Have you ever noticed that when the topic of evolution, or millions of years, comes up, there’s an incredible emotional reaction? Why? Because that’s where the enemy has gained ground; this is where the battle is at.
After all these years, I’m still amazed that the Christian community largely misses the direction of the battle for the hearts and minds of men, women and children.
If we don’t agree that the Bible teaches six literal days, if we allow ourselves to be influenced by the millions of years, and we don’t read the text as written … right there in Genesis 1, we’ve lost the battle. The battle is lost because the message to the people is, ‘We don’t have to take the Bible seriously here.’ That compromise opens a door that leads to disaster.
The battle is lost because the message to the people is, ‘We don’t have to take the Bible seriously here.’
In his autobiography, retired Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong provides us with a bird’s-eye view of his spiritual ‘evolution.’ Tragically, this man’s loss of faith has imperiled countless others, for the simple reason that Spong is so popular with the media. Evangelical pastors might preach a message of the Cross, but the young people in their congregations will likely see Spong on their college campus or on television programs like ‘Politically Incorrect.’ There he will tear into the whole Bible. Spong is famous for his bold dissections of Scripture, and this has led him to his defense of abortion, homosexual practices and reinterpretation of Christianity. The bishop does not believe in the Virgin Birth or the Resurrection, and he has endorsed the radical scholars’ contention that many of the New Testament quotes attributed to Christ were in fact made up by the apostles.
But this is the point where Spong’s experience gets really interesting. Guess where his doubts about the Bible and Christianity first surfaced? As a seminary student.
Spong describes his experiences in zoology classes, where he was mentored by Dr. Claiborne Jones. The professor was, according to Spong, ‘the first Darwinian Christian I had ever met.’1 In the beginning, the young Spong made a stand for the Bible.
‘In those classes I tried to defend the literal creation story against Darwin’s theory. Claiborne Jones was always gracious, but even I knew that I had lost that fight.’2
The rest of the book is a frightening account of a man who abandoned orthodox Christianity, and who now uses his position of influence to encourage others to do the same.
The history in Genesis 1–11 is foundational to the rest of the Bible. If you wanted to get rid of Christianity, what’s the best way to do it? The best way would be to get rid of the history, because once the history is gone, it’s then just some pie-in-the-sky religion, divorced from its foundation. Ultimately it will collapse.
That’s exactly what’s happened.
It’s fairly obvious that our culture today is post-Christian. Rape, embezzlement, infidelity, the most heinous murders—these and many more wrongs are increasingly rampant, compared to just a few generations ago. The real reason is because our foundation has been undermined.
Christians are out in the culture saying that abortion is wrong, homosexual behavior is wrong, and do you know what the world is saying? They’re saying, ‘What are you talking about? Science has proved that the Bible can’t be trusted, so its outdated “rules” aren’t for me.’
But here we are in the church preaching Christian morality. The world understands this connection, or, rather, disconnection. If the Bible isn’t true in some parts, Christianity offers no hope to anyone.
Popular talk show host Larry King made an interesting statement in World magazine. He talked about problems he had with the Bible (and, evidently, no-one ever helped him with these difficulties): ‘The God of the Old Testament, I didn’t like the things He did … I remember thinking, Why would He [ask Abraham to sacrifice his son]? As a test? So I said to myself, I don’t know. I just don’t know. That’s still true to this day.’3
Larry King deserves answers! The truth is, almost the whole culture resembles Larry King. There are millions of people walking around, looking for peace and an answer to their problems.
The church today is recognizing there’s a problem; we’re not connecting with the world. Yet most leaders and even lay people are loath to look at the foundational issues.
Kenneth Carder, the resident bishop of Mississippi for the United Methodist Church, was relating a perplexing problem to the denomination’s board of discipleship. Carder lamented the decline of a ‘once-prominent’ church in Mississippi whose membership had dwindled over the course of a century from 1,000 to 17. Now the church was closing. According to an article from the United Methodist News Service: ‘Noting that the church used official United Methodist resources, rituals and curriculum, had won an award for evangelism and was Methodist to the core, the bishop wondered why it was closing and what it had missed. The answer, he said, was that the church was in a neighborhood in transition and had not reached out to the people around it.’4
No, that church closed precisely because of the reasons cited earlier: it used UMC resources and curriculum, and it ‘was Methodist to the core.’
Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not picking on the United Methodist Church. An important point needs to be made, though. If you’re an individual, a church or a denomination, and you say that we don’t have to agree on the literal six days of creation, you’ve lost the battle. You’ve lost your churches, literally.
If the events of Jesus Christ’s birth, death and resurrection didn’t happen in history, then how can we be saved?
Think about it. If the events of Jesus Christ’s birth, death and resurrection didn’t happen in history, then how can we be saved? If we all don’t go back to one man in history, a literal man in a literal garden (and the mainline churches do not believe this), then who are we? Where did we come from?
As I travel and speak, I do sometimes get depressed when I talk to Christian leaders who tell me that Genesis is a metaphor. If Genesis is a metaphor, what about the account of Adam and Eve? Well, it’s a metaphor. If it’s a metaphor, then what about the genealogies in the Bible? In the New Testament and in Chronicles, you’ll notice something. All of these genealogies—of real people—are traced directly to Christ. So you’re telling me that this real person goes back to that real person, who goes back to another real person who goes back to … a metaphor?
This is the tortured, convoluted message given by our modern churches to a hurting world searching for answers. It’s perhaps a wonder that many congregations last as long as they do.
Do you have any idea what kind of scholarship has been influencing our churches for over a hundred years?
In the 18th and 19th centuries, some in the new field of geology began to assign long ages to the earth, realizing this would undermine the biblical record. Sadly, it was the clergy that rushed to embrace this new philosophy, and we see today the sorry outcome.
The Interpreter’s Bible, a commentary set that came into the mainline churches like a tidal wave, was dominated by writers who assigned Genesis to the realm of myth. Men like Walter Russell Bowie (who would influence a young Jack Spong) introduced the subtly blasphemous idea that the Bible was influenced by Babylonian myth. This teaching opened up an assault on the Christian faith that has only intensified.
This literature in turn has worked its leaven into modern curricula. So should we be surprised when churches like the one in Mississippi close their doors? What is the point of going to church, when church leaders basically state that the history upon which the entire life-transforming message of Christianity is based is really a bunch of campfire stories?
All through books like The Interpreter’s Bible, we are soothingly assured that Genesis 1–11 does not have to be taken literally. In all this, somehow, leaders are baffled over the sharp declines in church membership and even attendance.
When the historical connection to the ‘genesis’ of sin is severed, the results are predictable.
A 1998 Associated Press reporter perhaps unwittingly illustrated this fact. An article appeared, detailing Sunday services at Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C., the home church of [USA former] President and Mrs. Bill Clinton.5
Embroiled in the scandal of his affair with a White House intern, Bill Clinton joined other parishioners in listening to the sermon of Rev. Philip Wogaman. The reverend, a champion of liberal causes on many fronts, was defending the president. Oddly, Wogaman alluded to Genesis: ‘A number of things have been happening this week. Some would say: “Is this the time for an academic sermon on the Bible?” Isn’t it exactly right for us to be looking at the Bible? The Bible is about human beings and their humanity and it is directed at human beings in their humanity.’
According to the article, ‘Wogaman drew a distinction between taking the Bible seriously and taking it literally. Referring to the story of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden, Wogaman said the truths the story illuminates are what’s important, not the literal facts given in the story.’ Or, as Wogaman put it, ‘There is a difference between fact and truth.’
With logic like this from prominent religious leaders, it shouldn’t surprise us that moral relativism has enveloped the culture.
Mainline church leaders are not the only ones who distort Genesis, thus losing their position of moral influence. In a series of interviews in the mid-1990s, television producer Hugh Hewitt interviewed several of the leading religious leaders of our day. One particularly fascinating interview was with Charles Colson, the founder of Prison Fellowship.6
Midway through the interview, Hewitt asked, ‘The creation story—seven days—do you believe that?’ Colson then launched into a strange answer:
The Bible is not like any other book, but you have to read it like any other book. Parables are parables. Poetry is poetry. Metaphors are metaphors. Allegories are allegories. Where you have to be careful (and scholars spend a lot of time on this) is reading a didactic teaching as didactic teaching, reading historical accounts as clearly historical accounts, and reading parables as parables. When it says that the heavens declare the glory of God, well, we know that the heavens don’t speak. We use the same kinds of expressions in modern American language. We say the mountains clap their hands. We say that the sun rises. But the sun doesn’t rise. Obviously. We know that. But that’s a figure of speech. And the Bible is replete with figures of speech that people could understand. And they have to be read as figures of speech. Now, you asked specifically about the seven days. No, I believe that those are seven ages. Actually, I don’t think it matters whether it was seven literal days or not.
You see, Colson has, despite good intentions, unlocked a door. He’s allowing thinking and beliefs about long ages, based on presuppositions from outside the Bible—ones which are anti-God to the core—to influence his understanding of history, which in turn influences the way he approaches the Bible in this area. A follow-up question from Hewitt, regarding why God would allow suffering, elicited a sad, but understandable, answer from Colson: ‘I don’t know.’
How can he give an answer, because if you believe in long ages, you must believe that death and suffering could not have only entered the world after Adam’s sin, as we have shown.
You see, we’ve disconnected the Bible from reality. The world sees this, but the church doesn’t.
There is much work to be done.
As always, my thoughts go back to the only source of truth we have.
In the great Book of Isaiah, chapter 66, verse two, we read of a sobering reality: ‘
But to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.’
God himself is telling us that the person who gives proper respect to Scripture will find that he is pleasing the Lord. If we truly fear God, the Creator, then we realize that we don’t have the right to change His Word. Sadly, this practice is very common in the church.
Adding man’s fallible ideas to the Bible has left the church almost impotent in many places. The first false step was ‘reimagining’ Genesis; after that, the world saw our hypocrisy and left our pews and Bible study groups to find meaning in other religions and other quests.
Perhaps you are a pastor. I know how difficult that special calling can be. It’s tough at times. Whether you are struggling with a tiny congregation or a mega-church in turmoil, I urge you to come back to the whole Word of God. In your office, prayerfully consider using creation evangelism. I’m not saying all your problems will disappear, but if we are a people of the Book—if we say that the Bible is our rock, our touchstone of truth, turn to it unashamedly. Make it the foundation of your thinking in every area, and begin to lead your congregation along that path.
Whoever we may be, we need to ask ourselves, ‘Where is our allegiance? To the words of God, or the plans, programs and opinions of mere men? Whom do we tremble at?’