation, and background of Christianity, the silent and regular working of him who, in the fullness of time, utters his voice in Christ and the cross."

The Fall and Redemption of Man in Light of Evolution, A Paper read at the Baptist Congress, November 15 1898, A.H. Strong