Note from Jake: On rare occasions we run anonymously published pieces. This is one such occasion. My reasoning is basically explained in the author’s post near the conclusion. The goal of publishing this isn’t to start a vicious online debate, but to ask how the Baptist Faith and Message, a major document that concerns America’s largest Protestant denomination, should be read as it concerns the creation account in Genesis.
I am a happy member of a church in the Southern Baptist Convention. This denomination is my church home, and I particularly love its continual emphasis on missions and evangelism. That being said, one of the particular challenges for the Southern Baptist Convention today may well be our elevating of other matters to such importance that they drown out our evangelistic call to the nations. To take only one possible example: What must Southern Baptists believe about human origins? I believe God used evolution to create.
While I wish I could say that this view is at least countenanced within the SBC, that does not seem to be the case. Chad Owen Brand writes, “We are convinced…that macroevolution, in whatever form, is not a viable option for our understanding of creation.” Al Mohler, likewise, says that “[t]heistic evolution is a biblical and theological disaster.” But should our assessment be so pessimistic, even if you ultimately think God did not create through evolution?
As far as I can tell, the belief that God could use evolution to create is actually compatible with the Baptist Faith and Message (2000) and, more importantly, the Bible.
Here is what the Baptist Faith and Message (2000) says in the section on man:
Man is the special creation of God, made in His own image. He created them male and female as the crowning work of His creation. The gift of gender is thus part of the goodness of God’s creation. In the beginning man was innocent of sin and was endowed by his Creator with freedom of choice. By his free choice man sinned against God and brought sin into the human race. Through the temptation of Satan man transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin.
Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation. Only the grace of God can bring man into His holy fellowship and enable man to fulfill the creative purpose of God. The sacredness of human personality is evident in that God created man in His own image, and in that Christ died for man; therefore, every person of every race possesses full dignity and is worthy of respect and Christian love.
I affirm everything in this section. I believe God directly created Adam and Eve, and they were the first and only humans at the time they were created. I believe God created them in his image, that they were innocent of sin, that they sinned by free choice, and so on. These views place me firmly in line with the BF&M as well as Scripture itself. But, of course, it is not only young-earth creationists who hold to these views. Many evangelicals affirm all of the above while also believing the universe has existed for billions of years. They also affirm animal death before the fall.
There are also, of course, some significant differences between what I have proposed above and what a young earth creationist or even old earth creationists who reject evolutionary accounts of human origins would hold. First, I believe that every biological creature has a common biological ancestor. That said, the only biblical text that may pose a problem for this view is Genesis 1 when it refers to animals being created after their “kinds.”
However, is this really an issue that should cause a divide? Does one need to think that in using “according to their own kinds” that Genesis 1 is teaching that wolves and great danes do not have a common ancestor? In fact, “according to their own kinds” might not even be the correct translation of the original Hebrew according to several scholars. We find the same phrase in the account of Noah’s ark (Gen. 6:20; 7:14). What would it mean for Noah to gather animals not according to their kinds? A better understanding might be that Noah was supposed to gather all kinds of animals. Thus, Genesis 1 would teach that God created all kinds of plants and animals.
I also diverge from young earth creationists and many old earthers in that I do not believe all humans ever to exist are biologically descended from Adam and Eve. My view is that at a certain time God created Adam and Eve directly. They were the first and only humans at that point in time. Later, however, other humans evolved alongside Adam and Eve or their offspring. These two groups of humans (the evolved and Adam and Eve or their offspring) then reproduced together. Thus, modern humans today do not go back to a single biological human pair. Two obvious objections to this view come to mind.
First, some might worry about whether Scripture teaches that all humans ever are descended only from Adam and Eve. As far as I can tell, Scripture does not speak to this issue. The only text that could be used would be the various genealogies. However, nothing in the genealogies leads to the conclusion that all humans everywhere are descended from Adam and Eve (or their offspring).
Second, there is the worry about original sin. However this would only be a problem if we presuppose that original sin is passed on biologically. But one need not think original sin is passed on in this way to believe in original sin. One alternative view, especially prominent in reformed circles, is called the “federal headship view.” Dr. Tom Schreiner writes this, “Paul does not specifically explain how Adam’s sin led to these consequences [death, sin, and condemnation] for all. It seems most likely that he views Adam as the covenantal head for humanity, just as Christ is the covenantal head for the new humanity.” The short summary of this view is that Adam’s headship is analogous to Christ’s headship.
Therefore, just as we do not need to be biologically descended from Jesus, not all humans afflicted by Adam’s sin need to be biologically descended from Adam. Drs. Wayne Grudem, John Stott and Tom Schreiner all seem to hold the federal headship view based on their own writing on the question. If this view does not rule the author of the most popular systematic theology in the SBC, Grudem, and one of its most prominent New Testament scholars, Schreiner, it would seem that the majority of SBC members accept it as an acceptable viewpoint for Christians to hold concerning original sin.
As far as I can tell, then, I affirm the Baptist Faith and Message. I love the Bible. I am not trying to run away from what it says. I simply believe that the Biblical record is compatible with what I have written above. I am not trying to convince anyone that my view is correct, but to ask whether it is acceptable and particularly acceptable for a person serving in SBC missions work.
I thought long and hard about writing this because I love the SBC and the IMB. Anyone who thinks the proper response is to peer pressure the IMB through emailing or calling them is completely misunderstanding my intentions. Please do not stop supporting the IMB with your financial giving. They are sending beautiful feet to preach the good news to the nations. The IMB is wonderful for that reason.
I write this anonymously because I want this to be about the ideas. In our culture it is easy to tie some movement to a person so that they become the face of it. I do not want that, either for good or bad. I only want to open up this conversation. No matter what the SBC decides, I fully accept it. Others can make the case for or against acceptance.
So the question remains: even if we deeply disagree, is the view that God used evolution to create compatible with the Baptist Faith and Message? If so, what might that mean for our denomination?