Creation and Election

The BioLogos thread on the historicity of Adam turns out to be another important one, though the most interesting bit has got hived off to a sub-thread involving the Usual Suspects here, one Ex-Suspect and Christy (who so far is not suspected of anything, though she’d be most welcome on The Hump). I venture to suggest that amongst these there is broad agreement (though they may not fully realise it) that classical Christianity requires that Adam and Eve are not optional, and that attempts to make them so at least amount to new doctrine (so Eddie) and more strongly that such attempts amount to heterodoxy. That a significant strand in the BioLogos leadership don’t see it that way, or don’t think it matters in the light of scientific inevitability, is why I think the BioLogos programme is severely compromised as an attempt at a science-faith synthesis for Evangelicals.

I also don’t think those on that thread are very far apart on agreeing that some kind of Homo divinus model works with both good theology and good science. If I haven’t got him wrong, Eddie wants to avoid any “non-overlapping magisteria” fudge (to which I reply “Amen”, except that close examination of the current science shows it to be largely irrelevant to the Adam queston anyway).

Perhaps he also baulks at the kind of “non-overlapping magisteria on the ground” idea, propounded by the last Pope amongst others, that God creates man’s body by evolution (scientific bit) and adds an immortal soul for Adam (non-scientific bit). To that I replied in my post on that thread that the Catholic concept of an immortal soul is, at best, only a working approximation to what biblical anthropology actually teaches.

All that being so, I want to use it as a springboard for a further exploration here. And that is to look at the links and differences between God’s creation and his election, since many positions obfuscate by failing to distinguish them adequately. For example, regarding Genesis 1 a good number of TEs have fallen into the assumption that God chose the most suitable of the beasts on which to “put his image” in order to create mankind as we know it.

That covers a multitude of positions (and sins, probably): at one incoherent extreme, an autonomous evolution just happens to turn up an intelligent ape rather than an octopus, giving a delighted and probably relieved God “raw materials” for humanity, though others would concede that God somehow influenced the biological outcomes too. And the result of that choosing of a species ranges anywhere from the provision of an immortal soul, as in the Catholic reconstructions, through various more biological views like giving rationality or a sense of symbolism (perhaps at the “Giant Leap Forward” suggested for c40-60K years ago), to a simple matter of bringing certain men or all men into some kind of relationship to himself.

The common feature of all these is that they make the image of God in man a matter of election – choosing. Now Scripture is certainly full of God’s sovereign election of individuals and peoples (sorry, all you Arminians and Pelagians out there). Abraham, the line of “promise” amongst his descendants and the resulting nation of Israel, Moses, David, many of the prophets and so on were all chosen freely and sovereignly by the grace of God for blessing and service – not to mention the teaching about our election to salvation by grace in the New Testament.

But Genesis 1 isn’t about election – it’s about creation; not choosing, but bringing into being from non-existence (or into function from futility, in John Walton’s understanding of the text). Man was created in the image and likeness of God – the image is what makes him a living human being at all. If one regards the image as an addition to man, by God’s election of the species, or of some members of it, then one destroys the unity that in both Hebrew and Thomistic thinking constitutes man. Our bodies become, as in “pie in the sky when you die” quasi-platonic popularisations of Christianity, the dispensible and even hindering encumbrances from which our spiritual souls need to be released. One is left with a dualistic concept of man that truly is incompatible with biblical religion.

How one squares that circle, in the sense of integrating the biological origins of man with what Genesis 1 means by his creation, I don’t know. But I’m happy to be agnostic on that, having concluded already that whatever insights evolution may provide, it cannot give an adequately complete account of our true humanity: it can’t even define it because of the problems evolution has with any kind of universal categories like “man”.


Now let us move on to Genesis 2-4, and ask of the Adam and Eve account the same question: does it speak of creation, or of election? With some confidence I would say that, in genre, it is not a creation account as such – which is why the Hebrew word bara, “create”, doesn’t occur in it at all, recurring only in the summary leading into the next section. Textually, there is no good reason to take its account of the formation of Adam as a restatement of the creation of man in ch1, as indeed many commentators have pointed out. Yes, it speaks of God’s forming Adam from the dust of the ground and breathing his breath into him so that he becomes (note!) a soul, but Walton (ever-helpful) shows how this kind of idiom is widely used in Scripture and elsewhere in the ANE to show simply that our origin is from the earth and from God’s hand: we are all but dust (Ps 103) and God formed each of us (Ps 139).

What actually happens to Adam has the flavour of election, in that he is personally privileged to name (= assign functions) to the animals, he is given an elect wife, he is taken into the garden and assigned his work, he is given access to the eternal life of God and to God himself, and (as I have argued elsewhere) it is hinted, by the prohibition against eating the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, aka wisdom, that in God his wisdom will also become perfect. Now all these blessings are akin to what is promised to God’s elect throughout the Bible, from Abraham onwards: they are what we too are promised in Christ.

And so I suggest that the emphasis of Genesis 2-4 is on the election of Adam, and subsequently Eve, as individuals. He becomes thereby the archetype of the whole race. This, of course, is quite compatible with the idea that he might have been called, in the cultural time and place laid out in the text, from amongst the already-created race of men – the race created, that is, in and as God’s image. Adam would then be a proto-Abraham, a proto-Israel or a proto-Christ, chosen by grace from amongst men and becoming, in a not altogether different way, a representative on behalf of all men, though one noted for his failure.

However, to say that the story of Adam emphasises, in the Scripture, election is not to exclude creation from it altogether. Although the original Genesis 1 account is about the foundation of the world we live in, Scripture does not limit God’s work in creation to those seven days (you can easily do a word study on bara which demonstrates that clearly). Man is only truly man in relationship to God. He had eternity in his heart from his origin, and that is why we long for eternal life and find death so abhorrent. We were made for God, and Adam was the first to know God. And so it is not surprising that Paul, in 1 Corinthians 11, bases his argument on Genesis 2-3, saying that man was created first, and woman for man rather than vice versa. I don’t think such language implies that the Adam story is just a re-run of the creation account, but it does suggest that his election to service in the garden involved God as Creator, as well as Covenant-maker.

That, too, ought to be no great surprise. In our time, the election of God is always election in Christ, and election to salvation, good works and eternal life. And the inevitable outcome of that election for any individual believer is this: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

And so, if Adam were indeed taken from the mass of mankind and placed in a sacred precinct, perhaps now covered by waters of the Persian Gulf, he would still be something entirely new in creation, the fountainhead and archetype of humanity and the antitype of Christ.

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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21 Responses to Creation and Election

  1. Hanan says:

    The only issue I have with the election of Adam is in regards to his punishment. If he is but a chosen one amongst already existing population of men, than how does one make sense of death entering the world? Surely people before him had died.

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

      Hanan –

      In the Homo divinus model, freedom from death is a new privilege gained through fellowship with God – as Genesis 1 makes clear in the description of the tree of life in the midst of the garden in which only Adam was placed. From this is follows that death was natural (it came to A&E simply by their being deinied the tree of life), and immortality a supernatural gift.

      As Adam is the fount of this new humanity, whose intended role was to spread the knowledge of Yahweh, and eternal life, through the world, the loss of that gift was its loss for all humanity. Worse, it was a spiritual loss because the perverted knowledge of God did indeed spread, together with the sinful rebellion and corruption which had earned A&E the penalty of death in the first place. Sin made death something more than biological – the book of Revelation describes its final effects as “the second death”.

  2. Hanan says:

    I know I have shared with you this link before but I figure it is germane to the discussion

  3. Avatar photo Merv Bitikofer says:

    This is my “latecomers reaction” to not only this post, but some of the other references you’ve made to Biologos threads, some of which have since closed down from inactivity.

    First, while I agree that Adam and Eve may not be (are probably not) “optional” to general theology, it seems this is not as strong a claim as thinking they must be central. Or if that is indeed your claim, Jon or Eddie or others of the Biologos discussions, then it seems to me that, as Christians we would have gotten our theology inverted. I am not as well-read in all the mainstream theologians as all of you, but I think I can name at least one current theologian (George Murphy) who insists that as Christians we do not start with Adam; we start with Christ, and that Adam, and indeed all the Old and New testaments are only understood in Christ’s light — not the other way around. I can sympathize with those who object and ask how one goes about understanding Christ if they do not first know something of the history that led up to Him. But that is only a secular view of history that is wholly bound by apparent temporal precedence. A Christological view sees Christ involved in (doing!) creation itself and so even Adam is not first in that sense, but most certainly not first as an luminary of our faith.

    All that said, it is fascinating how much the historical Adam does inform Paul’s letters, even in ways that most Christians have recently and deliberately neglected. Scott McKnight in his video about Adam on the Biologos site brings up several times in passing (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) his critique of Paul for letting women off the hook by referring to sin as entering the world through one man (Adam) and saying nothing about Eve as if she had nothing to do with it.

    But actually if one was concerned about Paul not wanting to share the blame around according to 21st century egalitarian standards (in certain western cultures), they only need to flip over to his letter to Timothy (I Tim. 2) where he not only indicts women specifically, but even justifies his command that women keep silent before men on that very assertion of male precedence in existence and female precedence for being deceived. (For Adam was not deceived, but Eve was…) How many conservative Christians do you see pounding their pulpits on this passage today? Okay, I know a few who would — but most of us including all the conservatives I know do not spend time here, probably because even they do not insist that their women keep total silence in church, and hence are not in any position to be throwing stones at the rest of us who more freely see Paul’s position as a cultural relic.

    But all this is just to suggest that however Paul saw Adam and Eve, he most freely made use of them as a basis for doctrinal understanding and even specific exhortation. I’m far from sure though, that one can justify the claim that Paul would be pushing for biological historicity of Adam and Eve were he alive today. For one thing, he also based appeals on the metaphorical lineages of Sarah and Hagar and there is no doubt that he would have rejected literal historicity (much less biological!) in that case, which doesn’t slow him down one whit promulgating much more significant doctrine on the basis of these deeper (non-biological, non-historical) spiritual truths. To me that makes nonsense of the claim that Paul would deeply imbibe and approve of our modern fixation on historicity (as an essential prerequisite for all would-be doctrinal assertion) that some try so hard to impute back onto him.

    • Avatar photo Merv Bitikofer says:

      To clarify on one point above: I wasn’t suggesting that Paul would think Hagar or Sarah didn’t historically exist. My point is that very few of us are literally or biologically descended from them, and that Paul of course knew that full well, and yet had no problem teaching doctrinal truths based on spiritual descent instead.

      • Avatar photo GD says:


        It is worth pointing out Luk3:23-38, esp vs 38, when we discuss ‘putting Christ first’. Whatever opinions people put forward regarding matters such as Adam and Eve, it takes odd mental gymnastics to believe Adam was a figment of someone’s imagination or a requirement by Eastern creation narratives. The Hebrews went to some lengths to show how different they were, not how similar, to civilisations around them.

      • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

        FWIW Merv, at no point have I suggested that the essential historicity of Adam and Eve is central – just that it’s not optional.

        Apart from the weight that scriptural theology (especially Paul, of course) puts upon them it’s partly a question of hermeneutical approach: so often the new interpretations are dependent on a hermeneutics of error (eg science shows the Bible must be wrong) rather than a hermeneutics of trust (the Bible being God’s word, what is it actually teaching here?). In things I’ve written, I’ve tried to follow those who treat the latter question seriously.

        As for putting Christ centrally, I’m all for it – you’ll remember I did a six-part series on the christological creation, and more recently explored Philip Edgcumbe Hughes work on how mankind after God’s image is actually mankind in the image of the Son, the true Image of God – with all the implications of that for the rest of theology.

        But don’t you find that the “Putting Christ at the Centre” theme is sometimes used as a free pass for explaining troublesome issues away: “The Bible isn’t about science/history/ethics/origins (etc), it’s about faith in Jesus”. But the Bible has set its own agenda for placing Christ in context, not as an isolated phenomenon. A key part of that is the contrast between his being the successful archetype of a new humanity at the Incarnation and the failed humanity of the first archetype.

        Any doubts about the truth of the first archetype are equally applicable to the new – neither of us would want to say that the gospel isn’t just about obscure events in 1st century Judaea, but about Christ – Christ is all about those “obscure events” or there is no gospel.

    • Avatar photo Edward Robinson says:

      Hi, Merv.

      Since I’m mentioned in your comments, I feel entitled to throw in my own reply, separate from John’s.

      Regarding George Murphy, I have found him to be one of the few TE leaders who is widely read in historical theology — Luther, the Fathers, major modern developments, etc. — and therefore I tend to take his theological comments more seriously than those of, say, Ard Louis, Kathryn Applegate, Darrel Falk, etc., who appear to have done very little such reading. His Christ-centered focus for Christian doctrine is of course defensible, though as always the devil is in the details.

      For example, “Christ” has many meanings. If it refers mainly to Jesus as Messiah (which is what “Christ” means) then it has no necessary reference to creation doctrine. And if it refers mainly to Christ as *suffering* (which is a big emphasis in Murphy), then again, it has no necessary reference to creation doctrine. But if it refers to Christ as Logos (John 1), then, since the Logos has a role in creation, Christ has a definite role in creation — is centrally involved in it.

      Where I find a problem in Murphy’s account of evolutionary creation as “Christlike” (because it involves suffering, as Christ suffered) is in the tension between the two ideas of Jesus on the Cross and the Logos through whom all things are made. The Logos (word, speech, command, rational ordering — render it how you will) is not something I would associate with *passivity* — with letting oneself suffer, letting oneself be acted upon. I would think of the word as *active* — as an ordering force in creation. When I think of Jesus as “word” I think of him being right in there with God the Father, ordering the creation of the world, assigning each thing its place, etc. When I think of Jesus as suffering on the Cross, I think of him as having voluntarily emptied himself of his divine prerogatives, letting himself suffer as creatures suffer, making himself object to the forces of the world instead of the subject who produced the world. So the two images — the suffering servant and the layer-out of stars and galaxies and mountains and seas — don’t easily cohere in my mind.

      I am not denying that Jesus was *serially* both creator and sufferer; what I have trouble with in Murphy’s thought is that Murphy wants these two aspects of Jesus to be seen as *simultaneous* in the act of creating the world: that Jesus creates via suffering, via letting go of his divine power, or something like that. Thus, the evolutionary process (1) is “free” (i.e., purely natural), because Jesus does not impose himself upon it (a view which is Falk-like); or (2) is like Jesus’s suffering on the cross, because for anything noble to come out of it there must be much pain and loss along the way (animal death, species extinction, etc.). It’s unclear to me how much emphasis Murphy would place upon each of these numbered interpretations.

      I find Murphy’s notion of creation via a suffering Christ, while certainly in intention based on Scripture, to be debatable. It is one thing to say that the same Logos who created the world later on became incarnate and suffered as a man; it is another thing to say that the Logos “created in a suffering way,” that somehow the suffering character of Jesus of Nazareth is present in the actual creation of the world. I don’t see very much Biblical evidence that we are to interpret Christ’s manner *on the cross* as the manner of the Logos *in creating the world*. That strikes me as a large speculative leap on Murphy’s part. And I can’t help but think that Murphy is partly motivated by a need — as scientist — to read evolution in theological terms. I don’t think that’s his only motivation — unlike many other TE leaders he has genuine theological interests outside of vindicating evolution — but I suspect it is a factor in his willingness to “back-read” the Jesus of Nazareth of the Cross into the creation of the world.

      Now, regarding Adam and Eve and the Garden — I don’t think that this story is central to Christian theology in the way that some other things are. Nor do I insist upon it as “history” in the way that creationists do. It does seem to me, however, that there has to be a real “Fall” — even if the story of the Fall in Genesis is expressed poetically rather than as objective chronicle. When Paul parallels Adam and Christ, some sort of real alienation of Adam from God is presupposed.

      As for some of the *explanations* of the Fall, Sin, Atonement, etc. offered by theologians, I think there is room for Christians to reserve judgment. For example is “original sin” transmitted through procreation, as if it some sort of fluid passing down from generation to generation? I don’t see that as necessary to Christian teaching, but as a sort of metaphysical speculation. Indeed, even the phrase “original sin” — which does not occur in Genesis (does it occur in Paul? and if so, does it there have anything like its later meaning?) — seems to me, as normally used, to be laden with speculative elements. No *natural* reading of Genesis by itself would introduce “original sin” to explain anything that happens in the story. It is only when Christians are coached by clergy or theologians that they see it there. The word “sin” isn’t even used in the Garden story — which is very odd if the main point of the Garden story is to show the origin of “sin.” So again, I think there is room for discussion and debate among Christians regarding the meaning of the Garden story.

      On the biological question, it certainly seems that the Church has taught that Adam is the father of *all* human beings without exception, which seems to clash with the teaching of BioLogos. It seems to me that this teaching can be got around in only one of three ways:

      1. Calvin, Augustine, etc. have misread certain statements of Paul;

      2. Paul did not intend his statements about Adam and Christ to be understood in the sort of mechanical way that Augustine, etc., would later take them; he expressed a theological truth in the biology/anthropology of his time, but that biology/anthropology was incidental to his theological message and can be excised;

      3. Paul misunderstood and/or misused Genesis.

      Now, a Bible scholar in a secular setting has all three of these options open to him. A Bible scholar in the evangelical world does not have Option 3, since an evangelical is supposed to believe that the Bible does not err.

      So BioLogos, if it *insists* that all human beings cannot possibly have come from one couple, has to articulate one of the first two options. And so far, it has done a pretty poor job (in my view) of articulating either.

      BioLogos simply refuses to discuss traditional theology in anything but the most superficial and passing manner, so its coverage of Option 1 is pretty well non-existent.

      As for Option 2 — BioLogos hasn’t done a great deal of work on Paul’s reading of Genesis; or rather, the detailed work it did present was that of Pete Enns; but Enns was sacked, the implication being that Enns went too far in some of his statements (possibly including his statements about Paul); so with Enns gone, what *is* the BioLogos view of Paul’s reading of Genesis? Is BioLogos saying that Paul really did believe that all human beings came from an original couple, but Paul’s belief doesn’t count as divine revelation, but only as an incidental belief Paul held as a Jew of his time? Or is BioLogos saying that Paul would have had no problem accepting genetically and phenotypically fully human contemporaries (10,000 of them!) of Adam and Eve? The first option puts BioLogos in the position of picking and choosing which words of the Bible are revelation and which aren’t, which is hardly traditional evangelical belief; the second option requires much more interpretive work — and we haven’t seen that on BioLogos — unless Walton has dealt with Paul’s statements and I’ve missed his comments.

      From my point of view, the revisiting of Pauline doctrine by BioLogos is purely externally motivated — by the need to vindicate modern population genetics and its (alleged) certain results and to vindicate Darwin more generally. The idea is to produce an alternate reading of the Bible which comports with modern science. But this of course has been the thrust of Christian liberalism since the Enlightenment — modifying Christian teachings one by one to keep up with modern thought — in science, ethics, relations of men and women, etc. I therefore continue to see BioLogos as continuing along the path already walked by the mainstream Protestant denominations. I don’t see how, in the end, “evangelical” Christianity is going to look any different from the mainline denominations, if this motivation is the dominant one. Already I can walk into a mainline church and hear a sermon endorsing Marx, Freud, feminism, deconstructionism, multiverses, the Kyoto Accord (or its current equivalents), the rightness of same-sex marriage — anything but traditional Anglican, Reformed, Lutheran, or Wesleyan doctrine. I think that 50 years from now the situation won’t be any different in the “evangelical” churches which support BioLogos and to which BioLogos makes its appeal. If the main evangelical strategy is going to be to make Christianity more appealing to modern people by harmonizing it with modern thought, rather than by unapologetically teaching the Bible and the tradition, I don’t think there can be any other outcome.

      So sure, I could live with a “mythical” Adam and Eve like that of Lamoureux; a myth can after all depict something *real* (e.g., a “Fall”); but the *motivation* for saying they are “mythical” has to be Biblical, i.e., it has to be shown that the *genre* of the story is “myth” and that Adam and Eve were never meant to be understood as “historical”; if the motivation is to get rid of Adam and Eve to make room for Darwin, that’s the wrong motivation.

      I fear that TE/EC continually puts the cart before the horse, and is always trying to adjust Christian theology for science before it has even begun to fathom what exactly Christian theology teaches. Hence my repeated gauntlet-throwing to Applegate, Ard Louis, Falk, Venema, etc. to stop hiding behind their fossils and their genomes and their “randomness” and to come out and declare themselves on points of Christian theology. But they continue to hide their deepest convictions, or else to express them in such vague “motherhood” terms that they don’t amount to anything testable against Biblical texts or established traditions. Or they say they haven’t made up their minds yet about the theology — which is odd for an evangelical Christian, to be unsure of his or her own theology, but *certain* that Darwin was right in biology. They sure don’t make American evangelicals like they used to!

  4. Avatar photo Merv Bitikofer says:

    These days with school started I will not be able to reciprocate in kind on the long, thought-out, and research-backed responses that you bring to bear above. I do appreciate all this freely given access to your thoughts, though.

    Let me just say this: I appreciate and I think agree with the important thrusts of your cautionary clarifications, Jon and Eddie. GD, you raise a good point about the mental gymnastics involved with the given genealogy. I have no good answer for that — other than to suggest that when you use the phrase “figment of someone’s imagination”, that strikes me as a peculiarly 20th century pejorative phrase in which the imagination (divorced from reality) is deemed worthless (a mere ‘figment’) whereas the physically historical is held in unrivaled esteem. To say that Paul might not have insisted on historicity were he here today responding to people pushing on that specific issue (a possibility I think I still maintain), is not the same as conceding that he would be willing to call them “a figment of imagination” — which (I agree with you) I can’t imagine him doing.

    Eddie, I can appreciate your thoughtful analysis of Murphy’s work. My exposure to him consists in having read (once) his book “Cosmos in the Light of the Cross”. I was impressed by the main thrust that I can remember of holding everything up to that peculiar light. Your critique of his work is much more detailed and in depth than I can respond to without reading the book again (an unlikely endeavor now that school has started again for me.)

    Let me just make these observations, though. You wrote early on that …

    ” The Logos (word, speech, command, rational ordering — render it how you will) is not something I would associate with *passivity* — with letting oneself suffer, letting oneself be acted upon.”

    None of us would make that association, and yet I don’t rule it out as quickly as you may seem to here. I think part of the whole incarnational event is the scandalous offense it causes against all human wisdom (indeed parading principalities and powers around in a way that is ultimately the most embarrassing for them had we the eyes of faith to see that now.) I don’t think the notion of the “lion” and the “slain lamb” are so easily separated, contradictory though they seem to us. Eschatologically we want the slain lamb to be part of a never-to-return past, and the conquering Lion of Judah to be the only Messianic identity on display in His triumphant return. But even John in his apocalypse will not accommodate our wish as he sees in his vision the slain lamb triumphant to open the scroll. There is something powerful in the meek allowance of evil having its way at your expense. Every fiber in our human selves screams against it, even after the Cross event and Jesus’ teachings that take ordinary kingdom rules and turn them on their head. But it is nonetheless the power of Christ (God’s weakness trumping human strength). And my vague recollection is that Murphy pounded this theme home, extending it all through the cosmos, creation event and all. You may be right to critique his hermeneutic. As I said, I can’t hold up my own end of the argument on those details without a lot more study of my own. But I do remember feeling challenged (as an Anabaptist who is supposed to be all about nonviolence in a violent world) by Murphy (who as a Lutheran is not an Anabaptist in any way form) on a theme of seeing everything through the lens of Christ, and being favorably impressed on that point.

    And I’m not suggesting that any of us here are in tension on that point. I think Jon (and all of you) have made it clear that Christ is indeed central. I’m only just reacting to your reaction to Murphy’s appraisal of Christ’s action in the Cosmos.

    For what it’s worth, I think I belong in your category #2 as you outlined it, though I’m in no position to express an opinion either way on #1 since my own personal reading of Augustine is not more than about one book, and my study of Calvin nil.

    I do share in your [Eddie’s] disdain for a theology motivated only by self-synchronization with whatever latest scientific fad. But of course the devil is in those details too, as we already all here stand accused by some of that very thing over the fact that we are willing to countenance evolutionary biology with its ancient physical death.

    Must sign off for the evening here. Blessings to all.

    • Avatar photo Edward Robinson says:

      Thanks, Merv. Good comments. I really should look at Murphy’s book sometime. Actually, his ideas don’t entirely repel me, and they seem to me to be a good antidote to a certain kind of fundamentalism which is more worried about proving the historicity of the Flood than it is about seeing all of life through the lens of the Gospel. It’s just that I’m not entirely convinced by the articles of his that I’ve read that there is much Biblical support for God suffering *in creation*. But maybe there is more evidence in his book than in his articles.

  5. Avatar photo GD says:

    A quick comment on historicity and the Bible – if we read the Gospels, for example, we will gain a particular impression on how the authors (and subsequently the Church) regarded historical and geological details. From what I have gathered reading various scholars, such details may be understood (within a detailed history) after arduous investigations, yet they are presented in the Gospels as incidental. One (of a number) of reasons put forward for this, is the sources are often oral, either directly from discussions with the Apostles, or others who were involved in these discussions, and an audience that considered such details as given. So I use the term ‘figment of someone’s imaginations’ to indicate a wrong approach to the notion of historic content in Biblical teachings, especially put forward by those with various opinions that seek a myth. It is worth remembering that a writer can simply refer to something occurring at a general time and place, using a few words, because his major theme does not require details on specific times and places. I understand this may frustrate people at some future time who become involved in arguments that make such incidental details central to their arguments – but this is a product of their arguments and should be recognised as such.

  6. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    My own reaction to putting suffering as the central theme of creation, and because the Trinity is eternal therefore at the centre of the Godhead itself, is that it goes infinitely beyond the testimony of Scripture. It’s speculative theology, where premise builds upon premise in order, finally, to tell a new story about perceived reality, rather than to interpret the story of biblical revelation.

    I don’t know about Murphy, but Moltmann, for example, adopted a theory that since God is infinite, he has to make room for creation by diminishing himself, and so divine suffering begins everything… which gives the appearance of being congruent with the revelation of suffering in the Cross – but is absolutely absent in the teaching of either Testament, even in the light of the Cross. The Creation was a time when “the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy”.

    Murphy (from his BioLogos threads) seems to start from suffering in creation, seen through the Darwinian “red in tooth and claw” spectacles which, frankly, correspond to nothing in the scriptural doctrine of creation. Creation is very good, and is constantly pictured as being restored by the removal of sin.

    Murphy’s contention once more unites creation and Christ through the word “suffering”, which then assimilates the concept of sin under the same “suffering” rather than as “rebellion”, disobedience” or most positively “disease”, which are the concepts used in Scripture. Creation is certainly linked to Christ in Scripture, in passages like Col 1.15ff, but not through suffering except in terms of reconciliation (parts of the creation having lost their peace with their Creator through sin).

    I assess such ideas by asking what we are intended to learn through the passion of Christ. Is it that suffering is at the heart of everything? I think not, for the narrative contrast is between our ungrateful rejection of the blessings of creation (in Eden) and the gratuitously generous love of God in giving his Son for us nonetheless.

    And yet, even that sacrifice, for Christ, was “for the joy set before him” – he suffered, but was raised and glorified (which itself was a return to pre-existing glory, augmented by the declaration of his victory). The “wounds yet visible above” are not about the essential nature of suffering, but a reminder of love and its victory over suffering – which is by its very nature the corruption of creation.

    The role of Christ as our archetype and forerunner also, I think, makes suffering a secondary, not a primary, theme, of the “divine history”. Our created state was all blessing – our suffering, in the biblical as opposed to the evolutionary narrative, was thoroughly deserved by opposing God’s good creation ordinance.

    Salvation from sin is represented as parallel to Christ’s life – by humbling ourselves in repentance, we participate in the act of Christ’s suffering in the Incarnation (and share in the Christian life in that sacrificial love), but the goal is resurrection to the victory and drying of every tear as everything is restored in subordinatin to Christ, and his Father.

    And so there is a parallel series. For us:
    Joyful fellowship with God as creatures-> deserved suffering through sin-> restoration to greater glory through Christ’s victory.

    For Christ:
    Joyful fellowship with God as Creator-> undeserved suffering through sin-> restoration to greater glory through his own victory.

  7. Avatar photo GD says:


    While I must admit that there are things that Calvin has written that are perhaps different to what I am used to reading, I find the following extract from his book illuminating and relevant to these type of discussions:

    “By the knowledge of God, I understand that by which we not only conceive that there is some God, but also apprehend what it is for our interest, and conducive to his glory, what, in short, it is befitting to know concerning him. For, properly speaking, we cannot say that God is known where there is no religion or piety. I am not now referring to that species of knowledge by which men, in themselves lost and under curse, apprehend God as a Redeemer in Christ the Mediator. I speak only of that simple and primitive knowledge, to which the mere course of nature would have conducted us, had Adam stood upright. For although no man will now, in the present ruin of the human race, perceive God to be either a father, or the author of salvation, or propitious in any respect, until Christ interpose to make our peace; still it is one thing to perceive that God our Maker supports us by his power, rules us by his providence, fosters us by his goodness, and visits us with all kinds of blessings, and another thing to embrace the grace of reconciliation offered to us in Christ. Since, then, the Lord first appears, as well in the creation of the world as in the general doctrine of Scripture, simply as a Creator, and afterwards as a Redeemer in Christ, – a twofold knowledge of him hence arises: of these the former is now to be considered, the latter will afterwards follow in its order. “

  8. Avatar photo GD says:

    I feel inclined to make a comment regarding the various criticisms made against Biologos on the Hump (and at times at the Biologos forum). Whatever views are presented on that site, as I understand it, it is not a distinct organisation or denomination, but an activity initiated by a prominent biologist, and funded by the Templeton foundation. Thus I think it unfair that the staff working under the Biologos name should be challenged to produce what amounts to a denominational statement – surely they are individuals drawn from various backgrounds who are paid to participate in the aims put forward by the initiator of Biologos. I would expect a diverse range of opinions on such a site and not a well defined position as may be found in established denominations – just a reminder from me.

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


      I take it you’re quoting the Institutes? He would base this natural theology on a passage like Romans 1.20, and he implies that the knowledge the creation (properly) gives us is limited knowledge, but true knowledge.

      Romans says that such knowledge consists of God’s “eternal power and deity”. That would, I consider, make any inference of God’s weakness from nature – whether voluntary, or through some inability to control nature’s savagery – somewhat suspicious!

      • Avatar photo GD says:


        Yes it is from the Institutes – but my downloaded file encountered some problems and I have thus saved is as Calvin’s Book, as I am uncertain if I have the complete work.

        On God’s weakness, that is nonsense and about as contradictory as it gets, so I do not waste my time on opinions such as those. My point (and I think Calvin is also interested in this distinction) is to show that we have ‘primitive knowledge’ that may to some extent be derived from nature, and some from our innate spirituality, and contrasted with knowledge that is the result of God’s grace brought to us by the Son of God. So I reject the two book theory, but acknowledge what Paul stated, and elaborated by people such as Calvin, in that we may be aware of a Creator from knowing the creation, but this is insufficient in itself.

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


      Whilst I’d rather assert positive arguments here, I can’t entirely agree that BioLogos should be immune from “corporate” criticism. That is because “BioLogos” was proposed by Francis Collins not primarily as an organisation but as a particular variety of theistic evolution – a doctrinal position, if you like.

      Secondly, BioLogos the organisation is (effectively) the evangelical representive of theistic evolution. Unlike the ASA, which was a discussion board for the range of Christians who are scientists, it conducts itself more as a specific “way” to unite sciene and evangelical faith, not merely as a “forum” to explore it. For example, on some occasions Ted Davis has defended the organisation against Creationist criticism by saying things along the line of “We’re doing the theology right.” Once one takes a position in that way, one puts ones organisation in the frame for criticism.

      I grant that that can result in a shotgun response, because quite clearly there are differences within the structure (such as my citation in the next post John Walton’s critique of BioLogos’ former theological adviser, chosen by Collins); and there are also, of course, diverse voices in the columns published.

      Nevertheless, the persistent failure to respond seriously to critiques of positions their writers and staff have frequently propounded (notably, in my book, the “autonomous creation” school of theology) is a corporate matter, not just a response to individual writers’ opinions. Equally questionable is the lack of representation of known voices presenting “traditional” “directed” theistic evolution, such as David Wilcox or Terry Gray, both well-know ASA people.

      • Avatar photo GD says:


        I do not think anyone should be immune from criticism if they put a position in public space that impacts on doctrine. Biologos imo is in an odd position by placing evolution (a paradigm of the bio-sciences) as a central doctrine by saying ‘that is how God created’ or words along those lines. Such a position is poorly stated, and their evangelical mission seems to be to save people who may not take the Darwinian paradigm that seriously.

        I cannot consider myself well informed on US evangelicals, so I confine my remarks to theological positions developed over a prolonged period by distinct denominations – within this context I regard Collin’s endeavour as one initiated by him and continues because of support from various sources in the US. Yet views such as those by Davis, seem to encompass a wide ranging historical outlook that is part of the Protestant view of science and faith – this is as close to traditional as I can make out from the Biologos site – in any event I felt these comments were worth making on the Hump.

    • Avatar photo Edward Robinson says:


      BioLogos is not a denomination, but it takes organizational positions. Those organizational positions have theological contents — and further, BioLogos claims that its theological views are traditional, orthodox, evangelical ones. Therefore it is legitimate to test its theological views against those of traditional evangelical orthodoxy.

      Further, individual BioLogos columnists make theological claims which they believe are traditional, orthodox, and evangelical. So again, once they cease to speak purely as scientists and speak as theologians, they give up their immunity from theological criticism.

      So, for example, if Darrel Falk says *as a geneticist* that modern human beings cannot possibly have descended from only one original couple, he is making a scientific claim (perhaps a false claim, perhaps a true claim, but a claim to be measured by the tools of science); but if he goes beyond that to say that Christian theology does not require an original couple, he is then making a theological claim, and that claim can be measured for orthodoxy and traditional contents by the tools of theology (which are historical, literary, philological, and philosophical).

      The difficulty is that Falk and the other BioLogos people will not linger to discuss their theological claims when objections are raised, but quickly exit the discussion. We have seen this recently under Kathryn Applegate’s newest column, in which she was challenged on some theological points, offered one sketchy defense, and then (when the hollowness of the defense was shown) retired from the discussion, neither further defending herself nor retracting any part of her opinion.

      Two things that no BioLogos scientist has ever done (on the BioLogos site, anyway) are: (1) Admit a theological error, and stand corrected; (2) Defend a theological claim at length, from authoritative theological sources. The usual procedure at BioLogos, when a theological claim of either the organization or the individual is challenged, is either (1) to offer a very brief and sketchy defense, and then not respond to further questioning, or (2) to remain silent, not responding at all. And once the nagging critic has gone away for a few weeks, the BioLogos columnist feels free to make *exactly the same unsubstantiated theological claim* again, in another column (or in a talk at a church, etc.), as if it had never been challenged.

      It is clear that the BioLogos people do not feel any obligation to modify their theological positions in the light of criticism. But if they functioned that way in science, they would be very poor scientists. You can’t even get a scientific paper published without responding constructively to the criticisms of the referees for your submitted paper! If the referees point out errors in your paper, it’s your *duty* as a scientist to correct the errors before publication. But on BioLogos, when the writers get free peer review in theology from people who know the field, they don’t feel any such duty; they just keep publishing columns with theological errors (or put most charitably, theological confusions) in them.

      I’ve graded many papers with theological contents in my time. I can say that many of the BioLogos columns would be thoroughly marked up in red ink if they were submitted to me in an undergraduate course. But of course, the difference between submitting a paper for someone academically competent to judge it, and blogging on a site which you own, is that in the latter case, no one can force you to be intellectually responsible — to do the proper research and thinking before setting down your thoughts for all to read.

      From my point of view, the people at BioLogos are theological quacks — the theological equivalent of the person with no medical degree who offers prescriptions for various ailments. And just as the medical association tries to get such people barred from the practice of medicine, I would like to see BioLogos barred from the practice of teaching theology to evangelical Christians — until its scientists acquire proper theological training.

      • Avatar photo GD says:


        I am not defending Biologos, and I have reviewed many papers (and rejected quite a few), so I cannot see any general disagreement with your remarks. I guess my impression is that Biologos has not undergone the processes that lead to a well defined position, even if some of them think they have. So, I can understand them as a group of individuals with some loosely stated common outlooks, mainly around the Darwinian paradigm, but I cannot see a collective view that is sufficiently developed to warrant a full blown theological analysis.

        In any event, this is my opinion and I will close my comments on Biologos.

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