Theistic Evolution: A Sinful Compromise (A Review)

John Otis, pastor of a Reformed Presbyterian Church US (RPCUS) church in Burlington, North Carolina, has written a book on theistic evolution, Theistic Evolution: A Sinful Compromise, based on a series of lectures. His purpose in writing the book was to alert believers, and especially elders, to the danger that theistic evolution poses to the church:

A word of exhortation is needed to my fellow ruling and teaching elders: What is one of our foremost duties as elders? It is to protect God’s precious sheep from the wolves in sheep’s clothing that will devour the flock if they could. … Do I lump all those together as wolves who are not advocating a view of creation as presented in our Confessional Standards? Not exactly, some are far worse than others. … Those that I am really addressing are those who do advocate an evolutionary view, who do believe that man did evolve from lower forms of life, who do teach that God used this means to “create.” These men are the ones who must be silenced; they are disturbing families. In obeying Jude 3, we elders must earnestly contend for the Faith once for all delivered to the saints. This is my purpose (5-6).

Pastor Otis begins his book by considering what Scripture teaches regarding creation, creation days, and the chronologies. From there he moves on to a history of Darwin and evolutionary thought. Lastly, he spends several chapters on what he calls “Compromisers.” He takes time throughout those chapters to address specific concerns about the teachings of specific organizations and individuals.

Pastor Otis’ concern over theistic evolution and its influence in the Reformed church today is due in part to his own background. Before he became a believer, Pastor Otis was an agnostic, evolutionary, Biology student:

I was once an agnostic and an evolutionist in high school, though not a very informed evolutionist. I was a conscious unbeliever. It was God’s sovereign grace that saved me when I was a freshman in college. Upon my conversion to Christ, no one had to inform me that there was a problem with maintaining evolutionary views with my Christian faith. I immediately sensed this, even though I was severely biblically illiterate. I did not grow up in the church; I never read a Bible; I didn’t even understand what chapter and verse in the Bible meant. However, when the power of the Holy Spirit regenerated my deadened soul, and as the Spirit illumined my mind with biblical truth as I faithfully read my Bible, I knew that there was no reconciling of evolution with the Bible’s account of creation (280).

Why does Pastor Otis call theistic evolution a sinful compromise?

  • It robs God of His due glory.
  • It elevates science as an equal authority with Scripture.
  • It adopts a faulty hermeneutic.
  • It assaults the uniqueness and dignity of man.
  • It is insulting to Jesus’ true humanity.
  • It can undermine the glorious gospel.
  • It undermines the Bible’s credibility (281-284).

Beginning with what Scripture teaches on creation, Pastor Otis discusses some basic principles of Biblical interpretation. First, he stresses the importance of considering the plain meaning of the text. Second, he references the Westminster Confession of Faith’s section on Scripture and interpretation:

The infallible rule of interpretation of scripture is the scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture, (which is not manifold, but one) it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly (WCF, I: 9).

He points out that contrary to what many theistic evolutionists teach we do not need “science” to help us interpret Scripture. (15)

Pastor Otis then applies these principles to three of the most discussed issues in the creation vs. evolution debate: creation days, Biblical chronologies, and the creation of Adam from the dust. Theistic evolutionists, and others, teach that the days of creation do not need to be understood as literal, 24 hour days. And, if the days of creation are more symbolic than literal, then there is no problem with making the long ages necessary for evolution fit with the Biblical account of creation. Also, if the creation account in Genesis is read symbolically or poetically, then maybe it’s possible to read the creation of Adam from dust symbolically:

Theistic evolutionists want to take God fashioning Adam from the dust and Eve from Adam’s rib as a literary device, not to be taken at face value; in other words, not in the plain sense of the words which is an important hermeneutical principle. Apparently, we can get quite “creative” (pun intended) in how we interpret Genesis 1:26 and 2:7, 21. The evolutionists, even “Christian” evolutionists say that we need the testimony of modern biology, i.e. Darwinism, to properly interpret these texts. Really? And why do we need them? And why must we NOT take the plain meaning of the words of Genesis? And why must we say that the terms “from dust” and “from Adam’s rib” must obviously mean biological evolution from single cell organisms to man himself?(15).

The plain meaning of “day” and “dust” are simply “day” and “dust.” Two things that are familiar to all.

Using Scripture to interpret Scripture, Pastor Otis considers what the Biblical arguments are for interpreting the days of creation as 24 hour days. He lays out four arguments:

Argument # 1: The Fundamental Use of the Word “Yom” (day)
A word study for the word “yom” in the Old Testament reveals that the preponderant use of this term demands that we understand it to be a literal twenty-four hour period of time. The word occurs 1,704 times in the Old Testament, and the overwhelming usage has to do with a normal day from morning to evening. After all, what did The Westminster Confession say is the surest hermeneutical principle – Scripture interprets Scripture (23).

Argument # 2: Key Qualifying Statements
This is one of, if not the most powerful argument, in supporting the days of creation in being normal days. Inspired Moses qualifies the six creative days with this all important phrase – “evening and morning.” The obvious plain meaning is: This is a typical day since each day is viewed as “evening and morning” the first day, evening and morning the second day, etc. When we leave out Darwinian presuppositions, then the text is rather obvious (24).

Argument # 3: The Use of Numerical Adjectives
Consider this overwhelming evidence. In the 119 cases in Moses’ writings where the Hebrew word “yom” (day) stands in conjunction with a numerical adjective, such as first, second, third, it almost always means a literal day. The same is true of the 537 usages outside of the Pentateuch (24).

When the New Testament says that Jesus was raised on the third day, was it the third literal twenty-four hour day or not? Or could it have been thousands of years? (25)

Argument # 4: Divine Example Regarding the Sabbath Day
This has to be one of the most powerful biblical proofs that the days of creation were literal days. God specifically patterns man’s work week after his own original creational work week. Man’s work week is expressly tied to God’s (25).

What about the passage from 2 Peter 3:8-9? Doesn’t it say there that a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day?

Theistic evolutionists say, See, here is proof that “day” can mean an indefinite period of time. It is plainly obvious that this meaning is to be understood figuratively. The whole context pertains to those skeptics who are denying Jesus’ Second Coming simply because He has not returned yet. Peter says that God is not bound by time. Just because He hasn’t returned yet does not mean He is never coming, for with God, time is meaningless. A thousand years is like one day with God and a day as a thousand years. To use II Peter 3 as some proof for interpreting a day to be millions of years in Genesis is just sloppy exegesis to say the least. It is totally ignoring the prevalent use of the term “day” in Scripture. (25-26)

One of the other common arguments for the synthesis of long ages with the days of creation is that there are gaps in the Biblical chronologies. Appeals to the age of the earth using James Ussher’s dates are often ridiculed even by pastors and other Christians. We are told that there are gaps in the Genesis chronologies and that since “became the father of” can mean “became the ancestor of” there is no way to determine from the chronologies how long ago Adam was created. Pastor Otis responds:

You probably have heard that we cannot adopt a view that the biblical chronologies are accurate history because there must be gaps in the genealogies. Guess what? There are no time gaps in the chronology of the Bible. … The numbers add up precisely from one representative head to another representative head. It does not matter about the other sons and daughters as long as there is precision from one generational head to another (30-31).

Moving on from what Scripture teaches regarding creation, Pastor Otis briefly discusses the “conflict” between science and faith:

[T]he problem with Christianity and evolution, including theistic evolution, is that we do not have a clash between faith and science but a clash of faith versus faith, that is, we have a clash of worldviews (34).

He points out too that evolutionary science is not religiously neutral:

The evolutionist claims that he is neutral, that he is unbiased, and that he is not religious. Such a claim is ludicrous. All views of the origin of life are fundamentally religious (37).

And,

Evolutionary thinking is inescapably religious at its very foundation. It is wholly untrue that the issue is science vs. faith. No, it is one faith in opposition to another faith; it is a clash of worldviews (38-39).

Next Pastor Otis gives a brief history of Charles Darwin and the rise darwinian evolution. Charles Darwin was not the first to discuss evolution processes or to desire an explanation for the origin of universe and life that is not dependent on God. In fact, Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, wrote a book advocating spontaneous generation and millions of years of biological development. But it wasn’t until Charles Darwin wrote his Origins of Species that evolution began to be widely accepted as a theory (63).

Before Charles Darwin wrote Origins of Species, he had already abandoned what little Christian faith he began with:

It is evident that Darwin had lost his faith in Christianity and the miraculous before he formulated his hypothesis of evolution. This does not say he had no evolutionary ideas before this, but he still lost his faith in creation before he set out to discover how life and its varied forms would originate by the working of natural laws. Evolution came in with great force to fill the void left by the loss of his faith in God the creator (53).

Pastor Otis considers it important the order of Darwin’s slide into apostasy:

[P]lease note the process into unbelief for Darwin. It was to doubt the historicity of Genesis, then doubt miracles, adopt an old earth view, and then accept evolutionary views (54).

This is important because Darwin was fully aware that his theory of evolution would draw people away from a belief in God as creator. Darwin even referred to his work as “the Devil’s gospel” (59). Darwin’s theory of evolution was not religiously neutral from its inception. From the start, Darwin and the others who promoted his view actively sought to explain the origin of the universe and of life without the need for a Creator. George Bernard Shaw is quoted as saying:

If you can realize how insufferably the world was oppressed by the notion that everything that happened was an arbitrary personal act of an arbitrary personal God of dangerous, jealous and cruel personal character, you will understand how the world jumped at Darwin (73).

The godless nature of evolutionary thought is illustrated by those throughout history who have used the ideas of survival of the fittest and natural selection to perpetual great cruelty:

Evolution provides the scientific and moral (or lack of morality) rationale for many to propagate evil. The field of eugenics is the applied science of improving the genetic composition of the human population. It seeks to achieve this goal through both encouraging reproduction among fit individuals and discouraging breeding among unfit populations. It has an evolutionary basis, and the means used to achieve this goal is population control by abortion and sterilization. But who decides who is unfit and unworthy to reproduce? Those who have the power to subjugate others! (74).

One of the best examples, of course, is Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party:

Hitler was an ardent evolutionist and a true believer. He was probably more consistent than anyone else has ever been. This is why he murdered so many people in the name of trying to perfect a race that would reign for 1,000 years (75)./p

Having discussed that the theory of evolution is not neutral, but is actually an attack on God as creator, Pastor Otis continues by pointing out various weaknesses in Darwin’s theory. He concludes:

As I conclude this chapter, we should realize that evolutionists themselves have recognized the great problem with Darwinism. The view of macroevolution cannot be scientifically verified. Darwin couldn’t do it and neither have any others after him. Living organisms and the fossil record do not give scientific evidence for macroevolution, but it does point to special creation. Hence, evolution is no scientific fact; it is outside the parameters of operational science. It is not a fact; science has not spoken definitively in the factuality of macroevolution; evolution is a worldview, a religious faith held as tenaciously as the most ardent Christian holds to his belief in the Bible (102).

The second half of his book is focused on addressing specific concerns of particular organizations and individuals. Because Pastor Otis is an elder in a reformed, Presbyterian denomination, he is particularly concerned with organizations and individuals either within the reformed world or with considerable influence within reformed churches. These include: the BioLogos Foundation, Dr. Tim Keller, Dr. Ron Choong, Dr. Gregg Davidson, Dr. Jack Collins, and Dr. Peter Enns:

The men and organizations that I will mention have compromised the Faith in my opinion. For some, the compromise is greater than others. Some obviously do not think their views are compromising positions; they think they are being “humble,” “open-minded,” and “diverse,” respecting the differing opinions of honorable men. Grant it, some of those who advocate the value of diverse beliefs and diverse interpretations of Scripture are sincere in their views. The problem is: Men can be sincerely wrong, and they can be responsible for leading the visible church of the Lord Jesus into great peril (109-110).

I will give a very brief synopsis for each of the “Compromisers,” as Pastor Otis calls them.

First, the BioLogos Foundation:

BioLogos is a foundation that touts itself as an evangelical organization that thinks theistic evolution is a true understanding of the origins of the universe and man. I consider this organization as one of the greatest threats to today’s visible church (110).

Pastor Otis gives three examples of what BioLogos teaches to illustrate how their views are compromising positions:

What is BioLogos’ View on Scientific Evidence of the First Humans?
The fossil record shows a gradual transition over 5 million years ago from chimpanzee-size creatures to hominids with larger brains who walked on two legs.

Genetics also tells us that the human population today descended from more than two people. Evolution happens not to individuals but to populations, and the amount of genetic diversity in the gene pool today suggests that the human population was never smaller than several thousand individuals (114).

Were Adam and Eve Historical Figures?
Genetic evidence shows that humans descended from a group of several thousand individuals who lived about 150,000 years ago.

One option is to view Adam and Eve as a historical pair living among many about 10,000 years ago, chosen to represent the rest of humanity before God. Another option is to view Genesis 2-4 as an allegory in which Adam and Eve symbolize the large group of ancestors who lived 150,000 years ago. Yet another option is to view Genesis 2-4 as an “everyman” story, a parable of each person’s individual rejection of God. BioLogos does not take a particular view and encourages scholarly work on these questions (116-117).<

Did Death Occur Before the Fall? BioLogos says:
Humans appear very late in the history of life. The fossil record clearly shows that many creatures died before humans appeared. This appears to conflict with Bible passages which describe death as a punishment for human sinfulness. However, the curse of Genesis 3 was that Adam and Eve, not the animals, should die for their disobedience. Therefore, animal death before the Fall is compatible with Christian doctrine (118).

The next chapter focuses on Dr. Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA), New York. Pastor Otis goes into much greater detail, but he summarizes his concerns with Dr. Keller this way:

In summary, the main strikes against Dr. Keller are:

  • He allows his name to be used on BioLogos’ home page as a reference for the purpose of encouraging others to see the great value of this foundation, a foundation which openly embraces theistic evolution.
  • He has allowed his church to sponsor the workshops of BioLogos.
  • He has allowed Dr. Ron Choong to teach in his church, who has adopted views that not only embrace theistic evolution but which assault other precious truths of the biblical doctrine of creation.
  • He accepts evolution as a plausible explanation of the origin of all life, including man (137).

Connected to Dr. Keller is Dr. Ron Choong:

One of the men who is listed as a missionary and member of Metro New York Presbytery (PCA) is Dr. Ron Choong, who has taught classes in Keller’s church. Dr. Choong founded the New York based “Academy of Christian Thought,“ and he has written a book titled, Project Timothy: The New Testament You Thought You Knew. … Ron Choong’s views of Scripture, the relationship between Scripture and science, and man’s evolution is most illuminating and disturbing, especially since he is an ordained elder within the PCA (138-139).

Pastor Otis concludes his chapter on Dr. Choong with this summary:

Let us summarize briefly the main points of Choong’s doctrine of creation:

  1. The Bible’s reliability cannot be affirmed by its own historicity, literary, or theological components.
  2. Modern science corrects the historical and scientific inaccuracies in the Bible.
  3. Each generation with new discoveries need to revise their theological understanding.
  4. The Bible is silent on the mechanism of creation.
  5. The first eleven chapters of Genesis are not to be understood literally or even historically.
  6. Special creation is biologically untenable.
  7. Adam may or may not have been a single person, but he could be a representative of a community of hominids (ape-like creatures).
  8. Regardless of the singular or communal view of Adam, he was a hominid, having evolved from lower forms of life.
  9. God’s image conferred upon an existing hominid makes this hominid the biblical Adam.
  10. God’s conferring of His image upon Adam and Eve as existing hominids was done after they ate the forbidden fruit, not before.
  11. The image of God in man is the acquisition of moral knowledge, namely fear and guilt.
  12. Adam’s fall into sin is best seen as “rising beasts falling upwards to moral awareness.”
  13. Original sin as The Westminster Standards describe man’s fall is not true.
  14. The Westminster Standards are archaic, needing revision. They are an obstacle to fruitful science and theological conversation.
  15. Adam was not created with an immortal soul.
  16. Adam was not created righteous.
  17. Adam was not created with the law of God written on his heart.
  18. Adam’s sin was not a violation of God’s moral law.
  19. Adam and Eve were made loaded with sinful desires.
  20. Adam cannot be blamed for an existence of sin per se (158-159).

Dr. Choong, in response to questions about his teachings on Adam, said:

All my views about Adam and Eve have been published for more than 10 years and Redeemer as a church as well as Dr Keller as a minister have never had any objections to my non-doctrinal interpretations. This means that while I hold to a certain view of who Adam might mean, no church doctrine in the history of the church has ever made this a litmus test of faith. No one should get their knickers in a twist over whether Adam was a collective or a singularity (151).

Also, Pastor Otis notes:

At the 2011 meeting of Metro New York Presbytery, one presbyter suggested that presbytery look into the teachings of Dr. Choong. Did this happen? Was he disciplined by this PCA presbytery? No! The presbytery refused to look into it with strong vocal opposition to such a thing, and in fact, a request was made and granted that the idea of looking into Dr. Choong’s teachings not be recorded in the minutes lest his name be illegitimately besmirched (160).

The next chapter is on Dr. Gregg Davidson who gave a seminar on the age of the earth at the 2012 General Assembly of the PCA. Pastor Otis is very concerned that Dr. Davidson was allowed to speak given his published evolutionary views:

I believe that those who gave permission to Dr. Davidson to hold this seminar at the PCA 2012 General Assembly did a great disservice to their denomination and opened the door for further deterioration. Surely, someone knew of Dr. Davidson’s position on evolution prior to the invite. Surely, someone knew of his avowed commitment to viewing man as having descended from ape like creatures (163).

For those who are not familiar with Dr. Davidson’s work, Pastor Otis addresses both Dr. Davidson’s seminar at the General Assembly as well as his book, When Faith and Science Collide.

At the end of the seminar, Dr. Davidson was asked a few questions. One of the questions was particularly of note:

The question was: Did he believe that Adam was specially created and directly created by God from the dust, or if Adam was a hominid adopted by God? … In his answer, he said he did not see a difference between an Adam specially created by God from the dust and an Adam as a hominid adopted by God and given a soul. Either way, Adam was the first human and father of mankind. In other words, Dr. Davidson admitted to being an evolutionist, who thinks that Adam and Eve were descended from ape like creatures (164).

Dr. Davidson’s book, When Faith and Science Collide, gives a much fuller picture of what he believes:

Davidson’s bias towards evolutionary views is quite explicit. He says that science teaches us that “life began on earth 3.5 billion years ago.” Even though scientists are not cognizant of how life began from non living material and how everything evolved from single cell organisms to man, Davidson thinks there is a plausible synthesis with Scripture. This synthesis is: the Bible says that God commanded the earth to bring forth and it did; science says that man was formed from the same dust of the earth as all other creatures. In other words, science provides us with the accurate understanding of the mechanism of creation. Again, it is not biblical exegesis that is in the “driver’s seat;” it is the scientific views often postulated by unbelieving men (169).

And,

There is no question of Dr. Davidson’s commitment to macroevolution, meaning that all life forms evolved from simple, single celled organisms throughout millions of years. He accepts all of the presuppositions and arguments of the evolutionists in terms of their so called “scientific” findings. Davidson wants to maintain the science of evolution over the non-Christian agnostic and atheistic views held by many evolutionists. In other words, Davidson wants to accept the evolutionist’s conclusions but within the framework of God doing His creative work through the mechanism of evolution (174-175).

The next chapter deals with Dr. C. John (Jack) Collins, Professor of Old Testament at Covenant Seminary, and author of Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care. Dr. Collins’ book is an attempt to address the issue of the historicity of Adam:

His book’s title is not intended to deny the historicity of Adam. Collins says that he affirms Adam’s historicity, but he does so in such a way as to definitely allow for the possibility of non- traditional views to be considered as acceptable (211).

Pastor Otis explains his concern:

Here is the crux of the matter. For Collins, it is not really necessary for us to believe that God literally made Adam from mere dust on the sixth day, which is a twenty-four hour period. Literal trees or a talking snake are not necessary for us to get the point. All that matters is the worldview that from Adam sin came into the world. While Collins may be distancing himself from the conclusions of Ron Choong and Peter Enns, he will still consider the legitimacy of an evolutionary view of man’s origin (220-221).

And,

In conclusion about the views of Jack Collins, we can say rather conclusively that he has admitted to being a type of evolutionist; he just isn’t in the camp of being one who adopts the philosophy of evolution. His latest book argues for a type of modified monogenesis for Adam’s origin. It is a revision to the traditional view, but it falls within the parameters of sound reasoning nonetheless. Are we to be encouraged by this? Absolutely not! Covenant Seminary has an evolutionist on its faculty. It is wholly misleading to the public, and probably to its supporters for the Seminary. So, when Covenant Seminary says that Jack Collins does not subscribe to a Darwinian or a Neo-Darwinian view of evolution, it is totally misleading. And when the official seminary statement states that Dr. Collins may allow for some differences of opinion on some of the details, it fails to specify those details that Collins makes known in his books – he subscribes to a form of evolution, and he is very critical of young earth creationists and the whole field of “creation science” (250).

Lastly, Pastor Otis addresses Dr. Peter Enns, formerly of Westminster Theological Seminary and also formerly a Senior Fellow at BioLogos. Dr. Enns has written several books and essays including: The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Does not Say About Human Origins.

Pastor Otis sees Dr. Enns as the logical conclusion of the theology that begins with theistic evolution:

Peter Enns is the last person that I will analyze simply because he probably best typifies what can happen once one begins the downward spiral on adopting an evolutionary view to Scripture. This does not mean that all theistic evolutionists will end up theologically where Enns has, but it does show how one can easily end up with views purported by Enns. I would say that Enns’ views are the logical outcome of an evolutionary perspective, and the result when one views science as the best interpreter of Scripture (251).

Dr. Enns has written that it is not necessary to believe in an historical Adam, that evolution should make Christians rethink traditional views on things such as sexual promiscuity, and that death is not an enemy:

Evolution is a serious challenge to how Christians have traditionally understood at least three central issues of the faith: the origin of humanity, of sin, and of death… sin and death are universal realities, the Christian tradition has generally attributed the cause to Adam. But evolution removes that cause as Paul understood it and thus leaves open the questions of where sin and death have come from. More than that, the very nature of what sin is and why people die is turned on its head. Some characteristics that Christians have thought of as sinful – for example, in an evolutionary scheme the aggression and dominance associated with “survival of the fittest“ and sexual promiscuity to perpetuate one’s gene pool – are understood as means of ensuring survival. Likewise, death is not the enemy to be defeated … death is not the unnatural state introduced by a disobedient couple in a primordial garden. Actually, it is the means that promotes the continued evolution of life on this planet and even ensures workable population numbers. Death may hurt, but it is evolution’s ally (258-259).

Pastor Otis concludes:

Conservative men in the PCA ought to be very concerned about the present trend in their denomination. The debate over the doctrine of creation and the place that evolution has in it is nothing new. They have the dismal track record of the PCUS to observe and serve as a warning. Sadly, the warning is going unheeded (267).

Pastor Otis’ book, Theistic Evolution: A Sinful Compromise, is available for free download here. You can also order a printed copy here. The lecture series is available on Sermon Audio here.

Dr. Ron Choong and Project Timothy: The Bible You Thought You Knew

In the last year or so, Dr. Ron Choong has become known for his views on the historical Adam. Last week, Pastor Wes White posted an update on Dr. Choong and Metro New York Presbytery’s decision not to investigate based on his view of Adam as a group of hominids adopted by God. In researching Dr. Choong’s publications, I discovered that he is the founder of an organization, the Academy for Christian Thought (ACT).

According to their website, ACT was founded by the Rev. Dr. Ron Choong, an ordained minister in the PCA, to be a “research and educational non-profit organization in New York City.” Their goal is:

to engage the urgent issues of our times and persistent questions of all ages. We encourage interdisciplinary engagement with every field of human inquiry to better understand the impact of history, philosophy, culture and the natural sciences on the Christian faith. We seek to articulate an enriched worldview with integrity and foster a climate of inquiry within a sanctuary of doubt we call a theological safe space (TSS).

Their mission includes providing a theological safe space (TSS) to develop apologetics that “engage the natural sciences and world religions for fruitful dialogues,” to “foster a missional church climate in a global secular culture,” to “bridge the academy to the church,” and to develop discipleship programs that “commit to making the discipleship of the mind and body a priority.”

They go on to explain how they seek to develop such discipleship programs:

We develop globally relevant and conceptually holistic discipleship programs. In the sciences, we inquire into methodologies to distinguish science from scientism and evolution from evolutionism. …  In biblical theology, we teach a method of interpretation that engages other religious convictions and scientific inferences while remaining faithful to the confessional integrity of the Bible as a trustworthy, divinely inspired writing of fallible, human effort.

ACT confesses a belief “in the divine inspiration and entire trustworthiness of the Scriptures.” What is interesting is that infallibility and inerrancy are not used to describe their view of the Scriptures.

Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in New York, a sponsor of ACT, has hosted ACT seminars and lists ACT as a valuable resource. Dr. Tim Keller, senior pastor of Redeemer, is one of three pastors on ACT’s Board of Reference.

One of ACT’s programs for discipleship is called Project Timothy (PT):

PT is a program of ACT – a ministry that encourages interdisciplinary engagements with every field of human inquiry for a fruitful understanding of Christian belief. PT provides a climate of inquiry within a sanctuary of doubt that we call a theological safe space (TSS) – to engage the Global Secular Culture. … PT teaches a method to make sense of the Bible by considering what the writer of each book intended to say, what the original readers and hearers would have understood and how we today might understand the texts for ourselves.

Project Timothy seminar materials are available for download through ACT’s online store. All of the following quotes are taken from Ron Choong’s The Bible You Thought You Knew: Volume 1 (New York: Academy for Christian Thought Publications, 2011).

Project Timothy’s The Bible You Thought You Knew opens with some thoughts about the goals and aims of Project Timothy:

TTT [Thinking Things Through] in a TSS [Theological Safe Space]: Are our beliefs consistent with each other, are they philosophically coherent, and are they scientifically convergent? While neither philosophy nor science leads to God, they are helpful tools to keeping a check on our prejudices and biases. We are wonderfully capable of convincing ourselves that our thoughts are true because we wish them to be so. If we are indeed committed to thinking things through, we need a safe place to do that thinking without fear of being denigrated or misrepresented. … In a TSS, we can question one’s view without questioning their motives or character. And we can change a view we once took for granted if it is no longer defensible in a holistic confessional Christian worldview (viii-ix).

And,

PT [Project Timothy] provides a TSS [Theological Safe Space] to question assumptions about the scriptures. This strengthens our beliefs and equips us to responsibly proclaim the Gospel (x).

Dr. Choong goes on to describe the approach Project Timothy takes with the Scriptures and science:

Since the question of biblical reliability cannot be affirmed by its historicity, literary, or theological components, we pay attention to these characteristics of the Scriptures to get within hearing distance of the writers’ intent. Thus you will find lapses in historical and scientific accuracy as we increase our modern accuracy of historical and scientific knowledge. Even doctrinal articulation of theological points need to be revised in each generation to account for our greater understanding of the world we live in (xiii).

And,

Biblical knowledge is an older source that is limited to disclosure (divine revelation) rather than discovery (human investigation). So science is an extremely helpful check on our interpretation of the Bible. By looking for convergence between our conclusions and what our minds can discover about the creation of God, we can compose a more comprehensive image of reality (xv).

While Project Timothy’s seminars cover all of the Old and New Testament books, this overview will look mainly at how Dr. Choong applies the above ideas to Genesis.

According to Dr. Choong, Genesis was written around the 6th century BC as the Jewish people were returning from their Babylonian exile (1). As such, it was not written by Moses, although Moses may be the author of some parts (3-4). The purpose of Genesis 1-11 was to provide a polemic against the Babylonian gods, not to explain the “how” or “in what order” of creation:

The final form of these primeval accounts described in Genesis 1-11 was completed during the postexilic period, later than most of the Pentateuch, to tell us about God who created everything including all of the “gods” worshipped by the Babylonians. They were not intended to tell us how the universe was made, how life originated from inorganic matter, or exactly how human beings first came about. Rather, they were intended to counter other Ancient Near Eastern creation accounts (1).

What does this mean for modern Christians and the meaning of Genesis?

The Christian should read Genesis 1-11 with the assurance that we worship the creator of all that exist, and not be troubled by working out the mechanics of creation itself, because the Bible is silent on this matter. Any theological reflection that engages literature, history, philosophy, and science will always result in provisional insights, none of which should form litmus tests of faith (1).

Dr. Choong believes that the Torah was written backwards starting with Exodus, then Genesis 12-50, and finally Genesis 1-11. Because it was written to combat other ANE creation accounts, we should not read it as historical or scientific:

The story of Israel actually begins with the exodus event, recorded in the book of Exodus. It was in the Sinai desert that different tribes of former Egyptian slaves formed the People of God YHWH. … The stories of Genesis 12-50 were told as a prologue to the exodus event and later, the accounts of Genesis 1-11 were told to link the formation of Israel to the very formation of creation itself. Every people group may trace their lineage back to the origins of creation, life and humanity, and Genesis 1-11 is Israel’s account. This account is theological rather than strictly historical. Thus, although it possesses dimensions of history and science, Genesis 1-11 is not historical or scientific and cannot be judged as such (2).

Why does Dr. Choong believe that Genesis 1-11 is not meant to teach us about the origins of the universe and life? He explains that:

Genesis 1 refers not to the origins of the material universe, but to how those pre-existing materials are now designed to function by God. The correct translation of Genesis 1:1 is “When God began creating” (15).

So, if Genesis 1-11 is not historical or scientific, what is it?

The first 11 chapters are primeval histories, not chronological ones. They are mythological. This does not mean they are untrue, but that they refer to events before there were human witnesses. They are therefore unverifiable and unfalsifiable. … The first five of these then stories up till the account of Shem, are not intended to be understood literally or even historically(12-13).

Dr. Choong believes that differences in the order of creation as told in Genesis 1 and 2 indicate that multiple perspectives on creation are given and, therefore, that Genesis 1 and 2 cannot be taken literally:

The religion-science debate is rooted in Genesis 1, which describes the creation of the world in a poetic fashion and employs a seven-day week framework. This seven-day chronology has sometimes been interpreted literally by religious persons opposed to scientific theories such as biological evolution and natural selection, so that the data from fossil records, geology, dinosaurs, and the like, must somehow fit into the seven days of the Genesis 1 creation account.

Genesis 2, on the other hand, discusses the creation of humans and then animals in an order that reverses that of Genesis 1. This makes any simple harmonization of the two accounts untenable. These two versions of creation cannot be reconciled at the level of logical order or sequencing. The narrators of Genesis 1 and Genesis 1 were different persons who lived centuries apart from one another. (13).

Dr. Choong notes that most modern people look to science instead of the Bible to answer such questions as the origin and development of life, but that this was not always so:

Most people, whether religious or not, look to the realm of science for hard data about the environment and cosmology. Prior to the modern period and the rise of the natural sciences, people tended to be more simple or naïve about such things and tended to think (if they thought about it much at all) about the origin of the world in religious and theological terms (Footnote 39, 13).

Given that Dr. Choong believes that Genesis 1-11 is silent on the “mechanics of creation itself,” what does he believe about the compatibility of evolution and Christianity?

Does the process of evolution undermine God’s Glory as Creator? Not at all (6).

And,

Is the six-day creation account central to the Bible? Probably not. … The entire creation v. evolution controversy is based on a false dichotomy. (6-7).

What about Adam? Dr. Choong recognizes that many Christians insist on the historicity of Adam, but he sees some flexibility in the interpretation:

The OT description of the origin of humanity (adam) surely arises from an actual historical event. That much is evident. But whether the figure of biblical Adam represents a pre-existing group of people or a specially created modern-looking like human who was not born (hence, with no navel) and whether Eve refers to a single female crafted from a single rib, ought not divide the Church. There is sufficient grace in theological space to allow for variance in interpretation, as long as they remain provisional and open to review as we learn more and more about ourselves. Thus, we note the inconsistent use of the Hebrew word “adam” in the Bible and cannot say with certainty whether a first human couple was specially created with no biological link to other life forms (7).

Dr. Choong believes that:

Sometime in the distant past, God chose one hominid branch to receive the “image of God,” the potential to relate to God in love (7).

And that:

Such a convergent explanation of what the biblical writers were trying to convey is an example of a responsible apologetic that is at once faithful to the authority of the inspired Bible and accounts for the empirical findings of human discovery. … Did God create one male and one female from which to populate the Earth? Perhaps, and perhaps not. We will never really know. But the Hebrew word “adam” means humanity (7).

Since Adam’s name is also the Hebrew word for “humanity,” Dr. Choong sees biblical support for his view that the historical Adam of Genesis was a group of people and not a single individual:

Is there any reason to think that the biblical Adam was a single person? Yes. Genesis 5:5 refers to the exact age that Adam died, suggesting that Adam was a particular male who was never born but emerged as an adult with no navel and no childhood. Where it gets tricky is whether he also contributed one of his ribs to form Eve. These contrasting hints allow some theological space for a difference of opinion. … Finally, did Paul himself not refer to Adam as a first particular human? Most Christians use Romans 5:12 to infer that the Pauline Adam must be a singular adult male who was the second sinner (8).

According to Dr. Choong, Paul’s use of Adam is not as clear cut as it might seem to be. The real issue is not anthropology but soteriology. In other words, what matters in Paul’s use of Adam are the issues of sin and salvation:

The reality of sin is central to Christianity. The reason Jesus died on the cross is because of sin, so if the first humans did not sin, it makes the Cross redundant. … A literal reading of Paul suggests that sin entered the world through a single human being, and through another, all will be justified. This would describe universal sin accompanied by universal salvation or universalism – something Paul himself would reject outright. … So whatever Paul meant, he could not have meant this phrase literally (8).

Dr. Choong goes on to explain that the doctrine of original sin (a sin nature inherited from Adam as a result of the Fall) is also not found in Paul’s writings despite what many have believed:

While most of the Church Fathers saw that Adam was punished for his sin with sinful desires, Paul himself said no such thing. In fact, to our surprise, Paul in Romans specifically introduced the doctrine that Adam’s punishment was an expected outcome of his created humanity rather than something he did wrong. …

Elsewhere, Paul uses sin to describe behavior as in the teaching that sin was not caused by Adam and Eve but is a term that describes the defiant behavior of Adam and Eve. In this interpretation, Adam and Eve were made loaded with sinful desires already – not that Adam sought out sinful desires. This use of the word sin as behavior finds great convergence with the biological nature of human imperfection, despite our having been made good. But when Paul personified the word sin, his notion of a pre-Adamic existence of sin meant that Adam could not be blamed for any existence of sin per se (8-9).

According to Dr. Choong, therefore, Adam and Eve did not gain a sin nature through the Fall that they then passed on to their descendants. They were made with sinful desires:

If we think that there was perfect morality before Adam and Eve were ejected from Eden, we cannot explain why in their perfect state of moral goodness, they both disobeyed God – how can perfect goodness turn bad? (38)

Because Paul uses personification to explain sin, Dr. Choong believes that Paul’s use of “Adam” may also be a personification of sorts:

Paul expressed the word [sin] to mean at least three different things: a person, a causal agent that may or may not be personified, and a primeval state of the human condition that we inherited. Thus we conclude that Paul in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 did not intend to declare the doctrine that Adam of Genesis was a single progenitor of humanity who was never born, and biologically gave rise to Eve who was crafted from one of his ribs, thus losing a rib in the process (10).

So, what conclusion does Dr. Choong come to regarding Adam and Eve?

What we can say is that Adam and Eve were certainly historical figures. What we cannot say for sure is how many of them there were. Pure literalists suggest two – a male named Adam and a female made out of Adam’s rib named Eve. Although genetic markers suggest a much larger pool of first humans, science along cannot be trusted for a dogmatic statement of faith, so we ought not to rely on biology to determine a biblical interpretation. But the undisputed point that leans towards the origins of humans as a community rather than as a single couple is neither historical nor scientific, but purely scriptural – the Hebrew meaning of Adam is humanity (10).

Dr. Choong also applies his hermeneutic approach to other parts of the Torah. For example, the account of Noah and the flood isn’t an historical account of a family of eight that survive a worldwide flood with lots of animals:

There were already flood stories in the Ancient Near East. So an adoption of such a story would effectively make the point (16).

In fact, according to Dr. Choong, it’s dangerous to attempt to read Noah’s story literally:

The account of Noah’s Ark was not meant to explain the origin of spectral optics that formed the first rainbow, or to showcase ancient naval architecture capable of surviving a global flood. This would reduce biblical theology to the natural sciences. The rainbow is symbolic of a war bow (as in bow and arrow). … The fate of Noah’s three sons does not imply that all Africans are doomed from the beginning because Ham saw his father’s nakedness. … A literal reading of Ham (dark-skinned) led to the justification of African slavery by some in the Christian Church in the West. … Hence, to take a literal-historical reading of Noah’s story would reduce biblical theology to racism, sociology, and pop psychology (12).

The account of the Tower of Babel is also not meant to be read literally, but rather, symbolically:

The Tower of Babel does not explain the origin of human languages or prohibits skyscrapers. That would reduce biblical theology to evolutionary biology and structural engineering. Rather, it uses the mighty towers called ziggurats (“to build on a raised area”) found all over the Ancient near east to make a point about human hubris and lack of respect for the almighty God (12).

Dr. Choong warns that a literal reading of Scripture can cause great harm:

Always consider the medium used to convey the biblical message. Taking many biblical accounts literally wholesale is not a harmless act of naivete. It can actually be dangerous in creating bad theology to fuel racism, sexism and a host of social ills that are morally repugnant (15).

To summarize what Dr. Choong is teaching through Project Timothy’s The Bible You Thought You Knew, Moses didn’t write Genesis, Genesis was written as a polemic against the Babylonian gods, Genesis does not teach ex nihilo creation, Genesis does not speak to how the universe began or where humans came from, Adam is best understood as a group of hominids adopted by God to be imago dei, Adam and Eve were not created with perfect morality, Paul’s Adam wasn’t necessarily the singular progenitor of the human race, Noah’s flood was an adopted ANE story retold for Israel’s purposes, the Tower of Babel doesn’t explain the origin of languages, and interpreting the Bible literally can be dangerous.