I have long suspected that the national leader of the world’s third largest denominational grouping would, eventually, come out against the biblical account of creation. Yesterday (March 21), Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was featured in a wide-ranging interview with The Guardian—a left-leaning daily newspaper in the UK. Although the Archbishop’s views on Genesis only comprised two column-inches in a four-page article, it was precisely these views that The Guardian chose to highlight for its front-page lead article: “Archbishop: stop teaching creationism” blazed the headline in large type.
Dr. Williams, the de facto head of the Church of England1 (also known as the “Anglican” church), was asked whether he was “comfortable” with the teaching of creationism in schools. “Ah, not very. Not very,” he replied. He continued:
I think creationism is, in a sense, a kind of category mistake, as if the Bible were a theory like other theories. Whatever the biblical account of creation is, it’s not a theory alongside theories. It’s not as if the writer of Genesis or whatever sat down and said, “Well, how am I going to explain all this . . . . I know: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” So if creationism is presented as a stark alternative theory alongside other categories, I think there’s just been a jarring of categories. It’s not what it’s about.
Could Dr. Williams, who implied that creation is not on the same par as the theory of evolution, be unaware of Article VI of the Church of England’s “Thirty-Nine Articles”? Article VI says this about the authority of the Bible:
In the name of the Holy Scriptures we do understand those canonical books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.
Dr. Williams is a recognized master at choosing his words ultra-cautiously, in order (his critics say) to maintain his seat on the fence. But as shown here, Genesis does not give us this fence-sitting option, and that’s why Archbishop Williams’s comments caused such a stir around the UK.
It bears repeating on this website that the historical style of narrative used in the Genesis accounts about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph in chapters 12 to 50 is the same as the historical style used in chapters 1 to 11. Whether Dr. Williams chooses to accept it or not, it is clear that the writer of Genesis firmly believed that he was writing true history, as he penned the Bible’s first book (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, as another Article of Dr. Williams’s church states). Moreover, the Reformers who penned the Articles more than 400 years ago knew that the vital doctrine of sin, for example, depends on a belief in the historical reality of Adam.
Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk;) but it is the fault and corruption of the Nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the Spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God’s wrath and damnation. (Article IX)
Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, under whose leadership the Thirty-Nine Articles were composed, was burned at the stake exactly 450 years ago to the day that Dr. Williams’s interview came out (March 21). It would probably not have occurred to Cranmer that four-and-a-half centuries later one of his successors would sign allegiance to the Articles without actually believing them.
There is a clear connection between Dr. Williams’s “socially liberal” views and his rejection of Genesis as the foundation of his theology.
Most of The Guardian’s interview with Archbishop Williams was actually taken up with examining his views on “moral issues,” including homosexuality in the church. Dr. Williams is torn between support for the U.S. Bishop of New Hampshire—the openly homosexual Gene Robinson—and the threat of secession by figures such as Peter Akinola, Archbishop of Lagos, Nigeria, leader of Anglicanism’s largest national church, who opposes homosexuality as unbiblical. I would submit that there is a clear connection between Dr. Williams’s “socially liberal” views and his rejection of Genesis as the foundation of his theology.
Returning to the Archbishop’s views on education, I recently pointed out on this site that there is no support in the English National Curriculum (or those of Wales or Northern Ireland) for banning creation from the school science laboratory. (See “Error in the UK Classroom” and “‘Wilful Ignorance’ of the English National Curriculum.”) Since the Church of England (and its sister church, the Anglican Church in Wales) are sponsors of many Voluntary-Aided2 state schools, they should be giving a clear lead on good science teaching and sound biblical doctrine.
It must be acknowledged that many Anglican churches teach the Bible as God’s authoritative Word. Indeed, I was saved in an Anglican church where the gospel was faithfully preached. But many others, including their current head, Dr. Williams, left biblical truth behind a long time ago.