Levellers

Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Creation and Evolution 5: New Testament Passages

This is the last of my survey of some of the many biblical passages on Creation. In this survey, I have attempted to show that the Bible uses a variety of metaphors, myths, literary genres, etc. to speak of Creation–and the focus is never on a scientific account.  From here, I will turn to other matters: defining science and scientific theory, evolutionary perspectives before Darwin, Darwin the man, the scientist, and his contribution, and the neo-Darwininian synthesis; early Christian (even evangelical) defenders of Darwin; defining theistic evolution, creationism and “intelligent design;” why neither “creation science” nor ID are scientific theories or research programs; why “teaching the controversy” in science classrooms is neither good education, nor respects church/state separation; why ID is inappropriate for a science class but would be appropriate to study in a class on comparative philosophy or comparative theologies–views on the origin of creation and life. I will conclude the series with a look at theological challenges that evolution poses and some of the ways that have been proposed to handle those challenges.

But first, finishing up our brief biblical survey. A real theology of creation would have to survey much wider and concentrate on the texts in far more detail than I have done for this series. 

John 1:1-5. As part of the larger Prologue to the Fourth Gospel (1:1-18), the Gospel of John echoes Genesis 1, but, in language that will lead (rightly) to later Trinitarian doctrine, claims the Word (which will soon be revealed in this Gospel to be the pre-existent Son of God, incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth) as the agent of Creation.  This passage also goes beyond the “creation out of chaos” perspective we have found in the Hebrew Scriptures to assert the vital Christian teaching of Creatio ex nihilo, that God created the universe from nothing.  All things came into being through Him and without Him not one thing came into being. (V. 3) This is why I reject the process theology perspective that would have God, like a Platonic Demi-urge, persuade the universe into being from primordial uncreated “stuff.”

Colossians 1:15-20.  Here again, although Christ is called “the firstbon of all creation” (presumably meaning the New Creation, and being firstborn by the Resurrection), he is also “the image of the invisible God” for “in Him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or rulers or powers [Note that even the Powers are created by God in Christ–though they are rebellious and fallen now]–all things have been created through Him and for Him. He Himself is before all things and in Him all things hold together.” Using language from Greek philosophy, Paul gives a very exalted Christology and that also places Christ as the agent of creation. This is why, although “Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer” trinitarian language may be one form of inclusive language useful for worship, it is not fully satisfactory theologically.  Although some complain that recent theology has overused the term perichoreisis, that important term means that each member of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to use traditional terms–debates on inclusive language for God must await another discussion) participates in the work of the other–Creation is not the work only of the Father, but also the Son and the Spirit, etc.  Thus, the Trinitarian doctrine of God means that God is already BEFORE creation LOVE–giving and receiving love in relationship in God’s Self.  God did not create in order to learn love or because God lacked something in God’s Self.  Christ is also involved in sustaining the universe (in Him all things hold together). So, we need more than an economic Trinity–a view of God that can become Tri-theistic–but must go on to affirm an immanent Trinity–God is Triune in God’s very nature, not just in how God reveals God’s Self to us.  (This goes beyond anything in the biblical texts–Trinitarian doctrine did not become fully developed until the Council of Nicaea and beyond–but texts like Col. 1 push us in such a direction.)

In neither of these passages is the author concerned with the question of HOW God created the universe.  The authors of the 4th Gospel and of Colossians are concerned with WHO (the Word, Christ) Created and with the extent of creation (all things).  These are deep theological concerns–and worth far more time than I can give here. But the concern is NOT to describe natural processes either in astronomical terms (e.g., Big Bang vs. Steady State Cosmologies), geological ones (the ancient nature of the earth) or biological ones (e.g., the interrelatedness of all life on earth, evolving through mutation and natural selection into ever more complex forms, including humans who share with modern apes (gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans) a common ancestor).  As with all the biblical creation passages, these NT texts are neither scientific nor in conflict with any scientific account of natural origins.  The biblical writers are concerned with other questions. 

November 18, 2007 - Posted by | Biblical exegesis, science & faith

6 Comments

  1. Great stuff, Michael. I’ve been enjoying this series. I’ve not commented only because I completely agree and thus have little to do, but to be a cheerleader.

    Ra-Ra-Ra! Shish-kum-ba! Go Michael!

    Comment by Aric Clark | November 18, 2007

  2. This IS great stuff! Particularly your Trinitarian theology!

    Comment by Jonathan Marlowe | November 19, 2007

  3. Bravo, it’s very easy to roll out all of the critiques of ID and creationism, and yet in my experience most Christian detractors are just “liberal creationists” but are rarely called on it.

    That is, they are frightened of old Social Darwinism, perhaps rightfully, but also the genetics undergirding it that reveal among other things that race is real, IQ’s vary consisently by racial groups, conditions like homosexuality while not fully genetic themselves might prove to be detectable and perhaps open to alteration with genetic tests and treatments, gender differences in the sciences are based in different intelligences, human nature exists and is not a social construct, all men are not created equal, war started with the chimps, etc.

    William Saletan on Slate.com has recently begun an honest conversation about some of this. He came up with the clever label of “liberal creationist” linking liberal half-acceptance of evolution to William Jennings Bryan at Scopes. I hope your final entry in the series tackles the difficulties evolution, the genetic science behind it and its implications presents to your usual politics and theology.

    In other words, I believe the concessions are not all just for the fundies and conservatives. While you speak as an expert guide on the issue to the poor ID knuckle walkers, I’m afraid you haven’t counted the cost of your embrace of the science yet.

    Comment by slim | November 19, 2007

  4. Greetings. The theory of evolution is actually in direct contradiction of the Word on several counts. The two don’t co-exist in the same space, and they are not able to. Evolution is dark, and it was made specifically to destroy people’s faith.

    Comment by Sean | November 20, 2007

  5. You probably figured it out, but I am a “Creationist” – I believe the Lord did it in 6 literal days, and that He still moves very spontaneously even today. There’s no reason to try and put our interpretation on what is plainly stated. In other words, drop your PHD mindset because it’s only going to keep you from understanding the simplicity of Jesus.

    Comment by Sean | November 20, 2007

  6. Sean, we disagree. Keep reading if you want to understand why.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | November 20, 2007


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