On Cowering Before Scarecrows
“[I]f the data is overwhelmingly in favor of evolution, to deny that reality will make us a cult … some odd group that is not really interacting with the world. And rightly so, because we are not using our gifts and trusting God’s Providence that brought us to this point of our awareness.”
Waltke, one of the premier and gifted evangelical Old Testament scholars of our time, worries that if the empirical data supports evolution yet evangelicals oppose it, we will (rightly) end up being viewed as a cult by the wider, enlightened culture. Waltke is only the latest example in an esteemed pedigree of Christians going back at least to Clement of Alexandria and in more recent centuries to the towering father of theological liberalism, Friedrich Schleiermacher. The latter’s On Religion: Speeches to Cultured Despisers was, as its title indicates, calculated to smooth the way for the cultured literati of the 19th century to accept the seemingly outmoded religion of the Bible. Schleiermacher’s strategy was to transform Christianity from an affirmation of objective revelation in Jesus and the Bible to an interior feeling of dependence, serious reflection on which generated doctrine, practice, and the church. This strategy of religious interiorization was well suited for a Romantic Age that had come to prize the inner self but could not shake off the gains of Enlightenment, which dictated a neutral scientific objectivity in the external, “real” world. Schleiermacher was among the first to beat a hasty religious retreat from empirical reality into the internal world (Francis Schaeffer later termed this move “leaping into the upper story”), but the price he paid for his interiorization project was high. He set a course for Christianity according to which its sails were always set by the prevailing cultural winds, and his retreat to the interior guaranteed that the Faith could never challenge those trends in the external world.
Waltke, who holds the Bible in high regard, has suggested nothing so revolutionary; but his anxiety over evolution highlights how easy it is for even evangelical scholars to permit the perceptions of a culture (actual or perceived) to shape their theological views. If the first chapters of Genesis permit theistic evolution (in my view, they do not), Christians should be open to that possibility. But they should be open to it on exegetical grounds, not on the grounds that not to affirm it may render them vulnerable to the charge of cultic belief.
Relish the Scandal
Biblical teaching is, after all, scandalous — and it always has been. If man is a sinner, in rebellion against God, any divine teaching that rubs against his rebellion will not be popular. This is nothing new. In the ancient Near East, God’s command that the Jews practice strict heterosexual fidelity could hardly have been popular amid pagan tribes that valued indiscriminate sex. In the Roman Empire, homosexuality was routine, even for married men. New Testament sexual standards, therefore, were anything but trendy. Again, Greco-Roman thought derided the body, and the doctrine of the resurrection was therefore deemed outrageous — even unthinkable. From the very beginning, Christianity was deemed odd and quirky by the trendy culture-setters. Imagine Paul saying: “[I]f the data is overwhelmingly opposed to resurrection, to deny that reality will make us a cult…some odd group that is not really interacting with the world. And rightly so, because we are not using our gifts and trusting God’s Providence that brought us to this point of our awareness.” The cultural perceptions of unbelievers has never been a criterion of authentic Faith. God is not interested in whether his revelation passes muster with intellectual rebels — and he never has been.
Biblical and Natural Revelation
Waltke is fully committed to serious interaction with God’s revelation in the world around us (“natural revelation”). So am I. God’s creation is no less revelation than the Bible and Jesus Christ himself. In light of the cultural mandate in Genesis 1, Christians should be at the forefront of the scientific endeavor to investigate creation to glorify God and benefit humanity. But scientific methodology is not neutral, as secular scientists usually suppose that it is, and all modes of God’s revelation are mutually conditioning — our knowledge of creation helps us to understand the Bible (if nothing else, we must know language in order to read it), and the Bible helps us interpret creation. The Bible, in fact, is God’s fullest and clearest revelation to his church. This is why we do not interpret Biblical revelation in light of natural revelation but vice versa. Almost every attempt historically to interpret the Bible in light of nature concludes with man’s autonomous efforts to subvert Biblical teaching. This was the precise course of 19th century higher Biblical criticism: in treating the Bible like any other book and reducing its production to the forces of mere human history, Christians surrendered the Faith. The same thing happened a century before when Deism interpreted creation as excluding divine intervention: Jesus was reduced to a great man, and the Biblical miracles were deemed the apostles’ inventions. We must face squarely the reality that this treachery to the Faith was done under the guise of fidelity to creation.
The principal reason for the priority of the Bible is that godly man lives by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). God invites us to trust his bare word in spite of the “assured interpretation” of what we observe (Heb. 11). The point is not that God arranges creation to deceive us (of course, he doesn’t), but he does arrange creation to test whether we will trust his word: think of Adam and Eve in the garden, of the old covenant Jews as well as Jesus in the wilderness, and of Job in his trials. All were charged to trust the bare word of the living God in spite of how they may have interpreted the revelation surrounding them. For this reason, if the Bible clearly teaches that God created the world in six ordinal days, any supposed empirical evidence to the contrary is wrong. To secularists and to Christian latitudinarians, this tack is obscurantism. To Bible-believing Christians, it is faith. This faith does not retreat into the religious interior but boldly challenges every non-Biblical pretension to scientific fact in the external, “real” world.
Christians need not worry about what Helmut Theilike once termed “the baying hounds of the Enlightenment.” The alleged assured results of modern science change from generation to generation. Recall that Newtonian physics has been seriously qualified by Einsteinian physics and that Einsteinian physics has in turn been greatly modified by quantum mechanics — all within the last 100 years. In contrast, God’s word is unchanged and unchanging: “The grass withers, the flower fades, [b]ut the word of our God stands forever….” (Is. 40:8).
If Christians resort to popping anxiety pills over the fact that trend-hungry scientistic worldlings might hint that devout Bible-believers who deny theistic evolution are a cult, they cower before scarecrows. God’s unchanging word stands above and judges all human opinions, and we betray that word if we compromise it to avoid scoffing by sinners hostile to Biblical truth.
The truth, as Tertullian once wrote, need never blush.