I’m a Christian who happily accepts mainstream scientific reflection on natural history. So, how does a “theistic evolutionist” like me deal with their personal set of curly questions?
Here’s how Mikey put the question yesterday:
It’s hard to process millions of years of disease, death-by-exposure, cancer, crippling mutation and hominids killing each other that theistic evolution requires.
My initial response was, well, it’s no more puzzling than God’s baby-killer ostrich and bloodsucking hawks, right?
And this is a timely topic, too. In the last few months, the historical Adam has become a popular point of discussion in American Protestant circles. It was a Christianity Today cover story in June, and Biologos and the Jesus Creed blog have both been steadily exploring it.
The fact that this particular issue has come to the fore indicates that the “origins debate” has changed: many evangelical Christians are now exploring how evolution fits within Christianity rather than reacting antagonistically to it.
Back to Mikey’s question: what is a Christian to do with apparent pre-fall chaos? I’ve jotted down a few more thoughts, but instead of looking at science and the primal couple, I’ve taken a more biblical-theological angle, plus some inspiration from the church fathers.
See what you think!
ZERO. The creation was made very good — that is, just how God wanted it to be, the fitting backdrop to God’s work. However — and this is worth emphasising — the creation was not initially perfected; the creation was always incomplete.
Here are two reasons for this, which form complementary reasons why “pre-fall chaos” shouldn’t alarm us.
ONE. Humanity was commanded to extend God’s sanctuary-garden over the whole creation. The creation required an ongoing co-creative work of filling and multiplying. From the beginning, there was a whole planet awaiting the arrival of Eden. And, mysteriously, there was also a crooked serpent in the garden. This is all part of the pre-fall picture.
Even if we cannot say that chaos has always been present, there remains a sense in which the very good creation was always anticipating further manifestations of divine order.
TWO. The creation finds its perfection only in Christ, the true human. The creation was always waiting to be swept further up into the life of God through God’s representative image-bearers. Humans failed in this task, but humanity completes its task in Christ.
SALVATION. As Protestants, we’ve come to emphasise the post-fall brokenness of creation, in which case salvation is all about redemption: rescue, repair, correction.
However, there’s also a second dimension of salvation: the upward movement into the life of God. (This was something particularly identified by Irenaeus & co as part of “recapitulation”.) Adam and Eve weren’t created in perfected form, but were created for an eternity of moving ever closer to God. Sin derailed this trajectory; Christ restores it and completes it.
So then, if salvation is about not only redemption but also perfection, this leaves us with some relevant questions:
• What if the fall is not the ultimate before-and-after event?
• What if pre-to-post-fall is not the primary movement in history?
It seems to me that the recovery of this second dimension of salvation alleviates some of our anxiety about natural history.
How does this sound to you? What seem to be the ongoing issues here?
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.