In 2017 Wayne Grudem co-edited and contributed to a 25-author, 1000-page book published by Crossway entitled Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique. It was endorsed by many prominent evangelical theologians, philosophers, and scientists. For those who are not put off by a 1000-page book, it will show that biological evolution (i.e., microbe-to-microbiologist) is a scientific myth and contrary to Scripture, and therefore theistic evolution (the belief that God undetectably used evolution to create all microbes, plants, animals, and people) is a false teaching infecting the church. The book is quite helpful on this point.
Grudem is a gifted and godly teacher and arguably the most influential evangelical theologian in the world today. His Systematic Theology (1994) has been translated into at least nineteen languages and is widely used not only in seminaries but also in adult education in churches. His 2020 revised second edition (with an expanded chapter on creation) will surely extend his impact.
In his two chapters in Theistic Evolution, Grudem gives excellent biblical and theological reasons for rejecting theistic evolution. I will summarize here what I document fully in my in-depth article, namely that most of Grudem’s reasons for opposing theistic evolution are also reasons for strongly rejecting all attempts to harmonize the Bible with the idea that the universe is millions of years old. To be biblically and theologically consistent, Grudem should abandon his old-earth position because all old-earth interpretations of Genesis unintentionally assault the character of God, undermine the truth and authority of Scripture, and subvert the gospel.
Before considering Grudem’s arguments against theistic evolution, it is critically important to understand that evolution is really a three-part theory to explain all of reality by time plus chance plus the laws of nature working on matter (fig. 1). It is inconsistent, therefore, to reject biological and human evolution but at the same time accept millions of years of geological and cosmological evolution, as Grudem does. All three aspects of evolution are driven by the same naturalistic (i.e., atheistic) assumptions, as I explain elsewhere.
While he is correct to insist that the events of Genesis 1–3 “actually happened,” it is just as important that we believe when, how, and in what order God says those things happened, if we believe that all of Scripture is inspired and inerrant.
In his introductory chapter in Theistic Evolution, Grudem says that the debate is not merely about the existence of Adam and Eve or how they were created. Rather, he contends that Genesis 1–3 “provides the historical foundation for the rest of the Bible and for the entirety of the Christian faith.”1 He correctly offers several examples from those chapters but fails to mention other foundational truths in those chapters related to the age of the creation. Furthermore, while he is correct to insist that the events of Genesis 1–3 “actually happened,” it is just as important that we believe when, how, and in what order God says those things happened, if we believe that all of Scripture is inspired and inerrant.
So, Grudem is very arbitrary in how he treats the historical narrative of Genesis. There is no hermeneutically consistent way to take some of the statements about the length of the days and the order of creation events in Genesis 1 as figurative and ambiguous while also taking the statements about Adam being made from dust as clear and literal.
He begins with an analysis of twelve “theistic evolution beliefs that conflict with the teaching of the Bible.” I discuss all twelve points in my longer article. Here we will briefly consider just three.
First, Grudem rightly says that theistic evolutionists either deny that Adam and Eve were the first humans or deny their existence (i.e., they are a myth). Grudem rejects this by saying that Genesis 1 “tells how all things in the universe began . . . how things originally came into being” and “speaks sequentially of the original creation—the beginnings—of light, land, sea, plants, the heavenly bodies, fish and birds, animals, and finally human beings.”2
But if Genesis 1 tells us how all things were created and speaks sequentially, then Grudem must reject the big bang and billions of years. Because how God created things (supernaturally by his Word) and the order in which he created them contradicts the how and the order of events in the story of cosmological/geological/biological evolution (see figures 2 and 3). There is no way to add millions of years to Genesis 1 to resolve these blatant contradictions.3
After explaining good reasons to reject nine other unbiblical beliefs of theistic evolutionists, Grudem comes to wrong beliefs 11 and 12.4 Theistic evolutionists believe, as Grudem accurately summarized, (11) that “God never created an originally ‘very good’ natural world in the sense of a world that was a safe environment, free of thorns and thistles and similar harmful things” and (12) “after Adam and Eve sinned, God did not place any curse on the world that changed the workings of the natural world and made it more hostile to mankind.”5
These two points overlap, so I will discuss them together. These extremely important points are powerful reasons why Grudem should reject all old-earth views. In my in-depth article, I devote five pages of analysis to these points,6 which I briefly comment on here.
Grudem is right when he says that for many centuries Bible interpreters understood Genesis to teach that in the pre-fall earth, there were “no natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods or droughts.” They also taught that on the earth, there “were no animals hostile to human beings.” They said this on the basis of Genesis 1:31, 3:17–18, and Isaiah 11:8–9. It can be confidently asserted this has been the orthodox view not just for many centuries but for 2000 years. Grudem accurately summarizes,
But theistic evolution cannot affirm such an originally idyllic creation, because it holds that all living things as they exist today, including all the things that are hostile to human beings, are the results of a fully natural evolutionary process. Therefore, the earth has always been the way it is today. Therefore, the picture of an idyllic creation given in Genesis is not a historically reliable narrative.8
According to the Bible, that idyllic creation, which Grudem affirms as descriptive of the whole creation, did not last long. Surely only a few days transpired before Adam and Eve fell in sin.9 Grudem is correct to say that “the biblical text, if understood as a historical record of actual events, shows that God did indeed alter the workings of the natural world”10 when he pronounced his judgment in Genesis 3:17–19. Grudem continues with perfectly biblical and historically orthodox reasoning:
God’s words of judgment mean that the earth would not only produce thorns and thistles but would also harbor insects that would destroy crops (Deut. 28:38, Amos 7:1), diseases that would consume them (see Deut. 28:22), foraging animals that would eat crops before they could be harvested, and floods and droughts, tornadoes and hurricanes that would make farming difficult and life precarious (see Eccles. 11:4).11
He then says before quoting Romans 8:18–24 that Paul affirms “that the present operation of the natural world is not the way God originally created it to work but is a result of God’s judgment.”12 In this, Grudem is in harmony with commentators on Romans 8 down through the centuries.13 Therefore, he rightly concludes that “theistic evolution requires us to affirm that Paul was also wrong at this point.”14
Grudem then addresses the question of animal death before the fall of Adam. He is wrong when he says, “The entire Bible says nothing one way or another about the death of animals before the fall.”15 Here, he is ignoring many Scriptures and some of his very own biblically sound reasoning related to this question later in this chapter of Theistic Evolution and in his widely used textbook, Systematic Theology (1994). Certainly, nowhere does the Bible declare “there was no animal death before the fall.” But it says much that leads to the conclusion that there could not have been millions of years of animal death, disease, carnivory, and extinction before Adam as evolutionists interpret the fossil record.
To hold his old-earth view, Grudem (like Lennox, whom he follows) must also deny or ignore Noah’s flood. Simply put, if the theory of millions of years is true, then Noah’s flood was either just a big natural disaster in the Middle East, or it never happened. The flood could not have been the yearlong global catastrophe that Genesis clearly describes and yet leave no geological evidence. All floods leave evidence, and Noah’s flood would have left massive evidence of erosion and sedimentation containing dead creatures that would become fossilized. If we believe God’s Word about the flood, then it washes away the millions of years.
If we believe God’s Word about the flood, then it washes away the millions of years.
In 2005, Grudem told me that he believed the flood was global. But he apparently has now abandoned that belief since, in 2016, he heartily endorsed the extremely deceptive and erroneous book, The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth, which rejects Noah’s flood and which I have thoroughly critiqued elsewhere.16
It is vitally important to grasp the enormity of this biblical and theological issue of no death before the fall. If we believe what the inerrant Word of God says about the original “very good” creation and the fall and God’s curse on the whole creation, then we must reject not only theistic evolution but also every attempt to fit millions of years into or before Genesis 1. The story of millions of years of death contradicts God’s Word (fig. 4).
Grudem finishes his chapter by discussing eleven biblical doctrines to show that theistic evolution is not a harmless alternate opinion about creation but rather is destructive of Christian orthodoxy. I agree with all his points but contend that many of them are also reasons for rejecting all old-earth views in the church. In this summary article, I will briefly comment on four of those doctrines.
Grudem says, “Theistic evolution must deny that Genesis 1–3 should be understood as historical narrative in the sense of literature that intends to report events that actually happened.”17 But all old-earth views deny that all those events happened just as God describes them.
Grudem rightly says the question of origins is not a salvation issue but an issue of the truthfulness and inerrancy of Scripture, which are central points of doctrine. He says, “Once the truthfulness of Scripture is lost, the entire Christian faith begins to unravel.”18 Theistic evolution is indeed an assault on the truthfulness and authority of Scripture. But geological evolution and cosmological evolution are equally an assault on the same.
Grudem (like other authors contributing to Theistic Evolution) is concerned about “modern naturalistic science.” As philosopher of science and co-editor Stephen Meyer says in his introductory chapter, given the scientific evidence against neo-Darwinian, microbe-to-microbiologist evolution, we argue that theistic evolution devolves into little more than an a priori commitment to methodological naturalism—the idea that scientists must limit themselves to strictly materialistic explanations and that scientists may not offer explanations making reference to intelligent design or divine action or make any reference to theology in scientific discourse.19
But this naturalistic stranglehold does not apply just to biology and anthropology. It also applies to geology and astronomy. And more importantly and most fundamentally, it does not just exclude any reference to intelligent design or divine action or theology from scientific discussions; it prohibits any reference to the eyewitness testimony of the Creator in his Word in scientific discussions about biology, geology, astronomy, and anthropology.
Grudem and other old-earth advocates apparently do not see that naturalism is controlling geology and cosmology just as much as it is controlling biology and anthropology.20
Grudem quotes Genesis 1:11, Genesis 1:24, Psalm 33:6, and Psalm 33:9 to support his claim:
According to theistic evolution, there was no special action of God or intervention by God in the created order after the initial creation of matter. But the biblical picture is far different. It shows God speaking living things into existence by his powerful creative words, and the picture it gives is that those powerful words of God bring immediate response.21
In the cited verses, Grudem focuses on “living things.” But he overlooks the fact that the verses in Psalm 33 say “the heavens” and “all their host” were made by God’s powerful words, which brought immediate results. We can be certain God did not command the sun, moon, and stars to come into existence and then wait billions of years for them to evolve from gas and dust clouds into their present state by natural processes (as evolutionary cosmologists imagine and confidently assert).
These two points are also closely related. Grudem states, “Theistic evolution undermines the glory given to God for his unfathomable wisdom in the creation of all things.” He adds, “In theistic evolution God does not wisely create various kinds of animals on his first attempt, but clumsily, by his providence, brings about millions of failed mutations in each creature before he finds a beneficial change.”22 Two pages later, he also correctly contends,
Theistic evolution also undermines belief in the goodness of God, because according to this view God is responsible for (somehow) creating a world filled with deadly diseases, dangerous animals, and natural disasters that have brought suffering and destruction to human beings for the entire duration of the human race on the earth.23
But all old-earth views, including Grudem’s, have this very same problem. The millions of years are not empty time. They are millions of years filled with all these evil things that did not just impact humans (after they came into existence) but also impacted the plants and animals that lived before humans. The idea of millions of years of earth history is a massive assault on the character of God: on his power, his goodness, his wisdom, and his intelligence.
As Grudem says, based on Romans 5:12 and 5:19, the historicity of Adam’s sin and the unity of the human race represented by Adam are linked to the atoning work of Christ through his death and resurrection. By denying the former, “theistic evolution significantly undermines the doctrine of the atonement.”24 And since Adam and Christ are linked in 1 Corinthians 15:21–22, it also “undermines the effectiveness of the resurrection to give new life to all who are saved by Christ.”25 Put simply, if the early chapters are not literal history, if they are mythological or symbolic, then Jesus died for a mythological or symbolic problem, and he is offering us a mythological or symbolic hope. It is seriously inconsistent for Grudem to insist on the literal history of Adam’s creation and sin and the unity of the human race but reject the literal days of creation and literal chronology of Genesis 5 and 11. This notion of millions of years of animal death and extinction is totally incompatible with and contradictory to the doctrine of atonement and the atoning sacrifice of Christ!
The hope of the gospel is also undermined if millions of years of natural evil happened. Scripture makes it clear that Jesus’ return will result in the restoration of all things as the prophets foretold (Acts 3:21, Isaiah 11:6–9, 65:25–26) and the removal of the curse (Revelation 22:3) as a result of the Lord’s redemptive work in all creation (Colossians 1:20). The biblical and orthodox Christian teaching for the last 2000 years is illustrated in figure 5. By necessity, all old-earth views imply (whether Grudem and other proponents realize it or not) one of the unbiblical views represented by figures 6 and 7.
If the history in the Bible is not true from the very first verse, then how can we trust the gospel rooted in the truths of Genesis without being inconsistent? If the claims of secular geologists and astrophysicists are the hermeneutical authority by which we must say Genesis does not mean what it very clearly appears to teach about the flood and the age of the earth, then how can we trust what the Bible says about biology and anthropology without being inconsistent? The majority of biologists and anthropologists say virgins do not have babies, and dead men do not rise from the dead. So why do Grudem and other old-earth advocates not submit to the scientific authorities regarding those biblical teachings about Christ as they submit to the authority of most geologists and astrophysicists about the creation of the non-biological world, the flood, and the age of the creation?
If the history in the Bible is not true from the very first verse, then how can we trust the gospel rooted in the truths of Genesis without being inconsistent?
Theistic evolution contradicts many clear teachings of Genesis 1¬–3 and is a threat to orthodox Christianity. But by rejecting biological and human evolution while accepting geological and cosmological evolution, Grudem obviously agrees with John Lennox, who asserts that “no major doctrine of Scripture is affected” by the acceptance of millions of years.26 The fact is that all old-earth views contradict the clear, authoritative teaching of Genesis 4–11, assault the character of God, and undermine the doctrines of the fall and the atonement. Sadly, this great theologian misses these facts.
The church’s widespread rejection of the truths of Genesis as related to the age of creation is not the only factor leading to the West’s present moral insanity, spiritual darkness, and descent into political totalitarianism. But it is the most important factor because Genesis is foundational to all other biblical doctrines, including the gospel. Undermine the authority of Scripture in Genesis, and you will undermine the authority of the rest of Scripture. As Paul said, a little leaven leavens the whole lump (1 Corinthians 5:6; Galatians 5:9).
Grudem is seriously mistaken about the age of the earth. He should turn away from these erroneous views that are damaging the church’s commitment to the authority of Scripture.27 And Christians should reject his old-earth teachings while appreciating his other helpful writings and lectures. To see Grudem’s biblically inconsistent, old-earth opposition to theistic evolution more clearly, I urge readers to consider my in-depth article.