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)

Engaging with Keller: Thinking Through the Theology of an Influential Evangelical

Dr. Tim Keller, Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in New York City, is, perhaps, one of the best known figures in the Reformed world. He has written many books and has spoken at numerous conferences for many different groups and organizations. He is frequently interviewed and quoted by the secular media on a number of different topics. It is because of his influence on such a wide audience that a group of pastors have taken up the task of writing a book considering whether specific aspects of Keller’s teaching are biblically accurate ways of transmitting the Reformed faith.

Dr. Iain Campbell, minister of Point Free Church on the Isle of Lewis, and Dr. William Schweitzer, church-planting minister of Gateshead Presbyterian Church, have put together a collection of essays which discuss certain well-known aspects of Dr. Keller’s teaching. The book, Engaging with Keller: Thinking Through the Theology of an Influential Evangelical, was recently published and is available both in print and e-book. Dr. Campbell describes the purpose of the book this way:

It should not surprise us that in developing new lines of thought Dr. Keller has provoked a measure of controversy, mainly within the Reformed churches. It is therefore right that there should be an open and frank engagement among brothers in Christ in order to discern just how faithful to God’s word Dr. Keller’s “new lines of thought” really are (9).

The authors are quick to point out that Dr. Keller’s personal orthodoxy is not in question:

Nor is this book seeking to make any statement about his personal orthodoxy. We gladly acknowledge that Keller intends to teach the orthodox truth; the question is whether or not he fully succeeds in this good intention in the specific cases considered below (15).

These teachings include the doctrine of sin, the doctrine of hell, the doctrine of the Trinity, the mission of the Church, Scriptural interpretation, theistic evolution, and ecclesiology.

The authors believe that the problem with certain aspects of Dr. Keller’s teaching arises from his attempts to explain biblical doctrines to a post-modern audience:

Keller adopts a twofold answer to many questions. He wants to present doctrine to the “moderns” (usually older, more rural and less educated) one way, and to the “postmoderns” (usually younger, more urban and educated) in a different way. Keller’s presentations to the moderns is essentially old-fashioned orthodoxy, whereas his answer to the postmoderns include some of his most well-known – and often most controversial – teachings. This books is almost exclusively concerned with this latter group of teachings. As well shall see, it is not merely a case of using some new language to offer the same answer to the same question. In several cases, Keller’s teaching for postmoderns seems to end up offering substantially different answers to the same questions (21).

The first essay, “Keller on “Rebranding” the Doctrine of Sin”, by Dr. Iain D. Campbell looks at Dr. Keller’s attempt to reinterpret the doctrine of sin:

The idea of “rebranding” a biblical doctrine such as sin is an interesting proposition. To do this successfully would mean that the presentation is altered but the content remains the same. Is Keller’s attempt to “rebrand” sin a success? (28).

Dr. Campbell looks at Dr. Keller’s redefinition of sin as idolatry, lostness, and self-centeredness. Dr. Keller’s rebranding of sin as idolatry is well-known:

Keller concludes that “sin is the despairing refusal to find your deepest identity in your relationship and service to God. Sin is seeking to become oneself, to get an identity, apart from him” (29).

The problem, as Dr. Campbell sees it, is that sin as idolatry confuses a symptom of sin with the cause of sin:

But the nature of sin is not idol-making but law-breaking, of which the manufacturing of idols is a specific example. The truth of the human condition is not merely that we make idols, but that we are, by nature, enslaved to law-breaking (34-35).

Dr. Keller redefines sin as “lostness” in his book The Prodigal God. He explains that in the parable from Luke 15 both the younger son and the older son are lost: one by way of immoral living, and the other by way of moralism (36).

According to Dr. Campbell, the problem here is that there aren’t two different ways of failing: one by keeping the rules and one by breaking them:

To place oneself in the place of God is breaking the rules; the sin of the elder brother is a violation of the law. It is an over-simplification to suggest that “There are two ways to be your own Savior and Lord. One is by breaking all the moral laws and setting your own course, and one is by keeping all the moral laws and being very, very good” (39).

Both immoral living and moralism are breaking God’s law. (39)

Dr. Keller as also rebranded sin as “self-centeredness”:

The problem which the gospel of Christ is the solution is the problem of self-centeredness; that Keller suggests, is the essence of the story of the fall and the disintegration of man in Genesis 3 … (40).

The problem here is not that we aren’t self-centered. But, again, our self-centeredness is a symptom of our much deeper sin nature:

Sin as self-centeredness is a symptom of, not a reason for, our condition. The paradigm of Scripture is that we are fallen by nature, and lie under the curse of a broken covenant and the penalty of a broken law. This, however, is not a theme prominent in Keller’s writings (45).

Dr. Campbell concludes by summarizing his concerns with Dr. Keller’s rebranding of sin:

This, ultimately, is where Keller’s rebranding leads – to an attempt to define sin not in terms of what it does to God, in robbing him of his glory, but of what it does to us, in robbing us of our wholeness. … Ultimately, the gospel is not all about me at all. It is certainly for me; but it is about God whom I have offended, and about the Christ whom he punished in my place. The offense? That I have broken his holy law, and break it constantly, of which my idolatry, and lostness and self-centeredness are symptoms. The remedy? That it is possible for the perfect law-keeping life and penalty-bearing death of another to restore my relationship with God (46-47).

The second essay by Dr. William Schweitzer is on the doctrine of hell, ““Brimstone-Free” Hell: a new way of saying the same old thing about judgment and hell?” Dr. Schweitzer commends the importance that Dr. Keller places on the topic of hell. However, he believes that this is another example of Dr. Keller’s attempt to speak in a new way to a post-modern audience:

Keller has two different ways of communicating the doctrine of hell, on for “traditionalists” and the other for “postmoderns”. … Keller’s teaching for the traditionalists seems consistent with the traditional doctrine. The real questions come regarding the message for postmoderns (52).

Dr. Schweitzer lists three basic questions that need to be answered in regards to hell: who sends people to hell, who keeps people in hell, and who metes out punishment for those in hell:

Who condemns people to hell? The Bible would seem to be clear on this matter: God does, through Christ (53).

In a sermon, “Isn’t the God of Christianity an Angry Judge?” Dr. Keller gives his answer to the question:

Summary: hell is just a freely chosen identity based on something else besides God going on forever (55).

Dr. Schweitzer explains:

Returning to Keller’s doctrine for postmoderns, we move on to ask, who sends people to hell if not God? The answer seems to be, no one sends anyone else to hell per se; people send themselves to hell (54).

Who decides that the damned stay in hell? According to Dr. Schweitzer:

God is the One who decides that the damned remain forever in hell, and his edict is known at the very outset of condemnation (58).

What does Dr. Keller say? In Reason for God, he writes:

“No one ever asks to leave hell. The very idea of heaven seems to them a sham.” (58).

Who metes out the punishment in hell? Dr. Schweitzer considers various examples from Scripture to give his answer:

These prototypes of judgment (the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, the plagues) very greatly in detail, but in each case it is made explicitly clear that God himself metes out the punishment associated with judgment (59).

Dr. Keller, on the other hand, “suggests in The Reason for God that the punishment in hell is just the inevitable outworking of our own refusal to let go of sin” (62).

In conclusion, Dr. Schweitzer considers whether Dr. Keller’s answers to post-moderns on these three questions is fundamentally the same as the traditional answers:

Keller’s teaching for postmoderns, on the other hand, gives a rather different set of answers. Man sends himself to hell, man never asks to leave hell, and man inflicts upon himself the punishment of hell (69).

Next, Dr. Kevin Bidwell, church-planting minister of Sheffield Presbyterian Church, discusses Dr. Keller’s teaching on the Trinity in his essay, “Losing the Dance: is the “divine dance” a good explanation of the Trinity?”

There is no question as to whether Keller intends to teach the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. He certainly has this intention. The question before us is whether his most prominent and distinctive method of communicating the Trinity – the “divine dance” imagery – is altogether faithful to Scripture, the Nicene Creed and the orthodox Reformed tradition (77).

Dr. Keller uses imagery of a “divine dance” to explain aspects of the Trinity:

In the beginning, according to Keller, was the “dance of Creation”; the Fall was mankind apparently “losing the dance”, the fruit of which was becoming self-centered; salvation supposedly becomes the way back of “returning to the dance” and getting out of self-centeredness; the eschatological conclusion in the new heaven and new earth is summarized as the “future of the dance” (79).

Dr. Bidwell sees several problems with the use of this imagery:

Problem 1: the “divine dance does not uphold the unity of the Godhead based on essence.

God’s essence is redefined as being “love” instead of “the same substance”; thus love replaces substance as the premise for divine unity (88).

Problem 2: the “divine dance” movements portray the wrong kind of motion within the Trinity.

This is the act of the Father eternally begetting the Son, and then sending him as the God-man, along with the actions of the procession of the Holy Spirit. … These divine movements are not captured by “voluntary circles or orbits; but the clear pattern of order is: from the Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit (89).

Problem 3: the “divine dance” does not promote a balanced presentation of the Trinity as found in the Nicene Creed.

The Trinitarian order is distinct, clear, unmistakable and without confounding the persons. Contrast this with Keller’s portrayal of the three persons in a pulsating dance of voluntary orbits where it is impossible to distinguish “who is who” among them. It is baffling to imagine how the “divine dance” teaching could be encapsulated in a creedal statement (91).

Problem 4: the “divine dance” undermines the divine order between the persons of the Godhead.

The “divine dance” teaching that lacks the doctrines of the eternal generation of the Son and the distinguishing relational properties of the persons of the Trinity thereby introduces theological weakness into the doctrine of the Trinity, with implications for Christology (92).

Problem 5: the “divine dance” has the danger of tritheism (92).

Problem 6: the “divine dance” undermines the authority structure that is directly related to redemption.

A changed theology leads to theological implications in other parts of our doctrine, and neglecting to teach the ordering of the persons of the Trinity has real consequences for our understanding of Christ as the mediator, his obedience to the Father as the God-man, and redemption (93).

Considering the fundamental importance of the doctrine of the Trinity, Dr. Bidwell believes that these problems are not minor (81).

The fourth essay, “The Church’s Mission: sent to ‘do justice’in the world?” is by Dr. Peter J. Naylor, founding minister of Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Cardiff. Dr. Naylor’s essay focuses on Dr. Keller’s teaching on the mission of the church:

Keller’s main thesis is that the church has a twofold mission in this world: (1) to preach the gospel and (2) to do justice, which involves social and cultural transformation and renewal (105).

Dr. Naylor believes that there are several principles that should be considered in determining the mission of the church:

As we consider the church’s mission, we must bear these five principles in mind. (1) The church cannot act without a mandate from God. (2) The God-given boundaries between the three spheres of family, nation, and church must be respected. (3) The distinction between the body and its members must be carefully observed. (4) The distinction between the office bearers and the members must be respected. (5) Jesus’ commission from his Father was unique and the church cannot assume that Jesus’ commission is its own mission (110).

Given those principles, Dr. Naylor considers whether the church is called, as a body, to work for social and cultural transformation. He distinguishes between what individual Christians might have as a calling and what the formal mission of the church is. Any Christian, as a citizen of a country, is free to pursue social and political change (110). Dr. Naylor also points out:

No one is suggesting that “the church is not to do justice at all.” That is a straw man. The church’s elders and deacons serve the interests of justice and mercy (119).

After considering several Scriptures that Dr. Keller uses to support his teaching on the mission of the church, Dr. Naylor concludes:

How shall we respond to Keller’s doctrine of the church’s mission? We must reject it for several reasons:

(1) He fails to establish his case on the basis of Scripture.
(2) He focuses too narrowly on the problem of material poverty and thereby takes away from a concentration on the deeper spiritual plight of man, which is what the church is really to address.
(3) He has misunderstood the Mosaic Law and has taught an unbiblical concept of wealth redistribution.
(4) He has failed to observe proper distinctions between the spheres of church and state and between the Christian and the church (members and the body) (125).

Dr. Naylor is especially concerned that the work of social and cultural transformation can and will divert the resources that a church should use to preach the gospel (125). He goes on to summarize his conclusions:

[W]e deny that the church has a dual mission; we affirm that the Christian should exercise love and mercy in all his relationships; we distinguish between the commission given to the body and the commission given to the member; and we distinguish between the church’s role and the state’s (126).

Rev. Richard Holst, retired church planter and chairman of the International Conference of Reformed Churches, considers Dr. Keller’s methods of Scriptural interpretation in his essay, “Timothy Keller’s Hermeneutic: an example for the church to follow?”

Rev. Holst uses three basic questions to consider Dr. Keller’s hermeneutical approach:

Do the interpretations represent the truth that is chiefly taught in that place? Are the clearer parts of Scripture used to interpret the less clear? And finally, are the deductions from Scripture good and necessary consequences? (138).

Given Dr. Keller’s influence, Rev. Holst seeks to determine if Dr. Keller is a good example of Reformed methodology for others to follow. (138) There are three concerns with Dr. Keller’s hermeneutics, according to Rev. Holst: the use of parables, the use of secondary aspects of passages, and logical fallacies in exegesis.

First, the use of parables:

[P]arables are intended to be ambiguous. Thus, the only safe way to understand a parable is to pay close attention to the inspired interpretation that is usually given in the passage itself, and then by clearer texts elsewhere (138)

Rev. Holst gives the example of how Dr. Keller uses the parable of the prodigal son:

The problem is in the very design of the book (The Prodigal God), which is to use this parable as a lens to understand everything else (139).

Even if the result of such an approach was free from error, Rev. Holst explains that the method is itself problematic:

[O]ne can hardly conceive of a concept more contrary to good hermeneutical procedure than to use a parable to define the Christian faith and, thereafter, to understand the rest of Scripture in this light (139-140).

Second, Rev. Holst finds Dr. Keller’s use of secondary aspects of Scriptural passages to be concerning. The example he gives is Dr. Keller’s use of the parable of the good Samaritan and the discussion with the rich young ruler to say that Jesus is explaining a key part of what it means to be a Christian:

“It appears that Jesus sees care for the poor as part of the essence of being a Christian” (144).

Rev. Holst points out that care for the poor is not the focus of either passage but is, instead, a secondary aspect that Dr. Keller has chosen to highlight.

Lastly, Rev. Holst is concerned with logical fallacies in Dr. Keller’s exegesis of certain passages. He uses an example from Dr. Keller’s Ministries of Mercy where Dr. Keller writes:

“The kingdom of God is the means for the renewal of the entire world and all of the dimensions of life. … If this is the ministry of the Kingdom – to heal all the results of sin in all areas of life, then the church must intentionally use its resources to minster to every ‘circle’” (146).

Rev. Holst explains his concern:

The main problem, however, is with the logic of Keller’s “if, then” transition between the future state and his conclusion regarding the church’s mission. Christ will certainly return on the last day to make a new heavens and a new earth in which no trace of the curse remains. … Just because we are promised that there will be no curse in the New Heavens and New Earth, this does not mean that the church’s mission is to try to get their now, in contradiction of Scriptures that speak clearly on the matter (146).

Rev. Holst concludes:

I think the answer would have to be that Keller is not consistent in adhering to these principles [explained above]. … For this reason, we must conclude that his work does not provide us with the best example to follow (147).

Dr. Schweitzer also wrote the next essay on theistic evolution: “Not Quite” Theistic Evolution: does Tim Keller bridge the gap between creation and evolution? The title is drawn from an answer that Dr. Keller gave in an interview where he was asked if his views were theistic evolution. He replied, “Not quite” (161).

One of the major obstacles to faith that Keller identifies is the conflict between the doctrine of creation and the theory of evolution. … Keller suggests that there is a via media wherein we can affirm both the reality of evolution and also the biblical teaching of God’s creation. But what sort of evolution does Keller think is consistent with Christian faith? An evolution that produced Adam? … Or does he mean an evolution that had nothing to do with Adam? 150-151.

Dr. Schweitzer does not share Dr. Keller’s belief that a via media must be found:

There is no particular reason why the conflict of Christianity with evolutionary science is a problem demanding a solution any more than the conflict of Christianity with Islam (an ideology which, much like evolutionary theory, was conceived in self-conscious rejection of Christianity) (154).

In his writings and interviews on the subject of evolution, Dr. Keller explains that belief in some type of evolution can be consistent with Christianity. Dr. Schweitzer explains that this leaves Dr. Keller with two options: evolution that includes the origin of Adam or evolution that excludes Adam. There are problems with both options.

If Adam is the result of evolution, then damage is done to the biblical understanding of Adam and all the doctrines that go with it:

The culpability of the human race, the justice of God, the basis of redemption, the identity of Christ, and the gospel itself are all predicated upon a first man, Adam, who was the biological and spiritual father of every human being. Without this biblical Adam we do not have a biblical Christianity (158).

Dr. Schweitzer notes that some theistic evolutionists attempt to reconcile an evolutionary origin of Adam with special creation:

However, belief in a “literal” Adam – a single human being from whom we all descended – does not necessarily preclude believing that this literal Adam had some form of sub-human ancestor. This would seem to be what the language in Keller’s white paper is designed to allow for; the idea that evolution was involved in the generation of Adam (158).

This approach raises as many questions as it answers, though (158).

Given that Dr. Keller has indicated that he does not share approach to a literal Adam, Dr. Schweitzer considers the second option:

Perhaps he is only talking about evolution somehow being used in various other aspects of creation, but having no role in God’s immediate creation of Adam. This seems closer to Keller’s personal position, which he distinguishes from theistic evolution as “a bit more intervention, more God in there” (159).

Would this option be an acceptable solution to the problem of reconciling evolutionary science with Christianity? Dr. Schweitzer doesn’t think so:

An account that included evolution at some places but left out this capstone of the project would seem to do very little to help Christians live in intellectual peace with the secular elite who regard the evolution of mankind from animals as an inviolable dogma (159).

Dr. Schweitzer concludes:

Not every obstacle to faith is a false dichotomy waiting to be bridged. Some “problems” are quite real and admit of no legitimate resolution. The intellectual conflict over the origins of life on earth is a prime example (160).

The final essay, “Looking for Communion in All the Wrong Places: Tim Keller and Presbyterian Ecclesiology,” was written by Dr. D.G. Hart, Adjunct Professor of Church History at Westminster Seminary, California. Dr. Hart considers whether Dr. Keller’s work, especially through his church planting network, is consistent with a Presbyterian ecclesiology:

Tim Keller is the most famous Presbyterian pastor in the United States today; but whether he identifies his ministry self-consciously with Presbyterianism is another question (164).

Dr. Hart explains:

Keller’s twin commitments to word and deed and to urban ministry have led him into cooperative projects with non-Presbyterians, a further indication of the degree to which his Presbyterianism defines his ministry (172).

One of the examples of Dr. Keller’s work with non-Presbyterians is his Redeemer City to City church planting network:

Redeemer City to City is a church-planting network that started with RPC’s initial efforts to plant churches throughout the New York metropolitan area. It now extend to churches around the world, particularly to congregations in large urban centers, and its aim is to sustain a movement of churches not with a Presbyterian model but with Redeemer’s vision for ministry (172).

What is remarkable about this work is, according to Dr. Hart, that Dr. Keller sees a closer relationship with those who share his ministry goals than with those who share his denominational vows:

In fact, the communion that he has through belonging to the PCA does not seem to be as important or as valuable as the kind of community he hopes to establish through a network of urban churches committed to word and deed ministries and social justice. … What stands out in Keller and RPC’s commitments is not adherence to Reformed theology, worship, and Presbyterian church government, but the priority of mercy ministries, urban sensibilities, and evangelistic strategy for transforming cities and the wider culture (180-181).

Because of this, Dr. Hart concludes:

These contradictions make Keller the most popular contemporary Presbyterian pastor for whom the markers of Presbyterianism appear to matter very little (182).

Having considered these specific concerns with certain aspects of Dr. Keller’s teaching, the authors conclude with their hope for continued conversation and engagement on these issues:

[W]e look forward to the process of clarification which will follow. What is important is not that our own objections be confirmed but that Keller’s own Reformed theology, reflective as it is of the biblical truth, be transmitted in ways that are completely clear (184).

Theistic Evolution: A Sinful Compromise (A Review)

John Otis, pastor of a Reformed Presbyterian Church US (RPCUS) church in Burlington, North Carolina, has written a book on theistic evolution, Theistic Evolution: A Sinful Compromise, based on a series of lectures. His purpose in writing the book was to alert believers, and especially elders, to the danger that theistic evolution poses to the church:

A word of exhortation is needed to my fellow ruling and teaching elders: What is one of our foremost duties as elders? It is to protect God’s precious sheep from the wolves in sheep’s clothing that will devour the flock if they could. … Do I lump all those together as wolves who are not advocating a view of creation as presented in our Confessional Standards? Not exactly, some are far worse than others. … Those that I am really addressing are those who do advocate an evolutionary view, who do believe that man did evolve from lower forms of life, who do teach that God used this means to “create.” These men are the ones who must be silenced; they are disturbing families. In obeying Jude 3, we elders must earnestly contend for the Faith once for all delivered to the saints. This is my purpose (5-6).

Pastor Otis begins his book by considering what Scripture teaches regarding creation, creation days, and the chronologies. From there he moves on to a history of Darwin and evolutionary thought. Lastly, he spends several chapters on what he calls “Compromisers.” He takes time throughout those chapters to address specific concerns about the teachings of specific organizations and individuals.

Pastor Otis’ concern over theistic evolution and its influence in the Reformed church today is due in part to his own background. Before he became a believer, Pastor Otis was an agnostic, evolutionary, Biology student:

I was once an agnostic and an evolutionist in high school, though not a very informed evolutionist. I was a conscious unbeliever. It was God’s sovereign grace that saved me when I was a freshman in college. Upon my conversion to Christ, no one had to inform me that there was a problem with maintaining evolutionary views with my Christian faith. I immediately sensed this, even though I was severely biblically illiterate. I did not grow up in the church; I never read a Bible; I didn’t even understand what chapter and verse in the Bible meant. However, when the power of the Holy Spirit regenerated my deadened soul, and as the Spirit illumined my mind with biblical truth as I faithfully read my Bible, I knew that there was no reconciling of evolution with the Bible’s account of creation (280).

Why does Pastor Otis call theistic evolution a sinful compromise?

  • It robs God of His due glory.
  • It elevates science as an equal authority with Scripture.
  • It adopts a faulty hermeneutic.
  • It assaults the uniqueness and dignity of man.
  • It is insulting to Jesus’ true humanity.
  • It can undermine the glorious gospel.
  • It undermines the Bible’s credibility (281-284).

Beginning with what Scripture teaches on creation, Pastor Otis discusses some basic principles of Biblical interpretation. First, he stresses the importance of considering the plain meaning of the text. Second, he references the Westminster Confession of Faith’s section on Scripture and interpretation:

The infallible rule of interpretation of scripture is the scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture, (which is not manifold, but one) it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly (WCF, I: 9).

He points out that contrary to what many theistic evolutionists teach we do not need “science” to help us interpret Scripture. (15)

Pastor Otis then applies these principles to three of the most discussed issues in the creation vs. evolution debate: creation days, Biblical chronologies, and the creation of Adam from the dust. Theistic evolutionists, and others, teach that the days of creation do not need to be understood as literal, 24 hour days. And, if the days of creation are more symbolic than literal, then there is no problem with making the long ages necessary for evolution fit with the Biblical account of creation. Also, if the creation account in Genesis is read symbolically or poetically, then maybe it’s possible to read the creation of Adam from dust symbolically:

Theistic evolutionists want to take God fashioning Adam from the dust and Eve from Adam’s rib as a literary device, not to be taken at face value; in other words, not in the plain sense of the words which is an important hermeneutical principle. Apparently, we can get quite “creative” (pun intended) in how we interpret Genesis 1:26 and 2:7, 21. The evolutionists, even “Christian” evolutionists say that we need the testimony of modern biology, i.e. Darwinism, to properly interpret these texts. Really? And why do we need them? And why must we NOT take the plain meaning of the words of Genesis? And why must we say that the terms “from dust” and “from Adam’s rib” must obviously mean biological evolution from single cell organisms to man himself?(15).

The plain meaning of “day” and “dust” are simply “day” and “dust.” Two things that are familiar to all.

Using Scripture to interpret Scripture, Pastor Otis considers what the Biblical arguments are for interpreting the days of creation as 24 hour days. He lays out four arguments:

Argument # 1: The Fundamental Use of the Word “Yom” (day)
A word study for the word “yom” in the Old Testament reveals that the preponderant use of this term demands that we understand it to be a literal twenty-four hour period of time. The word occurs 1,704 times in the Old Testament, and the overwhelming usage has to do with a normal day from morning to evening. After all, what did The Westminster Confession say is the surest hermeneutical principle – Scripture interprets Scripture (23).

Argument # 2: Key Qualifying Statements
This is one of, if not the most powerful argument, in supporting the days of creation in being normal days. Inspired Moses qualifies the six creative days with this all important phrase – “evening and morning.” The obvious plain meaning is: This is a typical day since each day is viewed as “evening and morning” the first day, evening and morning the second day, etc. When we leave out Darwinian presuppositions, then the text is rather obvious (24).

Argument # 3: The Use of Numerical Adjectives
Consider this overwhelming evidence. In the 119 cases in Moses’ writings where the Hebrew word “yom” (day) stands in conjunction with a numerical adjective, such as first, second, third, it almost always means a literal day. The same is true of the 537 usages outside of the Pentateuch (24).

When the New Testament says that Jesus was raised on the third day, was it the third literal twenty-four hour day or not? Or could it have been thousands of years? (25)

Argument # 4: Divine Example Regarding the Sabbath Day
This has to be one of the most powerful biblical proofs that the days of creation were literal days. God specifically patterns man’s work week after his own original creational work week. Man’s work week is expressly tied to God’s (25).

What about the passage from 2 Peter 3:8-9? Doesn’t it say there that a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day?

Theistic evolutionists say, See, here is proof that “day” can mean an indefinite period of time. It is plainly obvious that this meaning is to be understood figuratively. The whole context pertains to those skeptics who are denying Jesus’ Second Coming simply because He has not returned yet. Peter says that God is not bound by time. Just because He hasn’t returned yet does not mean He is never coming, for with God, time is meaningless. A thousand years is like one day with God and a day as a thousand years. To use II Peter 3 as some proof for interpreting a day to be millions of years in Genesis is just sloppy exegesis to say the least. It is totally ignoring the prevalent use of the term “day” in Scripture. (25-26)

One of the other common arguments for the synthesis of long ages with the days of creation is that there are gaps in the Biblical chronologies. Appeals to the age of the earth using James Ussher’s dates are often ridiculed even by pastors and other Christians. We are told that there are gaps in the Genesis chronologies and that since “became the father of” can mean “became the ancestor of” there is no way to determine from the chronologies how long ago Adam was created. Pastor Otis responds:

You probably have heard that we cannot adopt a view that the biblical chronologies are accurate history because there must be gaps in the genealogies. Guess what? There are no time gaps in the chronology of the Bible. … The numbers add up precisely from one representative head to another representative head. It does not matter about the other sons and daughters as long as there is precision from one generational head to another (30-31).

Moving on from what Scripture teaches regarding creation, Pastor Otis briefly discusses the “conflict” between science and faith:

[T]he problem with Christianity and evolution, including theistic evolution, is that we do not have a clash between faith and science but a clash of faith versus faith, that is, we have a clash of worldviews (34).

He points out too that evolutionary science is not religiously neutral:

The evolutionist claims that he is neutral, that he is unbiased, and that he is not religious. Such a claim is ludicrous. All views of the origin of life are fundamentally religious (37).

And,

Evolutionary thinking is inescapably religious at its very foundation. It is wholly untrue that the issue is science vs. faith. No, it is one faith in opposition to another faith; it is a clash of worldviews (38-39).

Next Pastor Otis gives a brief history of Charles Darwin and the rise darwinian evolution. Charles Darwin was not the first to discuss evolution processes or to desire an explanation for the origin of universe and life that is not dependent on God. In fact, Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, wrote a book advocating spontaneous generation and millions of years of biological development. But it wasn’t until Charles Darwin wrote his Origins of Species that evolution began to be widely accepted as a theory (63).

Before Charles Darwin wrote Origins of Species, he had already abandoned what little Christian faith he began with:

It is evident that Darwin had lost his faith in Christianity and the miraculous before he formulated his hypothesis of evolution. This does not say he had no evolutionary ideas before this, but he still lost his faith in creation before he set out to discover how life and its varied forms would originate by the working of natural laws. Evolution came in with great force to fill the void left by the loss of his faith in God the creator (53).

Pastor Otis considers it important the order of Darwin’s slide into apostasy:

[P]lease note the process into unbelief for Darwin. It was to doubt the historicity of Genesis, then doubt miracles, adopt an old earth view, and then accept evolutionary views (54).

This is important because Darwin was fully aware that his theory of evolution would draw people away from a belief in God as creator. Darwin even referred to his work as “the Devil’s gospel” (59). Darwin’s theory of evolution was not religiously neutral from its inception. From the start, Darwin and the others who promoted his view actively sought to explain the origin of the universe and of life without the need for a Creator. George Bernard Shaw is quoted as saying:

If you can realize how insufferably the world was oppressed by the notion that everything that happened was an arbitrary personal act of an arbitrary personal God of dangerous, jealous and cruel personal character, you will understand how the world jumped at Darwin (73).

The godless nature of evolutionary thought is illustrated by those throughout history who have used the ideas of survival of the fittest and natural selection to perpetual great cruelty:

Evolution provides the scientific and moral (or lack of morality) rationale for many to propagate evil. The field of eugenics is the applied science of improving the genetic composition of the human population. It seeks to achieve this goal through both encouraging reproduction among fit individuals and discouraging breeding among unfit populations. It has an evolutionary basis, and the means used to achieve this goal is population control by abortion and sterilization. But who decides who is unfit and unworthy to reproduce? Those who have the power to subjugate others! (74).

One of the best examples, of course, is Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party:

Hitler was an ardent evolutionist and a true believer. He was probably more consistent than anyone else has ever been. This is why he murdered so many people in the name of trying to perfect a race that would reign for 1,000 years (75)./p

Having discussed that the theory of evolution is not neutral, but is actually an attack on God as creator, Pastor Otis continues by pointing out various weaknesses in Darwin’s theory. He concludes:

As I conclude this chapter, we should realize that evolutionists themselves have recognized the great problem with Darwinism. The view of macroevolution cannot be scientifically verified. Darwin couldn’t do it and neither have any others after him. Living organisms and the fossil record do not give scientific evidence for macroevolution, but it does point to special creation. Hence, evolution is no scientific fact; it is outside the parameters of operational science. It is not a fact; science has not spoken definitively in the factuality of macroevolution; evolution is a worldview, a religious faith held as tenaciously as the most ardent Christian holds to his belief in the Bible (102).

The second half of his book is focused on addressing specific concerns of particular organizations and individuals. Because Pastor Otis is an elder in a reformed, Presbyterian denomination, he is particularly concerned with organizations and individuals either within the reformed world or with considerable influence within reformed churches. These include: the BioLogos Foundation, Dr. Tim Keller, Dr. Ron Choong, Dr. Gregg Davidson, Dr. Jack Collins, and Dr. Peter Enns:

The men and organizations that I will mention have compromised the Faith in my opinion. For some, the compromise is greater than others. Some obviously do not think their views are compromising positions; they think they are being “humble,” “open-minded,” and “diverse,” respecting the differing opinions of honorable men. Grant it, some of those who advocate the value of diverse beliefs and diverse interpretations of Scripture are sincere in their views. The problem is: Men can be sincerely wrong, and they can be responsible for leading the visible church of the Lord Jesus into great peril (109-110).

I will give a very brief synopsis for each of the “Compromisers,” as Pastor Otis calls them.

First, the BioLogos Foundation:

BioLogos is a foundation that touts itself as an evangelical organization that thinks theistic evolution is a true understanding of the origins of the universe and man. I consider this organization as one of the greatest threats to today’s visible church (110).

Pastor Otis gives three examples of what BioLogos teaches to illustrate how their views are compromising positions:

What is BioLogos’ View on Scientific Evidence of the First Humans?
The fossil record shows a gradual transition over 5 million years ago from chimpanzee-size creatures to hominids with larger brains who walked on two legs.

Genetics also tells us that the human population today descended from more than two people. Evolution happens not to individuals but to populations, and the amount of genetic diversity in the gene pool today suggests that the human population was never smaller than several thousand individuals (114).

Were Adam and Eve Historical Figures?
Genetic evidence shows that humans descended from a group of several thousand individuals who lived about 150,000 years ago.

One option is to view Adam and Eve as a historical pair living among many about 10,000 years ago, chosen to represent the rest of humanity before God. Another option is to view Genesis 2-4 as an allegory in which Adam and Eve symbolize the large group of ancestors who lived 150,000 years ago. Yet another option is to view Genesis 2-4 as an “everyman” story, a parable of each person’s individual rejection of God. BioLogos does not take a particular view and encourages scholarly work on these questions (116-117).<

Did Death Occur Before the Fall? BioLogos says:
Humans appear very late in the history of life. The fossil record clearly shows that many creatures died before humans appeared. This appears to conflict with Bible passages which describe death as a punishment for human sinfulness. However, the curse of Genesis 3 was that Adam and Eve, not the animals, should die for their disobedience. Therefore, animal death before the Fall is compatible with Christian doctrine (118).

The next chapter focuses on Dr. Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA), New York. Pastor Otis goes into much greater detail, but he summarizes his concerns with Dr. Keller this way:

In summary, the main strikes against Dr. Keller are:

  • He allows his name to be used on BioLogos’ home page as a reference for the purpose of encouraging others to see the great value of this foundation, a foundation which openly embraces theistic evolution.
  • He has allowed his church to sponsor the workshops of BioLogos.
  • He has allowed Dr. Ron Choong to teach in his church, who has adopted views that not only embrace theistic evolution but which assault other precious truths of the biblical doctrine of creation.
  • He accepts evolution as a plausible explanation of the origin of all life, including man (137).

Connected to Dr. Keller is Dr. Ron Choong:

One of the men who is listed as a missionary and member of Metro New York Presbytery (PCA) is Dr. Ron Choong, who has taught classes in Keller’s church. Dr. Choong founded the New York based “Academy of Christian Thought,“ and he has written a book titled, Project Timothy: The New Testament You Thought You Knew. … Ron Choong’s views of Scripture, the relationship between Scripture and science, and man’s evolution is most illuminating and disturbing, especially since he is an ordained elder within the PCA (138-139).

Pastor Otis concludes his chapter on Dr. Choong with this summary:

Let us summarize briefly the main points of Choong’s doctrine of creation:

  1. The Bible’s reliability cannot be affirmed by its own historicity, literary, or theological components.
  2. Modern science corrects the historical and scientific inaccuracies in the Bible.
  3. Each generation with new discoveries need to revise their theological understanding.
  4. The Bible is silent on the mechanism of creation.
  5. The first eleven chapters of Genesis are not to be understood literally or even historically.
  6. Special creation is biologically untenable.
  7. Adam may or may not have been a single person, but he could be a representative of a community of hominids (ape-like creatures).
  8. Regardless of the singular or communal view of Adam, he was a hominid, having evolved from lower forms of life.
  9. God’s image conferred upon an existing hominid makes this hominid the biblical Adam.
  10. God’s conferring of His image upon Adam and Eve as existing hominids was done after they ate the forbidden fruit, not before.
  11. The image of God in man is the acquisition of moral knowledge, namely fear and guilt.
  12. Adam’s fall into sin is best seen as “rising beasts falling upwards to moral awareness.”
  13. Original sin as The Westminster Standards describe man’s fall is not true.
  14. The Westminster Standards are archaic, needing revision. They are an obstacle to fruitful science and theological conversation.
  15. Adam was not created with an immortal soul.
  16. Adam was not created righteous.
  17. Adam was not created with the law of God written on his heart.
  18. Adam’s sin was not a violation of God’s moral law.
  19. Adam and Eve were made loaded with sinful desires.
  20. Adam cannot be blamed for an existence of sin per se (158-159).

Dr. Choong, in response to questions about his teachings on Adam, said:

All my views about Adam and Eve have been published for more than 10 years and Redeemer as a church as well as Dr Keller as a minister have never had any objections to my non-doctrinal interpretations. This means that while I hold to a certain view of who Adam might mean, no church doctrine in the history of the church has ever made this a litmus test of faith. No one should get their knickers in a twist over whether Adam was a collective or a singularity (151).

Also, Pastor Otis notes:

At the 2011 meeting of Metro New York Presbytery, one presbyter suggested that presbytery look into the teachings of Dr. Choong. Did this happen? Was he disciplined by this PCA presbytery? No! The presbytery refused to look into it with strong vocal opposition to such a thing, and in fact, a request was made and granted that the idea of looking into Dr. Choong’s teachings not be recorded in the minutes lest his name be illegitimately besmirched (160).

The next chapter is on Dr. Gregg Davidson who gave a seminar on the age of the earth at the 2012 General Assembly of the PCA. Pastor Otis is very concerned that Dr. Davidson was allowed to speak given his published evolutionary views:

I believe that those who gave permission to Dr. Davidson to hold this seminar at the PCA 2012 General Assembly did a great disservice to their denomination and opened the door for further deterioration. Surely, someone knew of Dr. Davidson’s position on evolution prior to the invite. Surely, someone knew of his avowed commitment to viewing man as having descended from ape like creatures (163).

For those who are not familiar with Dr. Davidson’s work, Pastor Otis addresses both Dr. Davidson’s seminar at the General Assembly as well as his book, When Faith and Science Collide.

At the end of the seminar, Dr. Davidson was asked a few questions. One of the questions was particularly of note:

The question was: Did he believe that Adam was specially created and directly created by God from the dust, or if Adam was a hominid adopted by God? … In his answer, he said he did not see a difference between an Adam specially created by God from the dust and an Adam as a hominid adopted by God and given a soul. Either way, Adam was the first human and father of mankind. In other words, Dr. Davidson admitted to being an evolutionist, who thinks that Adam and Eve were descended from ape like creatures (164).

Dr. Davidson’s book, When Faith and Science Collide, gives a much fuller picture of what he believes:

Davidson’s bias towards evolutionary views is quite explicit. He says that science teaches us that “life began on earth 3.5 billion years ago.” Even though scientists are not cognizant of how life began from non living material and how everything evolved from single cell organisms to man, Davidson thinks there is a plausible synthesis with Scripture. This synthesis is: the Bible says that God commanded the earth to bring forth and it did; science says that man was formed from the same dust of the earth as all other creatures. In other words, science provides us with the accurate understanding of the mechanism of creation. Again, it is not biblical exegesis that is in the “driver’s seat;” it is the scientific views often postulated by unbelieving men (169).

And,

There is no question of Dr. Davidson’s commitment to macroevolution, meaning that all life forms evolved from simple, single celled organisms throughout millions of years. He accepts all of the presuppositions and arguments of the evolutionists in terms of their so called “scientific” findings. Davidson wants to maintain the science of evolution over the non-Christian agnostic and atheistic views held by many evolutionists. In other words, Davidson wants to accept the evolutionist’s conclusions but within the framework of God doing His creative work through the mechanism of evolution (174-175).

The next chapter deals with Dr. C. John (Jack) Collins, Professor of Old Testament at Covenant Seminary, and author of Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care. Dr. Collins’ book is an attempt to address the issue of the historicity of Adam:

His book’s title is not intended to deny the historicity of Adam. Collins says that he affirms Adam’s historicity, but he does so in such a way as to definitely allow for the possibility of non- traditional views to be considered as acceptable (211).

Pastor Otis explains his concern:

Here is the crux of the matter. For Collins, it is not really necessary for us to believe that God literally made Adam from mere dust on the sixth day, which is a twenty-four hour period. Literal trees or a talking snake are not necessary for us to get the point. All that matters is the worldview that from Adam sin came into the world. While Collins may be distancing himself from the conclusions of Ron Choong and Peter Enns, he will still consider the legitimacy of an evolutionary view of man’s origin (220-221).

And,

In conclusion about the views of Jack Collins, we can say rather conclusively that he has admitted to being a type of evolutionist; he just isn’t in the camp of being one who adopts the philosophy of evolution. His latest book argues for a type of modified monogenesis for Adam’s origin. It is a revision to the traditional view, but it falls within the parameters of sound reasoning nonetheless. Are we to be encouraged by this? Absolutely not! Covenant Seminary has an evolutionist on its faculty. It is wholly misleading to the public, and probably to its supporters for the Seminary. So, when Covenant Seminary says that Jack Collins does not subscribe to a Darwinian or a Neo-Darwinian view of evolution, it is totally misleading. And when the official seminary statement states that Dr. Collins may allow for some differences of opinion on some of the details, it fails to specify those details that Collins makes known in his books – he subscribes to a form of evolution, and he is very critical of young earth creationists and the whole field of “creation science” (250).

Lastly, Pastor Otis addresses Dr. Peter Enns, formerly of Westminster Theological Seminary and also formerly a Senior Fellow at BioLogos. Dr. Enns has written several books and essays including: The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Does not Say About Human Origins.

Pastor Otis sees Dr. Enns as the logical conclusion of the theology that begins with theistic evolution:

Peter Enns is the last person that I will analyze simply because he probably best typifies what can happen once one begins the downward spiral on adopting an evolutionary view to Scripture. This does not mean that all theistic evolutionists will end up theologically where Enns has, but it does show how one can easily end up with views purported by Enns. I would say that Enns’ views are the logical outcome of an evolutionary perspective, and the result when one views science as the best interpreter of Scripture (251).

Dr. Enns has written that it is not necessary to believe in an historical Adam, that evolution should make Christians rethink traditional views on things such as sexual promiscuity, and that death is not an enemy:

Evolution is a serious challenge to how Christians have traditionally understood at least three central issues of the faith: the origin of humanity, of sin, and of death… sin and death are universal realities, the Christian tradition has generally attributed the cause to Adam. But evolution removes that cause as Paul understood it and thus leaves open the questions of where sin and death have come from. More than that, the very nature of what sin is and why people die is turned on its head. Some characteristics that Christians have thought of as sinful – for example, in an evolutionary scheme the aggression and dominance associated with “survival of the fittest“ and sexual promiscuity to perpetuate one’s gene pool – are understood as means of ensuring survival. Likewise, death is not the enemy to be defeated … death is not the unnatural state introduced by a disobedient couple in a primordial garden. Actually, it is the means that promotes the continued evolution of life on this planet and even ensures workable population numbers. Death may hurt, but it is evolution’s ally (258-259).

Pastor Otis concludes:

Conservative men in the PCA ought to be very concerned about the present trend in their denomination. The debate over the doctrine of creation and the place that evolution has in it is nothing new. They have the dismal track record of the PCUS to observe and serve as a warning. Sadly, the warning is going unheeded (267).

Pastor Otis’ book, Theistic Evolution: A Sinful Compromise, is available for free download here. You can also order a printed copy here. The lecture series is available on Sermon Audio here.

Supernatural Creation of Man: Dr. Belcher addresses the historicity of Adam and critiques Dr. Jack Collins’ “mere-Adam-and-Eve-ism”

Last week, Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary hosted their Spring conference. The topic of the conference was “The Doctrine of Man:”

Reformer John Calvin wrote that the two most important things for any person to know are who God is and who man is. In order to know God properly, one must know the truth about himself. In our day, there is much confusion about who man is. Is the Bible correct that God made man in His image from the dust of the earth or were the first humans made from primal hominids? Was there human death before the Fall? What role do the creation mandates have in the church today? Because of the seriousness of these questions and others concerning mankind, the faculty and trustees of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary are devoting our 2013 Spring Theology Conference to the study of what the Bible says about man.

A number of men spoke on various topics related to creation, Adam, and the fall. Dr. Guy Water spoke on the Covenant of Works. Dr. Joel Beeke spoke on temptation and the fall. Rev. Matthew Holst discussed the issue of death before the fall. Dr. Bill Vandoodewaard discussed Thomas Boston’s “Human Nature in Its Fourfold State.” Dr. Nelson Kloosterman spoke on imago dei and the relationship between the Cultural Mandate and the Great Commission. Dr. Joseph Pipa discussed original sin and depravity.

Dr. Richard Belcher, Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary-Charlotte, opened the conference with a discussion of the “Supernatural Creation of Man.” Dr. Belcher focused his discussion on Genesis 2:7:

Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. (ESV)

He spoke particularly about the current attempts by some to reinterpret the creation of Adam in order to reconcile it with some form of evolution. He cited the push to get Christians to accept evolution as the way in which God created. He gave the examples of Francis Collins and BioLogos, which Collins helped found. BioLogos states that they are “committed to exploring and celebrating the compatibility of evolutionary creation and biblical faith.” Bruce Waltke, in a video for BioLogos, said that the church must accept the overwhelming evidence for evolution or risk becoming a cult. Tremper Longman, in his book Science, Creation, and the Bible: Reconciling Rival Theories of Origins, wrote that Darwinian evolution doesn’t threaten Christianity. Peter Enns has written that evolution is a game changer which should cause the church to reinterpret Scripture. All of these men are Old Testament scholars and all have sold out to evolution. All of their arguments for reconciling evolution with Christianity depend on their interpretation of Genesis 2:7, how God created man.

Dr. Belcher stated that his goals in his address were to give an exegesis of Genesis 2:7, present some of the models that attempt to reconcile evolutionary theory with the Bible, discuss the hermeneutical principles that are sacrificed by those models, and consider the implications for the church.

First, Dr. Belcher spoke on the meaning of Genesis 2:7: the creation of man from the dust. Dust in this passage means dirt, dust, loose soil. Looking to other passages to support this reading, Dr. Belcher pointed out Genesis 3:19 “for you are dust, and to dust you shall return. (ESV)” Referring to Genesis 2:18-22, he noted that the creation of Eve shows that among the animals there were no helpers suitable for Adam. No other living creature would have been a match for Adam. Eve was unique in that she was created from Adam, and she represented the unity of the human family. All humanity comes from Adam. All humans are descended from Adam and Eve. This rules out the idea that Adam and Eve were a couple of existing hominids adopted by God out of a population of other hominids.

Next Dr. Belcher gave a brief overview of some of the current attempts to reconcile evolution with Genesis 2:7. Evolutionary theory teaches that life evolved gradually over time by means of natural selection and genetic mutations. This lead to lower life forms to develop into higher forms. Eventually this gave rise to hominids, of which humans are a part. The evolutionary models all accept that the genetic diversity found in modern human DNA could not have been the result of a single couple.

One evolutionary theory is that humans developed first in Africa and then spread out. Using this theory, some theistic evolutionists suggest that Adam and Eve represent a population of humans from whom the rest of humanity descend. This, in their view, would maintain Adam and Eve as the source of human life now.

Another evolutionary theory is that humans developed in different places around the world at the same time. With this view, theistic evolutionists suggest that Adam and Eve were a couple of neolithic farmers that God selected. God then gave them a spiritual awareness which set them apart from the rest of the neolithic farmers. Adam and Eve would then be the head of humanity, even though there were others who were physically the same around them.

Dr. Belcher then summarized the evolutionary theories as they relate to Adam and Eve. According to the theories, human like creatures existed before Adam, so Genesis 2:7 can’t be a literal account of how man was created. One option for reconciling the Scripture with evolutionary theory is that Adam and Eve were selected by God out of a group of humans. Another option is that Adam and Eve weren’t the first couple, and so they aren’t the source of all humanity. A third option is that Adam and Eve didn’t actually exist. Instead they represent a much larger population of people. This incorporates the genetic evidence. A further consequence of this attempt at reinterpreting the creation of man is that according to these theories there was no original pristine condition, physically or morally, since humans inherited their sinful tendencies from their animal ancestors.

Dr. Belcher moved on then to his next point. Since there is such a difference between how Genesis 2:7 describes the creation of man and the evolutionary theories on the origin of man, how does theistic evolution reconcile the two? This is where hermeneutics becomes key. According to Dr. Belcher, there are three ways theistic evolutionists seek to blunt the meaning of Genesis 2:7.

First, theistic evolutionists begin by identifying the genre of Genesis 1-11 as mainly symbolic. According to the theistic evolutionists, the purpose of Genesis 1-11 is to teach theology, not history. It’s story, not history. It’s stylized and symbolic. It’s purpose is to explain aspects of human life like marriage, toil and labor, pain in childbirth, and sexual desire. Genesis account of creation can’t be history since no one was there to witness it. Symbolic elements like the talking snake and the Garden of Eden seen as a type of temple illustrate that the proper genre for Genesis is not history.

Second, Genesis 1-11 should be read and understood in light of the other Ancient Near East (ANE) creation myths like the Enuma Elish. According to this theory, the author or authors of Genesis borrowed sequences, themes, and motifs from the ANE myths, including the creation of man from clay. Peter Enns has written that since the foundational stories of Genesis fit so well with the ANE myths, how can we claim that Genesis recounts revealed, unique events? Because these ANE myths are older, then they must be source material for Genesis. Genesis, therefore, can’t be the original events revealed by God. Dr. Belcher pointed out that this hermeneutical approach question both the historicity and relevatory nature of Genesis.

The third hermeneutical approach used by theistic evolutionists is to see Genesis 1 and 2 as contradictory accounts. According to this view, there are great and insurmountable differences between Genesis 1 and 2. Therefore, Genesis 1 has an unknown number of men and women created on day 6. Genesis 2 tells the specific creation of a single man and woman. Since they believe that the difference between Genesis 1 and 2 can’t be resolved, the best answer is that the creation accounts are symbolical not historical.

In summary, Genesis is mythical or symbolical, and Genesis 2:7 can’t be understood as a literal account of the creation of man.

So then, Dr. Belcher asked, what should our response be? There is a good solid response which Dr. Belcher called the historical, biblical, confessional view: Adam was formed from the dust as the very first human being. Dr. Belcher noted that Dr. Jack Collins had written his own response to the question of the historicity of Adam, Adam and Eve: Did They Really Exist? However, Dr. Belcher stated that Dr. Collins’ response falls short because he accepts too many of the hermeneutical assumptions that are foundational to the evolutionary approach to Genesis chapter 2.

The positive side of Dr. Collins’ book, according to Dr. Belcher, is that Dr. Collins wants some form of the traditional view of Adam to be maintained. However, Dr. Collins defines that traditional view as containing three things: the supernatural origins of mankind, Adam and Eve as the headwaters of human race, and an historical fall. Dr. Collins does not include in his traditional view the meaning of Genesis 2:7.

According to Dr. Belcher, Dr. Collins hermeneutical approach to Genesis is not that different from the theistic evolutionists discussed earlier. Dr. Collins accepts two of the three assumptions: Genesis as symbolic and the similarity of the ANE myths. He does not accept that Genesis 1 and 2 contradict.

Dr. Collins writes in his book that Genesis 1-11 are not straight history, but rather historical. By this he means that it refers to actual events, but it contains a high level of figurative and symbolic description. While Dr. Collins doesn’t believe that Genesis is myth, he does believe the better approach is to read it as symbolic.

Dr. Collins also agrees that Genesis 1-11 are best read in the context of the ANE origin stories. Like the ANE stories, Genesis refers to historical events, but in a symbolic way. Since we don’t take the ANE stories literally, we shouldn’t take Genesis 1-11 literally either. Dr. Collins concludes, then, that Genesis 1-11 contains an historical core. This core includes the historicity of Adam, but does not include the way in which Adam was formed. According to Dr. Collins we should not be too literal with Genesis 2:7. This approach is compatible with evolution.

Dr. Belcher gave an example from a Christianity Today article where Dr. Collins said that if the genetic evidence says that one couple can’t be the source of all humans, then Adam and Eve should be seen as a tribe with Adam as the chieftain. Also, in Dr. Collins book, Science and Faith, he writes that while he prefers the view of dust in Genesis 2:7 as loose soil, he can commend the view that dust is the body of a hominid. Dr. Belcher disagreed. Dust cannot mean the body of a hominid. He gave the example of a judicial case from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church that addressed that very question. The OPC decision was that dust can’t mean the body of a hominid.

According to Dr. Belcher, Dr. Collins approach gives away too much hermeneutically. It can’t be used to support the historical, biblical, confessional view of Adam.

Dr. Belcher then offered his response. The literary nature of Genesis 1-11 is key, he said. Genesis should be read by it’s own literary character. There is no difference in genre between Genesis 1-11 and Genesis 12-50. The Hebrew narrative use of the WAW or VAV consecutive is consistent throughout the whole of Genesis. Dr. Belcher also said that it is a false dichotomy that narrative history can’t be theological. Genesis is narrative, historical, and theological. He also said that the exegesis of the passage must determine if there are symbolic or literary devices, not assumptions made about the text beforehand.

Dr. Belcher went on to say that it is a misuse to use the ANE myths as a guide for understanding Genesis. The similarities that exist between Genesis and the ANE myths are superficial and insignificant in light of the differences between the them. Genesis is not dependent on the ANE myths, nor are the ANE myths guides to Genesis. That approach downplays the supernatural relevatory nature of Genesis. Instead, Dr. Belcher said that the ANE myths should be seen as derivative from the original stories, the ones given to us in Genesis, handed down over time.

Dr. Belcher also pointed out that Genesis 1 and 2 do not contradict each other, but can be understood as a broad versus a narrow look at creation. Genesis 1 gives the broad view, and Genesis 2 focuses on the events in the Garden of Eden.

Lastly, Dr. Belcher spoke about the implications for the church in accepting evolution as the way God created. Most importantly, it affects other passages of Scripture. If Genesis 2:7 isn’t actually how God created man from the dust, then the creation of Eve from Adam’s rib is also out. However, Paul refers to the creation of Adam and Eve, and the specific details, like woman made from man. Was Paul wrong?

If Paul was wrong there, was he also wrong when he makes the great parallel between the first Adam and the last Adam, Christ? Paul’s use of Adam to explain the origin of sin and to contrast that with salvation through sacrifice of Christ argues for the necessity of an historical Adam. If Adam wasn’t the first human through whom all humans descend, then there is no salvation for those who are not descended from Adam. Christ took the nature of Adam and died for those in Adam. Any who are not of Adam would, therefore, not be saved.

Dr. Belcher closed with a call for the church to stand firm in preserving this truth. Pastors and seminaries must teach the truth. Presbyteries must be careful in examining men regarding their views on evolution and Adam. As he noted earlier, there are those who would say that they believe in the historicity of Adam but mean an evolutionary Adam. The confessions are clear on the supernatural creation of Adam.

Dr. Belcher also noted that given the changing nature of scientific theories it’s dangerous to attach ourselves to one of these theories as it could easily change in time. In our society, evolution has become a “sacred cow” which must not be questioned. When science and the Bible disagree, it seems that the Bible must always be the one to give ground.

However, opposing evolution is hardly the only unpopular view held by Christians. The church holds the minority position on almost all modern ethical debates. What we believe is abhorrent to society. Salvation by Christ alone is considered intolerant. Sex outside of marriage is seen as prudish. The ordination of men only is seen as out of touch. Believing homosexuality is wrong is seen as bigoted and hateful.

If the culture hates our views on all these, why then are we surprised that the view of the historicity of Adam is also seen as uneducated and out of touch with mainstream culture. Are we willing to stand for the truth of God’s Word even if that means we are looked down on as uneducated? The inerrancy of Scripture and the gospel of Christ are at stake. May God give us the courage to stand for His truth.

[Note: Conference audio may be purchased by emailing bookstore@gpts.edu, or by calling the seminary at (864) 322-2717.]

Dialogue: is it always worthwhile?

In the recent past, I have participated in dialogues, discussions, and debates with various proponents of evolution (theistic and otherwise). After many words and much time spent, I came to a realization. While dialogue can certainly be useful, there are times when you find yourself going around in circles. On one of those occasions, I wrote the following to explain why I felt the discussion had reached a natural endpoint:

We seem to be going around in circles, to some degree. We both have a decent understanding of the Scripture and the science being discussed.

I believe that the Genesis account is meant to be read as a literal history of what actually happened and that there are repercussions on many fundamental Christian doctrines when one takes a more allegorical approach. I also believe that the science, especially the evolutionary science, is open to interpretation and debate.

You believe that the evolutionary science is solid and that there are repercussions to the rest of science when one interprets the science differently. You also believe, from what you’ve stated, that the Scripture is open to interpretation and debate.

These are fundamentally opposite positions. From what I’ve read, your position is that YEC is bad science and bad theology, in that it does not accurately represent the truth of nature, and it is damaging to the faith and witness of the Church. I believe that theistic evolution/evolutionary creationism is bad science and bad theology, in that it relies on fundamentally flawed presuppositions to interpret the scientific evidence, and it does damage to the faith by undermining or redefining many important doctrines.

I’m not sure we can say that we are the same where it counts. Not that I question your faith, because I don’t. I hate to keep using the same word, but there is a fundamental difference in our hermeneutic approaches to Scripture and that leads to many, many differences. There is a very real danger that the hermeneutical approach favored by theistic evolutionists, like those at BioLogos, will lead to an eventual denial of the resurrection. Not that everyone who holds to theistic evolution will eventually deny the resurrection, but the same approach that reinterprets Genesis in light of what “science knows” is regularly used to reinterpret the resurrection.

So, I’m not sure where we go from here. I don’t mind discussing with you, but we do seem to be saying the same things over and over again.

While this is based on one particular conversation that I had, it is generally applicable to most dialogues between creationists and evolutionists. In my opinion, arguing over the evidences, one way or the other, is often wasted breath. I don’t believe that I can change their minds, although I pray that the Lord will, and I know that they will not change my mind, although I bet they are praying for me too. So, while I do believe that there is a time and place for evidence and dialogues, I also believe that there is a time for silence.

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)

A Question of Authority

But, [insert name of orthodox giant of the faith here] agrees with me!

This is a popular argument used on a regular basis by many different theologians, scholars, writers, bloggers, etc. The purpose of the argument is to declare that since such-and-such a person, whose orthodoxy can’t be challenged, held the same belief that is being argued for, then the belief must also be orthodox.

One common example goes something like this:

Many Reformed scholars and pastors, such as J.I. Packer, Francis Schaeffer, Charles Spurgeon, and J. Gresham Machen, hold/held to an old Earth. Since they are thoroughly orthodox in their beliefs, then it must be acceptable to hold to an old Earth.

Another example that is frequently used in the theistic evolution debate is say that since B. B. Warfield held to some version of theistic evolution and since he was a strong defender of the inerrancy of Scripture, then not only is theistic evolution compatible with Christianity, it poses no threat to the inerrancy of Scripture.

The problem with these type of arguments is that these appeals have their source in fallible men, instead of the only source of infallible truth, Scripture. Now, I realize that most people making an appeal to a giant of the faith would argue that these men used Scripture to form their beliefs. I’m sure that’s true. However, all men, aside from Christ, are subject to error. The Westminster Confession of Faith states it this way:

All synods or councils, since the apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. Therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith, or practice; but to be used as a help in both.

If we are not to use synods or councils as our “rule of faith” because of the potential for error, then it would be equally unwise to make any man, but Christ, our touchstone.

In Galatians, you see an example of how this should work. Peter, who was a well-known and well-respected leader within the community of believers, had bowed to the pressure of the circumcision party and stopped eating with the Gentiles. Paul did not say, “Oh well, Peter is one of the apostles. He knew Christ! His ministry has flourished and grown. He’s such a blessing to the community of faith. If he thinks it’s right to separate from the Gentiles, I’m sure he knows what he’s doing.” No, Paul “opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.” (Gal. 2:11 ESV)

I’m not saying we shouldn’t listen to or learn from or consider what the giants of the faith have said on various topics. By all means, we should learn from those who have gone before us! But, we must always remember that they are men, just like us, just as capable of error as we are. Let us put our ultimate trust in the only infallible source of knowledge available to us. As the Reformers said, Sola Scriptura!

What is a Stumbling Block?

In many of the current discussions among Christians, I’ve heard it said that we should be careful not to be “stumbling blocks” to unbelievers. This is especially true in the origins debate. Many professing Christians that hold to evolution are concerned that Creationism, particularly the Young Earth variety, is a “stumbling block” for young people coming to the faith. This use of “stumbling block” made me curious about how Scripture uses the phrase. So, I did a search of my ESV bible and found the phrase used in three ways.

First, in the Old Testament prophets, the stumbling block is used to describe the sin of the people who have rejected God:

For any one of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn in Israel, who separates himself from me, taking his idols into his heart and putting the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and yet comes to a prophet to consult me through him, I the LORD will answer him myself. Ezekiel 14:7

Or, it is something used by God as a punishment for sin:

Therefore thus says the LORD: ‘Behold, I will lay before this people stumbling blocks against which they shall stumble; fathers and sons together, neighbor and friend shall perish.’” Jeremiah 6:21

Second, in the New Testament, believers are warned about allowing their freedom to become a stumbling block to other believers, causing their brothers to sin:

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Romans 14:13-17

Lastly, also in the New Testament, Christ himself is described as a stumbling block:

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 1 Corinthians 1:22-24

What was interesting to me in this study, albeit not an exhaustive one, is that the current preoccupation with making Christianity as unoffensive as possible isn’t a concern found in Scripture. Of course, we are commanded to be at peace with everyone as far as it is possible, and we should not be intentionally offensive to unbelievers. But I don’t believe we should soften the truth or reinterpret what Scripture teaches in order to accommodate those outside the household of faith.