A MONSTROUS INVERSION: Review of Nazarenes Exploring EvolutiontitlePart Three
THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 2. Fall 2016. Volume 34.
Posted Nov., 2016
In part one of this review I should have noted that a few NEE authors strike conciliatory notes and may be read profitably. I nodded in general agreement with most of chapters 3, 11-13, 22 and a few others. One chapter was so atrociously written that I can only think it was submitted late. But most chapters are clear, and come at the "exploration"from a wide (and helpful) range of disciplines. In the first two parts I noted four areas of concern, and now turn to six others. When painting with such broad strokes please bear in mind that clearly each critique won't fit every contributor.
1) CHALLENGING THE MAIN CANARD: We left off with salient quotes on how evolutionism in the last century has bankrupted the faith of many. The quotes merely remind us of the proven, toxic impact of evolutionism; a warning for the Church that this "universal acid" is relentlessly corrosive.
NEE's inference is that evangelism and member retention would be easier if the scientifically ill-informed would just relax their ham-fisted literalism in favor or something more intellectually tolerable or scientifically informed (read: "less embarrassing"). So theistic evolution [TE] is something of a tunicate to stop the hemorrhaging of membership allegedly brought on by out-of-touch churches/pastors who foment conflict between science and the Bible.
Are there those who, as NEE contends, leave the faith for the lone reason of some perception of anti-intellectualism? Likely. But it may just as credibly be surmised that their "conversion" by the likes of Giberson in COTN citadels of higher education was a significant contributor in developing a cynicism toward non-Darwinian church leaders.
Imagine how different things might have been if the prodigals had been schooled in institutions equipped to show how the Bible holds up under fire. There has to be many COTN pastors, parents, and parishioners grounded in apologetics, and poised to guide young minds through the exegetical and scientific data. But NEE tends to caricature Darwin-questioning pastors as uninformed bumpkins. This straw man fallacy seems to span most of the NEE volume; namely a composite sketch of pastors or creationists who suppress critical thinking and either live in fear of science or deny it outright.
NEE portrays some pastors who see science as an "enemy" and/or engage in an unsustainable literalism. The more informed in COTN know what an uncharitable and coarse miscaricaturization it is to lump all creationists with the "anti-science" class. But why do NEE authors pander to this false narrative? Is it so hard to grasp that while creationists tend toward a more literal reading of Gen. 1-11, this doesn't mean we can't recognize and accommodate nonliteral nuances in the text, or discern when a figure of speech might be in play.
Nineteenth century liberals posited naturalistic explanations for everything the church saw as supernatural. So, NEE as a whole must be asked why they hold to any miracle in Scripture? And how do they do this without appearing arbitrary? Will the church always need the imprimatur of ninety-seven percent of scientists to tamp down its exegesis? No wonder Biola's Dr. Craig Hazen has wondered out loud whether it's still safe in some circles to doubt evolution at all.
2) UNCHARITABLE DISCOURSE: One contributor, Trevecca President Dan Boone, wants to see a "holy conversation" occur. In the NEE introduction, Oord pulls some excerpts from Boone's work, A Charitable Discourse, where Boone says he wants to "engage a young generation in an open-minded biblical conversation that welcomes scientific discovery, reasoned philosophy, and careful logic" instead of "ignoring all of these in favor of an interpretation of creation that is barely one hundred years old and rooted in the fear of science."
How can Dr. Boone be so self-unaware as to the stereotypes/prejudices he labors under when addressing "those" literalists? Is it really charitable to make thinlyveiled swipes that some 1) are closed-minded, 2) are less than welcoming (or even in total denial) of scientific discovery, 3) embrace a relatively novel view on the opening chapters of Genesis, 4) employ less-than-reasoned-and careful philosophy and logic, and 5) have a fear of science?
Let's briefly look at the gratuitous assumptions Boon makes with his inferences.
Open-minded. The inference is that the "other" side is closed-minded. A little more humility and bendover- backwards honesty is needed here, because there are closed and open minds on both sides. Much of what passed for science 150 years ago has today been completely overturned.
Boone writes that he prefers to read Gen. 1 "as the story of God interacting with his already in existence, chaotic, death-bound, disordered creation" (64). But given his sermon, "God's Approbation of His Works," Wesley would appear to be terribly closed-minded to Boone's dysteleology.
Denying science. Would Boone feel he was being addressed charitably if conservatives said he was engaged in a total denial of exegesis as we know it? Not likely. So why does he address conservatives in this manner? Neither Boone nor NEE provide specific examples of what science is actually being denied by the world's leading creationists.
Relatively novel view. Terry Mortenson has done the church a huge service by meticulously scouring Genesis commentaries written from 1639 to 1856, showing that the vast majority held to a normative hermeneutic, including a recent creation within a period of six 24-hour days, and of course a global catastrophic deluge. This doesn't prove the case, of course, but we're only focusing here on Boone's "barely one hundred years old" misrepresentation. Geologist Davis Young, no fan of Young Earth Creation, concludes that,
The virtually unanimous opinion among the early Christians until the time of Augustine was that human history from the creation of Adam to the birth of Christ had lasted approximatelyfifty-five hundred years.
Fear of Science. What does this even mean? Clinging to our KJVs in the church basement with one hand, while handling snakes with the other? I've never met a creationist who fears science qua science, but only ones intensely suspicious of philosophical naturalism masquerading in scientific garb.
The "problem" of two creation accounts is brought up several times in NEE (see 45, 120, 193-194, 229, 255, 261), with Lowery and others apparently either unaware or willfully ignorant that good responses exist not only for this "apparent contradiction," but also for all of Lowery's objections; most of which seem to radiate from the now defunct JEDP theory. It's noteworthy that during my M.Div studies at ATS, Drs. Livingston, Wang, Oswalt made sure we were at least aware of the many weaknesses in the Documentary Hypothesis.
3) HIGHER CRITICISM. The old JEPD documentary hypotheses? Seriously? Dr. Lowery, Chair of Olivet Nazarene University's Theology/Philosophy Department, is referred to as a key player in forming "new Wesleyan theologies" today. His pilgrimage away from creationism began, oddly enough, when pursing a Master of Divinity degree at Asbury Theological Seminary. There he encountered seminary professors who pointed out that there were two creation accounts, and that the Pentateuch was compiled from several sources, and not written by Moses (250). Lowery's response was anger and disgust - not at his professors, but at his church and denomination who let him down by shielding him from data. In his PhD studies, he later found the evidence for evolution mounting, while creationist ideas seemed "contrived and convoluted" and "desperately grasping for straws."
But Lowery imbibed different perspectives, now accepts evolution, and is quite blunt about what this means for him. The most obvious impact, he states, is how it's influenced his view of revelation. Namely, since "Biblical scholars tells [sic] us that the creation narratives in Genesis are adaptations of older creation myths – we can no longer view [these creation narratives] as historical accounts, though they can certainly be regarded as revelatory."
It's one thing to say Genesis is not science; now we're hearing that it is not even historical! Lowery continues, "Although Jesus mentions Abel in the gospels, we don't know whether he viewed Abel as a historical figure." You read that right! And why stop there? Lowery admits he's "not convinced that viewing Adam as of archetype [i.e. a symbol, but not historical] challenges the historicity of Christ as the second Adam."
Here we bump up against the first of two smoking pistols in NEE; namely chipping away at the authority of Christ (the other is dehistoricizing the fall). Where does Christ ever insert an artificial wedge between history and theology? What are we to do with a Savior who seems to take Genesis as straightforward history (no exceptions)? Walking the higher-critical tightrope means Jesus was either misled or misleading.
If Adam and the fall aren't literal, asks Greg Koukle, "when did the moral wound occur in history that would actually be healed in history at Golgotha?"
4) THE PROBLEM OF NATURAL EVIL: All stripes of theistic evolution sooner or later must bump up against the problem of evil. More specifically they must address the problem of natural evil (paleo-natural evil), and when it originated. NEE, however, does little more than mention the problem.
The problem with every stripe of TE is that essentially all natural evils we now see were present long before the advent of mankind. For Luther, Calvin, and Wesley, all natural evils are post-lapsarian intrusions - due directly to the disobedience of Adam and Eve and not part of the original created order.
This position was also held by the well-known Nazarene theologian, H. Orton Wiley, who contends that Paul"clearly taught that before Adam, there was neither sin nor death; after his fall there were both, and these are regarded as the direct consequences of sin. It seems clear also from this statement, that natural evil is the consequence of moral evil, for death is by sin."
Please note that NEE dedicates their volume to Wiley, but is predictably silent when Wiley affirms Adam as a literal person, whose time-space act of disobedience directly brought about physical death and natural evil.
5) NO EVIDENCE FOR MACRO-EVOLUTION PROVIDED: If one is looking for actual empirical data to support the neo-Darwinian synthesis, NEE is not the place to look, except perhaps in the footnotes. We cannot fault authors for this since they're only allotted 56 pages each to journal about their making peace with an evolutionary perspective, and a few authors steer their essays in a different direction altogether. Still, some science would seem warranted. Perhaps reviewers of this review will sidestep the request for just a little evidence with a dismissive platitude. But wouldn't it be more effective to silence me by simply pointing to the pages referencing the empirical data that I missed?
6) SOME REDUNDANT THEMES IN NEE.
THE BIBLE ISN'T A SCIENCE TEXTBOOK. We often hear the straw man in NEE that Genesis/the Bible (15, 135, 147, 236 etc) isn't a science textbook. Such is a "loaded" statement, for who has actually ever made this claim? If NEE can't provide the name of one prominent creationist who says this, then please have some integrity and dispense with the rhetoric.
In a technical sense the Bible is not any kind of textbook; it is supernatural revelation. So, neither is the Bible a philosophy textbook, or history textbook, or anthropology textbook, etc. But when Scripture broaches these areas, wouldn't it stand to reason that their veracity (or lack thereof) would be a reflection on the trustworthiness of the One who inspired the Text?
A DISINGENUOUS REVISIONISM OF GALILEO: Bible interpretations have been wrong so often, we're told. And this comes through with primary reference to the Galileo debacle (see 156-57, 206, 282, 285, 340, 360).
First, Galileo's main infraction was disobeying a papal decree, and at first was only residually about hermeneutics. Second, it's somewhat of a rationalist myth that the Galileo controversy was the reaction of intolerant fixed-earthers vs. truth-loving heliocentrists who were in possession of unassailable scientific facts. Third, the initial "evidence" for the heliocentric model was far from convincing. Fourth, at the risk of oversimplification, the church would never have gotten itself embroiled in this mess had it not canonized Aristotle's natural philosophy, including geocentric thoughts (that were later tweaked by Egyptian astronomer, Ptolemy).
While the Galileo saga is often invoked to censure conservatives, the sword cuts both ways. For it seems that TE should also learn the lesson of a church aligning itself too closely with a theory of secular origin. Any model incompatible with Scripture is doomed to fail, as will the evolutionary model. It is loaded with scientific problems, it presents insurmountable theological hurdles, and it has inspired some of the most barking mad exegetical speculation in all of church history. So when NEE intimates that adopting evolution will make us more relevant, it is they who risk complete irrelevance when the next Copernican shift hits the philosophical fan. In the future, churchmen who refused to see the heavy price exacted by absorbing Darwinian precepts are destined to have George Santayana quoted at them. Indeed, we all have much to learn from the Galileo affair.
Fifth, Galileo's intense interrogation by Rome is well documented. But while there may have been threats of torture, he was never actually tortured, or even thrown in jail; but the popular perception is that he endured both. Sixth, we all know that the church danced down an embarrassing hermeneutical path in the seventeenth century. Instead of following Scripture, the church elevated tradition, and allowed Greek philosophy to sway its theology and exegesis.
Additionally, it's no minor detail that the earth's rotation is never called into question in the historical books. The key biblical texts at the heart of the geocentrism controversy were largely lifted from poetic texts – verses forced to perform a role they were never intended to play. How unfortunate, then, that NEE's mis-assessment of events in Galileo's day has two grievous outcomes. One, it gives them cover to perpetuate the myth that the genre, historicity, and exegesis of Genesis are up for grabs. And two, it is NEE who forces (prose narrative) sections of Genesis to perform a role they were never intended to play – namely overriding authorial intent by poeticizing texts meant to be taken historically. The early chapters of Genesis are not nearly as ambiguous as NEE infers.
GENESIS 13 EMPHASIZED AS POETRY. NEE constantly refers to the creation account as poetry (73, 223-225, etc). While the opening chapters of Genesis are stylized, absent are the earmarks of Hebrew poetry. Compare Genesis 1 with Psalm 104, for example, and you'll see how different these texts are. If one wants poetic reflections on the acts of creation, she can read Job 38:1-11, and Psalm 33:6-9, and Psalm 104. And even when poetic elements appear in Gen. (1:27 and 2:23), these don't mean that the referents aren't literal. Poetry often serves as a vehicle to convey real, spacetime events. NEE seems to labor under the false assumption that literary form and literal meaning are mutually exclusive in Genesis. Biblical Hebrew has distinct, even unmistakable, devices to convey the poetic—but such are almost completely absent in Gen 1-11.
Where are the tropes and symbolic language? Where is parallelism of juxtaposed couplets, or the metrical balance so characteristic of Hebrew poetry? Instead we find meticulously composed prose. Parallelism is a feature of Hebrew poetry, true, but there's no rule meaning that the referent's is therefore ahistorical.
At any rate, we have seen that NEE has recurrent themes in saying 1) the Bible is not a scientific textbook, 2) revisionism regarding Galileo, and 3) taking what seems on the surface to be prose narrative in the creation narrative and relabeling it as poetry. Such spin can be found throughout NEE.
A BRIEF CAVEAT REGARDING THE FALL: NEE wants to make Christianity more relevant, but relevancy at the price of truth is not acceptable. With the nose of scientism now under the tent, a blanket of doubt has been cast over Gen 1-11 (Giberson's subversive tactic), and it seems only a matter of time before the other doctrinal dominoes fall. Doctrinal entropy and shedding religious convictions is a gradual, step-by-step affair. The battle over "day" is worthwhile, but shouldn't distract us from what's really going on: at stake is our New Testament soteriology that has always been buttressed by the ontological scaffolding of the opening chapters of Genesis. Christ as "eschatological Adam" makes little sense without a historical Adam or fall.
Editor's Note: A Memo to Daniel G. Reid, Editorial Director, InterVarsity Press Academic:
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA, an interdenominational, evangelical Christian campus ministry founded in 1941, determined in 1947 to develop its own publishing arm: InterVarsity Press. Thank you for all the wonderful books you have published across the years which have helped college students embrace and defend their Christian faith. We need evangelical publishers who will defend Scripture, not undermine it.
Yet in recent years you have given BioLogos a huge boost by publishing material which supports evolution – even if it is never defined. Why would you publish a title like Evolution and Holiness by Matthew Nelson Hill (2016) or How I Changed My Mind About Evolution, edited by Kathryn Applegate and J. B. Stump (2016)?
While the genre of testimonial memoir has a long history, never before has an evangelical publisher celebrated a conversion to Darwinism. At least five of the twenty-five testimonies are hardly conversions to Darwinism, though. In some cases the author later professed Christian faith while having always accepted Darwinistic faith. In the case of all twenty-five testimonies the author has a connection with BioLogos, which promotes evolutionary creation.