Can Theistic Evolutionists and Biblical Creationists Have a Dialogue?

That was the central theme of the conference I presented at last week titled, “Exploring Origins: Nazarenes in Dialogue.” The conference was held on the campus of Point Loma Nazarene University and was co-sponsored by BioLogos. I grew up in the Nazarene Church and taught at Mount Vernon Nazarene University for six years before coming to AiG, so I have a vested interest in where the denomination is heading on this issue.

I was the only speaker at the conference to present the biblical creation/young earth creation view. Before going to the conference, I was sure I would feel like Daniel in the lion’s den! However, the organizers of the conference were very hospitable and I never experienced any hostility from those in attendance. The conference consisted of about 150 pastors, students, theologians, and scientists.

There is a real dichotomy in the Church of the Nazarene as it pertains to the origins issue. As several people admitted to me at the conference, the laypeople are overwhelmingly biblical creationists, the professors in the academy (i.e., universities) are theistic evolutionists (TEs), and the pastors feel “stuck” in the middle. I think this is a clear case of knowledge “puffing up!”  It became clear from the presentations at the conference that the theologians and scientists are convinced that evolution is true and the earth is billions of years old. Therefore, the Bible, specifically Genesis, must be reinterpreted to accommodate these views.

There were many disturbing things said by those in attendance but time and space permits me to just share a few.

  • On Thursday evening, a theologian admitted that the death and suffering implicit with evolution doesn’t seem to be compatible with the God of the Bible (agreed!). He felt one way to deal with this might be to understand that God is a “suffering servant” and that possibly He labored long and hard to bring about all living things through process of evolution. He then said that while T. rex was wreaking havoc, God was loving T. rex and all that he was doing even if that seems very contradictory.
  • On Friday morning, a theologian described a hypothetical dialogue between Moses and God. He said God told Moses that He created the universe 13 billion years ago beginning with the supposed big bang and then proceeded to give Moses the sequence of the evolution of the universe and life on earth. Moses then asked God what a billion was and so God accommodated Moses’ inability to understand by giving him the words we read in Genesis 1. In response, the audience laughed.
  • In one of the table discussions, I challenged a theologian sitting at my table to explain how there can be death and suffering before sin. He said there were three possible answers: 1) I don’t know, 2) God made the decision to give creatures the freedom to evolve and decided that He wasn’t going to control them, and 3) God’s love necessarily compels Him to give creatures the freedom to evolve and that in essence He can’t stop it. All I could think was WOW! He was essentially saying that God is not sovereign and not omnipotent.
  • Many of the presenters mischaracterized biblical creation as being anti-science and not dealing with or dismissing the scientific evidence if it didn’t fit with the Bible. This is especially frustrating to me as a scientist and indicates that many TEs are not familiar with the many published books, journal articles, and other content produced by biblical creationists.

My heart really went out to the students who have grown up being taught and believing that the Bible is true and Genesis is literal history by their parents and churches only to attend a Christian college to be told they’re completely wrong (see Already Compromised for more information on the rampant biblical compromise in many Christian colleges and universities). It’s no wonder that many students experience a crisis of faith!

I was glad I had the opportunity to give a 15-minute overview of biblical creation to all the attendees. Several people throughout the day thanked me and said that even though they didn’t agree with me, they were glad I was there to present another view. Sadly, my two afternoon sessions (concurrent with other sessions at the conference), which were an hour long, only had an attendance of six people total. It was difficult not to be discouraged, but some of the people that did attend said I had given them some things to think about and that they wanted to investigate more. We even managed to sell four or five books! I have to remember, as do we all, that it is our job to speak the truth and God’s job to convince people of that truth.

To answer the question in my title about whether TEs and biblical creationists should have a dialogue, I would answer yes. However, I think the real question is should TEs and biblical creationists have a dialogue in the public arena? The TEs are also concerned about the mass exodus of young people from churches today (as we have documented in Already Gone) and they believe the way to move forward is to encourage a “dialogue” on the origins issue. I am troubled, however, that the origins issue will be perceived by the Christian community as one where it doesn’t matter what you believe. This is truly my greatest fear when sharing a platform like this with TEs—especially with an audience of young, impressionable students. One TE said to me that he was okay with us disagreeing with each other and saying that the other person was wrong publicly, but then in the name of Christian love and unity to present that to the Christian community as “okay.” But it’s not okay! There cannot be unity when there is clear disunity on the authority, inerrancy, and truthfulness of God’s Word.

By the end of the conference, instead of feeling like Daniel, I felt more like Jeremiah who spoke the truth but no one listened. My heart wept for many that have decided to compromise on God’s Word in Genesis. It especially saddens me in relation to what these theologians and scientists are teaching the next generation and how many young people will walk away from the Christian faith because of this compromise. But I also rejoice for the opportunity I had, knowing God will use it, and for the continued work of AiG to help people know that God’s Word is true from the very first verse!

Keep fighting the good fight of faith!