Misunderstanding Genesis

Brian Bull, Fritz Guy, & Ervin Taylor, editors. Understanding Genesis: Contemporary Adventist Perspectives. Riverside, CA: Adventist Today Foundation, 2006.

This is a volume that seems to be addressed to Seventh-day Adventists who believe evolutionary theory and who want some reassurance that that’s OK. Process theology and the historical-critical method are lifted up as possible refuges for the disillusioned. They are thrown out to the reader, or assumed by the writers, who make no attempt to persuade the reader of the validity or truthfulness of these positions. Though titled, “contemporary Adventist perspectives,” they include no theologians or scientists who accept the Biblical record, nor do they engage their arguments. If mentioned at all, they’re dismissed with a wave of the hand in footnotes.

The Introduction gives some unusual definitions. Reason is said to be “the method by which we understand God” (vi). That may be true for the Enlightenment and Modernism, but for historic Christianity? What of revelation? What of faith? The historic understanding of the relationship is that expressed by Anselm: fides quaerens intellectum. We start with God’s self revelation, which is grasped by faith. This communication is intelligible and reasonable, and the faithful theologian seeks to better understand it.

The Introduction also offers an idiosyncratic understanding of science as “the way that God works in the world” (vi). This is a strange way to speak. Science isn’t about how God works—it’s about how we work. It is a method by which we seek to investigate and understand the natural world. It is the coupling of observation and reason.

Richard Rice’s essay, “Creation, Evolution, and Evil,” surveys what a few liberal theologians think, with emphasis on process theology. This is interesting, as far as it goes, but Rice doesn’t address whether their arguments are true. They may be “serious Christians” (18), but do they have authority? Should we accept their statements simply because they say so, or because they provide an easy out? I’m disappointed that Rice nowhere lets us know what he himself thinks. Is he unsure? Is he just offering these as possible paths to consider? Why does he not evaluate them against Scripture?

As an answer to the complaint that evolution assumes millions of years of animal suffering and death before human sin, Rice makes an artificial distinction between “pain” and “suffering,” suggesting that animals have “pain” but not “suffering” (p. 12). This is not persuasive, and contrary to human experience.

Rice fails to grapple with the problem posed by John Baldwin, et al., that Scripture says the world was created complete and good, and that pain, suffering, and death are a consequence of man’s fall. If this is not so, then it must affect our understanding of the atonement and man’s final destiny. Neither Rice nor Fritz Guy, capable systematicians, offers a response.

Rice cites authors who present God as “noninterventionist”—as “loving” and “persuading” the world into existence. But if God does not intervene, why bother to speak of “theistic evolution”? Christians who have accepted evolution in the past have said it was guided by God. That option is dismissed as a “God of the gaps” by both scientists and theologians today. Evolutionists such as Richard Dawkins and Catholic thinkers such as Vatican astronomer George Coyne see little difference between God intervening to direct evolution and Creationism. They argue that an essential element of evolution is its contingency; it is unguided, it is random, it proceeds on the basis of natural selection. This is why they are adamantly opposed to any talk of intelligent design. But if you are going to hold to any form of Biblical theology, you have to believe that miracles exist; God intervenes in many ways, from Creation to Redemption. If you do not believe in God’s intervention, what hope can you have for the eradication of sin and suffering and the restoration of all things in the earth made new? What hope can there be in the Second Coming of Christ? Rice does not deal with these questions.

There are additional problems with process theology (15), which Rice doesn’t adequately address. It must hold to the eternality of the world, in flat contradiction to the Biblical affirmation that God created all things. A Christian doctrine of creation must affirm that all things owe their origin to God. That’s the minimum. A picture of a “God” who is a helpless bystander loving a pre-existing world that he can’t touch may satisfy some philosophers, but not the Christian who confesses, “I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.”

Brian Bull (“Why Are Science and Religion Still Fighting?”) speaks of theologians “vilifying science.” This is incorrect. Theologians do not object to science, which is a method of theory and investigation; rather, they may take exception to the interpretations of scientists and their claim to truth. Truth is the issue. That’s why it is incorrect as well to speak of the discussion between religion and science as a matter of “value judgments” (whether something is “good” or “bad” or “stupid”). The question is which speaks truthfully about human origins and destiny. Both sides agree with this. Evolutionists do not say the Bible is “bad”—they say it is factually wrong.

Dalton Baldwin, in “Creation and Time: A Biblical Reflection,” asserts that if science and Scripture disagree, we must reinterpret Scripture (35). He does this by uncritically accepting the claims of the documentary hypothesis (45ff) following “most biblical scholars” (37). He misinterprets poetical passages in Job and Psalms that speak of God’s ongoing creative activity (37ff), as if this is contrary to a completed creation as in Genesis. Part of the Christian doctrine of Creation is Providence, which is God’s continuing action to uphold what he has created. There is no foothold here for evolution’s understanding of the origin of species.

Because of his prior acceptance of historical-critical assumptions, Dalton Baldwin dismisses the days of creation and genealogical data as “symbolic” (41ff). Contrast his cavalier treatment of these issues with the careful treatment of this question by Old Testament scholar Gerhard F. Hasel in “The ‘Days’ of Creation in Genesis 1” (in John Baldwin, Creation, Catastrophe & Calvary), as well as Randall W. Younker’s argument on behalf of the unity of the first two chapters of Genesis ( “Genesis 2: A Second Creation Account?” in Baldwin, CCC).

Dalton Baldwin’s acceptance of the historical-critical method not only eliminates the factualness of the Genesis account, but also allows him to separate the Sabbath from Creation (p. 47). Why then keep it, if it is not a perduring ordinance rooted in Creation?

Ivan T. Blazen, “Theological Considerations of Genesis 1:1-2:3,” argues that Genesis 1 is “theology” not “science”; it is a “religious statement,” or a “statement of faith” (70-71). He ignores the fact that it also is a statement of revelation. It is not just man speculating in wonder, but transmitting what God has revealed; it is regarded as such in the New Testament (as when Jesus roots his teachings on marriage in Adam’s union with Eve).

Fritz Guy, “The Purpose and Function of Scripture,” argues that Scripture’s purpose is to tell us about God: what he is, does and wants. The answers, Guy says, are that God is love, God comes to us, and God wants us to trust him. He rejects the idea that Scripture can give us any information about the world; in fact, this is “actually refuted by Scriptural evidence” (86-87). This latter premise is based on his uncritical acceptance of the documentary hypothesis (91ff).

But you cannot separate what Scripture says about the world from what it says about the God who created it. If we can accept that the Bible is accurate in saying that God is love, how can we reject the Biblical teaching that God’s love means that he created a world free of sin, suffering, and death? How can we embrace a worldview that assumes that death and suffering are “normal,” and predated human sin by billions of years? If we can accept that the Bible is accurate in saying that God comes to us, how can we embrace evolution which rejects divine involvement in favor of contingency? If death predated sin, how can believe that he did come as man, and died for our sins? If uniformitarianism is correct, how can we trust Christ’s promise of his second coming when sin will be eradicated, death destroyed, and the world made new?

Richard Bottomley, “The Clocks in the Rocks,” dismisses John Baldwin, et al., as holding to “pathological theology” (p. 110, footnote 5) in linking creation and redemption. He can’t imagine that what we believe about creation could impact what we believe about sin, redemption or eschatology (111). But theology is systematic; truths do relate to one another, and if you modify one point, other aspects will be affected.

Ervin Taylor, “Time for Mankind,” dismisses Adventist theologians and scientists who accept Creation as “fundamentalist/conservative Adventist scholars” (pp. 127, 142, 144)—a footnote tells us he has John Baldwin, Richard Davidson, Sam Pipim, and F. M. Hasel in mind. He ignores the issue of “death before sin” as an “alleged” problem (p. 127). He misapplies the concept of “present truth” (p. 144), suggesting it allows for the overturning of key concepts of Christian theology.

Warren H. Johns, in “Theology and Geology of the Flood,” argues that the flood was limited and all animals were not on it. By contrast, see Richard M. Davidson (“Biblical Evidence for the Universality of the Genesis Flood” in Baldwin, CCC).

Lawrence T. Geraty furthers this part of the conversation with “Archaeology of the Flood”; he, too, uncritically accepts the documentary hypothesis (173ff) as the foundation for his interpretation.

This book stands in stark contrast to John Baldwin’s volume, Creation, Catastrophe, & Calvary: Why a Global Flood Is Vital to the Doctrine of the Atonement (Review and Herald, 2000). Where that volume shows the interconnectedness of Christian teaching, this seeks to pull out selective points. Where Baldwin shows connection with Revelation 14, the Sabbath, the Sanctuary, and Calvary, this volume suggests evolution makes no difference. Where Baldwin confirms faith in Scripture, this volume can only confirm doubt. And it does so by isolating itself; instead of promoting conversation with the tradition, it dismisses that tradition and those who accept it and then finds itself reaching out for whatever support it can find, including process theology and the historical-critical method.

A final note: if you order the book from AToday’s Amazon.com shop, be prepared to way a long time. They didn’t put it in the mail until ten days after I placed the order. It arrived nearly ten days after that. I inquired about the delay, and got no responses to my e-mails (sent via Amazon and directly to AToday).

2 thoughts on “Misunderstanding Genesis

  1. Hi Bill!

    Interesting review! Just one small detail about process theology. It does require that God everlastingly relate to some world but not necessarily this one; nevertheless, I have held out for “radical contingency.”

    But another reason for me writing at this time is that at “Spectrum” in the thread under the column “Truthful Evangelism” questions have emerged about the possible similarities and differences between the Roman Catholic theololgy and pracitice of excommunicating people and the Adventist ones of disfellowshipping them. I suggested that you may be able to help us clarify this. I hope so!


  2. Hi Dave,

    Got your first point. It’s been a while since I’ve read in that area (and 24 years since I went to a lecture at BU by Hartshorne!), so forgive me that little slip. 🙂

    And I’ve replied both by e-mail and by posting at Spectrum a little bit regarding your second.

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