Skip to main content

I would like to suggest that we take more seriously what we read in Genesis 1 about God creating humans to be his image, particularly in the matter of "subduing the earth."  This means that God wants us as humans to create our civilizations in such a way that they incorporate the virtues of God such as honesty, love, justice, truth, etc. in the way our culture functions.  History is the process of our learning how to do that, so that the closer any culture gets to this standard the more godly it will be.  African cultures need, as to all cultures, to be analyzed in this respect.  How truthful, just, loving, etc is our culture?  Christianity exists for that purpose, to disciple the nations, as Christ commands us.

Edwin Walhout

In addition to your notes, there is another perspective to add.

God used the Church of the Middle Ages to convert the barbarian tribes of Europe, a process pretty well completed by about 1000 A.D.

Also, and important, these converted nations were discipled to the extent that they had changed their national output from destructive (of the Roman Empire) to constructive (the renaissance).  This would not have happened had the church not disciplined them as it did.  But now, having achieved a measure of spiritual maturity, many of these peoples no longer required the rather arbitrary disciplinary measures of the Middle Ages, and broke away much the  same way as young people, disciplined by their parents, break away from home to make their own way in life.  We should see God's hand in this process, using the efforts of the church of the medieval period to further his kingdom.  See not only the human defects but also and more important the sovereign grace of God in giving direction to the process of human history in Europe.

Edwin Walhout

Well, John, I am somewhat puzzled by how to respond to you.  You keep throwing at me all kinds of scientific items that simply go over my head and to which I cannot respond one way or another.  On the other hand you are now presenting a lot of theological problems that you see with what what you think I believe.

            I have worked my way through many questions similar to those you raise.  It wasn’t easy and didn’t come quickly, but I have come to a new vision of how God works that seems to me to be a much better way of understanding human history than our traditions present.  Frankly, it does not appear to me from what you write that you are really asking for help in working your way through those questions.  It seems rather that you are raising them, not for your benefit, but for destroying my insights.

            That being said, let me say something about Adam and Jesus.  There is no serious question about whether or not Jesus was a real human person.  Paul does describe Jesus as the second Adam, the last Man.  So doesn’t this require thinking Adam was a real historical person?  Answer: No.

            There is no possible way of ascertaining what Genesis Two and Three describe as actually happenings at the dawn of human history.  Further, some of the aspects of those stories are clearly symbolical (a speaking serpent, a woman created out of a bone, a piece of fruit symbolizing sin, God walking in the garden, the location of the garden).  Still further, the Apostle Paul in Romans 5, where he compares Adam and Jesus, says that Adam is a type of the one who is to come.  So to abandon the notion of the historicity of Adam still allows us to retain the notion of this typological connection.

We can easily find the symbolical meaning of each element in the Adam stories, and then go on to see also the connection of that symbolism with Jesus.  For example, in the story of the sin of Eve and Adam.  The symbolism here is simply that this is a picture of us all; we all make the wrong choice apart from the Lord Jesus.  We are all sinners.  But Jesus faced his own temptations, and instead of yielding as did Eve and Adam, he resisted temptation because of his loyalty to his Father in heaven.  That’s the typological connection.  Jesus did what Adam and Eve failed to do, and what we fail to do, that is, obey God, so the significance of this is that faith in Jesus also results in our living in obedience to God.

We can do the same wih every one of incidents relating to Adam in Genesis, seeing first the symbolism involved and then the typological jump to see how that relates to Jesus and then to those who follow Jesus.

It makes perfect sense, but it does require us to be willing to give up some traditions.   Why can’t we think of Adam in the way we think about cave men, before there was even language?  The process that paleontologists are discovering about the provenance and development of the human race makes perfect sense.  Why should it make us think it contradicts the Bible?  All truth is from God, no matter who discovers it.  Scientists have made mistakes, but so have theologians.  Scientists work hard to correct them when they see them, and so should we when we see them.  And that, to conclude, is what I have been doing to the best of my ability in my retirement years.

            Also now to your latest missile.  I suspect you are barking up the wrong tree: What does it take for me to give up faith in evolution?  I do not have faith in evolution, I have faith in the God who created the world developmentally.  As I see that Roger has also said.  So your question comes across to me this way: What would it take for you to give up listening to God and listen to John Zylstra instead?  It took God seventy or so years to get me to listen to him, and I am not about to stop now!  So perhaps you may wish to consider the counter question, presented as bluntly as yours to me: What would it take, John, for you to give up your opposition to the truth?  (By the way, I had a roommate in college by the name of Edwin Zylstra.  Do you know him?)

Edwin Walhout

Dear John,  As I read the communiques you send I am getting the sense that you think that nature more or less functions on its own internal power, created of course by God, but that God is somehow out there watching so that at certain times he supernaturally intervenes, miraculously, to accomplish something that he wishes to do.  I don’t know whether or not this represents your thinking, but if it does I have to say I do not think it is Biblical.

            God isn’t just out there somewhere beyond our senses, popping in once in a while to make some adjustment in the world.  He is everywhere present, omnipresent, active in everything that happens.  That’s how he exercises his sovereignty, by the everyday and everywhere functions of the whole world, including human history.  So when I say I want to listen to what God is saying in nature, this is what I mean.  Trying to perceive just how he has been working throughout time and history, and still today in the world we live in.  He speaks to us everywhere and in everything.  That’s what it means to say God is the Creator and Sovereign Lord of heaven and earth.  He does not have to pop in from time to time if he is already here everywhere, active every moment in guiding the processes he puts into place.

            I have been long impressed, for example, with the Genesis account of creation, in which we read mentioned ten times that God spoke, and each time he spoke something happened.  When God speaks something happens.  Vice-versa, when something happens God is speaking in it.  Isaiah writes that the word of the Lord never returns to him without accomplishing that for which it is sent.  That’s infallibility, by the way.  So to observe what happens in nature and in life and in civilization and in history is at the same time to come into contact with what God is saying, and we need to do our best to listen, believe, and obey what God is saying.  That is what I have been trying to do during my retirement years.

            One other thing that bothers me about the things you write.  You seem to be emphasizing the negative rather than the positive.  You write at length about why this or that cannot happen in the world of science.  But what about the things that have been discovered and that obtain the approval of the scientific community at large?  I mean such items as the age of the universe and the planet earth, the process by which the universe as we know it is being shaped, the history of planet earth and the continents, ice ages etc.  Maybe the genetic structures of chimps and humans are not 97% as you write, but what do we make of the similarity itself that is there?

Why would it be wrong to try to figure out a scenario to explain all such items, and if one comes up with a developmental scenario, why would that necessarily be wrong?  Personally I have come up with a scenario that makes beautiful sense of it all, respecting both the Bible and what little I know of science.  But it does require some rather difficult adjustments in the thought processes.  Love.

Edwin Walhout

John, You seem to get sidetracked on scientific matters with Roger when the subject I raised is theological. By the way I’m with Roger all the way on that issue. I don’t think you could persuade the younger generation of people that the earth is only 6000 + years old, any more than you could persuade them that the sun revolves around the earth.
So I’d like to respond to something you raised theologically a while back, namely the question of sin. You explained in some detail how your mind would work if you accepted an evolutionary setting and tried to understand sin in that context. I respect the way your mind works but mine doesn’t work exactly that way.
What is sin if we no longer define it in the context of an historical Eden and the traditional theology of a literal fall into sin from a state of perfection? A very valid and critical question. It does not mean a denial of sin as your scenario sort of suggests. A denial of our traditional doctrine of sin, yes, but in no way a denial of the reality of sin.
Consider how the author of Genesis explains that way back in the origins of human history people became so bad that every imagination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. Then consider what our historians tell us about the ancient civilizations that they have studied: they are all based on violence, slavery, greed, self-centeredness, exploiting some people for the advantage of others, etc., evil of all kinds. Even such advanced cultures as those of Greece and Rome. The phrase, “man’s inhumanity to man,” says it well. That is sin. It’s not the way God wants us to live. So the reality is there, is it not? Even when we do not connect it all to a historical fall in the Garden of Eden. So sin is not merely how bad we treat each other but at the same time it is a missing of the mark with regard to how God created us to live. God created us to live as his image while we go about constructing our civilizations, but we aren’t doing it. That failure defines sin, not a mistake on the part of a first pair of humans.
So Christianity and all it involves is the way God is providing the necessary remedy, the internal power of the Spirit of Holiness, to enable us to work successfully at becoming the kind of humans we are created to be. The overall process of history, accordingly, is the process whereby God is teaching us how to be images of God. History is the process of our learning how to be human, not guilty of “inhumanity to man.” Obviously we have a long way to go yet, but let’s not ignore the real progress that the gospel has made in this regard since the time of Jesus.
Edwin Walhout

John, You keep writing about things that can’t happen; but what about the things that have happened?  What do you do with the items that science has discovered?

I think it makes a vast difference what framework of thought a person uses.  The objections you keep raising, perhaps correctly, all seem to be related to the attempt to explain things in terms of what is called The Enlightenment, the modern philosophical movement defined best by Immanuel Kant, in which the term God means simply a noumenal unknowable being.

But if we try honestly to put all the data of modern science into a truly Biblical and Christian framework of thought, then there can hardly be any valid objection to recognizing that there has been, and continues to be, a developmental process in the universe, a process we recognize as being in every instance the voice of God calling the universe into being.

Edwin Walhout

Thank you, John, for the courtesy of your reply, and for the candor with which you write.

I “seem to deny” that God spoke creation into existence?  I do find that deduction difficult to understand.  The fact is that I affirm that doctrine wholeheartedly and make much more of it than is customary in our theology.  So if we ask Genesis One what is the Word of God? we get the reply: that activity of God whereby he brought the whole universe, including humans, into existence.  We need to listen to what God is saying in the creation fully as much as we need to listen to what he is saying in the Bible.  Or don’t you agree that God is speaking in the creation?

You say that I am my own arbiter of what to accept and what not to accept in scripture.  Surely you can’t mean that.  I accept anything and everything that God says, whether in natural revelation or in special revelation.  Perhaps you come to that strange conclusion based on the recognition that the Adam and Eve stories in Genesis 2 and 3 can be interpreted, as Paul suggests in Romans 5, as typology rather than as historical.  This is not an arbitrary decision on my part to deny part of the Bible, but to attempt to understand both what the Bible teaches and what science teaches (special and natural revelation) without contradiction.  Of course you may disagree with that method of reconciling the two, but it should not lead you to make such unfounded and somewhat disrespectful accusations.

But taking into consideration everything you wrote in this reply, I think you didn’t address the main point of what I wrote.  I asked the question whether or not we are willing to listen to what God says in creation, to believe what he says there, and make whatever adjustments appear to be necessary, if any, to our theology.  It is indeed my conviction that the Adam and Eve stories in Genesis are typological, not historical.  And if this is true, then it seems clear to me that theological revision will be required.

Edwin Walhout

 

Response to your first communique.

Dear John,

Thank you for your candid and fair response.  You make excellent observations in the beginning of your comments, regarding what Paul writes in Romans about people being without excuse because they have constant contact with the creation that God made and through which he speaks.  Right on.  We have something at least in common!

     But then you go on to write, “I have a confusion and disunderstanding of your implication that God spoke things into existence while at the same time these things evolved from a spec of virtual nothingness.”

     I take it you mean, How can I affirm the truth of Genesis One while accepting the theory of evolution?  I do not find any contradiction here.  Why can’t we see that God employed the method of slow development over billions of years to accomplish what he wanted with the world he was bringing into existence?  So far as I can tell, to believe that what the scientists are telling us about such things as the age of the universe, the age of the planet earth, the appearance and developoment of life, as well as the emergence of human life does not in any way contradict what we read in Genesis One.  The scientists are describing as accurately as they can, with what they now know and are continually learning, how these things came to be.  In so far as they are accurate, Christians may understand that such truth also comes from God our Creator.

     And that is where, it appears, that you have your difficulty.  You write, “The issue is not what science teaches, but whether evolution is scientifically proven.”  I agree.  But it seems that where you and I disagree is whether the developmental theory is scientifically proven.  I don’t know whether or not it is even possible to prove conclusively that it is so, but from what little I have read I am personally convinced that this is the way God has brought the world into existence.  You are not convinced.  That’s fair enough.  The CRC as a whole is not yet convinced either, and I suppose that is the reason why Synod made the decision it did not to appoint a committee to investigate the theological implications implied.

     What you write about the typological interpretation of Adam involves is again good.  I know very well that it does not prove that Adam and Eve are not historical.  But it does suggest that if it should prove to be true that they are not historical, there still is a solid Biblical way of interpreting their significance in the Bible.

     You challenge me at some length to read the creationist authors you cite.  I have no expertise whatever in scientific matters and have not read very much along the lines of young earth theology or flood geology, but what little I have read does not appear to me to be convincing, whereas the other side of the matter does appear to be convincing.  I don’t consider myself capable of debating the science involved, and I do therefore rely on the people who do know the issues involved.  I recognize that the issue is still being debated, and I am content to let them work at it until some degree of unanimity is reached.  This may well take several more years, by which time I will be dead.  I trust the Lord will lead his church where he wants it to go, and for my part I am doing what I can to examine what the implications might be if indeed it becomes clear that the developmental theory is accurate.

     You write, “By implication also, if the first Adam didn't exist, then the second Adam also becomes somewhat anomalous or pointless, trying to solve a problem that doesn't really exist.”  This is indeed an important point.  But your conclusion does not appear necessary.  If the Adam and Eve stories of the Bible are not historical, they are still typological.  If Adam represents, typologically, all of us human beings, then the reality of sin remains and the work of the Second Adam is just as necessary as we have always maintained.  The problem of sin does exist even when Adam is understood as typological.  We are all sinners, we are all Adams, we all make the same decision Adam did, and we are all saved by Jesus who is like unto us in all respects except for sin.

     I have no problem with your bluntness and candor, and I do appreciate that you did not resort to being “somewhat disrespectful” in your response.  I think we must relate to one another as brothers in Christ, not unfairly judgmental either way, but allowing God to be the final judge of the issues involved.

Edwin Walhout

 

 

Reply to Communique # 2 from John Zylstra

Dear John,

Thanks again for your analysis of the idea of a type of Christ.  You write, “If Adam was not historical, then how could you have a typology of a one man who brought sin into the world? Wouldn't your typology simply be untrue... a lie... a falsehood?”

     The answer is: the same way Christian could be a type of all of us in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.  In that allegory the person of Christian is understood as Everyman.  In the same way the Genesis stories about Adam can be understood as meaning Everyman.

When, accordingly, I read Genesis 3 I can substitute my name or your name when the name Adam is used.  I am confronted with the necessity of choosing whether or not to obey God.  Outside of Christ I choose wrongly, getting bad results rather than the good results I had been expecting.  I find myself, consequently, outside of God’s blessing, outside of Eden, under God’s curse for my wrong decision.  Yet I also have the promise that the serpent will be crushed under the foot of the seed of the woman, an event that for us is past, having been accomplished by the death and resurrection of Jesus.

I do not need to maintain that Adam and Eve were real historical persons in order to perceive their importance for understanding myself and understanding God’s sovereign control over all of life and history.  In fact I find it a more powerful way of understanding how the Bible impacts my life.  Surely to maintain a typological view of Adam is not “simply untrue … a lie… a falsehood.”  It is, on the contrary, a most vital and humbling call to repentance and faith.

I take now the liberty of congratulating you on your personal interest in coming to understand the way God works and how the Bible functions in his plan and purpose.  Not many people take the time to articulate their problems and difficulties with new ways of thinking.  It is good that you do so.

That being said, I think we need to recognize that God reveals new things to us from time to time, new insights that require us to rethink and reorient our faith.  He gave the Israelites at Sinai an entirely new pattern to control their national life, the Torah.  He gave the Jews in Jesus’ day a new covenant which mandated that they regard the previous covenant as outdated and no longer in force.  He gave the medieval Christians new insights into the gospel at the time of the Protestant Reformation. It is becoming more and more apparent that God is now giving us new insights into the matters that scientists are discovering about the universe and time and life.

I find that what Moses said to Israel at Sinai is a powerful insight into this method of God.  “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that have been revealed belong to us and to our children to do all the things of this law.” (DT 29:29) There is always a great deal we do not know, but God requires of us that we go by what we do know, what he has revealed to us.  In our day this means what God is revealing to us via the scientific community.

You have profound doubts about the matters relating to the age of the earth and the provenance of humanity.  This is not a bad thing in itself; it is a process that the Lord is leading you through.  On an ecclesiastical level it seems also that the CRC is at somewhat the same stage, not being yet convinced one way or the other, and hence perpetuating the tradition.

For myself, while I am not a scientist and unable to argue scientific matters, I do think the Lord is calling us to better insights into his world and into the way he has been guiding its history.  It took God about seventy years to bring me to a breakthrough, so maybe there is good hope for you as well, and for the denomination we both love!  God go with you; he has all the time in the world to teach us what he wants us to know!

Edwin Walhout

It appears to me that this discussion is going nowhere between John and Roger.  John appears to be the ultra-conservative and Roger appears to be the ultra-liberal.  I find myself in disappointment with both.  However, I do recognize that John might well see me as a liberal, and Roger might see me as too conservative.  There would be good  reason for both opinions.

            I look at my stance as one foot in and one foot out.  I am, after all, an  emeritus minister of the CRC in good and regular standing, and that is important for me.  When I function in a somewhat official capacity in that regard, I do try to stay within the Reformed fences; as for example the article in the Banner some time ago.  I’m looking over the fence in that article but I haven’t jumped it.  That being said, in my private life, in my retirement years, I exercise the freedom of following wherever the Lord leads, even if that should be on the other side of the Reformed fence.  Which, I am forthright to say, is where I am in my private theological life.

            I hear the Lord calling all of us to new horizons of truth and service, and I hear that message mainly from the scientific advances that are being made in recent times.  All truth is God’s truth, however and wherever it may be found.  When God calls it is our obligation to listen, to understand, and to obey.  John points out that there are numerous unknown quantities in the scientific picture.  I suppose that will always be the case.  There will always be things we do not understand or know.  But God gives us what we need to know in our own times and circumstances.  And that is what he is doing now.  God is calling us to listen to new insights into his truth, and is summoning us to follow its lead by the indwelling guidance of his Holy Spirit.

            So that is why I may well appear to John as a raving liberal.  I’m willing and ready to re-examine and redefine our entire theological system, retaining that which is necessary but scuttling what is not necessary.  One person cannot do this adequately alone, so I am hoping and expecting that God will raise up better theologians than I to continue this work in the future.

            But there is also a sense, and perhaps Roger senses it more than John, that I am trying too hard to hang onto outdated theological positions.  For example, I am totally enamored of Genesis One, which I regard as the most important and influential document ever written.  So I am doing my best to orient my forays into theology using the basic insights of that document as the pattern.  I am discovering that the old horizons of ancient Jewish thought have been compromised to an alarming extent throughout the history of the Christian church, so much so that a great deal of what the ancient church defined as true theology is in fact a mixture of Jewish and pagan Greek philosophy.  So I am of the confirmed opinion that we need to go back to the beginnings of a theistic and monotheistic pattern of thought, and to understand the sending of Jesus in that context, without the admixture of subsequent theological definitions from the ancient church.

            So, to conclude, I see myself as more conservative than John and more liberal than Roger!  Blessings on you both!

Edwin Walhout

It's interesting where this discussion is going.  Roger and John going at it together, following up on their own problems and insights.

As I recall, what triggered this exchange was some comments I made about the effect of a developmental process on our theology.  We have wandered somewhat from that topic into items that have been debated for years, all the way back to Dort.  Concerning Roger's idea that Paul and Jesus contradict each other - I have recently written a commentary on the Gospel of John and on the Book of Romans.  I have found no contradiction whatever between the what John says about Jesus and what Paul writes.  But now here is something else you might wish to chew on.

THE TRINITY.  Ihave examined three distinct doctrines of trinity, that of the Apostles’ Creed, of the Athanasian and Nicene Creeds, and of neo-orthodoxy.  There may well be others that have appeared here and there in the history of theology, with which I am not conversant.  I have done my best to delineate and distinguish these three, and to push hard for a return to the basic Biblical viewpoint of the Apostles’ Creed.

God the Father is the creator of the heaven and the earth, the entire universe.  He is and remains in absolute sovereign control over everything he has created, including not only the vast reaches of space but the ongoing process of human civilization.  He therefore has a divine plan and purpose toward which he is guiding all things, and has produced a human race to effectuate that purpose.  That human race has emerged slowly out of animal origins and is slowly learning how to live as images of God.

We find ourselves in the twenty-first century at a certain place in that historical development, one which we can easily recognize as a definite improvement over sheer animality but nowhere near the perfection of humanity that God intends.  So we need to accept that vision, learn as best we can from what God has been showing us how to live and how to proceed.  We must not become mired in the past or in the present, but recognize that we are in process, on a journey, toward a destination, and therefore that we need to be open to the constant nudging and and prodding of God through whatever means he chooses to speak.

Jesus the Son, the second person of the trinity, is and remains the touchstone of our faith.  It is he, both in his life and in his teaching, who is the constant reference point of truth and life.  He incarnates the absolute best of what God wants from the entire human race.  He is the Man who incarnates perfectly what Genesis One pictures first as adam, created to image God in its subjugation of the earth.  There is no other such person.  Only Jesus, born miraculously of the virgin Mary such that he is not only the Son of God but also the Son of Man, born of a woman.  Jesus meets temptation and overcomes it.  He understands people who do not know very well what it means to serve the Lord God.  He puts himself at their disposal such that he allows them to execute him on the cross.  He also puts himself at the disposal of God in heaven such that he trusts the creator to raise him from the dead.  Having done all he could in one human life he ascends into the clouds, gone forever, leaving the field to his and God’s Spirit.

The Holy Spirit.  So we understand that God the Father is now exercising his divine control and sovereign direction of history by means of what his Son Jesus has done on earth.  That is, by means of the gospel and the church of Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit.  What God sent Jesus to accomplish is now being carried on by those who believe in Jesus and who follow him as best they can.  It is always God’s purpose and God’s instruction and God’s guidance that is in control, but since the time of Jesus this purpose of God is channeled through what Jesus has done and revealed, and thus by the Holy Spirit working in committed Christian believers.

But it is of paramount importance to keep our understanding of this process in Genesis perspective.  That is, of the explanation that humans are to subdue the earth and gain dominion over it in such a way as to image God in that process.  We are talking here of human civilization.  God’s desire is that we humans create a civilization, all of it, in such a way that the virtues of truth and love and justice and all around goodness characterizes all of our politics, economics, education, health services, business, and everything else that we do collectively.  All of us, not just the church, but the entire human race.  That’s the work of the gospel, of the church, to bring about that kind of civilization.  So that, let us confess, is the work of the Holy Spirit, the third item in the Christian trinity.

Edwin Walhout

 

John, You ask, “Your perpective on the human race slowly learning to live as images of God.... where do you get that from?”  Answer: Genesis 1-3, the rest of the Bible, and history.  What Genesis One tells us about the image of God and the cultural mandate means that God intends to have a human race that subdues the earth as his image.  Then Genesis Three tells us that God is not getting it from the humans he brought into existence.  Then the rest of the Bible tells us what God is doing to bring the human race along, step by step, in the direction of what he wants f rom us.  First Abraham taken out of the polytheistic culture of Babylon.  Then the nation of Israel to be shaped into a holy nation by the Torah given to Moses at Mount Sinai.  Then David and Solomon to typify something of the kingdom of God.  Then the Babylonian Captivity to eradicate all vestiges of idolatry.   Then Jesus to begin the process of expanding the work of salvation to all nations.  And so on till our times when the gospel continues to draw people from all nations into the kingdom of God.  Wherever large numbers of people follow the Lord Jesus, there we see significant advances in people working for justice, truth, integrity and all kinds of virtues that image God.  The result can be seen by comparing the best of Christian civilization with any and all other civilizations.

            John, you cite the imperfections that still plague us, but you should be concentrating on the huge advances we have made, or better, that God has made in the human world, recognizing that the evil that exists is still there for us to overcome by the help of the Spirit of God.  But always go back to Genesis One to define the goal toward which God is leading us, and do not belittle the effectiveness of the gospel in history.  Consider that it was the gospel that changed the barbarian tribes that overran the Roman Empire from marauding destroyers to the creators of a magnificent new civilization beginning in  Europe.  Don’t despise the real beginnings and the real progress that God has made in shaping the world as he wishes it to become.  God’s work is a work in progress.

Edwin Walhout

We want to hear from you.

Connect to The Network and add your own question, blog, resource, or job.

Add Your Post