No Adam, No Fall, No Original Sin, No Substitutionary Atonement

How you interpret Genesis 1-3 is about more than just the length of the creation days. What you believe about how the world began has ripple effects throughout Scripture. If Genesis 1 and 2 are metaphorical or allegorical and not meant to be understood literally, then that affects many other parts of Scripture. For example, was there an actual couple, Adam and Eve, from whom all humanity are descended? How were they created? Were they created perfect and without sin? Did they sin and fall from that perfection? Was there death before the Fall?

Some Christians who believe in theistic evolution work hard to show that their views on the origin of the world and mankind do not mean abandoning a belief in Adam and original sin. For some Adam was a de novo creation, for others he was a hominid adopted by God and given a soul, and for another group Adam is merely a metaphorical figure who represents the origin of man and sin.

The problem with these attempts to reconcile evolutionary teachings on the origins of man with the Bible is that for each “conflict” they solve more difficulties are created down the line. Many Young Earth Creationists (YEC) are belittled for being concerned about the dangers of the “slippery slope” that starts with accepting evolution. However, there is a very real problem with how to interpret Scriptures dealing with Adam, the Fall, sin, etc. And many theistic evolutionists agree.

BioLogos, a foundation that exists to promote theistic evolution, regularly runs articles from various scholars on how to reinterpret these issues and how to reconcile them with evolutionary teachings. The latest series discusses the doctrine of the atonement. BioLogos wants Christians to believe there is a rich history of differing opinions on the atonement. In fact, they want you to believe that there is no one accepted position:

The work of Christ must be understood as a response to the reality and universal extent of sin among human beings. And, of course, our understanding of the nature of sin is affected by different models of human origins. Many theologians think that the substitutionary model of atonement requires something like the Augustinian view of the Fall. But there are other models of atonement, and other models of the Fall. Substitutionary atonement is questioned these days on grounds other than evolutionary understandings of human origins, but many evolutionary creationists have added their voices to those concerns.

The atonement is one of the easiest examples to give for there being considerable theological diversity in the church over these 2000 years. From christus victor and fishhook theories, to penal substitution and moral exemplar theories, we can’t say there is one doctrine of the atonement that has stood the test of time.

This is disturbing to say the least. While it’s true that there are various other “models,” none are Biblical. The doctrine of substitutionary atonement is, and has been, the one orthodox position. Jesus died on the cross to pay for my sins. That’s the gospel. This is clear in a number of passages:

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:18-21 ESV)

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:24-25 ESV)

But substitutionary atonement is dependent on Adam and the Fall and original sin. If evolutionary views on origins move one away from these doctrines, then the atonement needs to be reworked too.

The first attempt to do so in BioLogos’ new series is by Dr. Joseph Bankard, an associate professor of philosophy at Northwest Nazarene University. In part 1 of his essay, Dr. Bankard explains that he was raised to believe in substitutionary atonement, but after he accepted evolutionary views on origins, he decided to rethink the atonement. He was particularly bothered by two aspects:

From my perspective, Substitutionary Atonement creates two potential problems for Christian theology. It seems that if substitutionary atonement is true, then God is either severely limited in power or unnecessarily cruel. If the only way God can forgive or reconcile is through blood and sacrifice, then God’s power is limited. Why is sacrifice the only way God can forgive? If God is all powerful, then there should be a number of ways to reestablish right relationship with humanity. If God can’t forgive without blood and sacrifice, then God is limited in power.

On the other hand, if God can forgive humanity in many ways and simply chooses to use blood as God’s means of forgiveness, then God seems unnecessarily cruel. Why would God will the torture, humiliation, and death of his son, if there were other ways to redeem humanity? One could even argue, as Gregory Love does in his book Love, Violence, and the Cross, that substitutionary atonement makes God look like an abusive father.

Dr. Bankard doesn’t believe that substititonary atonement is consistent with God as revealed in Jesus. He also doesn’t believe that it fits well with evolutionary theory:

First, what happens to the doctrine of the Fall of humanity in light of evolution? If evolution is true, then the universe is very old, humans evolved from primates, and the historical accuracy (but not the truth) of the Genesis narratives is called into question. Because of this, many who support a version of theistic evolution argue for a metaphorical or allegorical interpretation of Genesis 1-3.[4] In this view, the Fall is not a historical event.

And,

However, if denying the historical Fall calls into question the doctrine of original sin, then it also calls into question the role of the cross of Christ within substitutionary atonement. If Jesus didn’t die in order to overcome humanity’s original sin, then why did Jesus die? What is Jesus, the second Adam, attempting to restore with the cross, if not the sin of the first Adam?

So, according to Dr. Bankard, no Adam, no Fall, no original sin, no substitutionary atonement.

In part 2 of his essay, Dr. Bankard attempts to answer why Jesus died if not to “save His people from their sins.” He believes that instead of Jesus’ death, we should focus on the incarnation:

Jesus doesn’t become human to die. Jesus takes on flesh and bone to show us how to really live, how to be fully human.

And,

First, the incarnation is not primarily about the cross. God does not send Jesus to die. God does not require Jesus’ death in order to forgive humanity’s sin. As a result, God is not motivated by retribution or righteous anger. Instead, the incarnation is motivated by love.

So, Jesus came to show us how to be fully human. He is then our example. But if so, then why did He die?

I argue that God did not will the cross. An angry crowd, a prideful group of the religious elite, and a cowardly Roman prefect, put a perfectly innocent man to death. They willed the cross. And I believe this act is an example of sin. But God is holy, loving, and just. Thus, God cannot will or condone sin. Instead, I argue that the incarnation is about life, revelation, and inspiration—not death. I believe that God knew Jesus would be killed. That’s what happens when the kingdom of God collides with the kingdom of this world. But Christ’s death was not part of God’s divine plan.

Dr. Bankard believes that Jesus died because bad men killed Him, but that it was not part of God’s plan. I’m not sure why he finds this lack of God’s sovereignty and power to be a more comfortable position. He goes on to explain that God’s love is the heart of the atonement:

God promises to absorb violence and death and replace it with reconciliation, forgiveness, and love. This revelation, this vision, is the reason for the incarnation. It is the power behind the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And it is the method and the means of our atonement and ultimate salvation.

So, all we need is love. All we need is love. All we need is love, love. Love is all we need … . (My apologies to the Beatles, and their fans.)

I believe that Dr. Bankard is correct that God’s love was the impetus behind the whole plan of redemption. John 3 is pretty clear on that:

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:14-16 ESV)

But God’s love for us doesn’t change the fact that Jesus came to die for our sins. Both are true. God loves us, therefore Jesus came to die to pay the penalty for our sins. As Romans 3 says:

For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:22-26 ESV)

He is just and the justifier. God is love, but leaving us in our sins would not have been love.

Dr. Bankard closes with explaining again why his view of the atonement is preferable:

This view of the atonement is important for several reasons. First, it doesn’t require, though would be compatible with, a historical Adam and Eve and a traditional view of original sin. The substitutionary view argues that Jesus’ death redeems the sin committed by Adam and Eve in the garden. To adopt this view, one must read Genesis 1-3 more literally. At times, this kind of biblical hermeneutic may run counter to evolutionary theory. The view sketched above does not require a historical Adam and Eve or a traditional concept of original sin, making it more compatible with evolution. Additionally, my view of atonement argues that Christ’s death was not part of God’s plan. This helps preserve God’s power (God can forgive in many ways, he doesn’t require blood) and God’s goodness (God doesn’t will the cross).

Dr. Bankard’s understanding of the atonement is certainly easier to reconcile with evolutionary theory. But that seems to be the wrong way to go about interpretation. Reading Scripture so that it fits within your own paradigm is eisogesis, reading into the text. When you start with the view that evolution is correct and then decided how to read Scripture so that it fits with evolution, you will end up doing some interesting hermeneutical gymnastics.

No creation, no Adam, no Fall, no original sin, no substitutionary atonement, no Christ? How far do we go to accommodate what evolutionary science says is and isn’t possible? It really does come down to “Did God really say?”

He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ (Luke 16:31 ESV)

Nearly Everything Wrong with N.T. Wright Summed Up in One Chapter Heading

John Walton, Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton and author of the Lost World of Genesis 1, has a new book coming out this Spring. The new book, The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debateis summarized this way by the publishers:

For centuries the story of Adam and Eve has resonated richly through the corridors of art, literature and theology. But for most moderns, taking it at face value is incongruous. And even for many thinking Christians today who want to take seriously the authority of Scripture, insisting on a “literal” understanding of Genesis 2–3 looks painfully like a “tear here” strip between faith and science.

How can Christians of good faith move forward? Who were the historical Adam and Eve? What if we’ve been reading Genesis—and its claims regarding material origins—wrong? In what cultural context was this couple, this garden, this tree, this serpent portrayed?

Following his groundbreaking Lost World of Genesis One, John Walton explores the ancient Near Eastern context of Genesis 2–3, creating space for a faithful reading of Scripture along with full engagement with science for a new way forward in the human origins debate. As a bonus, an illuminating excursus by N. T. Wright places Adam in the implied narrative of Paul’s theology.

The Lost World of Adam and Eve will be required reading for anyone seeking to understand this foundational text historically and theologically, and wondering how to view it alongside contemporary understandings of human origins.

While there is much to be said about this book and the theological positions taken by the author (you can read the chapter headings here), what caught my attention was the “illuminating excursus by N.T. Wright.” Here is the full heading for Wright’s chapter, “Paul’s Use of Adam Is More Interested in the Effect of Sin on the Cosmos Than in the Effect of Sin on Humanity and Has Nothing to Say About Human Origins.”

This single chapter heading is truly amazing. It has successfully encapsulated almost everything that’s wrong with Wright’s theology. Let me explain what I mean. This chapter heading contains Wright’s low view of Scripture, his re-interpretation of Paul’s writings, his minimizing the importance of the salvation of individuals, his emphasis on the redemption of the cosmos, and his belief in the evolutionary origins of humanity.

First, the chapter heading illustrates Wright’s low view of the inspiration of Scripture. He speaks, here and in his other works, of “Paul’s use” as if Scripture is mainly the work of the human authors. It may seem like a stretch, but over and over again the repeated use of “what Paul means” or “Paul’s use of the Old Testament” or “Paul’s purposes,” etc. emphasizes the human author and de-emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit in the writing and preserving of Scripture.

As far as inerrancy is concerned, Wright would not call himself an inerrantist and views the debate on inerrancy and inspiration to be an American preoccupation:

“…the insistence on an ‘infallible’ or ‘inerrant’ Bible has grown up within a complex cultural matrix (that, in particular, of modern North American Protestantism) where the Bible has been seen as the bastion of orthodoxy against Roman Catholicism on the one hand and liberal modernism on the other. Unfortunately, the assumptions of both those worlds have conditioned the debate. It is no accident that this Protestant insistence on biblical infallibility arose at the same time that Rome was insisting on papal infallibility, or that the rationalism of the Enlightenment infected even those who were battling against it.” Simply Christian (183)

Of course, Wright also believes the debate over the historicity of Adam is mainly an American preoccupation, so I’m not sure why he felt called to address it now.

Second, re-imagining and re-interpreting what Paul really meant is what Wright does. Wright has made his mark as part of the New Perspective on Paul. It should come as no surprise that Wright’s contribution to Walton’s book would be to explain to us how we’ve misunderstood and misused what Paul wrote.

What have we misunderstood this time? Two main things are mentioned in the chapter heading:

  • The effect of sin on the cosmos is more important than the effect of sin on humanity.
  • Paul had nothing to say about human origins.

I read an article this week that critiqued Wright’s “overstatement” on the importance of the cosmos as compared to humanity. The author is convinced that Wright simply overstated his case and that everyone knows that Scripture teaches that humans are more important than things. Unfortunately, the overemphasis on the importance of the cosmos is part and parcel of Wright’s theology.

Wright truly does believe that the cosmos are more important in the grand scheme of things. He believes that we have become way too focused on saving people and lost sight of our role in redeeming the cosmos:

to insist, in other words, that what happens eventually to individual humans is the most important thing in the world – may be to make a mistake similar to the one made by the Jewish people in the first century.

To focus not on the question of which human beings God is going to take to heaven and how he is going to do it but on the question of how God is going to redeem and renew his creation through human beings and how he is going to rescue those humans themselves as part of the process but not as the point of it all. Surprised by Hope (164 ebook)

Not only have we misunderstood the purpose and overarching theme of redemption, we’ve misunderstood the Gospel. When Scripture says that Jesus came to save His people from their sins, Wright believes that it’s not so much about individuals being saved from their moral failures, but rather, that Jesus had to come to put God’s rescue plan for creation back on track.

God has made a plan to save the world. Israel is the linchpin of this plan; but Israel has been unfaithful. What is now required, if the world’s sin is to be dealt with and a worldwide family created for Abraham, is a faithful Israelite. This (Jesus) is what God has now provided. Justification (68)

And,

Embedded within the earliest strands of Christian tradition we find an already formulaic statement: the messiah died for our sins according to the scriptures. … It was not, first and foremost, a way of saying that the moral failures of individuals had been atoned for in some abstract theological transaction. That would come, and quickly; we find it already in Paul’s mature thought.

But in the beginning it was a claim about what Israel’s God had done, in fulfillment of the scriptural prophecies, to bring Israel’s long night of exile to its conclusion, to deal with the “sins” that had kept Israel enslaved to the pagan powers of the world, and to bring about the real “return from exile,” the dawn of the new day, for which Israel had longed (The Meaning of Jesus, 98).

And that is how we get to the final point from the chapter heading, Paul’s use of Adam has nothing to say about human origins. In a review of Wright’s book, Surprise by Scripture, the author explains how Wright’s understanding of salvation and his re-interpretation of Paul’s use of Adam are connected:

There is a commonly held approach to salvation which posits that a perfect creation was marred through Adam’s sin, and Jesus came to pay the penalty for sin, thereby allowing us to go to heaven when we die. Adam’s role in that story is crucial: “no Adam” means “no reason for Christ to come.” But according to Wright, that is not the story that Paul tells, and it is a distortion of the Gospel. Instead, Paul connects our salvation to the story of Israel—their being placed in the Promised Land, given a commission to bless all nations, then breaking the Law and being exiled. Paul uses Adam to retell Israel’s story: “placed in the garden, given a commission to look after it; the garden being the place where God wanted to be at rest, to exercise his sovereign rule; the people warned about keeping the commandment, warned in particular that breaking it would mean death, breaking it, and being exiled. It all sounds very, very familiar” (p. 37). Not much hinges on the historicity of Adam on this account. Lots of other Jewish authors around the time of Paul appropriated Adam to get their points across too. The genre of this literature was not historical journalism.

So there you have it. According to Wright, there’s no need for a historical Adam. Of course, it shouldn’t be too surprising that the review appeared on the BioLogos website. Wright and Walton both are featured on BioLogos and share their belief in an evolutionary explanation for human origins. For all three, Wright, Walton, and BioLogos, I truly believe their interpretation of Scripture is driven by their commitments to science, politics, and their own worldviews rather than the reverse.

And that brings us back full circle to the first point. Everything hinges on your view of Scripture. Either Scripture will be the lens through which you view the world or the world (science, politics, worldview, etc) will be the lens through which you view Scripture. Ultimately one or the other will be your authority.

Why do Reformed Christians still support BioLogos?

An new article at creation.com linked to an interesting article at BioLogos by Darryl Falk, former president of BioLogos. Falk’s article was written in 2010 back when he was still president of BioLogos. In the article, he attempts to show how difficult it is to walk to middle ground between young earth creationism and atheistic evolution. His point, apparently, is that neither side understands them (at BioLogos) and both sides disagree with them. What’s fascinating is the extremely clear description of what BioLogos, as an organization, believes and and what BioLogos exists to do.

Falk is referencing an article by Daniel Harrell on the only options he sees for those who insist on an historical Adam and Eve:

Option #1 is that Adam and Eve were created with apparent age; Option #2 is (in Harrell’s words) “Adam and Eve exist as first among Homo sapiens, specially chosen by God as representatives for a relationship with him.”

Option #1 is the standard argument put forward by those who believe in a young earth created by God in six twenty-four hour days less than 10,000 years ago. BioLogos exists in no small part to marginalize this view from the Church.A fundamental part of our mission is to show that Option #1 is not tenable. Daniel Harrell knows this. All members of the BioLogos community know this. And the leaders of powerful young earth organizations like Answers in Genesis, Institute for Creation Research, and, Grace to You know that BioLogos exists to show that Option #1 is not tenable. Reasons to Believe (RTB) knows that we are diametrically opposed to Option #1, just as we are diametrically opposed to their untenable position that there has been no macroevolution. Finally, the folks over at the Discovery Institute know that we exist to remove “apparent age” from the lexicon of evangelical Christianity. Such a view makes a mockery of the entire scientific enterprise and its ability to reveal truths about nature. (emphasis added)

So my question is, given that BioLogos exists to teach Christians not believe in the special creation of Adam and Eve as Genesis 2 details, why exactly do Reformed pastors and believers support and promote BioLogos?

Many of these Reformed leaders assure us that they still believe in the special creation of Adam and Eve. But then why are they part of this organization devoted to undermining that doctrine? Two years ago at BioLogos’ third Theology of Celebration (hosted by Tim Keller in New York), Dr. Keller was quoted as saying:

To develop a Biologos narrative is ‘the job of pastors,’

Is it the “job of pastors” in the Reformed denominations to promote/defend/develop a “BioLogos” narrative that denies the special creation of Adam and Eve?

An Atheist Evolutionist Asks a Good Question of Dr. Peter Enns

It seems that Young Earth Creationists are not the only ones who find BioLogos’ attempt to “reconcile science and faith” lacking. One atheist and evolutionist, Dr. Jerry Coyne, believes very strongly that evolution and Christianity are not at all compatible. In a recent article, Dr. Coyne challenges what he sees as BioLogos’ “sucking up to evangelical Christians, or giving them ludicrous ways to comport their faith with scientific truth—ways that are themselves unscientific (e.g., the historicity of Adam and Eve).”

First, Dr. Coyne reiterates his concern with BioLogos’ basic approach:

For a long time now BioLogos has ignored its initial mission of trying to convert evangelical Christians to evolution. It didn’t work—as I predicted—because those Christians know that if you buy Darwinian evolution, then you have to see much of the Bible as either fictional or at best metaphorical. And if you do that, then where does the metaphor stop? Was Jesus a metaphor for how we humans can save ourselves?

Evangelicals won’t buy that, nor do they like what they see as the other philosophical accoutrements of evolution: our status as mere evolved beasts like gibbons, the lack of a human soul, the absence of an external purpose or meaning to our lives, or of a God-imposed morality, and so on.

He goes on to quote from an article by Dr. Peter Enns on the subject of the Bible as metaphor where Dr. Enns attempts to show a similarity between Jesus’ parables and the “stories” in Genesis:

If this is how God chooses to communicate at the incarnation—the very climax and epicenter of his story—we should not be surprised to see God painting vivid portraits elsewhere in Scripture. This is especially true of Genesis and creation. Something so fundamental to God’s story may need to be told in a way that transcends the limitations of purely intellectual engagement. Genesis may be written more to show us—by grabbing us with its images than laying out a timeline of cause and effect events—that God is the central figure on the biblical drama.

Dr. Coyne isn’t buying it:

Most of us see the Bible as a total fiction. The great tragedy of Enns, and of accommodationists like him, is that he can’t buy that whole hog: because of childhood indoctrination or a desire to believe what is comforting, a Biblical scholar convinces himself that part of a fictional book really is fiction, though it teaches timeless truths, while other parts or non-negotiable fact. And he has no way, despite his Ph.D. in Biblical scholarship, to do that. Tell us, Dr. Enns: if Genesis was just a useful myth rather than truth, how do you know that Jesus was the Son of God and came back from the dead?

When Young Earth Creationists ask the question of where theistic evolutionists draw the line between reality and metaphor, they are ridiculed for over-reacting. Theistic evolutionists roll their eyes and say of course we believe that Jesus was actually resurrected. But notice again that the question keeps being raised and not just by the YEC crowd. If we can’t trust Genesis to be historical fact, then how can we trust that the Gospels are either?

A New Catechism

Redeemer Presbyterian Church (NYC) and The Gospel Coalition have come together to develop a new catechism:

So, with all that in mind, we decided to adapt Calvin’s Geneva Catechism, the Westminster Shorter and Larger Catechisms, and especially the Heidelberg Catechism, to produce New City Catechism. While giving exposure to some of the riches and insights across the spectrum of these great Reformation-era catechisms, New City Catechism also looks at some of the questions people are asking today.

We also decided that New City Catechism should comprise only 52 questions and answers (as opposed to Heidelberg’s 129 or Westminster Shorter’s 107). There is therefore only one question and answer for each week of the year, making it simple to fit into church calendars and achievable even for people with demanding schedules.

We wanted to do one more thing. We found that parents who teach their kids a children’s catechism, and then try to learn an adult one for themselves often find the process confusing. The children are learning one set of questions and answers, and the parents are learning another completely different set. So New City Catechism is a joint adult and children’s catechism. In other words, the same questions are asked of both children and adults, and the children’s answer is always part of the adult answer. This means that as parents are teaching it to their children they are learning their answer to the question at the same time.

I’ve just begun to look through the New City catechism. This Q and A caught my attention:

Q: How and why did God create us?
A: God created us male and female in his own image to know him, love him, live with him, and glorify him. And it is right that we who were created by God should live to his glory.

Here is the similar question and answer from the Westminster Larger Catechism:

Q. 17. How did God create man?

A. After God had made all other creatures, he created man male and female; formed the body of the man of the dust of the ground, and the woman of the rib of the man, endued them with living, reasonable, and immortal souls; made them after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfill it, and dominion over the creatures; yet subject to fall.

I certainly can appreciate the desire to simplify the catechism answers. When I’m helping my children learn them, I tend to paraphrase when necessary to make sure they can grasp the concepts in an age-appropriate way. But, I think it is very interesting what is left out from the Westminster version: “formed the body of the man of the dust of the ground, and the woman of the rib of the man, endued them with living, reasonable, and immortal souls” especially given the current origins debate.

Any thoughts?

PCA’s Stated Clerk Issues Statement on “Human Sexuality and Ordination”

Last year, after the mainline Presbyterian church (PCUSA) removed the “fidelity and chastity” requirement from their ordination standards, there was some confusion by the public over what the PCA believes regarding the ordination of homosexual clergy. In order to clear up this confusion, Dr. Roy Taylor wrote a paper explaining the PCA’s stance on the issue. The paper explains:

The PCA requires that all candidates for ordained office practice what we believe God requires of all persons; that is, that single persons are to live chaste lives, that “marriage is to be between one man and one woman,” and that fidelity in marriage is God’s will revealed in Holy Scriptures. The PCA has not changed nor is it considering any changes in its requirements for ordination.

Dr. Taylor goes on to explain the difference between the PCA and PCUSA and to give a brief history of the founding of the PCA. He then refers to the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms as the Standards that all elders and deacons must affirm in their ordination vows to receive and adopt:

Although there are theological differences within PCA, these differences are along a conservative-evangelical spectrum and within the doctrinal parameters of The Westminster Confession, and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. All PCA Teaching Elders (Ministers), Ruling Elders, and Deacons, affirm in their ordination vows that they “sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scriptures.”

The paper concludes with references to relevant sections of the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Catechisms as well as statements made by the General Assembly on various occasions that might be helpful in understanding the PCA’s position.

While I am thankful for Dr. Taylor’s work to clarify the PCA’s teachings on sexuality and ordination, I can’t help but wonder why we couldn’t have done a similar thing to clarify the PCA’s teachings on theistic evolution and the historicity of Adam.

The Grown-up Solution

Yesterday, I posted an article by Pastor Matthew Kingsbury about the PCA’s vote not to make a new statement on the origins of Adam and Eve. Pastor Kingsbury wrote that the “grown-ups” in the PCA had prevailed.

Tim Phillips, pastor of an ARP church in Louisville, KY, has written a response to Pastor Kingsbury’s article. The week before the PCA’s General Assembly, the ARP had their annual meeting. At this meeting, they overwhelmingly passed an overture affirming the non-evolutionary origins of Adam and Eve. Pastor Phillips’ church was the one to submit the overture.

In his article in response to Pastor Kingsbury, Pastor Phillips takes issue with the “somewhat offensive” title of “Grown-ups Prevail at the PCA General Assembly. While he agrees with the basic premise that the Westminster Standards “are comprehensive and clear and have full authority,” he believes that the Standards could not anticipate all potential heresies:

However, there is one major deficiency in the Standards: they do not have the ability to travel through time into the future. Thus, various movements and challenges and heresies will arise over time that will seek to undermine what the Standards teach — things the Standards might teach about, but don’t directly address.

He also points out that even with the clarity of the Standards, heresies, such as the Federal Vision, have arisen and have needed to be dealt with:

Yet, as clear as this statement [on justification] is, the errors of Federal Visionism have arisen within the very churches which claim to hold to the Westminster Standards. Therefore, in order to address such concerns, sometimes church courts will make official statements. Sometimes these come through committees, sometimes they are made on the floor of the assembly, sometimes they come through memorials/overtures sent up by the presbyteries. There is nothing unusual about this.

And,

Once again, the Westminster Standards are not a time machine. They were written two centuries before Darwinism and natural selection and 19th century attacks on Scripture. Should they be sufficient to address these issues? Yes, but we all know perfectly well that the history of Presbyterianism is littered with ministers and elders who took took vows to affirm the Standards and yet openly taught against them. To say, “we don’t need statements, we already have the Confession” is almost along the lines of “We don’t need creeds, we have the Bible!” It fails to realize that there are those who might interpret statements differently from others, even if they claim to be biblical and/or confessional. There might be a “baptistic” sentiment here, but I think the pastor is mistaken where it is coming from.

Pastor Phillips also believes that while we should use the judicial processes available to us, pastors need to be careful to protect the sheep:

Sometimes issues arise that require strong statements from Presbyterian bodies. There is nothing childish or baptistic in that approach. God’s people should be guarded by their leaders. If a product is potentially harmful to my child, I expect to see a warning label. It is not exactly comforting for someone to tell me that I first need to wait on a lawsuit to settle the matter.

He gives, as an example, two potential pastoral scenarios that I thought really helped illustrate the issue:

First Scenario

Visitor: Pastor, I’m interested in church membership, but I first want to know where the denomination stands on the issue of creation.

Pastor: Well, we have the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, even though they predate theistic evolution. We tried to have a statement declaring the special creation of Adam passed at the national level of the denomination, but that failed. Now we’ll have to wait to see if anyone teaches theistic evolution and then wait for a judicial case to be decided for there to be anything definitive.

Second Scenario

Visitor: Pastor, I’m interested in church membership, but I first want to know where the denomination stands on the issue of creation.

Pastor: I’m glad you asked. Our General Synod recently passed a memorial that affirms the special creation of Adam. As a matter of fact, it was our church that wrote the memorial and our presbytery that sent it along to the General Synod, where it was passed overwhelmingly.

I highly recommend that you read the full article.