Let Creation Speak!
Don Moffat, Dean of Studies at the Waikato branch of the Bible College of New Zealand, says we fail to hear the message of Genesis 1 because we are deafened by questions about evolution. "The early chapters of Genesis are a world view statement," he says, "they answer the 'why' questions and are not designed to answer the 'how' questions."
Christians are far too preoccupied with evolution. Especially its relationship with the Creation story. Too often, the first question that is addressed when Genesis 1 is opened is that of evolution. The concept of evolution so mesmerises Christian thinking that we are blinded to the wonders and profound message of the Creation story. One of the most powerful pieces of literature ever written has been rendered impotent by our fear over that one word: evolution!
It drowns out the soaring song of the creation story with the static and blaring feedback of a multitude of scientific questions. Such questions might be important but they are, in fact, peripheral to the Genesis story.
This problem was well illustrated by a student who once produced a detailed essay on the creation/evolution debate when he had been asked to discuss the (very different) 'evolution of religion' theory in the light of the Bible. He was so blinded by that word 'evolution' that he couldn't even see what was wrong with his answer when the essay was returned with an explanation and request he rewrite it!
That student's preoccupation is symptomatic of Christian defensiveness in the face of the challenge posed by the theory of evolution. It is understandable, but not excusable. Some of the problem is born out of a failure to read the biblical text well.
A proper reading of Genesis which recognises its literary character and discards naive literalistic interpretation makes so many evolutionary questions redundant. But we pummel this non-scientific text with questions it was not designed to answer. The result is frustration, or worse still, attempts to twist the text or the science to make a fit. All the while the real message, which speaks to the deep needs of humanity, is lost.
We need to recognise that the intent of scientific explanations about the origin of life and the biblical narratives about Creation are quite different. Science asks the 'how' questions, but Genesis is more interested in the 'why' questions. Explaining origins might satisfy our curiosity. But it will not change us, and will have minimal impact on our world.
On the other hand, the biblical answers to questions about God, ultimate reality, the nature of our world, and who we are as human beings, will have a significant impact on our thinking. It is time we relegated our scientific questions to the side show, where they belong, and returned the Creation story to centre stage.
In essence, the early chapters of Genesis are a world view statement.
They give us the background by which to understand our world from God's perspective. Genesis 1 was a daring and radical challenge to the prevailing world view of ancient society. Using the language and concepts of its eastern setting it rubbished the assumptions of that world and argued for a revolutionary set of beliefs and values.
For example, Genesis used the same six day structure known in the Babylonian creation myths, but boldly claimed that their gods (the astral bodies) were merely instruments that the biblical God produced to aid humans in telling the time. Still a telling comment today when so many 'rational' secular people continue to check their horoscopes in case the stars do have an influence on their lives.
Genesis was so radical that if the writer was composing it today he would probably use evolutionary language to argue the case for God! The abiding value of the Creation story is that it continues to challenge the world views of contemporary society and contest the basic assumptions of our age.
The concepts of Creation have always been foundational to Christian belief structures. Our whole gospel world view is predicated on its precepts. Part of Christian failure to effectively address the challenges of present day society is a failure to grasp the power of the Creation world view.
In their book The Transforming Vision,1 authors J R Middleton and B J Walsh argue a biblical world view is founded on three events, Creation, the Fall and Redemption. The full Creation account, Genesis 1-3, addresses two of those events and hints at the third. The Creation story not only supplies essential materials for building a biblical mind set, but also for challenging the prevailing philosophies of our age.
The current Church is increasingly neglecting its doctrinal substructure and simply adopting the values of secular society. It needs to re-hear the lessons in the Creation story. Along with a growing number of Christian thinkers, Middleton and Walsh are calling the Christian community to realign its presuppositions with those of the Bible to increase both the depth of its discipleship and the effectiveness of its witness to the world.
It is impossible to deal adequately with the range of issues and philosophies that Creation addresses in one article. But three brief examples focusing on world view statements with some generalised application will illustrate the kind of impact Genesis can have on our thinking.2
First, Genesis tells us who we are, and so provides a basis for evaluating humanity. One of the great difficulties of an atheistic evolutionary theory is that it does not provide any intrinsic basis for valuing humanity. In contrast, the biblical claim that humans are the peak of Creation (which is implicit in the structure of Genesis 1 and 2), and that we are created in the image of God, gives a powerful basis for valuing people.
We tend either to overvalue or undervalue humanity. The ancient world claimed that humans were, at best, slaves for the gods. Genesis 1 demoted the gods and elevated humanity. The modern world also easily devalues us; Genesis challenges any philosophy, and any political, social or economic agenda which does not value people.
On the other hand, ancient Egypt deified the Pharoah. Genesis makes it clear all humanity bears the image of God but is not divine - a stance that challenges contemporary New Age perspectives as much as it does ancient ones. Against the many philosophies that place hope for the world in human endeavour, Genesis recognises our frailty and argues our hope lies with God.
Secondly, Genesis gives us a basis from which to view the universe we live in and to relate to it. Atheistic evolution is born out of a naturalistic world view which regards the universe as a closed system with no place for the spiritual.
The rise of the New Age movement and Postmodernism shows that many people have rejected naturalistic philosophies as unfulfilling. They replace them with spiritualities which Genesis also challenges. New Age perspectives propose a visible universe - and an invisible one accessible through altered states of consciousness - which opens the door to a range of pantheistic ideas, including spiritual beings which need to be placated.
Genesis states that God has control over all the cosmos without competition. Humans have only one spiritual being to deal with who is transcendent, standing outside the cosmos. It shows a world made for our habitation where humans, under God and with appropriate care, have sway.
To be sure, the Fall opens the door to other spiritual influences, but Genesis establishes the primary position which the fall does not fundamentally change.3 Further, Creation indicates that God is willing and able to be involved in this world.
Third, Genesis speaks of ultimate reality. Postmodernism challenges the concept of universal truth. It recognises the fallibility of human rationality and our inability to escape the confines of our own context to assess objectively whether what we perceive to be true is indeed true universally. Therefore postmodernism ditches the concept of universal truth as invalid - truth is simply what we decide.
Again, the Creation assertion that God is quite separate from this world - and therefore capable of the objective assessment we are not - answers the problem. God as the ultimate reality forms the basis by which we can know reality and truth.
Combined with the doctrine of Revelation, where we understand God speaks to human kind, it gives us confidence that we can know truth which is universally applicable. This not only gives us the confidence to proclaim the gospel as the universal answer to human need it provides a basis for consistent values in a pluralistic world.
These brief and generalised examples show how the Creation narrative is the foundation for a Christian response to any philosophical position. But more than that, it is the basis for responses to the issues of life that are affected by those philosophies.
John Stott, in his book Issues Facing Christians Today, proposes a four point structure for building a biblical view on any social question.4 His starting point is Creation, followed by the doctrines of the Fall, Redemption and the End. As he goes on to demonstrate - with issues as diverse as sexuality, industrial relations and economics - the principles established in Creation form the basis for a biblical approach to social issues, because they shape our perceptions to align with God's.
The Creation story lays foundational concepts which impact every area of our lives. We need to listen to what it has to teach us, and assimilate the biblical world view it provides. It challenges the attitudes and values of our society in a way that finding a convincing fit between evolution and the Bible will never do.
If we are going to fulfil our mission in this world by proclaiming a distinctly Christian message, then we must return Creation to centre stage. Having heard its message we must then articulate its concepts to challenge and change our world.
Don Moffat is Dean of Studies for BCNZ Waikato. He is married to Bronwyn and they have one daughter. Don likes to paddle his canoe in Raglan harbour and walk in the bush. Prior to taking his position at BCNZ he worked in evangelism, and before that he fixed aeroplane parts for Air New Zealand.