Christianity Today recently published an article titled “Ten Theses on Creation and Evolution That (Most) Evangelicals Can Support.”1 The writer, Todd Wilson, claims to believe in “evolutionary creation,” which means he believes God created everything through evolutionary processes over billions of years.
In his introduction, Wilson aims to promote Christian unity, reciting the classic statement, “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” He rightly prioritizes the gospel as an essential, but beyond that, who decides what is essential? Are we only talking about the essentials of what must be believed to be saved, or are we talking about the essentials of being faithful disciples of Jesus Christ? Our answer to these questions will shape how we answer the question of essentiality.
Christians can and should unite on the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3–4) and demonstrate charity toward fellow Christians who have different views on various doctrines. However, this does not mean that every view is equally valid or that we should not seek to correct those in error. The Apostle Paul urged unity when he told his readers to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1–3). It was the same Apostle Paul who urged unity while rebuking Corinthian believers for their divisiveness (1 Corinthians 1:10–17) and carnal practices, such as suing fellow believers and tolerating sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 5–6). He spilled much ink correcting false doctrines that had crept into their fellowship, such as a denial of the believer’s future bodily resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:12–58). And he repeatedly stressed the importance of teaching sound doctrine (1 Timothy 1:3, 4:6, 13–16; Titus 1:9, 2:1). So, we can be united with fellow believers in the gospel while still correcting and rebuking those who hold and promote false doctrine.
Wilson proposes ten points of what he calls “Mere Creation.” These are points that he claims most evangelical Christians, “at most times, have believed and should believe about creation.” We will consider several of his points below. To respond to each point in detail would require a book. As you will see, we can agree with most of Wilson’s headlines, but it is in the fine print where we must respectfully call out false teaching.
The Relevance of Genesis to Christianity
1: The doctrine of creation is central to the Christian faith.2
Wilson rightly states that creation is not merely a secondary or tertiary issue. He believes it is central to our faith because it gives us “the reason for and nature of the world God has made, as well as the reason for and nature of the creatures God has made.”
We can agree with these words as stated, but what we mean by them is very different than how Wilson understands them. He speaks of the nature of the world and its creatures, but if God used evolutionary processes to bring these into existence, then the nature of the world was originally very different than the one described by Scripture. Instead of being “very good” (Genesis 1:31), the world would have been full of disease, bloodshed, suffering, and death because God wanted it that way. It follows then that God thinks of these things as “very good.” It also means that when God delivers creation “from the bondage of corruption” (Romans 8:21), he will be delivering it from the state he made it in. In other words, God will be fixing his own mistakes rather than redeeming creation from the consequences of man’s sinful actions.
Creation or Evolution: Just a Matter of Interpretation?
2: The Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is the Word of God, inspired, authoritative, and without error. Therefore whatever Scripture teaches is to be believed as God’s instruction, without denying that the human authors of Scripture communicated using the cultural conventions of their time.3
Once again, we wholeheartedly agree with this statement, but we do not agree with what he means by it. Wilson states, “I have found it helpful in origin discussions to begin with a full-throated affirmation of the inspiration, authority, and inerrancy of the Bible. This is especially true for those who are sympathetic to evolutionary creation since they are sometimes unfairly portrayed as sitting loosely on Scripture.”
There is a good reason that evolutionary creationists (theistic evolutionists) are portrayed as “sitting loosely on Scripture.” They claim to view the Bible as inspired, authoritative, and inerrant, but then try to make the text mean something completely at odds with what it truly states. Ultimately, much of Genesis 1 becomes unnecessary and virtually meaningless. Since the timing and order of events contradict the secular model and its billions of years at nearly every point, evolutionary creationists reinterpret the text’s meaning in ways that would allow them to accommodate long ages. Indeed, in the book from which Wilson’s Christianity Today article has been adapted, one of the authors argues that “The text is not a lofty description about galaxy formation and other phenomena of little use to the average Israelite scraping together a living from the land. It is a practical calendar of weekly food production and communion with God (cf. Ex 16:22).”4
It has become quite common in recent decades for scholars to claim that a person can still hold to inerrancy while interpreting Genesis 1 however they please.
It has become quite common in recent decades for scholars to claim that a person can still hold to inerrancy while interpreting Genesis 1 however they please. While discussing nuances to the doctrine of inerrancy, Craig Blomberg wrote the following:
Finally, the reference to science does not imply one particular explanation of the origins of the universe. Thus Genesis 1 can be and has been interpreted by inerrantists as referring to a young earth, an old earth, progressive creation, theistic evolution, a literary framework for asserting God as the creator of all things irrespective of his methods, and a series of days when God took up residence in his cosmic temple for the sake of newly created humanity in his image. Once again, this is a matter for hermeneutical and exegetical debate, not one that is solved by appealing to the shibboleth of inerrancy.5
According to Blomberg, the battle over Genesis 1 is merely a debate over interpretation and does not infringe on inerrancy. This argument is common among those who believe in or are open to the billions of years, but where does it stop? Many critical scholars reject the virgin birth and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ because most scientists reject miracles. Hence, like the evolutionary creationist, they are allowing modern scientific views to override the clear meaning of the text. Should professing Christians who deny the virgin birth and resurrection of Jesus Christ be considered inerrantists as well? After all, it’s just a matter of interpretation, right?
Old-earth creationists of every stripe reject this comparison, but what’s the difference? Nothing in the text of Genesis 1 indicates that it should be read as anything other than narrative history. Some scholars claim to have found certain patterns in the text, such as allegedly parallel sets of days,6 or they point out supposed irregularities, like the fact that God does not call the second day “good,” but these do not change the fact that it is written as historical narrative and should be understood as such.7 In the same way, the Gospels clearly indicate that we should read the accounts of the Lord’s post-resurrection appearances as actual, physical appearances of the resurrected Savior. But that has not stopped some scholars from proposing that Jesus merely had a spiritual resurrection. After all, they can point to passages where Christ’s followers did not recognize him at first (Luke 24:13–32) or where they thought they were seeing a ghost or other type of spirit (verse 37). Are these clues that we should seek an alternative explanation? After all, that’s what we’re told about Genesis 1, and the people who make those claims have even less textual support to go on.
Little Evidence for Adam and Eve?
5: Adam and Eve were real persons in a real past, and the fall was a real event with real and devastating consequences for the entire human race.8
Again, we agree with the overall point, but Adam’s sin carried real and devastating consequences for more than the entire human race—all of creation, including the animals, groans because of sin as it longs for redemption.
While describing this point, Wilson betrays his claim to believe in biblical authority, and we get a clear view of what he and other evolutionary creationists hold as authoritative. Speaking of Adam and Eve, he wrote the following:
I suspect in 20 years’ time, support for Adam and Eve as real persons in a real past will be a minority view even within evangelicalism. Should this come to pass, I remain confident that the Christian faith will survive, even though this will require some reconfiguration of our deepest convictions.
That being said, I personally don’t find the genetic evidence compelling enough to jettison belief in a real Adam and Eve in a real past. I admit that the evidence is mounting and at this stage looks (to my untrained eye) impressive.9
Notice, Wilson currently does not believe the genetic evidence is compelling enough to jettison belief in a real Adam and Eve. But he says the impressive evidence is mounting.
He points out that there are two biblical arguments that keep him from abandoning belief in a real Adam and Eve: (1) Adam’s presence in the genealogies and Paul’s use of Adam-Christ typology in Romans 5, and (2) “the Christian view of salvation appears to hinge on the doctrine of original sin and the fall as an event” committed by a real person. But Wilson adds this caveat. “It may be the case that faithful Christians will develop biblically legitimate and theologically sensible ways of explaining the gospel apart from a real Adam and Eve.”
Why would “faithful Christians” seek to explain the gospel apart from a real Adam? Obviously, it is to get around belief in a historical Adam so they can follow evolutionary ideas. This would flatly deny the clear biblical passages that treat Adam as a historical person whose sin brought death. In addition to Romans 5, Paul speaks of Adam bringing death in 1 Corinthians 15:21–22, and later in the chapter uses Adam being made from the dust (not from an ape-man) to speak of Christ’s bodily resurrection and our future bodily resurrection.
So, what happens if more genetic evidence comes to light that Wilson finds compelling against Adam’s historicity and if “faithful Christians” explain the gospel without Adam in a way that Wilson deems legitimate? Will he then jettison belief in a real Adam and Eve? I think the answer is obvious because he has already jettisoned belief in the plain teaching of other teachings in Genesis, such as the timing of creation, the order of creation events, and the global flood in Noah’s day. Consequently, although he may truly believe he holds to biblical authority, he is merely paying lip service to it, at least in the early chapters of Genesis. Ultimately, like other evolutionary creationists, the authority Wilson truly follows in these areas is the majority opinion of secular scientists whose views are based on limited knowledge, are constantly changing, and contradict the inerrant word of God.
Scripture and Nature: God’s Two Books?
7: There is no final conflict between the Bible rightly understood and the facts of science rightly understood. God’s “two books,” Scripture and nature, ultimately agree. Therefore Christians should approach the claims of contemporary science with both interest and discernment, confident that all truth is God’s truth.10
This popular claim sounds reasonable at first glance, and it is true that “there is no final conflict between the Bible rightly understood and the facts of science rightly understood.” However, there are a few major reasons why nature cannot be elevated to the level of Scripture.
There are a few major reasons why nature cannot be elevated to the level of Scripture.
First, the Bible makes a clear distinction between the two. This world (nature) is suffering from the effects of sin (Romans 8:20–22), but Scripture is God’s inspired and inerrant word. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35). Yes, it is biblical to study this world and learn from it (Job 12:7–9), but we need to understand the fallen nature of our world and that there is a vast difference between nature and Scripture.
Second, unlike the Bible, nature is not a book. The Bible is a collection of books composed of propositional truth.
Nature is not propositional truth. Propositional truth is a statement or sequence of statements that are true. However, nature is not comprised of statements! Therefore, nature cannot be true or false; it simply is. If I held up a rock and asked someone to evaluate whether it was true or false, this would make no sense. True and false apply to statements. If I made a statement about the rock ("This rock exists"), then we could evaluate the statement as true, but not the rock itself. Likewise, when scientists make statements about nature, we can evaluate those statements as true or false, but not nature itself.11
In this case, the earth does not tell us how old it is. Scientists use several dating methods to estimate the age of the earth, but these methods are rooted in uniformitarian philosophy and depend on at least three major unprovable assumptions.
Third, evolutionary creationists claim there is no conflict between science and the Bible when both are rightly understood. But what they usually mean is that we need to reinterpret the Bible to make it match what the majority of scientists believe about the age of the earth. Instead, we should strive to rightly interpret the Bible and then use God’s inspired record of earth’s history to shape how we understand this fallen world.
Much more could be written on the points above, as well as the remaining theses Wilson presents. Throughout his article, there is a not-so-subtle undertone that many Christians (read: young-earth creationists) are nervous about or afraid of the findings of contemporary science. But we do not fear science because we know God’s Word is true, and we have seen time and time again that science ultimately confirms the Bible. Wilson also strives to convince people that the way evolutionary creationists interpret Genesis 1 is perfectly legitimate.
We do not fear science because we know God’s Word is true, and we have seen time and time again that science ultimately confirms the Bible.
We are united with fellow believers in the gospel of Jesus Christ. This does not mean that we should refrain from speaking out when a brother or sister falls for false teachings, particularly when those false teachings undercut the foundation of the gospel itself. Every old-earth view places billions of years of suffering and death prior to Adam’s sin, which not only attacks the gospel’s foundation in Genesis, it also besmirches God’s pure and holy character in that he must think a world full of suffering, disease, and death is “very good” even though he clearly has the power and intelligence to make the world without these things.
Rather than seeking to harmonize the Bible with the ever-changing opinions of man, we must strive to properly interpret God’s unchanging Word and live as he has commanded us, which may include the need to respectfully correct those who are in error.