Creation, Evolution and Pastors

By |2015-06-04T11:27:32+00:00June 4th, 2015|Categories: Anglican Leadership|7 Comments

Did God create the world instantly ten thousand years ago? Or did he start the process of evolution in order to create the world?

For several years I led a parish book study, and it was one of the most personally fulfilling aspects of ministry for me. But it was also often quite provocative. One such moment came when we were reading Alistair McGrath’s book Theology: The Basics.

We were reading his overview of the Apostle’s Creed, starting with his discussion of “God the Father, creator of heaven and earth.” McGrath discusses five basic ways that Christians have understood how God accomplished the creation of the world, including young earth creationism, intelligent design, and theistic evolution.

When we got to that point, the room seemed to instantly divide into camps. All of us were fellow Christians, fellow parishioners, and we respected one another. We were also all book lovers. Yet we literally divided physically into camps. I’m not sure how it happened, but it seemed like I looked up and people had actually changed places to be near their group.

One group said that the only way to truly and faithfully read the Genesis account was to believe that God created the world about ten thousand years ago. Another said, no, Genesis is obviously poetic and intended to convey a theology of God, not a mechanism of creation itself. This led to the conclusion that God began the process of evolution. Still another group believed that God didn’t just start evolution’s march, he guided it in a process called Intelligent Design.

The creed was sitting there on the page. It simply read, “God the Father, creator of heaven and earth.” That’s it.

Think about this for a moment. The undivided church gathered in a series of ecumenical councils (there were no separate denominations then). They knew Genesis, they knew Paul’s letter to the Romans. They knew the Gospels. And it may surprise many to know that they knew about evolution too. No, not the modern scientific theory. But they knew about the Greek philosophical schools that had developed a vision of life evolving. And they also knew about Jewish (mostly poetic) readings of the book of Genesis.

So they could have agreed to sacralize one of these views for all time as creed. And yet they didn’t. They were content to simply require all Christians to believe that God purposely created the universe. They left the how outside of what is required for salvation.

We might want to try that today.

That’s not to say that we should stop debating, arguing, and advocating one or the other viewpoint. We should keep on vigorously working and promoting and talking about this, because its important.

Yet rather than advocating the simple creed, and then making space for believers to discuss varies theories, some parishes identify as “Creationist” or “Intelligent Design” or pro “Theistic Evolution.”  But our churches shouldn’t be presenting one or the other interpretation or theory as if it is the only authoritative way to understand creation. That’s not the pastor’s job. We weren’t ordained to promote creationism, but creed. We aren’t called to preach evolutionary biology, but to preach Bible basics. Our job is to present God the Father as creator of heaven and earth. Period.

Why? One reason is evangelism.

Here is an example of how staying with the creeds can help evangelism: I got a call from a family member, who said, “I am almost ready to be baptized and become a Christian. But, I can’t because I accept the theory of evolution as proven science. If you can show me that evolution is wrong, I can consider becoming a Christian.”

This was a critical moment. In my past I might have marshaled evidence that evolution is false, hoping to clinch that final argument that would bring him to faith in Christ. At another point in my life I might have argued that God did indeed use evolution to create the world.

But does our faith rest on arguments? Does it rest on scientific refutations? Does baptism require us to first develop a detailed theory of the mechanism of creation?  Nope. Just an affirmation of the creed. Period.

So thankfully I was able to say, “Yeah, a lot of Christians wrestle with that. Not a problem. You can be baptized and become a Christian and keep on wrestling with the rest of us Christians. We only require an affirmation that the world is not an accident, or purposeless, and that God the Father is the creator who decided the world would exist and made it happen. He is the source of life.”

So you may be sad, at this point in my musings, to find that I’m not going to try and advocate for one or the other interpretations of Genesis, or philosophies of “death before Adam.” There are many great studies out there on these issues, and they are important questions.

As a priest and pastor, I simply affirm that God created the world. Period.  And that is a beautiful, amazing and challenging belief in and of itself.

Photo: NASA, Earth, public domain

 

Greg is the founder of Anglican Pastor. He is an Anglican Priest of the Anglican Church in North America. He served in a non-denominational church before being called into the Anglican church in 2003. He has served as an Associate Pastor, Parish Administrator, and Rector. He currently serves as the Canon to the Ordinary for the Anglican Diocese of the South.

7 Comments

  1. Tregonsee June 4, 2015 at 12:11 pm - Reply

    There are maybe 50-100 people in the world who really understand String Theory, the oddly (to laymen)named current theory of how the universe works. Given that a god worthy of being God must not only be powerful, but vastly more intelligent than we are, I try not to worry overly much about exactly how things began.

    Or slightly flippantly:

    In the beginning, God said let there be light,
    KABOOM!
    And there was light.

    Tregonsee
    Physics PhD

  2. Laura June 4, 2015 at 4:45 pm - Reply

    Tregonsee – Thank you for that. It was quite reassuring! I am a college student, and so tired of “science types” telling me I am either naive or delusional and that all religion is for suckers and sheep. Bless you!

  3. Tasker June 7, 2015 at 2:30 am - Reply

    It follows from the fine-tuning of the universe (as per the anthropic cosmological principle) that it is a “machine” or “organ” (or pick your own metaphor) for creating intelligent life, i.e. life in the “image” of the creator. This, in it turn, is not devoid of wider implications.

  4. Craig Dumont June 13, 2015 at 9:35 pm - Reply

    Greg, as a Pentecostal pastor I love your articles and benefit greatly, but it is the pastor’s job to reject false teaching and the Church never accepted an evolutionary view as Biblical. See William VanDoodewaard’s excellent book, The Quest for the Historical Adam, for a great theological survey. Evolution is a philosophy, not science: always has been and always will be.

    • Greg Goebel July 9, 2015 at 8:30 pm - Reply

      Thanks for reading and for commenting. As I stated I am not so sure the Church has been that specific about the means of creation. But thank you for adding your voice to this discussion as a counter point while we still affirm the Faith. Blessings in your ministry.

  5. Alice C. Linsley July 30, 2015 at 12:04 am - Reply

    Bible-believing Christians cannot compromise on the question of human origins. Genesis makes it clear that humans are a special creation. That means we reject the Darwinian notion of common ancestry. Besides that, the paleoanthropological data (minus Darwinian interpretation) supports the biblical assertion of humans as a special creation.

  6. Zach H. June 25, 2018 at 12:53 pm - Reply

    I’ve been shaken about the division over this the last few years. I’m a firm Christian and I would say I’m pretty solid in my faith. As I heard the debates over time it appears YECs believe you’re only a true believer if you believe in a literal 6-day creation account. I think it really turns those who are driven by reason and observation away from any interest in Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father and the communion of the Holy Spirit; both by YEC and the divisions in general. It’s true that we have to refute false teaching, it is true that the Old and New Testaments are the inspired Word of God, that however doesn’t discount that there are natural processes that God put in place to come about for a period of billions of years that aren’t expressed in the Holy Scriptures. Science can’t disprove God but glorify Him and in my opinion the abandonment of Tradition and Reason have been a detriment to the Church and sent her plummeting to fundamentalism

    For the record, that doesn’t mean I discount them as true Christians and there is misguidance on BOTH ends to some degree.

    God bless, Rev. Greg and everyone

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