Is teaching a straightforward Genesis divisive? Absolutely. Is this unexpected? Not according to Christ.
It seems that your major purpose statement is to uphold and defend the authenticity of Scripture. I agree that this is certainly a noble and necessary enterprise of modern Christianity.
But how do you respond to the claim (even leveled by some of my close, personal friends that I care for and hope to see trust Christ someday) that a literalistic approach to Genesis 1 actually hurts our opportunities to share the gospel? Because of the vulnerability of a literalistic approach to Genesis 1 in reasonable comparison to scientific consensus, it then becomes all to easy to dismiss the entire Bible, including Christ Himself.
This is seemingly an ironic result since your purpose is to make it easier for a non-believing world to believe the entire Bible. Rather, it appears that your approach only further polarizes and creates heated exchange between Christians and those we are to share Christ with. This is not the evangelism of the New Testament church. Please respond.
In one sense, your friends are right. They readily recognize the importance of foundation in beliefs. When one dismisses the validity and relevance of a straightforward Genesis 1, the rest of the Bible suffers—including the message of Christ. Some well-meaning Christians attempt to address this issue by either ignoring the first 11 chapters of Genesis as “not important to salvation” or by fitting whatever the secular world decides is “true” into what the Bible says. This is, after all, less confrontational.
However, a more important idea introduced in the first chapter of Genesis is not creation/evolution or the age of the earth, but that God was in the beginning. This isn’t a distant, white-bearded figure; this is the account of the Creator of all things who took a direct hand in making the universe: how He brooded over the waters directly Himself, and how He fashioned humans with His own hands. Genesis 1 is not just about how life arose or when; it’s about the uniqueness, sovereignty, and power of Yahweh, the God of the Bible.
Naturalistic science begins with the belief that no supernatural activity is sufficient to explain the complexity of the universe.
Naturalism, the so-called consensus, depends upon a simple axiom (and I’m pulling from Merriam-Webster’s): “scientific laws are adequate to account for all phenomena.” Naturalistic science begins with the belief that no supernatural activity is sufficient to explain the complexity of the universe. Some naturalists imagine that God somehow started the process or is Himself the natural laws, but they cannot allow special creation (that is, as they mockingly infer to be a cop-out, “God did it.”). So, when people say that creation has no room in “science” class, this is what they mean.
The importance of Genesis 1 goes far beyond the creation-versus-evolution controversy. The first chapter of the Bible introduces us to the One who directly intervened and made history. Literal or figurative, there’s no getting around the main jist of that statement. The Bible begins by contradicting naturalistic explanations, and it keeps on contradicting them on occasion. Three men in a fire? They came out alive without even a hint of smoke. Future events? God lays out what will happen hundreds—even thousands—of years in advance. What about rising from the dead? There’s plenty of that, too.
It is no surprise that Jesus Himself contradicts naturalistic explanations in many things He does: God becoming a human being, water turning into wine, healing blindness with a touch, making the lame walk again, making water a thoroughfare, stretching a snack for one into a feast for thousands, and even overcoming death. In fact, the Bible claims that Jesus is the Creator. None of those would make it into a naturalistic science class either. In comparison, Genesis 1 seems almost tame to the outrageous claims made by and about Jesus. No one comes back to life after three days by his own volition according to biology. Chemists will tell you that water cannot possibly just turn into wine. And any physicist will confirm that no one can walk on water. But those are all claimed about Christ.
If your friends will not accept what Genesis says because of what the scientific “consenus” tells them, then do you honestly believe that the claims of Christ will be any less of a stumbling block? Jesus claimed to be the Way to overcome death—naturalistic science says that death is final.
The message of the Bible is polarizing. Jesus dispelled any ideas that His first coming would bring peace: “Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division. For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three” (Luke 12:51–52). He put it even more bluntly as well: “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad” (Matthew 12:30).
Christ left very little wiggle room. One is either for or against Him, and that does, in fact, inspire ridicule from those who refuse to listen and for those who don’t want to acknowledge absolutes. This is why Christ warned in John 18:18–19, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” This, in fact, was a prophetic warning to the apostles who all faced persecution (many unto death), but it is also a message to us even now.
The New Testament church lived in an environment much more dangerously polarized than we do in America today. We need not go beyond the pages of the Bible to see that (though there is a wealth of other historic material). The apostles were jailed soon after Christ’s resurrection (Acts 5:17–20); Stephen was martyred (Acts 7:54–58); Saul scoured the countryside looking for Christians to persecute (Acts 8); Paul and Silas were thrown in jail for proclaiming the good news (Acts 16:16–40); Paul was ridiculed for challenging the accepted wisdom in Athens (Acts 17:16–34); Paul faced jail and eventual death in Rome for his beliefs (Acts 28; 2 Timothy 4:6–7); and Hebrews, James, and many of Paul’s letters tell Christians of the day to perservere under very real attacks. The New Testament church evangelized widely, yes, but it was a group that faced a great deal of turmoil and strife from those who did not want to hear the message. This was all because a man named Jesus shook up the consensus.
When Paul preached to the Greeks in Athens, he realized the Gentiles there had no foundation for understanding why Christ had to come or why they should accept Him. So, how did he remedy this? Paul showed them that in the beginning God literally created the world and humanity, and humans need to repent of worshipping anything other than the One True God and seek Him (Acts 17:16–34). In essense, He taught them the history we find in Genesis. He knew that if they did not accept that God created the universe and that man needs restoration to his Creator God, then they had no reason to accept Christ. Not all agreed with him (and continued to mock him), but several wanted to hear more.
The main point is that the message of redemption, which begins with the need for redemption, has never been a unifying message. It is foolishness to those who prefer “tolerance” to the exclusive message of Christ, who seek “rational” (i.e. only naturalistic) explanations instead of the seemingly irrational teachings of Christ, and who prefer no accountability for their actions beyond societal limits to realizing that there is an ultimate Judge. As Christians we can either accommodate their beliefs by watering down the message, or we continue to lovingly present what has always been true, keeping in mind that some won’t like what God says—no matter the package.
Ultimately, most excuses for rejecting Christ’s offer of redemption are simply smokescreen.
Ultimately, most excuses for rejecting Christ’s offer of redemption are simply smokescreen. If it weren’t scientific “consensus,” it would be something else. Supposed contradictions, evolution, the age of the earth, these are simply distractions from the underlying problem. The root of the issue is authority. Those who reject the Bible are rejecting God’s authority in favor of their own. And those who compromise God’s Word are essentially doing the same: rejecting God’s unmitigated authority, perhaps because of a desire to satisfy the flesh, for pride, or to avoid ridicule.
Christ’s message is not politically correct. It is, in fact, “sharper than any two-edged sword . . . a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). God’s Word is judgmental, divisive, firm, and unchanging. But it is also the key to knowing God’s love, mercy, and grace. Right and wrong, black and white answers, those are never popular.
We can expect that people will hate the message of the cross and salvation. Jesus told us that would happen. We should also expect those who are perishing to get angry, to hate us, and to try to silence us because we teach that God owns all of us and has the right to set rules for and judge us. Does this mean we should give up on those who are lost? May it never be. The most radical aspect of Christianity and of Christ’s teaching is that we should pray for those who hate us—pray for their salvation. If we really believe what Christ’s death meant, then we have no choice but to warn others—even if it means ridicule, slander, or possibly death (as is often the case in countries around the world).
If Christians, instead, try to add a worldly concept into the Bible here or gloss over a part there, it is as if they are saying that God’s Word is not enough and humans need to “complete” what was lacking. If they don’t believe Scripture is sufficient, why should an unbeliever? Christ bluntly told the compromisers of His day (the Pharisees and the Saducees) that they were forsaking the law (i.e., Scripture) because of their traditions (Matthew 15:3). Today, the “traditions” may be different (e.g., millions of years, evolution), but the results are the same (Isaiah 29:13).
Proclaiming the message of salvation is not an easy task. Jesus was the focus of a great deal of animosity because He told the truth, for He could not be contrary to His own nature. The apostles found much the same treatment. Should we expect better in a fallen world?
I pray that you will consider these words, study how Christ responded to those who argued with Him and hated Him, and remember that we Christians proclaim the real history of the universe, not seeking the world’s favor, but seeking to bring people to the One who can save them. Not everyone will agree—not everyone will like what we have to say—but we can do no other if we truly believe.