Evolution, Creation, and the emergent church

I don’t think that most people on either extreme of the evolution/creation debate have seriously considered the evidence for the middle ground.

In most cases, when people disagree with me, I think it’s likely that they’ve considered the evidence I’ve looked at.  I think they understand where I’m coming from.  I think they simply come to a different analysis of the evidence.  And I’m fine with that.

But the evolution/creation debate is different.  The middle ground– the idea that God works through the evolutionary process, and that this is described in the biblical creation account– doesn’t seem to even merit serious consideration from either biblical literalists or secular fundamentalists.  These radicals have dominated the discussion and robbed a viable, living position that might otherwise have enriched the lives and faiths of millions.

My faith is deepened by understanding that Genesis is a poetic description of now-understood scientific processes.  I am filled with awe that thousands of years ago the ancient Hebrews were able to provide an account that is so consistent with the scientific understanding.   The only explanation, as far as I can see, for how right-on Genesis is, is a divine one.

Lots could be said about the creation of the cosmos, the earth, and prehuman life.  But for me, the most compelling parallels occur once Adam has entered the scene.

Adam and co. explicitly invent language, discover good and evil,  develops nudity taboos, and engage in the first murders resulting from passion not necessity.  Genesis less explicitly implies the discovery of monogomy, the shift from a hunter-gatherer to a farming society, the transition from being ruled by instinct and living in harmony with nature and God to looking for dominion and being guided by rationality.

It took the secular world thousands of years to come to grips with these developments being key in what it is to be human.  It’s so ironic that the bible gets so misinterpreted as old-fashioned.  It is so radical revolutionary and progressive when we look carefully at it. 

I recognize that understanding these process metaphorically leads to theological challenges… But failing to understand them leads to an equal number of internal challenges and a tremendous number of external challenges from the scientific world view. 

I guess my closing thought on the subject is that taking this view of scripture is not an invitation to a luke-warm faith, to comprimising that which is critical.  My prayer is that adopting a view of scripture that allows us to operate in the 21st century calls us out to even greater levels of faith, dedication, and service.

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jeffsdeepthoughts

The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

10 thoughts on “Evolution, Creation, and the emergent church”

  1. Except for the sun appearing on the fourth day, it has been to my long time amazement that such an early record should be so scientifically accurate.

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  2. Jeff,
    As one considers the extremes its easy to assume that those who reject evolution do so only because they think its in conflict with the Bible. Just know that there are many who reject current evolution doctrine became they think its in conflict with good, rational science.
    And my prayer is that people understand that adopting a view of Scripture that allowed people to operate in the 1st century is sufficient to empower us to live a life of faith, dedication, and service today.
    God bless,
    Steve

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  3. Jeff, this is really well said, and I appreciate the thought. We’ve talked about this subject a lot and I really believe you have an excellent, God-given understanding of what God has done and is doing here on the earth.

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  4. PapaSteve, thanks for your thoughts (and everybody else, too!)
    I respond to the idea that evolution is “lousy science” in the main blogs. I’d be interested to hear your reactions.
    I want to respond here by celebrating an area where we agree:
    Recovering a 1st century world view is critical. Seeing Jesus the way His disciples did is what it is all about.

    The challenge we face know is peeling away what has been added. The (mistaken) scientific belief that sun orbits the Earth had to be peeled away from scriptural truths in past centuries.
    We face a similar task in our generation… going back to the source.

    You and I probably will disagree about how best to get back to this 1st century world view… and even what this world view looked like. I think freeing people from the false dichotomy of science VS. Religion is the place to start.
    My assumption is that you see the dichotomy of choosing between false science (which you’d see evolution as) and creation science (which you’d see as more accurately embodying science)… my biggest issue with this is that neodarwinian evolution was arrived at using good science; the creation science attacks seem to miss the point.
    Even if neodarwinian theory was good science, I’d reject it if it was inconsistent with scripture. But I don’t see that it is.

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  5. Jeff,
    I finally was able to break away some time and look at your main blogs. It’s mostly a repeat of arguments I’ve heard before and yes, I still think it’s bad science. I won’t bother getting into the evidences for a young age earth, the non-existent geological column used to date the earth, major problems and circular reasoning with dating methodologies, etc. I’m sure you’ve heard them all before and are comfortable with your rebuttles. We are where we are.
    At the end of the day I see much of it as bad science, being led by a bunch of zealots with a motive and will do or say anything to promote the removal of God from our minds and our conscience who are being followed by a bunch of well meaning, good hearted people who want to find a way for “us to all just get along”
    As far as being compatible with Scripture, God says He created the world in six days. Romans says that death did not enter the world until Adam’s sin.
    Obviously, I don’t expect athiestic evolutionists to believe this but it amazes me how Christians can beleive that God can instantly turn water into aged, perfected wine, can command the weather, can overcome death; but that He didn’t create the world the way He says He did.
    When the evolution scientist that are driving the cultural debate will agree that there could be a divine Creator; when they will give the the Intelligent Design scientists a seat at the table; when they will acknowledge the possibility of a world wide, catastrophic flood and review the evidence with that hypothesis, then I would say that we have the beginnings of good science.

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  6. Ironically, you and I share some common views. They are simply directed at different people. I see the leaders of the creationist movement as zealots with impure motives and the followers as generally well intentioned but simply misinformed.
    I’m not a believer in theistic evolution because it’s halfway between the extremes… It’s not an issue for me of finding a middle ground for us all to get along. I’ll accept the idea that maybe some people adopt this position for that reason.
    You probably know that the Greek word that’s rendered “days” has some ambiguity around it… It can also mean an indeterminate period.
    As for Romans:
    I believe that our generation is meant to understand Paul’s words in this way:
    Before the first humans there was no one or nothing that was in the image of God… The prehuman primates lacked something that we often times describe as a soul. Death then was a physical affair, and not particularly tragic. That which died was not made in the image of God.
    As humans reached a point that they bore God’s image they rejected Him. Now, death takes on new meanings dismentions… It is not just a hunk of meat dying but the very image of God that dies when a human passes.

    There should not be any amazement for me, as a Christian. I fully believe that God could have created the world in the way described by the anti-evolutionary camps.
    I furthermore believe that Genesis is a fairly amazing description of the evolutionary process. If He’d been more scientific, his biblical explanation would have made no sense to the people of prior centuries. If He’d been more specific, God would have taken the courage implicit in faith out of the question. If for example, God had described the exact order that organisms evolved in, faith in Him would be a no-brainer. I believe firmly that the universe is constructed like an X-files episode: a natural and supernatural understanding of events are both plausible given the evidence. God grows us by challenging us to have the courage to take the faith-filled understanding.
    As for the beginings of “good science”… I think that the pro-evolution forces have done some lousy things. I think many have abused their position and made unscientific claims (e.g. Dawkins attempts at denying a creator) however, I also think that anti-evolutionists have made some of the bed that they now lie in.
    Part of this is in not taking seriously the full wieght of the evolutionary arguments: The fallacies of the the attempts to use entropy to disprove evolution is a prime example of an area that the ID and YEC crowd simply has not done there homework.

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  7. Thanks for the reply Jeff. Your hermeneutics however, just don’t work.
    First, Genesis was written in Hebrew, not Greek. And the text clearly says at the end of every day, “and there was evening and there was morning, one day”. Furthermore, the Hebrew word for “day” as described above is the same word used here – Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and forseasons and for days and years” . . .clearly using the word as “daytime” and later in the verse as a 24 hour period.

    You also misinterpret Romans 5. It does not say that “death entered the human race”, now image bearing or not, but rather that “death entered the world.” Other Scripture supports this in stating that Adam’s and Eve’s fall brought a curse to the whole creation. That state of all creation changed after the Fall and is waiting to be redeemed.

    I know some concepts are hard to communicate in this format so I may be misreading you but I find your comment “I believe that our generation is meant to understand Paul’s words in this way” a little disconcerting. Good hermeneutics dictate that we study the language and the culture to discern what the words meant to the original listener and the original reader, in context. We then take those lessons and apply them to our lives. We cannot take Scriptural passages and interpret their words with our dictionary and/or our cultural mores. If we do, we will fall into error.
    I’ll quit hijacking your blog. Thanks for letting me weigh into your discussions. Peace be with you.
    Steve

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  8. Thanks Steve– The only way you’d be hijacking is if you entered with malice. You’re being reasonable and I wouldn’t have posted on a topic like this if I was looking for agreement… Dialoguing, for me, is what it’s all about. If this conversation feels fruitful, I hope you’ll continue to pursue it with me and everybody else.

    First off, I’m embarased by the Hebrew/Greek thing. You’re absolutely right on this count.

    On this issue of whether or not a day counts as 24 hours– personally, I feel like I’ve been there, done that… I don’t see that either side particularly has anything new to say. (My job in this dance is to bring up the scripture around where God talks about 1 day for him isn’t the same as 1 day for us; typically, the opponent goes on to say, a day still means 24 hours… Then… well, you get the picture.)
    On the wider hermeneutics question:

    The gulf I see between our interpretations is something so basic I’m not even sure it counts as hermeneutics, it might be more like epistemology.
    You are right, we can not take scripture and contort it into fitting our expectations and desires. But we should recognize that God knows the truth with a fullness and depth that we’ll never match.
    He is good and he does not lie of course. Here is where we might part ways.
    I think you’d probably assert that whatever God says he means in the same way to all people for all time.
    I think he’s wise and great enough to create a narrative with a (pardon the pun) evolving meaning. I think most ancient Hebrews interpreted Genesis to be talking about 24 hour periods. I think God expected them to assume this.
    I don’t think God was interested in tricking or manipulating them. I think it served His great purposes to leave them with this understanding. Assuming that the evolutionary account is correct, he could hardly have told a prescientific society: “In the beginning was a primordial soup. I gathered together increasingly complex amino acids into protiens.” For the obvious reasons that they were thousands of years away from understanding amino acids, protiens, and the like.
    On the other hand, I think he expected us to view things differently. I think he gave us some amazing paralells between the scientific account and the scriptural one to spurr us on. But I think God meant for us to have a different understanding of scripture than the ancients.
    Peace right back at you.
    (Wow… what an agressive thing to do with peace. 😉 )

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  9. One last thought on Romans 5:
    I submit that the meaning that we can take from Romans 5 today is this:
    In humanity, God took a new risk. One the first humans rejected God, when they ate from the tree (and to be honest, I haven’t worked out to my satisfaction precisely what this eating “looked like”; I don’t know if it was actually one person, I don’t know it it was actually a tree…)
    Even though I wasn’t directly, personally impacted by the bombing of the World Trade Center (in the sense that I didn’t know anybody there and didn’t suffer losses on a personal level) it would be fair to say that terrorism entered the United States in a way it never had been before. I take Romans to mean this same sort-of thing.

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