Why I’m no longer a Theistic Evolutionist (5)

In the past series of posts, I’ve gone into detail concerning my primary reason for rejecting (TE), namely that TE fundamentally denies the core historicity of the creation accounts. While TE may be subjected to a variety of philosophical and theological critiques, the one that really caused me to reconsider my position was how TE was forcing me to read Genesis. As I’ve noted, the most promising way for me to have my Genesis cake and eat it too was to adopt ’s “functional only” thesis of the Genesis creation accounts, where I wouldn’t have to worry about any conflict between Genesis and contemporary evolutionary theory. However, as I’ve argued, Walton’s position does not actually eliminate the material claims of the Genesis creation accounts. Neither could I simply appeal to divine accommodation to reconcile evolution and Genesis, since that would entail that God actually inspired falsehoods in scripture, which is contrary to both the inerrancy of scripture and the nature of God himself. “God is not man, that he should lie” (Numbers 23:19, ESV). The conclusion I ultimately came to was that the creation accounts in Genesis are, in fact, making material claims about the world and that I needed to take those claims seriously.

However, an important point I’d like to reiterate is that by “taking the material claims of Genesis seriously,” I am not advocating for a naïve, wooden literalism that strips the Genesis creation accounts out of their Ancient Near Eastern context and ignores their cultural setting. Far from it! Recall that in my opening post, I defined the “historicity” of the Genesis creation accounts to mean that they are referring to real events in the real past as opposed to a purely mythical or imagined past. On this point, even scholars such as John Walton agree. However, those “real events” can readily be understood to be woven into a complex theological tapestry that we see on full literary display in the creation accounts in Genesis. Moreover, as Christians living in light of the cross, we understand the opening chapters of Genesis to have a far deeper significance than merely recounting natural history. We understand Genesis to be speaking of Christ. As J. V. Fesko reminds us, “Primarily, Genesis 1–3 is not about science, or the history of the world, but is the entry point to the person and work of Christ.”[1] Fesko concludes, “Genesis 1–3 should not be interpreted in isolation, but in the light of the New Testament, in the light of Christ. Genesis 1–3 sets forth the theological significance of the failed work of the first Adam, which serves as the entry point for the successful work of the second Adam, Jesus Christ.”[2] Indeed, what I am arguing for is a position on the Genesis creation accounts that, first and foremost, recognizes their deep theological and Christological themes, while at the same time acknowledging that material claims about the world are being made which undergird these themes.

Additionally, neither am I advocating for some simplistic, mechanical form of inerrancy that obliterates the particularities of the human author. To the contrary, a faithful and informed doctrine of the inspiration of scripture takes into account the particularities of the human authors. Article VIII of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy clarifies, “We affirm that God in His work of inspiration utilized the distinctive personalities and literary styles of the writers whom He had chosen and prepared,” and further, “We deny that God, in causing these writers to use the very words that He chose, overrode their personalities.[3] As Matthew Barrett concludes, “The Bible is far from monotonous; it is a majestic mosaic.”[4] Given this recognition, we would not expect the creation accounts to be speaking in contemporary “scientific” terms that would have been utterly alien to the Ancient Near East. We would also expect the authors of the Genesis creation accounts, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to be speaking in ways that are consistent with an ancient cultural understanding of the world. But, and I cannot emphasize this enough, this does not, therefore, entail that the Genesis creation accounts are propounding actual errors about the natural world. Something can be consistent with an ancient view of the cosmos without actually claiming we ought to believe the particularities of that ancient view. For example, if I said “the sun rises in the east,” that is consistent with a geocentric view of the cosmos, but it doesn’t actually teach a geocentric view. As we all know quite well, it is equally consistent with a heliocentric view of the cosmos. But regardless, I am actually making a material claim about the nature of the sun in relation to the earth (namely, it appears to physically rise in the east). As I’ve argued, I think something very similar is occurring in the creation accounts in Genesis.

In the end, the most important factor that made me rethink my commitment to TE was one of the guiding principles of inerrancy, namely that the scriptures are inerrant with respect to what they are claiming to be true.[5] I take Kevin Vanhoozer’s definition of inerrancy to be especially helpful in this regard. Vanhoozer writes,

[T]o say that Scripture is inerrant is to confess faith that the authors speak the truth in all things they affirm (when they make affirmations), and will eventually be seen to have spoken truly (when right readers read rightly).[6]

Thus, if the Genesis accounts are, in any sense, making claims about natural history, then we need to recognize that they are making truth claims about natural history. To be sure, those claims are set within rich, theologically robust creation narratives that are clearly not merely interested in telling us “what happened” in material terms. But neither are they skipping over material claims entirely. Following Vanhoozer’s definition, if the author(s) of the Genesis creation accounts are affirming things about the physical world, then they are speaking the truth. As faithful students of scripture, it is therefore incumbent upon us to put in the hard work of understanding how those claims are situated within the narrative itself, and further, how we are to understand those claims today. From my perspective, TE simply cannot do so faithfully and consistently. This fact encapsulates the reason why my commitment to TE changed. It changed when Genesis became neither a puzzle to be solved nor an obstacle to overcome, but a foundation upon which to stand.

In closing, for those who currently hold to the TE position on creation and who are also committed to the authority of scripture (as I was), I would encourage you to seriously consider the implications the position has for reading the Genesis creation accounts and whether or not that squares with Genesis making actual material claims. And for those who are critical of TE, lobbing accusations of heresy or claiming they “don’t take the Bible seriously” are profoundly unhelpful. Many TE’s in my acquaintance work very hard to take both the Bible seriously and the science seriously. In my personal experience, I was frequently charged with “heresy” and it was even suggested on a few occasions that I wasn’t really a Christian because I believed in evolution. This was completely absurd and only served to eliminate any possibility of fruitful dialogue. Instead of derailing the conversation with these sorts of accusations, bring the conversation back to scripture and gently press for consistency on the issue of Genesis making material claims about the natural world and how we can best take those claims seriously as faithful interpreters of scripture. This, I firmly believe, is a far more promising avenue to fruitful dialogue.

Soli Deo gloria.

References

[1] J. V. Fesko, Last Things First: Unlocking Genesis with the Christ of Eschatology (Fearn, UK: Mentor, 2007), 30.

[2] Ibid, 31.

[3] Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, Article VIII, http://library.dts.edu/Pages/TL/Special/ICBI_1.pdf.

[4] Matthew Barrett, God’s Word Alone: The Authority of Scripture (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 237.

[5] Ibid, 266.

[6] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, “Augustinian Inerrancy: Literal Meaning, Literal Truth, and Literate Interpretation in the Economy of Biblical Discourse,” in Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy, eds. J. Merrick and Stephen M. Garrett (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013), 207.