Can Christians believe evolution?
Published: 21 October 2010 (GMT+10)
Illustration by Caleb Salisbury
As CMI has often stated, we regard evolution as contrary to Scripture, but Christians can still be saved despite believing in it (see related articles, below). Indeed, its founding chairman, the late Prof. John Rendle-Short, said he was a saved theistic evolutionist for 40 years before becoming a creationist.
So how can Christians hold to an anti-biblical doctrine? Here are a few things one should remember when considering whether a Christian can be an evolutionist:
(1) There are a range of biblical doctrines; and, while it’s important to be as consistent and biblical as we can, not every one is as “essential” as every other (even when we consider only true doctrines, as opposed to various misinterpretations). The Bible itself contrasts the “milk”, or “basic principles of the oracles of God”, with “solid food” for the “mature” (Hebrews 5).
Most Christians understand that there are certain “essential” doctrines, belief in which would define a Christian. A continuum might be made from “essential” to “important but non-essential” to “relatively unimportant” to “almost trivial,” and toward the bottom end there might be a wide variety of potential arrangements. But most true Christians would agree on the most important doctrines, which would be considered essential, at least some of which would be: the deity of Christ, His sacrificial death on our behalf, and His bodily resurrection from the dead.
Nearer the bottom of the list might be such things as whether Adam had a belly-button, the identity of the Nephilim of Genesis 6:4, etc. While even these things may be answerable from Scripture, few would consider them even remotely essential for genuine Christian belief.
Somewhere in that continuum would be one’s views on evolution. While I would put it far from the bottom of the list myself, I would place it some ways down from the top as well (i.e., below the “essential” doctrines).
(2) No Christian is instantly (or even completely) mature. A brand-new believer shouldn’t be expected to have a reasoned position on the age of the earth, let alone on something as non-essential as the identity of the Nephilim. Few Christians have read the Bible through, so it would be asking a bit much to expect a new Christian to have even heard of the Nephilim, let alone have a position on them.
I once read a tract from a group of people I at first admired for being Christian witnesses to those they came across on the street. I was disappointed, though, to see how their tract strongly pushed baptism as a requirement for salvation and speaking in tongues as a required evidence of salvation. I disagree with both views; but even if I agreed with the positions, I would still think it very foolish to include in one’s potentially first-time hearing of the Gospel two of the most divisive issues in Christianity, although I can understand that if one considered baptism essential for salvation, he’d want to include it—but why include the other if, as a “required” proof of one’s salvation, it would happen anyway? (Who tells someone to be sure his water boils when he brings it to 100°C? “Required” evidence is just that: it will happen. You don’t need to be told to “make sure” it does.)
Similarly, although I would always support the presentation of evidence against evolution in a general sense—and even promoting Genesis creation as the basis for the Gospel teaching on sin and the kinsman-redeemer and other Christian doctrines—I think it would be unwise to insist on the rejection of evolution as necessary for one’s salvation. Why shove a stumbling block in front of a new believer before he’s even had a chance to understand the ramifications of his belief or what Scripture teaches or how the two don’t really go together? I have a friend who’s spent most of his life studying and promoting evolution. Whatever evidence for Christianity he may (hopefully someday) accept in a moment in time, I don’t expect him just as quickly to reject his lifetime of evolutionary belief—regardless how contrary to Christianity he may eventually understand it to be. For example, South African geneticist Dr Jim Allan says he had a ‘double conversion’—his spiritual conversion and his conversion from evolution to accepting creation.
(3) It’s because no Christian is instantly mature, especially in his knowledge of all that the Bible teaches, that I believe there can be true Christians even in a cult group. Let me explain, before you gasp: I hear many say otherwise, although it may only be their lack of specificity concerning exceptions. In principle, though, I would guess most of them would agree with me about the following: A brand-new Christian may not understand the differences among denominations or even realize that some “denominations” are actually non-Christian cults. A true and growing Christian would (hopefully) soon realize that the teaching he’s receiving in such a group is unbiblical and leave for something better. Any person who’s fully aware of an actual cult’s teachings and accepts them can’t, I believe, properly be considered a Christian. Such is what “cult” (a non-Christian sect ostensibly based on Scripture) means. (It might be tempting at this point to get into the sidetrack of further defining a “cult”; but that’s not my point here.) Similarly, if a theistic evolutionist is shown conclusively that Jesus believed in a young earth and global Flood, but replies that Jesus was mistaken here, then his Christian faith is in question. My point is that for a short time a new Christian may not even be aware of the false teaching that the cult is known for (or even that it is a cult)—not that all of the cult’s positions can be considered mere “non-essential differences.” The fact that someone may darken the doorway of a “Kingdom Hall” of the Jehovah’s Witnesses (for instance), without fully understanding the cult’s position, doesn’t immediately render him a non-Christian.
A consistent Christian who knows the Word will believe in a young earth. I can say that dogmatically, without any qualifications—except that “he’s consistent”. But inconsistency itself would hardly seem a true test of one’s salvation (otherwise the mere fact that we still sin would nullify it); or, as has been said, considered the “unforgivable sin”; and few new Christians can be expected to have a full understanding—or even familiarity—with Scripture. When people in the Bible became believers, it was often after hearing a brief sermon or hearing a passage out of God’s Word (e.g., Acts 2:1-41; 3:11-4:4; 8:12, 26-39; 11:19-21; 13:44-48; 14:1; 16:13-14, 25-34; 17:1-4, 10-12). It was rarely, if ever, after having the entire Bible (at the time) read to them, with all its doctrines—essential and otherwise—fully explained and cross-referenced. To think that a true believer can’t have some less-important beliefs that are inconsistent with the bare-bones gospel—at least for some amount of time—is unreasonable. Belief in an old earth can, when consistently applied and thought through, lead to compromise on and/or acceptance of evolution and indirectly to other worse doctrines. But it doesn’t have to (similar to how it doesn’t have to lead every evolutionist into dictatorial genocide as it did, if only by its influence, to Hitler) and, by itself, is “merely” (if I may use the word in a relative sense) an incorrect belief.
Certainly, older (and presumably more mature) Christians should be able to see the inconsistencies of claiming to believe Scripture while also believing in evolution. But they still can’t be ruled out as true believers, as though we know at what point in his growth each Christian should know better. God’s grace can cover our sins—it can surely cover our errors and inconsistencies as well. Sometimes it can take a while—after all, even CMI’s founding chairman, Prof. John Rendle-Short, was a theistic evolutionist for 40 years.
While some may perceive a conflict in “allowing” a Christian to believe in evolution while vigorously opposing it at the same time, the fact is that rejection of clear biblical doctrine can lead to compromise in other areas (John 3:12), a weakening of faith, and in the worst cases a rejection of Christianity altogether—even if such symptoms don’t appear until the next generation. This is why Creation Ministries International often presents articles on the effects of evolutionary thinking. Such articles are frequently disparaged by critics, who complain that they don’t prove evolution wrong, as though everything published here must present the case for creation. Much of CMI’s ministry is intended not necessarily for skeptics, but for believers, who often ask what difference evolutionary belief makes.
In all of this, I certainly don’t want to imply that cultic beliefs (or even the idea of an old earth) shouldn’t be corrected or fought against or that a new Christian shouldn’t, gently, be corrected according to 2 Timothy 3:16. My main point is that someone isn’t automatically not a Christian because of his mere presence in a group about which he (hopefully only temporarily) knows no better—nor because he hasn’t thought through the implications of a belief in the false doctrine of an old earth. While I strongly oppose the idea of an old earth, few Christians would consider that it contradicts an “essential” belief (especially given that most of them already compromise on this point).
Don’t make the mistake of thinking I’m soft on evolution or long ages. There are likely few who are more opposed to evolutionism, geological or biological, than I am—even among those who are more knowledgeable, better debaters, or better presenters of creation evidence. All the same, I can’t consider the rejection of evolution as an essential belief for one to be a true Christian, regardless of how contrary it is to true Christian doctrine. My strong opposition to evolution, as I’ve indicated, isn’t dependent on my being the most knowledgeable person on Christian apologetics, although I have a reasonable understanding of the subject. But surely if there are more knowledgeable people than me (and there are many of them), there are also some who are less knowledgeable. It would be wrong for me to expect everyone “below” me to have the same understanding of the issues and the perception of how they relate to each other that I do, just as I don’t have the same abilities of everyone “above” me.
A very good & well written article. I also have become more tolerant of others who may believe in evolution, although I think a questioning mind would have to eventually doubt & put aside this hypothesis. I just hope that many more will come to the understanding that evolution is rubbish, & the Biblical explanation of creation is truth.
This is an important point, thanks for making it Kevin. We’re saved by the grace of God through having faith enough to follow Jesus, not by whether we interpret phrases such as “there was evening and there was morning” to be literal or poetic language. The Bible has an enormous amount to say about whether God considers us to be true followers based on whether we fed the hungry, looked after the widows and orphans, cared for the refugees etc (eg Isaiah 58:6–10, Amos 5:21–24, Matt 25:31–46, 1 hn 3:16–17) but very little about judgement day exams on the age of the earth. While we need to look into these things, we cannot allow them to distract us from the “meat” of teaching on righteousness (Hebrews 5:13–14). At a time when the difference between rich and poor is greater than ever and so many people are rejecting Christianity as another religion of irrelevant cold dogma, we need to remember the call that so many prophets were killed for delivering; in Isaiah’s words: “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday” (Isaiah 58:9,10)
Many of the pastors that I know in the church to which I belong would fall into the category of “theistic evolutionists”. While I find this sad and frustrating there is no way that I would question their Christian Faith or their commitment to Christ and the Gospel of Salvation by God’s Grace through faith. Nor could I question the obvious fruit of their Ministries.
I do however, have a problem with their obvious interpretation of Genesis.
By-the-way they are required to subscribe to the Bible as “The Word of God” and the inerrancy of Scripture in the original manuscripts.
Personally I believe evolution is scientifically unproven and unprovable. It is nothing more than a world view that distorts and misinterprets the scientific evidence.
Of course the rejection of the belief in evolution (theistic or otherwise) is not essential to salvation. However if “we have the mind of Christ” we should, over the years, mature and understand the Scriptures in a deeper way. We need the meat of the Word, not the milk. It seems elementary to me that had Jesus made the earth using a plan which incorporated death, and having used it before the Fall, then God would have pronounced the creation “very good” and death would have been part of that which was judged “very good” thus rendering meaningless Christ’s mission to save His people from their sins. Now you all probably know this but let me advise that I left Christianity and the Church when I was 17, precisely because I could not find any church which believed in the historical reality of Genesis 1–11. The best exposition of the impossibility of a taught Christian accepting any form of evolution came from Prof A E Wilder Smith’s lectures on the subject. I urge anyone who is young in the faith and struggling with the immense engine of anti Biblical “science” to look to the Lord for wisdom; He will lead you through the minefield of secularism as he led me, and into the peace which only He can give. This is not an issue for salvation, but it is an issue which relates to just how deep a walk with God we want to have.
The evolution hypothesis states that the Universe and all life on earth happened by chance—they deny the existence of a Creator God. Hence, Christians and evolutionists are poles apart. You can’t believe in both.
My (as well as many other Creationist’s) views of evolution have changed over the years. I changed from an Evolutionary Theist to a dogmatic creationist all the while having a ‘right’ heart before God. Since the model of ‘Facilitated Variation’, I have changed back a ‘little.’ I now see how God ‘could have’ programmed future speciation as well as possible higher changes at creation. The concept of ‘No beneficial mutations’ has also made a change over the years with Creationists. When we are dogmatic on the non essentials we are prone to bring ridicule and shame on the Name of whom we all love. We have a hard time knowing where Truth ends and where our ‘truth’ begins. I speak about me as well as all of us.
Please remember that man is not the judge, only God through Jesus. The truths in the Bible are only what we are to be judged on and evolution is contrary to the word of God.
Matthew 7:21,23 “Not everyone who says to me `Lord,Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven…. Then I will tell them plainly `I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
Also Matthew 7:24,26 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock….it did not fall because it had its foundation on the rock (Jesus). But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand….and it fell with a great crash.”
I agree with the article. I became a Christian in 1979 but didn’t embrace creation until 15 years later. What was holding me up was where the fossils came from and they gave the answer. It was like a light bulb went on in my head and I was convinced of the truth of Scripture which I knew but couldn’t accept, until that point. Praise God it radically changed my Christian walk.
Excellently articulated message on Christian grace. I have struggled over non-essential issues during many times in my life by well meaning but over-controlling Christians. Understanding the essentials of Jesus, his death and resurrection—and his saving grace—is far more important for new Christians to embrace than debating whether or not the six days of creation are literal or figurative. Many new Christians can easily become discouraged and disenchanted by those who mean well, but lay heavy and confusing belief systems that are non-essential in coming to Christ. God guides each of us in our spiritual walk, and the most relevant truth is that we develop a relationship with Him. As that happens, He will guide us in our understanding of scripture … He is not a God of confusion. Thank you for a well written article that addresses a silent, yet divisive issue and uncovers a truthfulness that I hope others can be humble enough to embrace.
I agree with you, and sometimes in my enthusiasm I must remember that, I once knew a fellow who was a Christian (I knew he was as I had been in various prayer meetings with him,) but he was also a freemason until that point in time God hadn’t dealt with him on the subject, but God being faithful eventually did. I say this to say one gentle way God has shown me to refute evolution is to tell them, or have them read, the days of creation, indicating there was morning and evening each day of creation, simply put God says he created the world in 7 [sic] literal days the neat thing is the Holy Spirit does the work and they change their thinking.
Well I disagree with the term “Can” in the sentence, God’s grace ‘can’ cover our sins—it ‘can’ surely cover our errors and inconsistencies as well. The correct term is “Does”. God’s grace ‘Does’ cover our sins—it ‘Does’ cover our errors and inconsistencies. Also Gen. 1:31–2:1 & Exodus 20:11 states God created the Heavens and the Earth in 6 days, not billions of years also ‘death’ came into the world AFTER Adam & Eve sinned therefore evolution cannot be agreed with by Christians because if the earth was billions of years old things would have perished as the evolution fossil record claims! True Christians should understand that evolution is the devil’s lie, there is NO truth there!
When I was in my late teens, a Christian peer said that there was a creation of the earth that was messed up by Satan and that God recreated the earth which he said was infeered from Gen 1:1 and Gen 1:2. His reason for believing this was that God doesn’t make anything without form and void! Now this was interesting to me and I now know this to be the Gap Theory. Even at the time, with certain implications from this theory being to explain long time periods and fossil dinosaurs and the death of other animals before Adam sinned, etc, it seemed to make sense. But upon reading Hebrews 11:3 it states clearly “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” This is not a recreation of the earth messed up by Satan as it was created out of nothing. And Genesis 6–9 exlpains the geological features perfectly. Besides the act of creation was a process over 6 days just like a potter would start with a lump of clay, which has no form and void. Day One the earth is just like that lump of clay so God can create what He wants to on each day. My point is that as we grow in Christ and we hear people’s ideas as to what they believe, the only yardstick we have to judge anything as right or wrong is the Bible, that includes all doctrines formed from scripture or otherwise. If the doctrine is false it will conflict with other scriptures. But if the Bible states something and we CHOOSE not to believe it then doubt can creep in and soon we could be doubting more important doctrines because if the Bible is wrong in an area then logically it could be wrong in any area.
This is the danger about origins.If God didn’t create in 6 days, (Ex. 20:11 which is definitely not poetic), then this puts doubt in other areas like; was Christ, God incarnate? Or was he just a man? Is there really a hell? How do you judge what is right? (John 3:12) You can be saved and believe evolution but to grow in Christ you need to believe that the Bible is God&rsquos infalable word to us because it&rsquos our only yardstick to judge anything (Heb 4:12 & 2 Tim 3:16) And once doubt enters a person’s heart it can lead to apostasy.
Rom 10:17: Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God; Rom 14:23: anything not in faith is sin; and Heb 11:6: without faith it is impossible to please God.
God bless you for your faithfulness.