Can Christians believe in evolution?

Pastor J.D. looks at the creation narrative and explains that an open Bible and an open mind are key when contemplating the concept of evolution.

A glimpse inside this episode:

The short answer is, “Yes.” This is one of those areas where Christians should be free to disagree. There are many conservative Bible scholars who believe in something like evolution.

  • Notable theistic evolutionists: Alistair McGrath, Francis Collins, and maybe Tim Keller(?)

Others do not. But they are able to remain in close fellowship with one another, because this is not a “first order” issue. I have serious problems with theistic evolution, but I don’t consider it a first order issue. Now, just because we can charitably disagree doesn’t mean this discussion is irrelevant. It has a lot of implications for how we read Scripture, which makes it crucial.

If you are a Christian who believes in evolution, you’ll have to believe in what’s called “theistic evolution”—that even though the earth is billions of years old and it took millions of years for animals to come to their present form, God was orchestrating it. Hence theistic evolution—God + evolution.

Now, many conservative scholars have issues with this. For instance, Wayne Grudem has an article called “12 Ideas You Must Embrace to Affirm Theistic Evolution.” His whole point is that if you affirm theistic evolution, you deny basic principles that are plain in Scripture, such as:

  • Adam and Eve were not the first human beings, were born from human parents.
  • God didn’t act directly or specially to create Adam out of dust from the ground; God didn’t act directly to create Eve from a rib taken from Adam’s side.
  • Adam and Eve did not commit the first human sins because human beings were doing morally evil things long before Adam and Eve existed. (and weren’t sinless)
  • Human death did not begin as a result of Adam’s sin because human beings existed long before Adam and Eve and they were always subject to death.
  • Not all human beings have descended from Adam and Eve for there were thousands of other human beings on the earth at the time that God chose two of them and called them Adam and Eve.
  • God did not directly act in the natural world to create different kinds of fish, birds, and land animals.
  • God never created an originally very good natural world—a safe environment, free of thorns, thistles, and other harmful things.
  • After Adam and Eve sinned, God did not place any curse on the world that changed the workings of the natural world, making it more hostile to mankind.

According to Grudem, this position is just too fraught with problems for a serious Bible reader.

Doesn’t Genesis 1 teach that God created the world in six literal days?

Many people look to Genesis 1 and they want to know timelines. Are we talking about 24-hour periods here? Or does each day represent a period of time—millions of years, perhaps? Maybe there were gaps somewhere along the way?

This is one of those questions that some Christians take very seriously. It often acts as a litmus test for whether you’re a “real” Christian at all.

  • With all due respect to those who consider this a Priority One issue, I don’t believe that Genesis 1 itself gives us enough to come to rock solid answers about the creation timetable.
  • Remember: whenever you’re interpreting a passage of Scripture, you have to ask why it was written before you pepper that passage with questions.
    • If you start with the wrong questions, you’re not going to get to the right answers.
    • And it appears rather obvious that the author of Genesis 1 was not intending to weigh in on the scientific nuances of our contemporary creation v. evolution debate. The focus of Genesis 1 is not specifically how God created, but that he created. It’s an artistic celebration, not a scientific documentation.

When it comes to the age of the earth, that’s a question that scientists and theologians should explore together.

  • I know godly, biblically faithful theologians who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible and who think that the timetable of Genesis 1 was not a literal week (which, by the way, isn’t a new interpretation, but is a position that has been around since the first few centuries of Christianity).
  • I know some who think that God used evolution as a part of that process. And I know highly intelligent, scientifically sophisticated, erudite scholars who believe that each of the days in Genesis 1 are literal days.

My encouragement to everyone in this discussion is to study it out with an open Bible and an open mind—and not to look at other believers wrestling, in sincerity and faith, with disdain.

  • If you believe in a literal 24-day in Genesis 1, don’t view your brothers and sisters who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible but approach interpreting Genesis 1 differently than you do as “enemies of the faith” or “compromisers of the truth.” That’s not always true.
  • And if you don’t believe in a literal 24-hour day, don’t look down your nose on others as “primitive, knuckle-dragging Neanderthals.” That’s not always true, either. Be charitable and assume that others are trying to be faithful to God’s Word and God’s world, just like you are.

God’s Scripture is never wrong. But we theologians and scientists often are. So we’ve got to resist the temptation to turn into a dogma a question that Scripture did not intend to settle.

As Christians, we can agree: the universe is not the result of blind, random forces (NOT nothing x nobody = everything); God is the miraculous author and creator of all we see. That’s actually a significant common ground.

Great book: 40 Questions on Evolution and Creation by Ken Keathley and Mark Rooker, two of my professors at SEBTS

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