Self-assessment time: How well are our churches dealing with theistic evolution?
In Genesis 3:1 we read the first challenge made to God’s Word: “[The serpent] said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And what follows is the first example of man falling for the temptation of seeking autonomy for himself. In his book Always Ready Dr. Greg Bahnsen outlined the devil’s two-step strategy here:
Even in the garden Man was responsible to submit without question to God’s revelation given by special word to him. Satan’s strategy then (as now) was to work toward undermining Man’s…submission to this authoritative word from God. [The Devil] began by calling the word into question (v. 1) and then contradicting it openly (v. 4).
That strategy continues today. On issues like creation, women in office, and homosexuality we’ve seen God’s Word first called into question, and then, not so long after, openly contradicted. And these attacks on the authority of Scripture are originating in the Church itself.
How are our “brakes”?
When we see other denominations undermining the authority of Scripture – think of the recent decision of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (RCN) to include women in office – we should consider how we ourselves are doing. Continuing to speed down a freeway just after seeing a car crash in front of us is very foolish, especially if we haven’t checked our own brakes recently. So how are our churches “driving” in relation to the way we view the authority and inerrancy of Scripture?
The recent decision of the RCN to allow women in office did not arise out of the blue. Concerns have been raised regarding the RCN’s interpretation of Scripture on a number of occasions.
One of the key issues has been how the early chapters of Genesis are to be interpreted. In 2009, the Free Reformed Churches of Australia’s (FRCA) Synod Legana instructed deputies to discuss with the RCN the need “to uphold the plain meaning of Scripture regarding Genesis 1-11”.
In 2012, the FRCA’s Synod Armadale, in its letter of admonition to the RCN, questioned the “…willingness of the RCN to fully uphold the truth of Scripture” and gave examples of where a literal view of the creation account was being compromised. For example, a lecturer at RCN’s seminary, Dr. S. Paas, stated in his dissertation Creation and Judgement: Creation Texts in Some Eighth Century Prophets that he considers “creation to be a myth, along with much of Genesis 1 – 11.”
At a presentation given at a 2015 office bearer’s conference, the Canadian Reformed Churches’ Dr. Cornelius van Dam spoke about the 2008 appointment of Dr. Paas as a lecturer at the Theological College of Kampen. Dr. van Dam noted this appointment, done despite Paas not accepting the historicity of the biblical account of creation, was “the first time that unbiblical views were officially tolerated in Kampen.”
Creation is key
It should not surprise us that the doctrine of creation is a pressure point for the church. We live in a world that has embraced “science” as the answer to everything. God has been rejected and the theory of evolution is presented as the explanation of origins. The church is not immune from attack; some people compromise their faith by accommodating the theory of evolution. This compromise has been termed “theistic evolution,” which is the belief that God used evolution to “create” all living things, including us.
One way the Canadian Reformed churches tried dealing with the issue of theistic evolution was via a confessional amendment. In 2015 a proposal was advanced to amend the Belgic Confession to make it clear that man did not evolve from apes or pond slime, but was rather created directly by God. While this proposal was adopted by a local church and its classis, it did not meet with approval at Regional Synod.
“Reformed Christians concerned about the issue of origins in our midst … who … believe that a failure to maintain the orthodox position not only attacks biblical truth in general, but the gospel of Jesus Christ in particular”
These two websites are fantastic resources for anyone wanting to know more about this important issue.
Prideful vs. genuine questions
These developments should serve as a warning to us to be on the lookout for the heresy of theistic evolution in our own churches. It begins when people ask the question “Did God actually say that the days were literal, 24 hour periods?” I’ve heard variations of this question, at times from someone genuinely struggling in their faith, and at other times from people armed with a barrage of so-called “evidence” from science.
Understanding the motivation of the person asking the question is important, as is finding out where they are seeking answers. Do the questions come from spiritual pride, from man’s incessant drive for autonomy? Renowned atheist Richard Dawkins famously stated that, “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” When we try to compromise with science, are we seeking to be intellectually fulfilled theists?
But rejecting the truth of Genesis opens the way for rejecting the Bible’s teachings on other matters, as the compromise will never end there.
Are we sliding too?
So how are our churches doing on the matter of theistic evolution? Thankfully we’ve seen many Reformed churches take a stand upholding a literal view of creation – some of the interactions with the RCN mentioned earlier are good examples.
But what about as individual church members? I’ve had quite a few discussions with others on this matter, and thankfully most share an automatic, faithful response in keeping with Scripture.
However, some have denied a literal view of the creation account in Genesis, either by saying the days were not normal 24-hour days, or by posing questions that cast doubt. Usually these don’t start with “did God actually say?” but they may as well have. Anyone who denies that the false teaching of theistic evolution is not an issue at all our Reformed churches should start discussing the issue more widely and see what views are held by others in the pews. Hopefully in most cases we will be greatly encouraged and pleasantly surprised. But perhaps we need to “check our brakes” on this issue.
These questions could serve as a starting point:
- Is a literal view of the Genesis creation account being preached from your pulpit, with false teaching being exposed?
- What views are held by your fellow church members when it comes to theistic evolution? Do you faithfully attend bible studies so that you can be involved with “teaching and admonishing one another” also on this matter, as per Colossians 3:16?
- What do your office bearers believe about the Creation account? When you nominate office bearers, do you know their view of the inerrancy of Scripture, or are you just making assumptions?
- What do you know about what our children are being taught at school in relation to Creation? Does the Board ensure that teachers and staff (particularly those that teach Science) have a high view of Scripture on this matter?
- Are you taking personal responsibility in ensuring that your children are being equipped with the armour required (Ephesians 6) to discern the truth and to speak it boldly when it comes to the theory of evolution as applied to Origins – both inside the church and outside (1 Peter 3:15)?
Let’s encourage one another to maintain the truth of God’s Word. We can be sure of two things: Satan will continue to ask ‘Did God actually say?’ But the ‘Word of our God will stand forever’ (Isaiah 40:8).
Tarren Reitsema is a member of the Free Reformed Church of Australia at Southern River, and is an environmental scientist. A version of this article first appeared in the Sept. 23, 2017 issue of Una Sancta.