Tag Archives: Creation

A Sermon Revisited – and Young Earth Creationism


On Sunday morning I had opportunity to preach at Lesmurdie Baptist Church, and it was a delight, as ever, to join the folk there in worship. I have wonderful memories and many friends from my time there as pastor.

I was a little nervous with the prospect of preaching my message, being quite aware that I was taking the role of a theological provocateur. The focus of my ministry has always been to build faith and congregations, yet I was aware that my message on Sunday could be disruptive to the faith of some of the people there, and perhaps disruptive in the life of the church generally. Still, I think the topic was important enough to risk this disruption, though I hope, for the sake of the people and the pastoral leadership, that the overall result is positive for the church.

But maybe I was concerned unnecessarily? The response of the people during and after the message was very heartening. Many in the congregation work or have worked in science-related fields and appreciated a forthright attempt to affirm the value of science and seek to build a positive bridge of dialogue between theology and science. At the end of the sermon the pastor facilitated a brief Q&A session, with two very thoughtful questions put to me.

The first question was, “How can there be death prior to sin?” This question puts its finger on perhaps the key theological issue to be faced when discussing human origins and the possibilities of evolution, progressive creation, etc. I reiterated the point made in the message itself, that perhaps we must think of the nexus of sin and death only in relation to the spiritual relationship given to humanity by God as modern humanity emerged in accordance with God’s purpose and activity. But there is a cost here: the acceptance of death as a normal part of earthly or physical existence. The fossil record argues for this reality with the death of creatures prior to the advent of modern humanity.

The second question was a ‘doozy:’ “if God calls humanity to join his creative activity, his ongoing project of creation, might this ‘play’ include practices of genetic modification, particularly with reference to designing babies, selecting gender, striving to eliminate diseases and so on?” I answered this question as best I could given the very limited time and my own limited competence in medical or bioethics. I tried to show that the use of technology  and the practise of science are not neutral, but instead are value-laden activities which might be directed to life-affirming and beneficial ends, or life-destroying and manipulative ends. I suggested that great care and much ethical reflection is required as we think through the manner in which we apply the results of scientific research. This, of course, is one way in which theology might speak to science, by calling science away from philosophical naturalism toward a higher and grander vision of existence and reality.

As I was answering the first question I became starkly aware of a tangential but important point: young earth creationism cannot maintain a positive and open dialogue toward the world of science, but can entrench only a divisive and oppositional stance between faith and science. It will lead only to the ghettoising of Christian faith. It wants to speak to science but cannot allow science to speak to it. In an age in which a fulsome dialogue between faith and science is desperately needed – not simply for defending the credibility of faith, but also for enhancing the human vision and practise of science – this form of Christian withdrawal from the dialogue would be and is a disaster.

This sermon task challenged me in quite a number of ways. It has been the most demanding sermon I have faced in quite some time. Thank you, Lesmurdie, for forcing me to push my own boundaries!

New Creation – Part 2


Judah - One week old in a bear hat
Boy and Bear. Judah, one week old and very, very special!

A few weeks ago I celebrated the birth of six cygnets in the pond outside our home in a post called New Creation. The cygnets are doing well; we thought we had lost one in the first couple of days, but discovered it was simply hiding out on mother’s back. Now they are growing quickly, people stop to ooh-and-ahh, and their little necks are beginning to lengthen.

Two weeks ago an even more wondrous birth occurred: that of Judah Alexander, our new – and first – grandson.

In that earlier post I cited from Eugene Peterson’s Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places; let me do so again (pp. 58-59):

God is the Creator and his most encompassing creation is human life, a baby. We, as participants in creation, do it too. When we beget and conceive, give birth to and raise babies, we are in on the heart of creation. Every birth is kerygmatic. There is more gospel in all those “begats” in the genealogical lists of our Scriptures … than we ever dreamed. … Birth, any birth, is our primary access to the creation work of God.

I was a latecomer to this firsthand experience common to most fathers today and common to the human race as a whole. Does anyone ever get used to this? I was captured by the wonder of life, the miracle of life, the mystery of life, the glory of life. … Nowhere I have ever been and nothing I have ever done in God’s creation rivals what I experienced in that birthing room. The setting was austere – antiseptic and functional – but the life, the sheer life, exploding out of the womb that night, transformed it into a place of revelation.

Welcome, Judah Alexander; you are very welcome indeed. May you be blessed of God all your days, and your parents with you.

New Creation

DSC04274DSC04255These six little cygnets showed up in the pond outside our window this morning.

They are a reminder of the glorious beauty and bursting life of creation, a reminder of the goodness and hopefulness of creation. Of course, if I took Mr Cotton Socks, our equally grey and white and fluffy cat, down to the pond, we might see a different side of creation. Actually, our cat is such a scaredy-cat, the swans would probably chase him off…

Eugene Peterson writes in Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, 51-52:

“Gratitude is our spontaneous response to all this: to life. Something wells up within us: Thank you! … The sheer wonder of life, of creation, of this place where we find ourselves alive at this moment, requires response, a thank you. … Wonder. Astonishment. Adoration. There can’t be very many of us for whom the sheer fact of existence hasn’t rocked us back on our heels. We take off our sandals before the burning bush. … Wonder is the only adequate launching pad for exploring a spirituality of creation, keeping us open-eyed, expectant, alive to life that is always more than we can account for, that always exceeds our calculations, that is always beyond anything we can make.”

Creationism: Reflections on a Dialogue

Hugh Ross
Hugh Ross

Last night I was MC at an event in Perth in which Hugh Ross, founder and president of Reasons to Believe, and Carl Wieland, Managing Director of Creation Ministries International, engaged for the first time ever in a public forum. The event was billed “A Gracious Dialogue” rather than a debate and it retained a gracious character throughout – for which I am grateful!

There was a good turnout – almost 400 people, which is quite outstanding for Perth. The audience Q&A was handled by SMS, and I would do it again like that in a heartbeat: around fifty questions were received and scrutineers sifted them, choosing the most relevant and representative half-dozen. This allowed the best questions to be sourced, while avoiding any grandstanding, preaching or rancor. Given the topic and the heartfelt passion and the division it stimulates, this was a major achievement on the part of the organisers.

So what did I think?

1. Why did I get myself into this position?
Before the event I was somewhat nervous that it might be less than “gracious,” or that some members of the audience might become inappropriately militant. Happily, that was not the case. Further, and perhaps more to the point, I am neither a scientist nor the son of a scientist. Would I have anything constructive to say? Finally, I have a good friend who can’t believe that I would even give airtime to what he considers one of the more disreputable pursuits of conservative evangelicalism! In his view, giving oxygen to this discussion simply allows the worst aspects of fundamentalist evangelicalism to continue and even thrive.

2. This is an intra-mural discussion that probably has little interest or traction in wider Christian circles, not to mention those outside of Christian faith. It may even appear as incomprehensible to those outside the faith.

Carl Wieland
Carl Wieland

3. At base the discussion is a matter of hermeneutics, and so I was interested to see how marginal a role hermeneutical discussion played in the overall dialogue. Both speakers have an explicit commitment to biblical authority and want to find not only that the Bible is not antithetical to the findings of science, but positively corroborates the findings of science. They vigorously advocate their position, but do so differently, in accordance with their hermeneutical presuppositions.

Carl Wieland claimed that his position was based simply on the plain meaning of the text, and proceeds to read the science through the lens of this commitment. For Wieland, the biblical text is primary, and his group looks for means to interpret the science in accordance with this a priori conviction. A central feature of this approach is a commitment to a literal global flood, the literal interpretation of the days of creation in Genesis 1 as 24-hour periods, a literal reading of the Genesis genealogies, and many other passages, including Old Testament poetic passages.

Hugh Ross was more aware of the hermeneutical issues stating that both science and theology are interpretations of nature and Scripture respectively, and acknowledges the possibility of faulty interpretation, especially when conflict arises between the findings in the two fields. Although his appeal to Scripture also includes literal interpretation, even of poetic and proverbial passages, he is prepared to apply metaphorical interpretation when it suits his case (e.g. the word ‘day’ in Genesis 1).

4. Still on hermeneutics, the question must be asked concerning the legitimacy of treating Genesis, or indeed any other biblical text, as a proof-text for a scientific perspective. That this question was not even asked, let alone addressed, is indicative of a troubling oversight. It is anachronistic to read modern scientific theories back into Genesis, or to expect Genesis to speak in a scientific voice to our place in history.

Faithful reading of the biblical text is attentive to its original context, vision and purpose. It is far more likely that a faithful reading of Genesis 1-11 will see it as a theological polemic against the cosmogonies which confronted ancient Israel in their cultural environment. It adopts the form of other ancient creation myths, but communicates a very different vision of God, humanity and God’s relation to the world. Its purpose is theological rather than historical or scientific. The question of genre is inescapable here, and reading it as a modern scientific or historical treatise is to mistreat the Scripture. Our understanding of the plain sense of Scripture is culturally conditioned and may, in fact, impose an alien sense onto what the message of the text actually was and is.

5. More hermeneutics: Hugh Ross used the common analogy of ‘God’s two books’ to identify the knowledge which may be gained from nature and Scripture. Why should we expect the ‘two books’ to say the same thing? Why should we expect the Bible to be the full and perhaps only legitimate source of true knowledge? May we allow science to explore the what and how of creation, while allowing Scripture to provide why, that is, the overarching narrative and teleology?

6. Finally, a comment on each presenter’s approach to the topic. Carl Wieland gave an evident primacy and authority to the Scripture and would only accept ‘science’ that conforms to his interpretation of Scripture. At the heart of his argument is the problem of death: an old earth must reckon with the reality of death prior to the sin of humanity. Hugh Ross approaches the topic from the other side, identifying what he considers certain scientific constants, and seeking to show that they are not incompatible with Scripture, and may indeed be found in scriptural imagery.

To Conclude…
In the end, Wieland is forced to reinterpret science to make it fit with his interpretation of Scripture, and Ross is forced to reinterpret Scripture to allow it to fit with the findings of science. In the end, Wieland’s ‘science’ is less than scientific,and must resort to all kinds of pietistic suppositions about what God could have done or might have done. Ross’ interpretations of Scripture, however, are not illegitimate even though his hermeneutics might be further developed. It appears to me, then, that of the two options, Ross has the better approach and argument.

In some respects, Wieland is more consistent in the application of his literal hermeneutic. I get the sense that this is the ground of his appeal with ‘Bible-believing’ congregations. His rhetorical approach is thick with appeal to Scripture verses and references to ‘faithful interpretation’ and ‘the clear meaning of the text’ etc, and thus trades on concepts of biblical authority which resonate so deeply with Evangelicals, especially when they have not developed models for understanding this authority. Fortunately, however, there are other options available to evangelical believers; options which respect the inspiration and authority of Scripture, but which operate with a different understanding of what inspiration entails and how that authority functions.

A Psalm for Sunday – Psalm 8

Psalm 8Read Psalm 8

Derek Kidner suggests that “this psalm is an unsurpassed example of what a hymn should be, celebrating as it does the glory and grace of God, rehearsing who he is and what he has done, and relating us and our world to him; all with a masterly economy of words and in a spirit of mingled joy and awe” (65-66). From the highest heaven to the lowest earth God’s majestic glory is declared, made known and acknowledged.

The theme of the psalm concerns the greatness and goodness of God and the small but significant human. In light of the vastness, glory and intricacy of creation the psalmist is compelled to ask, “What is man that you take thought of him?” The focus of the psalm on the great and special privilege given to humanity occurs within the overarching focus on the sovereignty and majesty of God which frames the psalm in verses one and nine.

It is perhaps significant here, that this psalm does not teach a kind of natural theology or revelation (see Craigie). That is, humanity cannot ascertain its own true nature, nor its creational task, by looking at the world of nature. We may be awed by the splendor of nature, but it does not communicate a divine word to us; for that, we need the revelation of God’s name which is proclaimed in all the earth, and the revelation given to us in Scripture, for the psalm itself includes a meditation on the word of Scripture given in Genesis 1.

The comparison between God and humanity may be extended. God’s glory and majesty is inherent, revealed in the vast and mighty work of creation. The creation, which is so great that we are dwarfed in comparison, is but the work of God’s fingers. The greatness of God far surpasses the greatness of creation! Nevertheless, the glory of the heavens evokes praise, so that even children are aware of God’s awesome greatness – to the shame of those who would repudiate God’s existence, rule and justice.

Humanity’s glory, in contrast, is derivative, bestowed by God in the act of creation as the crown of all God’s creatures, and in the constant remembrance by which God calls the human creature to mind. This is a dignity given by grace, a dignity given to every person, and constantly renewed as each person is the object of God’s particular care and concern. Amongst all the creatures, only humanity is crowned with glory and majesty.

Verses six through eight indicate the creational task given to humanity: to “rule” over the works of God’s hands. This task echoes the creational ordinance of Genesis 1:26, 28. Created in the divine image, humanity is to rule over the other living beings. It is crucial that this text be understood within the cultural milieu in which it was written. Biblical scholars suggest that the creation stories picture the world and all its creatures as a temple for the praise of God’s glory. Humanity in God’s image are a priesthood within this temple charged with the task serving and caring for this temple, representing God to the creatures, and offering acceptable worship to the creator.

This vision of priestly stewardship has, of course, been drastically altered by the reality of the Fall, so that even creation has been implicated and altered in humanity’s turning away from God. Indeed, as the author of the letter to the Hebrews plainly notes, “But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him. But we see Jesus…” (Hebrews 2:8-9).

The New Testament clearly and unambiguously applies this psalm to Jesus Christ, both here in Hebrews and elsewhere. Humanity in general has failed in its creational task and forfeited its distinguished role. But Jesus Christ has come as the truly human person, and in his incarnation, suffering and death, was made for a time “lower than the angels,” but now is crowned with glory and honour. The One who tasted death for all has now been so exalted that all things are under his feet (Ephesians 1:22; 1 Corinthians 15:25-27). Jesus himself cited this psalm on the day of his triumphant entry into Jerusalem when the children cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Matthew 21:15-17).

Jesus Christ is the “real humanity,” the true “Son of Man” in both the earthly and eschatological sense. In our place and on our behalf he has taken and borne human weakness and fallenness in order to redeem us and restore us to a position in which we share his glory, honour and dominion. Authentic humanity is fully and truly realised in Christ, and we find our identity and destiny in him. By the Spirit believers are being renewed and transformed into his image, restored to truly human life and existence (see 1 Corinthians 15:49; 2 Corinthians 3:17-18; Ephesians 4:20-24; Colossians 3:8-11).

True human being and identity is a christological and eschatological reality.