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Thursday, 2 August 2007

Reclaiming and Proclaiming Creation

All Christians believe in creation – including those like myself who accept biological evolution as a mechanism employed by the creator. Thus you could argue that all Christians are creationists. Unfortunately, “creationist” has taken on connotations that make it an embarrassing label. In modern parlance it means not only “belief in a caring creator” as the historic creeds confirm, but also assent to specific methods and timings on how God realized his purposes, methods and timings that are little more than nonsense when viewed in the light of modern scientific evidence. I think I can appreciate the turmoil Egyptian Christians must have endured during the crusades when European “Christians” raped and pillaged their way through the Holy Land. I’m sure that many of these Egyptian Christians tried desperately to convince their Muslim neighbors that the title “Christian” should not be associated with the viscous, un-Christian acts of the crusaders. And I’m sure they had just as much trouble defending Christ because of Christians as we have in defending creation because of creationists.

Reclaiming creation will be difficult. But it is an essential part of the gospel. Even as Christians should never abandon Christ when other Christians bring the name of Christ into disrepute, neither should we be ashamed of creation simply because certain forms of creationism make untenable claims based on flawed interpretations of scripture. As I posted earlier, combating this type of creationism is important because it is dangerous. A more urgent task, however, is communicating God’s positive message of creation to a world that desperately needs to hear it. For there is purpose in creation, there is ultimate meaning.

For many of us, biological evolution is fascinating, but it is not the most important aspect of the origins discussion. Creation is the central truth. Genesis is very clear about who was responsible for bringing forth life on earth – it was God. Out of nothingness, a good creation was brought into being. The pinnacle of this good work was humanity, which was created in the image of God. And humanity was entrusted with the stewardship and care of creation.

Genesis also states that a central problem is human sin. Because of this sin, a gulf developed in humanity’s relationship with God. God could no longer enjoy communion with those he created in his own image, since the image was severely marred. The story of the destructiveness of this sin and the pain caused by this sin is developed throughout the rest of scripture. Genesis also states that the solution for this problem is God’s faithfulness, and this story too is developed throughout scripture. Out of loss and separation, through redemption, a new good creation is brought into being, redemption possible only because God entered into his creation, suffered with and for his creation.

The story of evolution may be interesting, even wondrous. I believe it provides even more reason to be awed by God’s handiwork. However, it is should not take center stage. Because evolution answers the “how” of the origin of life, it is therefore a dependent concept, dependent for purpose on creation which answers the “who”, “what” and “why”; it is peripheral to the questions of ultimate meaning in life. God could have brought life forth in many different ways, but it appears that biological evolution was the mechanism he chose. Through this process we obtain a better appreciation for the power and scope of his creativeness, for his patience, and for his insistence on cooperation rather than coercion. However, an understanding of this process is not essential to what we already know from the scriptures about his love, selfless sacrifice, forgiveness, and final redemptive plan.

Since creation is an essential part of the good news, maybe I shouldn’t be so hesitant to wear the label creationist. Maybe, like Denis Lamoureux, I should call myself an Evolutionary Creationist. It certainly is a more appropriate term than Theistic Evolutionist since it highlights the centrality of creation. But I’m hesitant to wear the creationist label since it would require constant qualification. I’d rather stick with the positive and simply answer “Creation? Yes!”

10 comments:

Jordan said...

I've taken to Denis' label, and have long referred to myself as an evolutionary creationist, rather than a theistic evolutionist. You're right -- as believers in a Creator, we are creationists in every sense of the word, and should do what we can to take the word back. In fact, what ties young earth creationists, old earth creationists, and gap creationists together is their common distaste for evolution. Perhaps a better term for this group would be "anti-evolutionists" or "evolution-deniers" rather than "Creationists."

Steve Martin said...

Hi Jordan,

Welcome. That’s great that you are comfortable using the label creationist, even with the qualification. I’m sure you get some interesting reactions though – and maybe that’s that point. Qualification can lead to conversation. I find the same thing with the term Evangelical. This sometimes leads to “Yes I’m an Evangelical but no that doesn’t mean X “ (where X is the current topic of conversation that has brought up Evangelicalism in the first place).

On describing the group of Creationists above as “Anti-evolutionists” that’s a very good point. Come to think of it, that might be somewhat the definition that Ronald Numbers uses in his book “The Creationists”, but I’d have to look it up again.

Cliff said...

Good post, Steve. Whenever I express my belief that the evidence overwhelmingly supports evolution, many of my evangelical friends are horrified. Evolution has been so villified by the very influential YEC people. The bias against evolution is so strong, and is so pervasive among evangelicals, it will take a very long time to overcome. (Some of my friends ask me to tell them more about what I believe "so they know how to pray for me"!)

Not only has the term "Creationist" been hijacked by the YEC crowd, "Evolutionary Science" has been hijacked by atheists, and sadly the church let them do that! I think it was Francis Collins who said--I love this quote and use it often--"Evolution was not Darwin's idea, it was God's!"

I think it would be helpful for evangelicals who accept the evidence for evolution to develop a simple self-describing term that declares "we believe in the Creator, we believe in Creation, and we believe in evolution."

~ Cliff Martin

D.W. Congdon said...

Steve,

Great post. I've never heard of the "evolutionary creationist" term before, but I'm going to adopt it now.

Jordan said...

Just stumbled across this nice little quote from Don McLeroy (chairman of the Texas State Board of Education) that exemplifies my point earlier that YECs, OECs, ID advocates, etc. are united by their hatred for evolution, rather than by a common belief about God:

"And one other thing about these lessons, big tent, and this is, uh, in the big tent of evolution we all have disagreements, but we’re united in one thing, and we’re united in what we oppose."

There you have it. "United in what we oppose." As Christians who subscribe to evolution, let us be united with those other creationists in what we commonly believe: a Creator.

Cliff Martin said...

Amen!

Steve Martin said...

Hi Jordan,
I think you have hit the nail on the head. One of the reasons I'm really uncomfortable with ID is that their "Big Tent" is the wrong tent. And in their big tent (which is really an opposition to evolution) they are including those that are little more the deists (eg. Anthony Flew) and even agnostics & maybe atheists. At this point, I'm pretty sure they've lost their way.

As you say, the important shared belief is in a Creator. The Tent needs to be a "pro-Tent", a tent for all of us that believe is the Creator God, a God who became incarnate in Jesus Christ. It shouldn't be an "anti-tent".

The question I'm still struggling with though is this: What do we do when other "Creationists" do not want to let us in their tent?

M said...

I always felt that the questions of "what?" and "how?" should be left up to science. The questions of "why?" and "who?" should be left up to religion. Religion shouldn't control the science classroom any more than secular science should control a church service.

It has always seemed to me that one of the best ways to appreciate all the wonders of creation is to study the universe using the amazing brains that we have. If God gave us these brains, and God created a universe full of clues that we can decipher through logic and reason, how can that be bad?

I never saw a conflict between "God created the universe, the earth, and mankind," and "the Universe was formed in a Big Bang, the earth is billions of years old, and all species on earth evolved slowly." I figured, if God wanted to do it that way, who are we to question it? If someone from a few thousand years ago, who had never seen a microscope, or a telescope, or even knew that the earth was round, tried to summarize the origins of the world so that people of his day could understand it, then that's great. But I can't imagine that God would want us to deny all sense of logic by refusing to believe what we're seeing with our own eyes and comprehending with our own advanced brains.

Yes, I believe the universe was created, and in that act of creation, all the patterns were set in motion to bring about what we see today. I understand that scientists are discovering those patterns. I feel that we should embrace opportunities to understand the true depth, elegance, and brilliance of all creation... not shun these opportunities and deny the intelligence that God gave us in order to cling to the teaching stories of the past. If we clung to everything taught by the ancient religions, then we'd still believe that the sun revolves around the earth.

Dan Messier said...

For all those interested: Denis Lamoureux just posted his explanation for why he uses the term "evolutionary creation" rather than "theistic evolution" on Science & Religion Today.

You can find his post here: http://scienceandreligiontoday.blogspot.com/2008/06/denis-lamoureux-is-evolutionary.html

Stephen Douglas said...

Thanks, Dan. Great site, by the way.