The BioLogos website has continued its series on a variety of views of the atonement in light of their belief in molecules-to-man evolution. Previously, we critiqued two posts written by Dr. Joseph Bankard, who argued that the atonement had far more to do with Christ’s life than with His sacrificial death. In this article we will examine two posts on the topic written by George Murphy, a retired Lutheran pastor with a PhD in theoretical physics.
In his first post, Murphy essentially sets the table for his second post. He explains what he believes to be a problem in Christian circles today—the lack of interaction between theistic evolutionists who think little about evolution’s impact on theology and Christians who think little about evolution when thinking through theology. For Murphy, it is unfortunate that the two sides do not have meaningful discussions to incorporate evolution and the atonement.
Evolution is a given for Murphy, so he proceeds on the assumption that a straightforward reading of Genesis 1–3 cannot be accurate. In fact, he claims that the importance of viewing Genesis 1–3 as real history is greatly exaggerated by “atheists who think that evolution disproves the need for a savior and conservative Christians who think our need for a savior rules out evolution.” Murphy misstates the case here. Even if our need for a savior did not rule out evolution, the truth is that the Savior Himself ruled out evolution when He said the Creator made people male and female from the beginning. We would actually agree with the atheist that evolution, if true, would disprove the need for a savior—or better, the Savior, Jesus Christ, who died for our sins.
Murphy shifts the focus away from Christ’s atoning work on the Cross to Christ’s life. He states, “We should begin by attending to the gospel accounts of the things Jesus did and said and their consequence. This means starting not with the cross but with what has been called his ‘active obedience.’ We can then begin to see how his life, death, and resurrection were salvific.”
Despite the fact that the doctrine of “active obedience” is debated among Christians, there is a massive problem for Murphy’s perspective.1 That is, if evolution were true, and if salvation depends upon Jesus’ living a sinless life (which He did), then how could He have misled His followers about the early chapters of Genesis? He affirmed the historicity of the first man and woman (Matthew 19:4–6; Mark 10:6–9), their son Abel (Luke 11:51), and the global Flood (Matthew 24:37–39). But if Murphy’s view of evolution is true, then none of these people or events were real, so Jesus would have been mistaken, and He would have been guilty of deceiving His followers. And of course, if Jesus lied to His followers, then He could not be God incarnate, and He could not be the sinless Savior of mankind.
The article redefines the atonement and deemphasizes the biblical teachings that Jesus died for our sins, and actually became a sin offering to propitiate God’s wrath (Romans 5:9; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 John 2:2). Instead, he writes, “When we are brought to abandon our idols and place our faith in the true God, we are reconciled with God. Atonement has taken place. But that will happen only if we hear the message of the cross and resurrection, not if it remains in the past.” This sounds good on the surface, and I appreciate his inclusion of the Resurrection (a truth many forget to mention when sharing the gospel), but there is a subtle equivocation (bait-and-switch) fallacy in his use of atonement. It is true that we are reconciled with God when we place our faith in Him. But “reconciliation” is an obsolete definition for atonement. When Christians speak of atonement, we are talking about the means by which reconciliation between God and man has been made possible—the death, burial, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. In this sense, atonement doesn’t take place at the moment a sinner trusts in Christ; the atonement for sins already took place in history when the Savior bled and died on the Cross. Jesus Christ declared “It is finished” because the payment for sin was made once and for all (John 19:30).
In his second post, Murphy attempts to reconcile evolutionary beliefs with the atonement. He begins by stating that evolution poses a difficulty “not just to the idea of original sin but to ‘original righteousness,’ the belief that the first humans were without sin or tendencies to sin.” Of course, we agree with him on these points, but we disagree with his proposed solution.
Since we hold God’s Word as our absolute authority, we reject any view that contradicts His Word. As such, we reject evolution primarily because it is contrary to the history God has revealed to us in the Bible. The fact that evolution is bad science is a secondary reason for us to reject it.
Rather than sticking with what Scripture teaches and what Jesus affirmed to be true, Murphy states that “the picture of descent from a single Adam and Eve is not plausible.” Instead, he believes that the smallest number of humans that ever existed was in the thousands. Consequently, “any original righteousness that the earliest humans possessed would have been quite limited.” For Murphy, humanity’s sin did not begin when Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but when “competition for resources and breeding opportunities” led early humans to engage in behaviors that we would consider sinful.
Murphy rejects the Lord’s teaching about the first people on Earth, and he rejects the biblical teaching that sin entered through one man (Romans 5:12). He asserts, “Thus the idea that our condition is due to an abrupt historical ‘Fall’ from perfection and that all people today have somehow inherited a sin committed by a single human is virtually impossible to maintain.”
His belief in evolution does more than just undermine the historical foundation for the doctrine of salvation found in Genesis. It also severely distorts our eschatological hope. The Bible explains that “
the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs” as it waits to “
be delivered from the bondage of corruption” (Romans 8:21–22). We look forward to a “
new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). But if the world before the Curse brought about by Adam’s sin was full of suffering and death, as theistic evolutionists teach, then how can we have any hope that the post-Curse world to come will be absent of suffering and death?
Indeed, the Bible tells us that there will be no more sorrow or death in the future because the Curse will be gone (Revelation 22:3) and death will be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:26). But it also tells us that the world is cursed and we die because of Adam’s sin (Genesis 3:17–19); these things were not present for millions of years prior to Adam (1 Corinthians 15:21–22). Murphy rejects the latter truth, believing that God used the death of trillions of creatures to bring about mankind, so if we were to follow his line of thinking, we should also reject the notion of a deathless and Curse-less new heavens and new earth.
This series by BioLogos on evolution’s impact on the atonement should serve as a wake-up call to Christians who have ignored the damage evolutionary teaching has done to the gospel message. The writers in this series are right about something: evolutionary beliefs have an enormous impact on the atoning work of Christ. But we must understand that this is always a negative impact. It undermines the historical foundation for the atonement, deemphasizes Christ’s work of atonement on the Cross, and destroys the basis for our hope for a deathless and Curse-less eternity.
We do not need to add evolutionary beliefs to Scripture. The God who knows all things and cannot lie told us what He did in the beginning. The acceptance of evolutionary beliefs attacks God’s perfect character by making Him out to be a liar and teaching that He used billions of years’ worth of death, suffering, and disease to bring man into existence before calling that process “very good” (Genesis 1:31).