Creation and Science...and Common Grace (1)

The report of the study committee of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) on theistic evolution is out. This 47-page document (with a 19-page concluding scientific postscript intended to overawe the layman with the wonders of evolution's explanation of the origin of the universe) is entitled "Committee on Creation and Science." It will be treated by the CRC synod of 1991. 

The report was occasioned by the teaching and public defense of theistic evolution by several Calvin College professors. Theistic evolution is the evolutionary explanation of the origin of the universe. Over billions of years, the world developed by natural processes without "interference" by God. Living things developed from non-living matter. More complex life-forms developed from simpler life-forms. Man developed from animals, probably one of the primates (apes). What is supposed to redeem the theory for Reformed Christians is the confession that God originally made the mass of gas that got the evolutionary process started, in the "Big Bang," and that God superintended the evolutionary process of this gas. 

In the beginning, God made gas. 

In order to harmonize this theory of origins with the Bible's account of creation, the theistic evolutionists must deny the historical reality—the truth—of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. The world did not come into existence in the way that Genesis 1 andGenesis 2 says that it did. The first man and woman did not come into existence in the way that Genesis 2:7, 18ff. teaches that they did. It follows necessarily that the fall into sin and the entrance of death into the world did not happen as is taught in Genesis 3. In fact, theistic evolutionists deny the historicity—the historical factuality—of Genesis 1-11, including the account of the flood and the account of the confusion of language and scattering of the human race at the Tower of Babel. Genesis 1-11 is not history but religious fiction. Different names are used to describe this fiction: myth (Strauss and Bultmann); saga (Barth); legend (Gunkel); primeval history (John Bright and Howard VanTill); and "stylized, literary or symbolic . . . stories" (the CRC committee on creation and science—p. 38). 

What theistic evolution is and what is involved in accepting it within the Reformed churches was very frankly pointed out by the Free University professor Jan Lever—ardent advocate of the theory—in his short, blunt book, Where Are We Headed? A Christian Perspective on Evolution(Eerdmans, 1970; cf. also his longer work,Creation and Evolution, also published by Eerdmans, in 1958). 

The report of the CRC study committee approves theistic evolution in the CRC. It maintains that it is "permissible for a biblically informed Christian to accept macroevolution (here, theistic evolution—DJE) as a working hypothesis . . . ." It denies that there is anything in this theory that is necessarily "inimical to the biblical account of origins." It concludes that we do not 'know directly from special revelation that this theory is anti-scriptural and thus off limits for the scientist who is a Christian" (cf. pp. 31ff.). 

The committee expressly recommends that the CRC allow for the possibility of "evolutionary forebears of the human race," i.e., that the first humans evolved from the apes. Two members of the committee pull back at the end from the full implications of their advice to the church. Agreeing that the inanimate world evolved over billions of years, they like to make an exception of living things and especially of man. Man does not have an animal-ancestry, but has as his origin a distinct creative work of God. In a minority recommendation, they ask the CRC to declare that Scripture and the confessions "rule out all theories that posit the reality of evolutionary forebears of the human race" (p. 44). The majority of the committee, however; recommends that the synod of the CRC not accede to this recommendation of the minority. One reason is that "many members of the CRC are working in this area and are considering the evidence and, what is not yet clear, the impact it may have both on scientific theory and the understanding of the biblical account. The church should allow them to contribute to a resolution of the problem. Further study in this area is necessary (pp. 45, 46). 

Since approval of theistic evolution rests squarely on the denial of the historical factuality of Genesis 1and Genesis 2, the committee advises an interpretation of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, indeed of all of Genesis 1-11, that takes none of it literally. All ofGenesis 1-11 is a "special kind of . . . history writing" (p. 14). What kind of "history writing" it is, the committee illustrates with its explanation of the "Tower of Babel story" in Genesis 11 (pp. 15, 16). That which is described in Genesis 11 did not happen. There were, in fact, different languages and different nations long before the time of the Tower of Babel. By the "highly stylized" report inGenesis 11, the Bible "intends to illumine the basic nature of human history when it is divorced from the God who is Creator and Redeemer." "In general we can say that the primary intention of the historical narratives in Genesis 1-11 is to serve the understanding of the unfolding history of redemption, not to present us with a detailed history of pre-Abrahamic times." The committee sums up this approval of the denial of the historicity of Genesis 1-11 this way:

It is consistent with sound Reformed exegesis, moreover, to acknowledge that the historical narratives of

Genesis 1-11,

like those of other parts of Scripture, are stylized and compressed and may not follow chronological order. It is also consistent with sound Reformed exegesis to acknowledge that the historical narratives of

Genesis 1-11

may be theologically stylized, so that a historical event or entity is shaped in the narrative to carry a theological significance far beyond the historical event or entity on which the narrative is based (p. 42).

Why the report insists on referring to the content of Genesis 1-11 as "historical narratives" when it does not believe that anything in these chapters actually happened as written will be puzzling to some. Similarly puzzling will be the report's affirmation of the "event character" of the narrative in Genesis 1-11 (p. 42). 

The report does not mean by this that creation, the creation of Adam, the creation of Eve, the fall, the flood, and the Tower of Babel literally happened as described in Genesis 1-11. Rather, these fictitious stories are somehow connected to history or to an event in history. Perhaps there is an event buried deep in ancient history (about which we know nothing) to which the story of the fall is connected. Perhaps these stories are related (we know not how) to events that never did really take place in earthly history, and that do not have to take place in our history in order to be "true." The CRC committee on creation and science is redefining "event" and "historical." 

But this gallant, almost desperate, attempt to rescue the biblical account of creation from the charge that it is pure fiction and fable fails. Creation is not some unknown event behind Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. It is the event described in Genesis 1and Genesis 2. Creation is not some event that is radically different from the event described inGenesis 1 and Genesis 2. It is the event found in Genesis 1and Genesis 2, exactly as described in these two chapters. If the explanation of the origin of the universe is not the event revealed in Genesis 1 andGenesis 2, exactly as set forth there, the biblical account of creation is not historical. It is legend, or saga, or myth. It is, in plain English, false. 

This is the condemnation of theistic evolution as defended in the report of the CRC committee on creation and science. It is not my purpose here to critique theistic evolution in detail. This will be done is our special issue on the Reformed doctrine of creation scheduled for May 1. All that needs to be noted here is that the theory proposed in the report on creation and science as a permissible explanation of the origin of the world is not biblical creation. It is incontestably not biblical creation. Everyone must acknowledge that it is not biblical creation, including the committee that drew up the report on creation and science. For it is not the event taught by the Holy Spirit in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 as the explanation of the origin of the world. It is not this event, because the explanation proposed by the report—theistic evolution—is not the event of Genesis 1and Genesis 2 exactly as described in Genesis 1 andGenesis 2. It bears no resemblance to the event set forth in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 whatever. This becomes glaringly evident when one compares the 19-page "Appendix" of the report, on the current scientific view of origins, with Genesis 1

Accordingly, the explanation of origins advocated in the report is not the content of the faith of the child of God or of the church, and cannot be. The content of the faith of the child of God and of the church is biblical creation. 

Neither is this explanation of the origin of all things the foundation of the truth of the fall and of the truth of redemption. For the foundation of fall and redemption is biblical creation. 

The report itself calls on the church to deny the fall. According to the report, the fall into sin and the entrance of death into the world did not actually happen, exactly as revealed in Genesis 3.Genesis 3 is unhistorical. Since the biblical fall is the fall described in Genesis 3, exactly as described there, denial of the historicity of Genesis 3 is denial of the biblical fall. 

Where biblical creation and the biblical fall are denied, as they are in the theory of theistic evolution, biblical redemption must be denied also. 

If the CRC gives final approval to theistic evolution, as this report recommends, the day will come (I predict, in the life of my generation) that a CRC synod will make a declaration that runs like this:

The church declares that she cannot bind her theologians and preachers to the position that the story of this conception and birth of Jesus in

Luke 1

and

Luke 2

and in

Matthew 1,

or the obviously stylized and theologized reflection on the conception and birth of Jesus in

John 1,

is to be taken as literally true. The traditional view of these passages would be compelling on scriptural grounds were it not that general revelation and the overwhelming testimony of scientific scholarship seem to be authoritatively telling us something else. Without wishing to deny the event character of the story of ]esus' birth, we must allow for the possibility that Jesus of Nazareth had a human, biological father. Further study in this area by our theologians is necessary.

When this dreadful day comes for the CRC—let the conservatives give heed—the doctrine of common grace that Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck injected into the bloodstream of the Dutch Reformed churches and that the CRC fatally infected herself with in 1924 will be the cause. 

The name of the report of the study committee on theistic evolution to the 1991 synod of the CRC is "Committee on Creation and Science." 

The name of the report should be, "Committee on Creation and Science...and Common Grace." 

This, I will demonstrate in my concluding editorial on this report in the next issue of the Standard Bearer, God willing. 

—DJE

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