Christians & Creation: Understanding Genesis 1-2

June 3, 2017 — 1 Comment

A couple of months ago I attended the BioLogos national conference in Houston. BioLogos are Christians who espouse evolutionary creationism, one of the positions on creation I know the least about – and not one I’ve held. I attended not because I think their viewpoint is the best but because I felt the need to learn from my Christian brothers and sisters, most of them scientists, who deeply love Jesus and his gospel and maintain there’s no real tension between science and faith as it relates to one of the most controversial and taboo topics in Christian circles: evolution. Needless to say, they’ve got a big hill to climb. But I appreciate them. They are asking questions I believe the church is going to have to answer sooner than we think (e.g., DNA editing, Genomic studies, embryonic medicine, and, not the least of which, what latest genetic studies claim about evolutionary theory).

As far as the conference went, I had nothing to share. I was just a fly on the wall. I wanted to learn, dialogue, and ask questions of them theologically and biblically. I discovered being with them the same thing I believe I would if they were the Intelligent Design, literal six-day, or some other camp – that they were sincere, winsome believers who genuinely wanted to live the truth of God in their lives as best as they understood Scripture and nature. It was moving for me to see their sincerity of faith, humility of spirit, and desire to honor God and his word. To be fair, I probably left with as many questions as answers, but that’s more than okay. One thing in which I did remain steadfast was the fact that there is no unanimous agreement on how believers understand the creation account of Genesis (even the BioLogos crew don’t agree amongst themselves).

All of it reminded me of a question I frequently get at CCCC: Yancey, what’s the church’s view of creation? It’s usually from members or leaders who’ve finally plucked up enough courage to ask their Teaching Pastor about how their beloved local church interprets Genesis 1-2 in the hopes CCCC’s view will match theirs. When they hear my answer, it almost always (not all the time) ends in relief. Let me explain.

Famous atheist and political commentator Bill Maher, on his television show Real Time with Bill Maher, questioned New York Times columnist and author Ross Douthat as to if he agreed all religions are anti-intellectual. Douthat disagreed by way of an illustration. He said the assumption is critics like Maher look at religious history and assume all Christians have taken the Genesis account of creation literally. Then Douthat went the historical route, adding:

But the truth is the idea that you take Genesis literally, as like six literal days of creation is pretty much a modern invention. Fundamentalism starts in the late 19th century…if you go back and look at ancient Christian authorities, they look at Genesis [differently] saying, “Look, this obvious isn’t [literal]…If you actually look at the first few chapters of Genesis, whoever wrote the Bible clearly didn’t mean to say this is a scientific account of creation. And actually, serious Christians have known that all the way back to the 1st century A.D.1

He’s right, at least with the point that Church History is full of godly, earnest, Jesus-loving, Bible-believing Christian leaders who’ve held to different interpretations of Genesis 1-2.

For example, Church Father Augustine of Hippo, in his book The Literal Interpretation of Genesis, argued for an allegorical interpretation of the days of creation. His thoughts were ‘published’ in the early 5th century. Origen of Alexandria, an influential Christian thinker, taught Genesis should be interpreted symbolically. He lived all the way back in the 3rd century. This gives greater weight to the idea that it’s a modern invention to believe the church must have a uniform view of Genesis’ creation account in order to be considered ‘orthodox.’ Even in the 21st century, I can think of at least six different views current Christians hold concerning the creation account:

  • Literal six-day
  • Gap theory
  • Day-age theory
  • Literary framework
  • Intelligent Design
  • Evolutionary Creation

Each are attempts to best understand the creation account of Genesis in light of what is known about the universe today. Why so many? Well, the text isn’t so cut-and-dry as people may think. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are other questions: Do you believe in an Old Earth or Young Earth? Was the flood localized or global? Is Adam a singular person or could he be representational (or both)? Does the prehistory of Genesis 1-11 have the same kind of intent as Genesis 12-25 or is it different somehow? Did God speak via the Big Bang or not? These questions aren’t new. Actually, people have been asking questions like them for decades or even centuries.

That’s why at CCCC we are not dogmatic about one particular view over another. Personally, I’ve held most of the views listed. They all have pro’s and con’s. When I teach the doctrine of creation to our lay leaders in systematic theology I encourage them to wrestle with it themselves and ascribe to the position they believe best makes sense of the two books of God: nature and Scripture (Ps. 19). If you pick six literal days, great! If it’s Gap theory, good for you! If Intelligent Design is your choice, more power to ya! I try to emphasize that ultimately all these views at least agree on the critical truth that God created all things for his glory.

Frankly, I view the interpretations of the Bible’s beginning the same way I view interpretations of the Bible’s conclusion, namely, that since there are different, legitimate positions to which honest and earnest believers hold (e.g., amillennial, premillennial, postmillennial). CCCC does not have an official “end times” position either. We believe Christ’s return is personal, visible, and imminent. As to exactly what and how he will return, we’re not going to be dogmatic, just like the what and how God did creation.

It’s one more reason why CCCC doesn’t have an official position outside of this: We believe God created all things for his glory as expressed in Genesis 1-2. As to exactly how and what, well, now it’s your turn to do the hard work, learn, dialogue, ask questions, and choose…

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJQjpG-lGY4 (accessed April 5, 2017)

Yancey Arrington

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Lover of All Things Texas. Acts 29 Network Fan. Redemption Hound. Teaching Pastor at Clear Creek Community Church in League City, Texas. Author of TAP: Defeating the Sins That Defeat You. He is currently writing a book on preaching.

One response to Christians & Creation: Understanding Genesis 1-2

  1. Shalimar Rice-Lopresti June 11, 2017 at 9:20 pm

    What an excellent explanation! So grateful to be a new member of CCCC.

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