Dear Church Family,
Next week is the 42nd General Assembly of the PCA in Houston, TX. Therefore, this is the last installment in this short series in which I have sought to share with you some of the major items that will be discussed, debated, and voted upon at that gathering. This week we take up the topic of theistic evolution. Overture 32 from Fellowship Presbytery addresses this question.
Three Broad Views of Creation
There are basically three broad views (or interpretations) of the created order. On one side, ‘special creation’ holds that God created all things (including life) out of nothing, immediately, by the Word of His power. This is the view of the Christian faith and Bible-believing Christians. On the other side, ‘atheistic evolution’ holds that there is no God and that life emerged naturally from pre-existing materials.
‘Theistic evolution’ is an attempt to find a middle way – an attempt to make the theory of evolution compatible with belief in God as He has revealed Himself in the Scriptures. Even within theistic evolution, there is a spectrum of beliefs. Some hold to a form of deism (God created everything and set the conditions and then just observed the process). Others who hold to theistic evolution believe that God was more involved (He used the processes of evolution to bring about human life).
Despite the attempts by some to reconcile the theory of evolution with Scripture, both theistic evolution and atheistic evolution deny the clear teaching of God’s Word and give priority to man’s (fallen and ever-changing) interpretation of general revelation. As Overture 32 points out, the Bible clearly teaches that, “Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). And, the Westminster Standards are clear regarding the nature of Adam and Eve in saying, “How did God create man? A. After God had made all other creatures, he created man male and female; formed the body of the man of the dust of the ground, and the woman of the rib of the man, endued them with living, reasonable and immortal souls; made them after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfill it, and dominion over the creatures; yet subject to fall” (WLC 17).
Despite the clear statements in Scripture (special revelation) and the unequivocal teaching of the Westminster Standards (the interpretation of special revelation), there is a growing movement in our day to synthesize the theory of evolution (the interpretation of general revelation) with biblical hermeneutics (the interpretation of special revelation). Overture 32 states, “there are attempts to redefine the doctrine of the miraculous and direct creation of our first parents, Adam and Eve, to arrive at an arrangement more harmonious with the theory of evolution, and some of the theories of modern genetics.” And, “now even the historical existence of Adam and Eve has been brought into question by both those inside and outside the PCA.”
That last statement taken from this overture ought to alarm you. I have written about theistic evolution and the questioning of the historicity of Adam in the PCA previously here. Tim Keller, a PCA pastor and prominent author and speaker, has written a paper called, “Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople,” in which he argues that pastors are “to be a bridge between the world of scholarship and the world of the street and the pew” (p 3).
While I don’t agree with this premise (because I don’t find this job description for the pastor anywhere in the Scriptures), there are greater problems with Keller’s paper. For one thing, he argues that not all of the Genesis account of creation is historical – “you can’t read them both [Genesis 1 and Genesis 2] as straightforward accounts of historical events” (p 5). Second, in an effort to bridge the world of scholarship with the pew, he argues that a Christian may believe in evolution as a biological process, while opposing evolution as a world-view (pp 5-7). Third, Keller provides several options for how Christians may synthesize their belief in God and the theory of evolution, including one in which “there was a place in the evolution of human beings when God took one out of the population of tool-makers and endowed him with ‘the image of God’. This would have lifted him up to a whole new ‘plane of life’” (p 11).
Keller may claim that this kind of Adam – the first, pre-human tool-maker endowed with the image of God – is an historical Adam, but this kind of Adam is certainly not the Adam of Scripture who was formed of the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7). Creation Ministries International has posted a more thorough response and critique of Keller’s paper which you may read online here.
Overture 32 calls for the 42nd General Assembly to warn the members and the teaching and ruling elders in the PCA of the dangers of false teachers who promote evolution, undermine the historicity of Genesis 1-3, or teach a position other than the special, immediate creation of Adam from the dust of the ground and Eve from the rib of Adam. Among other things, this overture also exhorts the members and elders in our denomination to contend for the truth of Scripture in these matters, guard the offices of the church by asking pointed questions about a candidate’s understanding of Genesis 2:7, and to help all our members (especially our children) in understanding the dangers of theistic evolution and the denial of the historicity of Adam that is becoming more and more prevalent.
Denying the historical nature of the creation account in Genesis 1-3 and denying the immediate creation of Adam from the dust of the earth has great and deleterious consequences. To deny the historicity of the creation account and to believe (contrary to Scripture) that Adam may have been a pre-human hominid who received the image of God affects a vast array of other doctrines.
Theistic evolution creates a biblical hermeneutic that is truncated (it doesn’t allow Scripture to interpret Scripture (WCF 1:9)) and problematic (instead of viewing the intent of the Holy Spirit and the human author of Scripture as commensurate, it pits them against each other). Theistic evolution distorts and demeans the biblical understanding of the distinct nature of man and woman as created in the image of God. Theistic evolution denies the innocence of creation and views death, not as an enemy intruder as a result of sin, but part of the created order as God intended it.
So, theistic evolution contains, and leads to, all sorts of problems in biblical interpretation, anthropology, and eschatology. However, the greatest problem with theistic evolution is that it obliterates the gospel by calling into question the teaching of the New Testament that “in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). As Overture 32 states, “the redefinition of the historical existence of Adam would necessitate a redefinition of the covenantal nature of both sin and grace as taught in Romans 5:12-21.”
Please continue to pray for our local church, our presbytery, and for our denomination and General Assembly as we take up these important matters in June.
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch