A New Theology?

Vantage Point

One of the first principles I learned when I came into the Reformed family of churches was that we are “Reformed and ever reforming according to the Word of God.” It would seem that we ought to adapt to the challenges of our contemporary culture and society. But this thought bothers me.

First, the numerous areas mentioned in the article “Tomorrow’s Theology” June 2013) that need reforming, from origins to worldview, cannot be based on evolutionary theory informing orthodox theology. I’m all in favor of scientific exploration and am constantly amazed by the boundaries of modern physics and astrophysics. I regularly engage in discussion regarding science and its new discoveries with a good friend who’s a professor of astrophysics at the University of Wisconsin. I do not however, inform my theology based on scientific theories or discoveries. In fact, scientific discoveries reinforce my understanding of our Sovereign God and his creation.

Second, theology ought to be done with humility, as should science. Humility dictates that principles and theories are subjected to rigorous testing and analysis to verify the truth of the hypothesis. Based on a couple of works by Dr. Michael Behe, a significant number of people in the scientific community withhold support for a universal theory of evolution. With humility then, we ought to carefully consider the consequences of switching to a “Tomorrow’s Theology” solution based on unverifiable and theoretical science.

Third, if the stated purpose for printing this article was to provide hope for college-age young people, perhaps we ought to ask how this will help them deal effectively with their doubts about Scripture, the gospel, and Reformed theology. Redefining the nature of origins, sin, the sovereignty of God, the Trinity and Jesus in particular, salvation, and a Christian worldview based on evolution can only create new doubts and fears, built as it can only be on the shaky ground of knowledge based on our own history, reason, and ability.

Finally, such thinking leads to heresy. By going down this path based on evolutionary theory, we are no better than the Gnostics, Christian scientists, Scientologists, and a host of other religious thinkers who have led the church in a direction other than the good news of Jesus Christ. It’s hard to maintain our understanding of the Old and New Testament when we take out of our confession the phrases “maker of the heavens and the earth” and “by whom all things are created.”

If we accept Mark 1:15 as a compact statement of the gospel, we ought to reject all speculation that grounds our theology in anything less than the Word of God. The gospel tells us that we are sinful by nature and points to Jesus as the only solution to our condition. All of Scripture points to this simple and significant fact. This view of the gospel gives meaning to who we are as individuals and as a covenant family of God. It equips us to understand that to be “Reformed and ever reforming” means we are being reformed and ever reforming according to the Word of God, not that Scripture itself is being reformed and ever reforming according to each new generation’s human understanding of it.

About the Author

Rev. Paul Hansen is pastor of First Christian Reformed Church, Artesia, California.

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Comments

Rev. Hansen - you are right on! Amen! and Amen! The Word of God, is Truth! It will stand the test of time and it will be here at the end of time! May we continue to read it, believe it and stand up for it!

Well said, Paul!  If we adapt to what's around us, we must adapt according to the Word as God gave it to us.  We must reform ourselves, not reform scripture. 

Thank you for your concern for our young bright minds.

I certainly agree that our creeds and confessions should never remove the the truth that God is the maker of heaven and earth.

I wasn't quite sure what you meant about "a couple of works by Dr. Michael Behe" somehow influencing the scientific community.  Do you know that he believes in the common descent of all species, including human beings from ancient primates.  He simply believes that natural selection and other natural factors cannot explain how new species develop.   Is that a good thing to acknowledge in theology?  Or a bad thing?

"In his book, Behe argues that while evolution can produce changes within species, there is a limit to the ability of evolution to generate diversity, and this limit (the "edge of evolution") is somewhere between species and orders. On this basis, he says that known evolutionary mechanisms cannot be responsible for all the observed diversification from the last universal ancestor and the intervention of an intelligent designer can adequately account for much of the diversity of life. It is Behe's second intelligent design book, his first being Darwin's Black Box."   Behe appears to be basically an evolutionist, but acknowledges that based on the evidence, evolutionary mechanisms cannot be solely responsible for all observed diversification.    The point here is that the evolutionary theory by itself cannot account for all the diversification (based on the null hypothesis approach).    Evolutionists and creationists and evolutionary creationists can use this point in developing their own theories. 

I suppose that is a point here.  My point is that by embracing Behe's convictions about evolutionary processes and common ancestory, even if he thinks that there elements missing (ie, Intelligent Design) in the present scientific consensus, we have gone just as far at Walhout has recommended, haven't we?

Paul quoted Greek poets in Acts 17. He didn't embrase their belief about Zeus. But he did understand his audience. They would have scoffed if he'd quoted scripture.

So Paul was tongue-in-cheek, so to speak?  Is it also possible that Paul simply believed that some pagan poets got some of the the attributes of God correct?  There is a whole lot of difference between the motive and tone between those two possiblities, wouldn't you say Rosemarie?  Dialogue versus war, perhaps?  Paul was not afraid of being scoffed at.  He just wanted to make sure he put the stumbling block in the right place.  

Perhaps I shouldn't have said "scoffed". What I meant to convey was that Paul had taken the time to understand the people he was talking to. He knew what interested them and what works they respected. He used that knowledge as a stepping stone to introduce the "unknown god" to them. I think this coincides with what Pastor Hanson is saying about the works of Behe. It wouldn't impress secular scientists if you quoted scriptures at them. They respect the work of Dr. Behe and it becomes a stepping stone to introduce the "unknown God" to them.

I agree. As long as this isn't "bait and switch".  Can you imagine the consternation of converted scientists being told that now they are Christians, they need to let go of pagan notions like the old age of the earth, established geology, astrophysics, and evidence for common descent in the fossil and genetic record?   

Since the author of this articled seems to be convinced that the scientific consensus has been jolted to the core and crumbling by people like Behe, it just seems like he has been made another casuality of YEC demogogary and misinformation.  Perhaps I have completely misunderstood him. 

I am an evangelist at heart and in practice, so your concern connects with me.  

 

What is the essence of evolutionary theory?   Is it selection within species?  No, I think not.  Is it mutations leading to significant change?  No, because most changes are deleterious.  Is it survival of the fittest?  No, because survival could simply reduce species (extinctions).  Is it millions of years?  No, because millions of years does not automatically result in change.  (consider dead planets).  So what is the essence?  It is a change from microbes or atoms, to slow progressive change into a variety of organisms leading to human beings as the ultimate pinnacle of change, at least for the present.  So, no one item such as selection, mutations, adaptations, long periods of time, survival, by themselves are proof of the type of evolution that we are concerned with.   While they are mentioned as necessary mechanisms for evolution, they are not proof of evolution, and are not "evolution in action".  Even though evolution postulates some things which are then found to be true, that also does not prove evolution. 

Let me make an analogy.   Some people postulate that people are basically good.   Others say that people are basically evil.  If people are basically good, you would expect to see some good behaviour, which we do see.  If people are basically bad, we would expect to see some bad behaviour, which we do see.  Simply having some expectations fulfilled, does not prove one or the other. 

In the theory of evolution, we have to have every necessary condition, in order for it to work.  But even if you have every condition, it is still possible that it didn't actually happen.  The confusion comes in for Behe when he is an evolutionist who says that God intervened in some way to speed up mutations, or to create compound beneficial mutations at specific times to allow new species or orders of plants and animals to originate.  If God did that, then we are speculating, and we can also say that is not evolution, but creation.   If God did that once, then God did it several times, and that means that there is no provable correlation to commonly held geologic time periods, nor even to lines of ancestry.  If God changed a cow into a whale, then He could have changed a mouse into a fish, or a dog into a man.  How could we put limits on the ability of God to create the mutations necessary to change species dramatically?  Therefore, when we speak of some of these things, we are putting the definition of evolution into a constant state of flux.   And we are back to the tower of Babel, not understanding one another. 

Really happy to see this response!  We in the United Reformed Churches, many of whom were once associated with the CRC, would love to see the CRC reformed from within or would welcome you to join our churches and bring your wealth of knowledge, experience and love for the Lord and for the faith of our fathers!

Amen to that Paul Hansen! Thanks for this article!

Mark, conversely, there are many in the CRC who would love to see those from the United Reformed Churches bring your steadfastness to Scripture and love for the confessions back to the CRC :)

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