Thursday, June 9, 2011

Thoughts on creation

I recently read this piece on Scot McKnight's blog about a youth pastor who found himself in a crisis of conscience about what to teach regarding creation (the youth pastor is sympathetic to a "theistic evolution" view, while his congregation-- and especially the parents of his students-- hold to a "young earth creation" view).

I don't envy the youth pastor his dilemma, and it made me grateful for a presbyterian system in which variations of views are brought out and dealt with at ordination; for example, this youth pastor may not have been ordained, or he at least would have been given instruction about how to teach/not teach his variant view. But it also drew out a few reflections on the topic of creation, some of which have been matters of pastoral care for me as well. I don't get a lot of questions on this topic, but I've gotten a few.

Therefore, here are some thoughts on creation-- not the final word by any means, but perhaps worth a moment's reflection:
  • Let's keep priorities straight. Yes, creation is an important issue; however, its importance is almost entirely because the relationship of the question to our view of Scripture. Beyond that, it's important because it speaks to the dignity of humanity and our uniqueness among all the creatures. Apart from these two subjects, I have to question whether it isn't simply a point of trivia. Consider this: in the whole of the Bible, we have a single chapter discussing creation in general, and a second chapter that focuses on the creation of humankind. On the other hand, in the same book we have 15 chapters about Abraham; 12 chapters about Joseph; 9 chapters on Jacob; 4 chapters on Noah; 3 chapters on Isaac; and 2 on Sodom and Gommorah! Which seems like the higher priority to God?
  • The issue is not as simple as "creation vs. evolution" as it is often presented. When the PCA constructed a study committee a few years ago, the chair of the committee reported that he occasionally received phone calls asking for him to visit a church and do a presentation on "the two views on creation." His response was, "I'd be happy to; we've identified five views so far-- which two would you like me to present?" As Christians like to do, there is a good bit of over-simplifying of this issue that is unhelpful. We need to recognize that there are a number of different views on our origins, many of which can be described as consistent with biblical teaching.
  • I have friends who are scientists whose view is that it is scientifically impossible, and therefore irresponsible, to maintain a young-earth creation position; therefore, the best they can do is an "old-earth creation" position. Radiocarbon dating, for example, by its very definition seems to stand in the way of any sort of "young earth" view, and it is a generally-accepted method for determining the age of things. I can see why this presents a major obstacle, and an intellectual hurdle. And I'm not ready to discount "old-earth creation" (or any of its variants) as heresy or selling out the Gospel.
  • At the same time, I think it is nearly impossible to discount "young earth" 24-hour, six day creation solely on this basis either. According to Genesis, the whole universe was created "mature." When I consider the many nuances-- physical, physiological, mental, emotional, spiritual-- that led to my own maturity, it is staggering to think of the implications that such a factor may make when it comes to the appearance of things, versus the reality of things, in terms of the age of the earth. Likewise, without knowing exactly how a whole-earth-covering flood looked from a scientific standpoint, can we make reasonable estimates regarding how that much pressure would have changed the very nature of geological matter on the earth? Obviously some people are convinced that the answer is "yes"-- but I'm not.
  • Why is creation so important to conservative Christians-- even to the point (in some presbyteries in the PCA, for example) of refusing to ordain otherwise-qualified candidates because of their differing views from literal 24-hour, six day creation? Here's why: what you believe about Genesis chapters 1 and 2 suggests much about your view of Scripture in general. In other words, if you read Genesis 1-2, and it comes across as something other than an actual account of God's work, what else in Scripture will you receive that way? On the other hand, if you take Genesis 1-2 at face-value, you will probably take the rest of Scripture that way, too. Likewise, if your view of creation is such that it casts question on the inerrancy, authority, and reliability of the Bible, that is a huge factor in whether you can be (or should be) ordained.
  • Every major figure in Scripture-- Moses, David, Jesus, and the apostles-- speak of, or at least implicitly regard, the events of creation as actual historic events, and Adam as a real person. This presents real problems related to the previous point; if you think Jesus was mistaken about whether Adam was a real person, what else was he mistaken about? And does even the one mistake affect his capacity for imputing righteousness according to the law to you? Think also about Paul's declaration of Christ as the "second Adam" and therefore the doctrine of atonement through one divinely-appointed representative.
  • A more literal view on creation introduces a great sense of eschatological hope. I read another post recently from McKnight's blog, wherein someone said that God would have actually had to walk with Adam and Eve and talk with them in order for them to understand what violating His command would mean (and thus, they concluded, this was not an acceptable position). Leaving aside the implications that, if God doesn't come and walk alongside YOU then He must not have ever done it with Adam either, this introduces a view somewhat closer to deism than I'm comfortable with, and strips us of the hope and anticipation that all things will be made new, and that we will share in eternal fellowship with God-- as was originally intended, the Bible indicates.
  • I think Dr. Jack Collins's new book, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? Who They Were and Why You Should Care, will be immensely helpful in understanding this discussion and resourcing others to think clearly about it.

That's all for now. Maybe more to come...

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