Friday, July 31, 2015

In the beginning God created...

Greg Goebel

Did God create the world instantly ten thousand years ago? Or did he start the process of evolution in order to create the world?

For several years I led a parish book study, and it was one of the most personally fulfilling aspects of ministry for me. But it was also often quite provocative. One such moment came when we were reading Alistair McGrath’s book Theology: The Basics.

We were reading his overview of the Apostle’s Creed, starting with his discussion of “God the Father, creator of heaven and earth.” McGrath discusses five basic ways that Christians have understood how God accomplished the creation of the world, including young earth creationism, intelligent design, and theistic evolution.

When we got to that point, the room seemed to instantly divide into camps. All of us were fellow Christians, fellow parishioners, and we respected one another. We were also all book lovers. Yet we literally divided physically into camps. I’m not sure how it happened, but it seemed like I looked up and people had actually changed places to be near their group.

One group said that the only way to truly and faithfully read the Genesis account was to believe that God created the world about ten thousand years ago. Another said, no, Genesis is obviously poetic and intended to convey a theology of God, not a mechanism of creation itself. This led to the conclusion that God began the process of evolution. Still another group believed that God didn’t just start evolution’s march, he guided it in a process called Intelligent Design.

The creed was sitting there on the page. It simply read, “God the Father, creator of heaven and earth.” That’s it.

Think about this for a moment. The undivided church gathered in a series of ecumenical councils (there were no separate denominations then). They knew Genesis, they knew Paul’s letter to the Romans. They knew the Gospels. And it may surprise many to know that they knew about evolution too. No, not the modern scientific theory. But they knew about the Greek philosophical schools that had developed a vision of life evolving. And they also knew about Jewish (mostly poetic) readings of the book of Genesis.

So they could have agreed to sacralize one of these views for all time as creed. And yet they didn’t. They were content to simply require all Christians to believe that God purposely created the universe. They left the how outside of what is required for salvation.

We might want to try that today.

That’s not to say that we should stop debating, arguing, and advocating one or the other viewpoint. We should keep on vigorously working and promoting and talking about this, because its important.

Yet rather than advocating the simple creed, and then making space for believers to discuss varies theories, some parishes identify as “Creationist” or “Intelligent Design” or pro “Theistic Evolution.” But our churches shouldn’t be presenting one or the other interpretation or theory as if it is the only authoritative way to understand creation. That’s not the pastor’s job. We weren’t ordained to promote creationism, but creed. We aren’t called to preach evolutionary biology, but to preach Bible basics. Our job is to present God the Father as creator of heaven and earth. Period.

Why? One reason is evangelism.

Here is an example of how staying with the creeds can help evangelism: I got a call from a family member, who said, “I am almost ready to be baptized and become a Christian. But, I can’t because I accept the theory of evolution as proven science. If you can show me that evolution is wrong, I can consider becoming a Christian.”

This was a critical moment. In my past I might have marshaled evidence that evolution is false, hoping to clinch that final argument that would bring him to faith in Christ. At another point in my life I might have argued that God did indeed use evolution to create the world.

But does our faith rest on arguments? Does it rest on scientific refutations? Does baptism require us to first develop a detailed theory of the mechanism of creation? Nope. Just an affirmation of the creed. Period.

So thankfully I was able to say, “Yeah, a lot of Christians wrestle with that. Not a problem. You can be baptized and become a Christian and keep on wrestling with the rest of us Christians. We only require an affirmation that the world is not an accident, or purposeless, and that God the Father is the creator who decided the world would exist and made it happen. He is the source of life.”

So you may be sad, at this point in my musings, to find that I’m not going to try and advocate for one or the other interpretations of Genesis, or philosophies of “death before Adam.” There are many great studies out there on these issues, and they are important questions.

As a priest and pastor, I simply affirm that God created the world. Period. And that is a beautiful, amazing and challenging belief in and of itself.

From here.

Pastors should be informed on the four aspects of evolution: mutation (fact), adaptation (fact), natural selection (evidence, but not a law) and common ancestry (a theory). Bible-believing Christians must reject the common ancestry theory when it comes to human origins as this is contrary to the biblical assertion that humans were a special creation. The growing evidence of archaic humans increasingly supports the biblical assertion of humans as a special creation.

Likewise, pastors should understand that Young Earth Creationism (YEC) does not align with what Genesis reveals. It is neither scientific nor biblical. The Earth is very old, and humans have been on the Earth for close to four million years. From the beginning they were fully human: walked upright, used tools, controlled fire, had human dentition, etc.

Pastors should also be informed about the cultural context of Abraham's ancestors from whom he received the hope of a Righteous Ruler who would overcome death and lead his people to immortality.


DManA said...

Do you think, given enough time, with our minds, our senses, and the tools we invent, it is possible to completely understand the natural laws that govern the universe?

Or is nature an infinite onion that we can peel forever and never get to the core?

Alice Linsley said...

The creation is a reflection of the Creator in its fixed and unchanging patterns. These are as mysterious as the One who created them. There are limits to what humans can understand.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Linsley, another view is the possibility that humanoids developed 'a-morphologically' over eons into different kinds of specie; i.e., homo sapiens as we know us on earth were planted and re-planted by prior (and still possibly living) species until it "took", as it were (which might account for some chrono gaps in the Darwinian schematic)...and possibly genetically altered in the planting stage into the natural fallen creatures we are. As Charles Williams puts it (or words to the effect), "We all sinned in Adam." Maybe we're pre-disposed to do so, to be God-haters naturally, to use language of the Calvinists. But as St. Paul says, there is still the evidence of natural revelation we can still respond to and even in our genetic fouled-up make-up in which we have a "propensity to sin" (be disordered). I have no evidence other than too many Star Trek episodes and speculative mental fantasies to offer as proof. Yet I sometimes wonder if homo sapiens were/are an outlier of much older (eons-long) genetic material of older and perhaps varied specie, who might very well love G-d naturally and be pre-disposed to his momentary bidding. If this speculation is worth any thing, it answers the question of how we appeared here unheralded millions of years ago...and at various chronological points; also how carnivorous dinosaurs lived millions of years ago before "the Fall" least as how the discussion about it is frequently framed and discussed. This view raises other questions, I know, so it's just speculation. ...When I took my Religion, Ed, and Demo course through Harvard a couple of years ago, one of the three breakout groups explored the "evolution/creation" question. Yet the questions posited for the participants were framed in conventional ways. Frustrating. I thought I would get no traction so opted for the LGBTQ forum instead. Not sure that worked out any better for me, ha. ...Please keep up the good and valuable work on your blog. I hope you're doing well. Best, Brent

Alice Linsley said...

Theologically, we have a similar understanding of the semi-divine seed planted on Earth which becomes wholly divine [theosis] through the One Eternal and True Seed - Jesus Christ. John 12:14: Jesus said, "I say to you, unless a grain of wheat [a seed] falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." Compare with Genesis 3:15- the Woman shall bring forth the Seed...

Charles Williams' view is not the view of the Eastern Church Fathers. The Eastern Church holds that each person bears the guilt and shame of his or her own sin. What then is the inheritance of humanity from Adam and Eve if it is not guilt? It is a condition, or more accurately, a disease that results in corruption and death. St. Paul points to this in I Corinthians 15:21. St. Cyril of Alexandria teaches that humanity became “diseased… through the sin of one." Adam is blamed, as he is regarded as Eve's Head, as Christ is the Head of the Church.

However, if we attend to the Biblical text closely, the disease enters by Eve, who submitted her will to a baser creature, rather than to the Creator - to the will of one whose belly scrapes the dirt, and thereby inverted the hierarchical order in creation [think pyramid], so that all of the creation is now subjected to decay.

Good to hear from you, Brent God bless you!

J Eppinga said...

Complicated. He’s speaking from the perspective of I take it, a North American Anglican priest, thinking about missions. The other venue where this issue crops up is “our” education system, what’s left of it.

On the latter front, there are at least two ways to present any given view:

1) This is THE correct views (and here are some areas where people who have THE view differ). Here are the OTHER views (we love brothers and sisters who hold this view, but they are wrong). Here are the OTHER-OTHER views (these guys are waaaaaaaaaaay out, to quote Monty Python);

2) It’s a smorgasbord! Here are a bunch of views you can pick from. You can pick one, or as many as you want, and change as many times as you want!

The thing is .. This Christian father finds that Atheistic Evolution, its Theistic cousin, and 6/24 tend to enjoy the priveledges of #1, above. Other views, from what I can tell, tend to be handed out more ad-hoc, per #2. Yes, there is Hugh Ross, but isn’t his outfit more of a parachurch thing (sort of #2, iow)?

It seems to me that as far as our education system is concerned, we should first start thinking of it as a bona fide system, and then build it from there. If we had ONE school that was the ministry of ONE of our parishes, and the school had A set of rigorous and bishop-sanctioned beliefs that it taught, and did so long enough, then that could be our template for creation of new schools. Or, it could be used as a template for our existing institutions of learning.

On the other hand, I see where this pastor is coming from – he’s looking for a little more wiggle-room in his evangelism. The Christian life is something done ‘on-the-fly,’ and people change their minds on things all of the time (I’ve seen it .. even in myself).

I suspect that it starts with our Anglican education system, and that our Evangelism will accommodate after that.

We are a disparate bunch, that’s for certain. We are in search for that Magic Common Denominator – and we get it during those times when we are being sued for buildings and endowments, and lately we have the denominator occurring in the Civic Sphere. Once those troubles are on the ebb, we go at it again.

We need to fall on our faces and we need God to go before us in ways that probably none of us at the moment can possibly comprehend, imho.