Evolution and how not to be a cult

A while back, I bemoaned the conversion of R. C. Sproul from evolutionist to Creationist (“The necessity of extra-theological norms”). But now I’m happy to see (ht: Chaplain Mike) that Bruce Waltke has come out saying that if evangelicals are not open to evolution, in the face of its unanimous support across the physical sciences, then we will become a cult (see video). I don’t know Dr. Waltke enough to know if this has been his long-held position or not, but it is quite refreshing to see (1) a conservative evangelical, (2) who is thoroughly Reformed, and (3) an influential Old Testament scholar make such a statement. The conservative Reformed world is where these sort of claims are the most contested — entire systems are in danger of collapse! Take away Adam, take away Jesus. That’s the view that I recently engaged on another blog. For what it’s worth, here are some bits of what I said in the comments:

…Israel, as such, did not exist at the beginning of creation (or of man), but they did eventually provide a protology which, probably not historical in large respects (the talking snake, the tree of knowledge, the rib for Eve, etc.), is authoritative for a theological anthropology that comprehends the (historical) place of Israel and her Savior.

…God does not inspire Scripture by over-riding, in this case, Paul’s assumptions about the historicity of Eden. Biblical inspiration can, and does, include the finite material, at hand, of the human authors. Yet, it is still infallible according to His purposes and intentions. Similarly, we don’t believe in a three-tier universe anymore (with heaven literally above the sky), even though several biblical authors were obviously working with this cosmology.

…We need the imputation of Christ’s works and merit because we are sinners, enslaved in sin and unable to make a perfect/eternal atonement, not because Adam’s guilt is imputed to us. Federal categories are not helpful here — this is about ontology — but federal representation is, indeed, helpful and necessary when we turn toward understanding the remedy of this ontology of sin. In other words, a federal soteriology does not require a federal protology. Sin entered the world with Adam (actually, Eve, or whoever the first humans were), and all subsequent generations have been born as sinners (and, therefore, guilty). However, this sin and guilt is fully our own since it constitutes the most fundamental part of ourselves (without which there is no “self”) — our will. It is as impossible to disown our guilt as it is impossible to disown ourselves. Thus, it is impossible to lay the blame elsewhere (Adam or whoever). Hence, federal categories are not helpful here and are actually misleading.

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17 comments

  1. Kevin,

    Thanks for these thoughts, I’ve been thinking through this for a while too and I admit misgivings with simple reductions to federal categories.

    I’m trying to be clear about your definition of the ontology of sin: are you saying that it is the state of guilt, bound up with the possession of an enslaved, postlapsarian will?

    I’m just a tad bit confused . . .

    • Yes, I think we can say that, since we are born with a sinful disposition, we are born guilty. Even before we “actually” sin, we are sinners. Thus, our condemnation — apart from God’s mercy in Jesus Christ — is justified. Both the infant and the adult need forgiveness. (By the way, I have no problem with saying that all those who die in infancy receive this pardon, extending from the Cross, backwards and forwards in time.)

      Furthermore, this sinful disposition is fundamental to ourselves — it is our will. It is impossible for us to, so to speak, stand outside of our wills and say, “I’m not guilty because I didn’t want this sinful disposition.” Rather, we “own” our sin to the exact extent that we own our wills. We all desire our self-sufficiency until God reveals himself to us with mercy and love.

      • Ok, so where would you stand with regards to the nature (and consequent human will) assumed by the Son?

        Or, I suppose the more fundamental and prior question would be, does “owning” our sinful wills belong necessarily to human ontology? Or is it simply owning our wills that makes us human (apart from any sinful disposition)?

      • Tyler,

        I would say that, yes, owning our wills would be one way of defining human nature. As such, Jesus was human; he had a free will but without sin. For fallen man, the human will is corrupted by sin but not essentially changed. Thus, we can say that Christ has a fully human will, like fallen man, but wholly directed toward righteousness.

  2. Kevin,
    While I more than agree with your read on science and evangelicalism I am not sure the threat of becoming a “cult” is the worse. Granted the cult language has all sorts of negative connotations on this side of the pond it can be used to talk about groups that fail to encompass the rights of modernity. So if you are a member of a religion that tells you not to own private property, have sex outside of marriage, not buy things on Sunday, or how to vote, or that you can’t join the military, or wants to take the financial out of the realm that is private you’ve become a member of a cult. So what the church does in an effort to not become a cult is not take its call serious enough. Instead we let secular society name what behavior is appropriate for religion to have a say in and we don’t violate for fear of being named something else. But what we are allowed to have a say in is shrinking and soon we will be no different than the Elks club or Rotary (or the Episcopal Church).
    Anyways I hope the place we make this stand isn’t something as stupid as creationism but I think the Evangelical church is going to have make this stand someday. We maybe a “cult” but we are the church of crucified savior and maybe then we will at least be interesting.

    • Very true. I appreciate your words of wisdom. So, in other words, discipleship should be the mark of the church’s cultus.

  3. I am going to guess that for many the real sticking point in evolution is the origin of man. If I say “this rock is a billion years old” or “this lungfish evolved from this amphibian” in and of itself I don’t know how much emotional distress there is for folks. For strict creationists there is such strong opposition to the antiquity of the universe and to evolution in general mainly because (I suspect) it has implications for the evolution of humanity.

    If somehow it could be demonstrated beyond doubt that, in general, there was indeed evolution, but in the specific case of man there was a unique creation, then I think even a lot of creationists would make their peace with this area of science.

    I do not mean to use creationist in a pejorative sense. I’ve been on both sides of the issues. And, I’m married to a creationist as well!

    But it does seem as if some of the American Calvinist leaders don’t really try to deal with the issues. If we take the 6 days literally, then do we take the “windows” that opened up in the firmament to flood the earth literally as well? Surely there is no one who argues for that.

    On the other hand, I remember reading through a book edited by Ashley Montagu some years ago, titled “Science and Creationism” or something similar. It was very distressing to read one scientist after another who poured out some rather raw invective, not just against creationists, but against all Christianity. These scientists had nothing but venomous hatred (there is no other way to put it) of Christianity, and they were/are tops in their field. I find it hard on an emotional level to want to agree to any of their assertions even if “objectively” I should try to separate their philosophy from their science.

    I do see Genesis 1 as fitting into a framework genre. And I think we are permitted to see pictorial language at work as well. At the same time, I don’t get a warm fuzzy saying that the author(s) of the early chapters of Genesis are just like so many Hollywood movie directors. You know, they take a book, or a historical event, and by the time they’re through with it, the movie has little connection at all with what it was based on, or even represents the opposite viewpoint of the original book.

    I think I’m still holding on to some sort of underlying historicity. In any case we aren’t told the mechanics of how this all worked out. We *are* told about the ultimate meaning of these events.

  4. One followup: I heartily recommend Henri Blocher’s book “In The Beginning”. This is a wonderfully superb analysis of the opening chapters of Genesis. If you go to amazon the first reader review (of only two) has an excellent summary of the book.

    Perhaps one of the greatest dangers of reading theology blogs is the damage it does to one’s credit card!

  5. For what it’s worth, Kevin, Sproul’s “conversion” is not dogmatic, i.e., evolution isn’t a shibboleth around here like it is in other sectors of the conservative Reformed world.

    Also, I sat under Waltke some years ago (2002), and he doesn’t seem to have shifted much at all—just a little more vocal, if not a little more hardlined against YEC. I agreed with your comments over at Feeding on Christ, and Nick is a personal friend of mine; at the very least, I think his point about the necessity of a historical “Adam” is spot on.

    Wright, in his commentary on Rom 5, sums it up nicely:

    “Paul clearly believed that there had been a single first pair, whose male, Adam, had been give a commandment and had broke it. Paul was, we may be sure, aware of what we would call mythical or metaphorical dimensions to the story, but he would not have regarded these as throwing doubt on the existence, and primal sin, of the first historical pair. …Each time another very early skull is dug up the newspapers exclaim over the discovery of the first human beings; we have consigned Adam and Eve entirely to the world of mythology, but we are still looking for their replacements” (NIB p. 526).

    All this would go away anyway if folks would start reading Gen 1 in the way Walton suggests in The Lost World, with a bit of Sailhamer thrown in.

  6. Mike,

    I agree that the origin of man is the greatest difficulty, and I’m a bit ambivalent as well. A full-blown evolutionary origin of man will have to deal with the question of the soul — how or when did the transition from animal to man occur? Is there a non-material “soul” that is conferred at some point to create man? Is there even such a thing as a non-material soul (e.g., Nancey Murphey’s physicalist account of the soul in Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies)? How could a physicalist account of the soul better engage with a full-blown evolutionary origin of man?

    There’s a lot of work to be done, especially by dogmaticians, but too many dogmaticians are unwilling to take the creative steps necessary. And too many dogmaticians are deluded in a belief that “creativity” has no part in theology, which it most certainly does. Augustinianism, Thomism, Calvinism, Barthianism — these aren’t just straight readings of the text; they are creative readings of the text.

  7. Here it is, once more:

    For what it’s worth, Kevin, Sproul’s “conversion” is not dogmatic, i.e., evolution isn’t a shibboleth around here like it is in other sectors of the conservative Reformed world.

    Also, I sat under Waltke some years ago (2002), and he doesn’t seem to have shifted much at all—just a little more vocal, if not a little more hardlined against YEC. I agreed with your comments over at Feeding on Christ, and Nick is a personal friend of mine; at the very least, I think his point about the necessity of a historical “Adam” is spot on.

    Wright, in his commentary on Rom 5, sums it up nicely:

    “Paul clearly believed that there had been a single first pair, whose male, Adam, had been give a commandment and had broke it. Paul was, we may be sure, aware of what we would call mythical or metaphorical dimensions to the story, but he would not have regarded these as throwing doubt on the existence, and primal sin, of the first historical pair. …Each time another very early skull is dug up the newspapers exclaim over the discovery of the first human beings; we have consigned Adam and Eve entirely to the world of mythology, but we are still looking for their replacements” (NIB p. 526).

    All this would go away anyway if folks would start reading Gen 1 in the way Walton suggests in The Lost World, with a bit of Sailhamer thrown in.

  8. I agree with the thoughts about the nature of sin in this discussion – “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. Therefore Christ died for our sin, not Adams.
    Most of the leading evolutionists are atheists because evolution is an alternative to the Bible account. There are many difficulties with trying to fit evolution with Christianity (see http://creation.com/some-questions-for-theistic-evolutionists).
    I think that we should first trust a plain reading of the Bible as the primary source of authority, and that “science” is secondary. This is because science has theories and facts, but not necessarily truth.

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