A gracEmail subscriber asks: “Can someone who believes in God and accepts the Bible as his word also believe in evolution as the process by which God brought into being the diversity of animal life on earth, including human beings?”
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For those of us who consider it divinely authoritative, the message of the Bible ultimately matters more than anything any scientist might say. Indeed, for us one clear word of scripture teaching outweighs all the pronouncements of science combined. But merely saying that does not resolve the question whether God used the means of evolution as a tool in his process of creation. It is very possible for people to read their own opinions into the Bible, all the while sincerely thinking they are merely hearing what the Bible itself intends to teach. This happens every day on a wide variety of subjects. Nor is it necessary always to take the Bible literally in order to take it seriously. We all understand that to be true when we read in Revelation concerning the End. We do not expect to walk on streets of actual gold, for example, and few evangelicals really think that lost souls will encounter fire such as we know by present experience. When the Bible speaks concerning these realities at the future horizon of time and eternity, it usually speaks in metaphor — and we think it none the less true for that reason.
Similarly, as Claus Westerman has noted in his 46-page booklet, Beginning and End in the Bible (Fortress 1972), it should not take us by surprise if God also speaks in metaphor in Genesis when describing events at the past horizon of time and eternity. I am not saying that the Genesis creation accounts are figurative or metaphorical, but I am saying that those ancient sagas are no less true and real if that should be the case. Early church fathers Origen and St. Augustine interpreted them as being metaphor, as did B. B. Warfield, a father of modern Fundamentalism and a pioneer advocate of biblical inerrancy. Genesis “teaches” whatever its author(s) intended to convey, not whatever 21st century readers might think they hear it saying. That means the creation stories of Genesis 1-2 were not written in response to Charles Darwin or Carl Sagan, They were instead a response to pagan creation stories such as the Gilgamesh Epic. Knowing that, we can understand their intended message to be that the one true God of Israel created all that exists and that this truth contains life-shaping implications for our relationship with him, our fellow-humans and the rest of creation. It is simply not fair for us to ask Genesis questions (“how?” and “when?”) which it was not written to answer. As it happens, the questions it does answer (“who?” and “why?”) are still being asked today and its ancient answers remain as true and as relevant as ever.
The truth and relevancy of Genesis can be understood and appreciated whether one reads it as literal history or as sacred metaphor. That was what I observed nearly 40 years ago while taking classes simultaneously at Covenant Theological Seminary and at Eden Theological Seminary, both in St. Louis County, Missouri. At Covenant, I had an accelerated class on Genesis taught by visiting professor Francis Schaeffer. At Eden, I was reading the theology of Genesis by Reinhold Niebuhr, who formerly studied at that institution. Schaeffer read Genesis 1-3 as historical narrative; Niebuhr read it as sacred metaphor or myth. But what did it mean to these men witlh such divergent approaches? According to Schaeffer and Niebuhr alike, it meant that God, who exists outside creation, made all that exists. We are part of creation and are wholly dependent on God. However, humans have lusted for independence and have tried to live as if they did not depend on God, as a result spoiling their relationship with God, each other and with the rest of creation.
So we return to the original question that launched these thoughts. Can someone who believes in God and accepts the Bible as his word also believe in evolution as the process by which God brought into being the diversity of animal life on earth, including human beings? The answer must surely be “Yes,” for there are many who do. I am not one of them. Not because I believe theistic evolution is irreconcilable with Scripture, but because I personally find special creation more appealing and more credible than the story that evolution offers as an alternative. As a 63-year-old non-scientist who has studied the Bible for a half-century, that is what I think. Others are entitled to their own opinions.
However, I want to end this little series with a song — not a doctrinal proposition or a scientific theory but an affirmation of faith. That song is titled This Is My Father’s World. To hear the tune and read the words, just click here or go to http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/t/i/tismyfw.htm .