There is something to be said for the opinion that "The issue is truth vs falsehood, good vs evil." Centuries ago they were asking, Is it true or false that the earth is spherical? Is it true or false that the earth revolves around the sun? Today we are asking, Is it true or false that the universe is 15 billion years old? Is it true or false that the human race can be traced back about 160,000 years to a single female living in a larger clan? Is it true or false that humans have animal ancestors?
If the answer to these questions is Yes, then there will have to be a lot of rethinking of our theology and of our way of understanding Genesis.
John, you want me to respond. OK.
Item # 1. 1) The author </em>(Walhout<em>) frames the whole thing in a reading of history that is simply inaccurate. Purgatory, indulgences, relics, etc. did not form the "backbone of Christianity" 500 years ago. When these became too important, the Reformation happened. To put creation, sin and salvation (think Apostles Creed) on par with these is simply wrong.
Response. I believe in creation, sin and salvation. I also believe in the Apostles’ Creed. I would not put the items mentioned “on a par with” more important doctrines. I am simply affirming that the time has come when God is asking us to re-examine our traditional formulations in the light of scientific discoveries, and if found defective, to improve them. Who knows, it may even result in another upheaval the size of the Reformation?
Item # 2. 2) Apart from the concluding blurb from a synodical report, Walhout fails to mention anything about how the church has already been wrestling with these issues for the past 150 years. This includes the various ways Genesis 1 has been interpreted well before Darwin came along, the numerous scholars who have described Adam and Eve as the representative head of the human race, and the work of scholars today in wrestling with these questions (i.e. books and articles by the Haarsmas at Calvin College).
Response. It is because I have read these and similar books and articles that I have come to the conclusions I have. There isn’t room in one Banner article to summarize all that; I articulated the insights that such documents have suggested to me.
Item # 3. 3) This article lacks helpful distinctions, such as the difference between evolution and naturalism,
which help us ask and answer the important questions.
Response. What one person considers “the important questions” will probably vary from person to person. I addressed those that were important to me, and in my judgment important for the church as a whole to address. To expose what the article does not do may help some, but it would be much more helpful to address the items it does propose (as in the next item #4).
Item # 4. 4) He does suggest evolutionary theory calls for a reworking of doctrines like creation, sin and salvation. About sin, he says, "We will have to find a much better way of understanding what sin is, where it comes from, and what its consequences are. Theologians will have to find a new way of articulating a truly biblical doctrine of sin and what effect it has on us." In other words, evolutionary theory will enable theologians to be true to the Bible in our theological articulations. The implication being that now we will really understand the Bible. I think the problems in this are obvious. I am a bit floored that anyone in this forum might suggest that sin and salvaiton are not core doctrines of the Christian faith.
Response. I did not suggest that sin and salvation are not core doctrines of the Christian faith. They are. I simply suggested that we may need to find a better way of understanding them. The paradigm of developmentalism will help us to do that.
Item # 5. 5) The author makes a prediction about the future, a prophetic claim, if you will. If history teaches us anything, it teaches us that we humans with our best sciences cannot predict the future. Unless Walhout
received this from God himself (including being from Scripture), he should not put this forward as something that will inevitably happen. Being a false prophet is a serious matter in the Bible."
Response. What prediction is he talking about? That people a millennium from now might look back on our times with amazement? If so, I do plead guilty. It’s interesting that he says history teaches us we cannot predict the future, but in this case I am pleading the actual precedent of history, the exact opposite of what my critic suggests! From where did I receive this? Where does anyone receive truth from? All truth is from God. So, in so far as my article is truthful, of course it comes from God. I think he misread the article if he says that I am predicting that it “will inevitably happen.” It appears to me that it will happen, but this is a far cry from inevitability. And his last comment. Indeed it is a serious matter to be a false prophet. However, perhaps my critic should raise a mirror. What if it turns out I am right and he is wrong? Would that make him the false prophet?
You know, John, it is only of secondary importance for you to understand me or for me to understand you; what is of primary importance is for us together to understand God. I am hearing God speak to us via the scientific community, and, frankly, you appear reluctant to listen. You appear to be listening to what God said to our forefathers centuries ago but to be closing your ears to what God is saying to us now. Is it so strange that God might be asking us to move ahead in our thinking and in our obedience? You would not be wanting to close your ears if that were so.
John, I apologize for the suggestion that you may not be listening to God. I did not intend to insult you, but I guess I did. You have a much right to say the same of me from your point of view. For whatever good it might do, I withdraw the comment. I’m sorry for it. We are all trying our best to listen for the truth that God has for us.
Further, I have nothing whatever to say in reply to your scientific insights. I have no expertise whatever in that field. I can only say I have been convinced by what Van Till wrote back in the early nineties and what the two Calvin profs wrote in the scientific journal a couple of years ago, and what I heard from a biologist about chimpanzees being 97% the same genetically as humans.
My concern is theology and Bible interpretation. And I do see progress, development, in the Bible. Genesis One describes the successive stages in the creation, moving step by step toward the shaping of the world as God wanted it to be. Each day’s work presupposes the work of the preceding day. That’s development, is it not?
Similarly the work of God in shaping the nation of Israel in the Old Testament. Abraham was called out of the polytheism of Babylon into monotheism, the one only God of Israel, Yahweh. That’s a good and necessary development. God gave Israel the Torah at Mount Sinai; that too is a step forward for them, shaping a coherent nation out of a group of slaves. The return from Babylonian captivity was also an advance, once for all eliminating idolatry from the people.
I think we need to see also that the ministry of Jesus is also a step forward in God’s plan to save the world, the extension of the gospel to all nations, not merely to the Jews. So I see also this same process continuing as the gospel overcomes all obstacles in the ancient Roman empire, resulting in 390 in Emperor Theodosius declaring Christianity to be the only legal religion in the empire. That’s progress, development. Then look at what the gospel did for the barbarian tribes that overran the empire. It transformed them from destructive to constructive, producing the beginnings of the western civilization which we have inherited.
You have constantly pointed out the failures and inadequacies and evils that still plague us. Nobody denies that. But for myself I keep looking at what God has done and what he is continuing to do, and I am confident that the work he has begun he will continue to do until such time as he determines will be the telos toward which he guides all things.
God’s work has encountered major setbacks all throughout history, but God always has a way of using those setbacks as the occasion for making a major step forward in his plan to get us as a human race to greater obedience. We can have all confidence that God will use the evil things you mention in order to have us rebound from them into a better world. That’s what I believe with all my heart. This is God’s world, not the devil’s.
John, You write at the end, "But this is not a biological evolution. This is a spiritual renewal, a being born again, a dedication to God, and a fulfillment of God’s promise. It is wrong to conflate this with evolution in which God plays no visible role, or in which God cannot intervene.<"/p>
I trust that you are not suggesting I am defending a concept of evolution in which God plays no role. I am suggesting that the process of the physical development of the universe since the beginning of time can be characterized as the way God has brought the world to the condition it is in today, and that this guidance, this sovereign control, applies as well to the control of human history as well, all of this working steadily toward the telos God has in mind for the future.
John, in your last sentence you speak of "undirected macro-evolution." But what about "directed macro-evolution?" Directed of course by the Creator God as in Genesis One and throughout the Bible. Which, to my unscientific mind, would be what appears to be truthful Biblically. Do you suppose God could have employed such a developmental method to bring the world and the human race to the point at which we are today? My theological concern has been what effect, if any, would such a development have on our traditional theological definitions. There doesn't seem to be a meeting of the minds on that point.
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?)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Response to your first communique.
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.
Reply to Communique # 2 from John Zylstra
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!