Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Results of Evolutionary Belief for Christians

Many Christians attempt to hold in tension a belief in Evolution and a commitment to the creator God.  At best this results in a felicitous inconsistency. Despite embracing a doctrine with the potential to unravel the foundation of their faith, they fail to follow through on the logical consequences, content to allow two disparate concepts to stand together as if they agreed.  On the other hand some follow where the logic leads and end up in place quite different than where they began.  Such is the case with John Shelby Spong.  In his book A New Christianity for a New World he demonstrates where the path leads once one entertains a denial of the Creation account and embraces Evolution in its place:  "I now regard the traditional Christian interpretation of the account of the fall of humanity, told in the narrative of the Garden of Eden, as the ultimate example of distorted negative thinking.  I prefer to look at the wonder of humanity and to celebrate the incredible gift of self-conscious life that has emerged form our earliest living ancestor, which as nothing more or less than a bit of protoplasm constituting a single cell in the midst of the sea" (150).  Spong openly now denies many cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith, not least of which is the very divinity of Jesus and his salvific work on the cross.  That the former bishop still considers himself within the boundaries of Christian faith remains an incredulous assumption.  The point here, though, concerns where the path begins and ends once the decision is made to place scientific theory above biblical truth or to allow the former to define the latter. 

Reading Spong reminded me of the ongoing debate in the LCMS and in particular the more vocal supporters of Evolution in the synod such as Dr. Matthew Becker.  Aside from the issue of women pastors addressed in my previous post, Evolution easily occupies second place in the list of concerns regarding this theologian.  My concern ultimately rests on the impact embracing Evolution has on the cardinal doctrines of the Faith.  Can one embrace Evolution and not ultimately end up denying such teachings as Original Sin?  For Spong the answer is "no."  His chapter heading says it all: "Original Sin is Out."  Yet where might Becker fall in this discussion?  In his article "The Scandal of the LCMS Mind" Becker acknowledges the impact belief in Evolution has in defining these doctrines, yet insists that no damage comes to the orthodoxy of their statements even in revision:

Of course a “figurative” interpretation of Genesis 1-9 (not to mention the many other passages in Scripture that speak of God as creator, of the world as God’s creation, and of the new creation) does entail a revision of the traditional “creationist” manner of articulating the doctrines of creation, anthropology, and sin, and many Christians are deeply uncomfortable with such a prospect.  This “discomfort” is at least as great as the discomfort many 16th-Century Christians must have felt in view of the revision to traditional teaching that the Copernican Theory entailed.  As then, however, so also now: such modification would not necessarily undermine an orthodox understanding of creation, human beings, sin, and grace.  For example, scientific data about the reality of physical death in the animal and plant kingdoms prior to origin of human beings (e.g., fossils of animals that lived long before the origin of human beings) must lead those who interpret the Bible in light of scientific knowledge to restate the nature of God’s good creation prior to the advent of human sin (e.g., such a good creation must have included the reality of death prior to the existence of human beings) and the character of the historical origin of sin (e.g., the advent of sin is to be traced to the first hominids who disobeyed God’s will but not necessarily to their having eaten from a tree in an actual place called the Garden of Eden several thousand years ago).

In reaction to this statement one is tempted to respond with "Come again?" It seems that Becker is caught in that bind which many prefer not to resolve, yet which must be faced with all the implications it entails.  How do we define Original Sin without a real Adam and Eve clearly violating a direct command of God?  What "Word of God" do we attribute to those misty years to which these early "hominids" could respond in faith?  And how does one explain suffering and death without sin?  Becker clearly does not desire to go where Spong has led, but is there a true 'middle path' for him and the like-minded to take instead?  Again, the logical path lies before us with its choice.  I fear that travel down the Evolutionary road only bodes great evil for all that we hold near and dear within our Faith, if those traveling it remain fully aware and honest with its direction as did Spong. 

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